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The Accuracy International Arctic Warfare rifle is a bolt-action sniper rifle designed and manufactured by the British company Accuracy International. It has proved popular as a civilian, police, and military rifle since its introduction in the 1980s. The rifles have some features that improve performance in very cold conditions, without impairing operation in less extreme conditions.
Arctic Warfare rifles are generally fitted with a Schmidt & Bender PM II telescopic sight with fixed or variable magnification. Variable telescopic sights can be used if the operator wants more flexibility to shoot at varying ranges, or when a wide field of view is required. Accuracy International actively promotes fitting the German-made Schmidt & Bender MILITARY MK II product line as sighting components on their rifles, which is rare for a rifle manufacturer. The German and Russian forces preferred a telescopic sight made by Zeiss over Accuracy International’s recommendation.
The Accuracy International PM (Precision Marksman) rifle was entered into a British competition in the early 1980s as a replacement for the Lee–Enfield derived sniper rifles then in use by the British Army (e.g. L42A1). The Accuracy International rifle was selected over the Parker Hale M85. The British Army adopted the Accuracy International PM in 1982 into service as the L96A1 and outfitted the rifle with Schmidt & Bender 6×42 telescopic sights. In this configuration the rifle is capable of first shot hits with a cold, warm or fouled barrel. Tests with 10.89 g (168 gr) ammunition provided sub 0.5 MOA ten-shot groups at 91 m (100 yd) and the rifle was supplied with a telescopic sight, bipod, five magazines, sling, cleaning kit and tool roll, encased in a fitted transport case.
Some years later, the Swedish military also wanted a new rifle, and in the early 1990s Accuracy International entered an upgraded version of the PM, now known as the AW (Arctic Warfare). This was the start of the Arctic Warfare name, which became the primary name of the rifle family despite its earlier names.
Special de-icing features allow it to be used effectively at temperatures as low as −40 °C (−40 °F). The AW rifle featured a modified bolt with milled slots to prevent freezing and problems caused by penetrating water, dirt or similar disturbances. Further, the stockhole, bolt handle, magazine release and trigger guard on the AW were enlarged to allow use with heavy Arctic mittens. This version was accepted into use by the Swedish Army in 1991 as the Prickskyttegevär 90 (Psg 90).
The modifications to the original PM or L96A1 made the British Army decide to adopt the “improved” AW version as well, designated L118A1. The rifles were fitted with Schmidt & Bender MILITARY MK II 3-12×50 telescopic sights offering the operator more flexibility to shoot at varying ranges, or in situations when a wide field of view is required. This rifle has seen service in recent conflicts such as Operation Granby and Operation Telic.
Rifle system family
The Accuracy International Arctic Warfare model has since spawned an entire family of sniper rifles using the Arctic Warfare name, and has been adopted by a number of other countries, including Australia, Belgium, Germany, Indonesia, Ireland, Latvia, Malaysia, Norway, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Russia, Singapore, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Other AI rifles descended from the L96A1 include the AI AE, and the AI AS50 (see variants below).
Most Arctic Warfare rifles are chambered for the 7.62×51mm NATO cartridge, but Accuracy International also made variants of the sniper rifle, the AWM (Arctic Warfare Magnum) chambered either for the .300 Winchester Magnum and the .338 Lapua Magnum and the AW50 (Arctic Warfare .50 caliber) chambered for the .50 BMG (12.7×99mm NATO). The sniper rifles are mounted with a muzzle brake in order to help reduce the recoil, muzzle raise and muzzle flash of the weapon.
Each country’s rifles differ slightly. The Swedish Psg 90 for example, uses a Hensoldt (Zeiss) scope and can also use sabot rounds. In 1998, the German Bundeswehr adopted the first folding-stock Arctic Warfare Magnum (AWM-F) chambered in .300 Winchester Magnum (7.62×67mm) and with optics made by the German company Zeiss, and designated as the Scharfschützengewehr 22 (G22).
The AW’s complete parts interchange ability and reliability in adverse weather conditions have made it a popular, if expensive, weapon. The rifle offers good accuracy (a capable marksman can expect ≤ 0.5 MOA consistent accuracy with appropriate ammunition), and its maximum effective range with a Schmidt & Bender 6×42 PM II scope is around 800 metres (870 yd).
The Arctic Warfare family’s main competitor in production of high-end factory sniper rifles is the Sako TRG product line, with similar capability but lower price than the Arctic Warfare system.
The AW system is almost unique in being a purpose-designed military sniper rifle,