When Ryan Cleckner was an Army Ranger sniper in Afghanistan, he had as many as nine rifles he would use in different situations.
But whenever a mission would evolve quickly, he would have to choose which ones to lug onto a helicopter. Even narrowing them down to the simplest options — one rifle for long distance, one for shorter — meant carrying a lot of weight.
"I'd have to decide which two rifles to bring," said Cleckner, 38, now a sniper instructor and author living in Nashville. "Here I am, running on to the helicopter with two giant gun cases, with two rifles, different magazines, different ammo and different spare parts."
Years later, U.S. Special Operations Command is working to address that concern.
The command, headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, is looking for gunmakers who can produce a single sniper weapon that can fire three different rounds.
SOCom, which is responsible for providing special operations goods and services to military troops, has put out a call to small businesses for what it has dubbed the "Advanced Sniper Rifle." The command is looking for a bolt-action gun that fires a 7.62 x 51 NATO round, a .300 Norma Magnum and a .338 Norma Magnum by using three different barrels that can be changed by commandos in the field.
Cleckner, author of Long Range Shooting Handbook, said SOCom's concept has several advantages for snipers.
A gun that fires three different rounds means less weight for a sniper to drag around. The 7.62 rounds are better for shorter distances and are in much greater supply, while the two Magnum rounds have more energy and are better at longer distances. Even though the barrels are the heaviest part of the gun, each gun requires magazines and spare parts that can weigh even more, Cleckner said.
Having three barrels in one gun also helps snipers become more proficient, Cleckner said, enabling them to spend more time training on a single weapon with a single action instead of having to get used to the action on different weapons.
"I had nine guns issued to me as a sniper when I was in, and that was one of my bigger complaints," Cleckner said. "It sort of caused someone to be a jack of all trades instead of a master of one."
Cleckner is a former vice president at Remington Defense, which produced the XM2010, a sniper rifle used by commandos.
Commando snipers serve a number of roles for a commander in the field, firing directly at targets, gathering intelligence and keeping an eye on friendly forces, Cleckner said.
SOCom officials put out an advanced solicitation calling for ideas from those small-business owners with the capacity to fulfill their request. Those interested have until 4 p.m. Friday to register for an industry event next month, at which they can pitch their weapons at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, Ind.
SOCom officials will review performance specifications and test equipment there and discuss the solicitation time line. This will help the command develop a more focused solicitation.
Cleckner, who served under both SOCom commander Gen. Raymond A. "Tony" Thomas III and U.S. Central Command head Gen. Joseph Votel, has a word of advice for SOCom.
While the Norma Magnum rounds are currently the best available, things change. The command, he said, should chose a weapon and stick with it for a while.
"There will always be something better that comes along," Cleckner said. "It's not wise to jump and race to that."
Contact Howard Altman at [email protected] or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman.