The United States military has a long history of adopting so-called wildcat calibers from the civilian world. Hell, the 5.56mm round that fills every M249 belt and M16 magazine has its origins as an experimental varmint round for civilian hunters — the .222 Remington Magnum.
But this was back when the U.S. military's budget was not only enormous, but had less congressional oversight.
In the middle of the Cold War and a heated arms race with the Soviet Union, America was willing to adopt new tech without concern for the pricy or problematic logistics of adopting a new round for all branches.
Today, only small special operations groups like hand-selected units from SOCOM can afford to rearm with bleeding edge tech or equipment
In particular, sniper elements of various units tend to be the first to adopt new cartridges for their highly specialized work.
For a long time, this meant choosing between 7.62x51, .50 BMG or .300 Winchester Magnum. Eventually, someone decided they wanted the incredible effective range of the .50BMG round without the awful ballistic coefficient that makes anti-personal use at extreme ranges difficult.
After all, .50 BMG began life as a heavy machine gun round suited for anti-vehicle use, then aircraft use before being adopted to anti-material use in big-bore sniper rifles.
Developed in the early 1980s, the resulting .338 Lapua Magnum was an immediate hit in the vast expanses of Middle East like the mountains and deserts of Afghanistan. Yet, it didn't perform nearly as well in an anti-material role as the .50BMG, and some experts argued it didn't retain sufficient energy for reliable soft target neutralization past 1,800 yards — though data on terminal ballistics data at this distance are not normally available to the public.
But this seems like a moot point, the best snipers in any military consider a shot at that distance both incredibly difficult and exceptionally rare. Which makes the recent adoption of a new round for the Advanced Sniper Rifle by U.S. Special Operations Command so interesting.
Dubbed, the .300 Norma Magnum, this new round boasts an improved ballistic coefficient over the .338 Lapua. However, the .300 Norma actually uses a .308-caliber round which is smaller than the one employed in the .338 cartridge.
If this seems strange given past complaints about limited effectiveness against semi-hardened targets, you're on the right path. Indeed, instead of trying to shoehorn a cartridge designed for shooting soft targets into an anti-material role, the new .300 Norma Magnum fully embraces the .308-caliber bullet's anti-personnel qualities and top-notch ballistic coefficient.
This excellent BC lead some military testers to achieve 20-round groups as small as four inches at 1,100 yards. This is much smaller than the average soldier's mid-section, and puts a headshot on a stationary target at that range into the realm of possibility.
Some food for thought: At that range, the intended target wouldn't hear the shot for a full three seconds after it left the barrel.
The new cartridge's potential for accuracy brings distant soft targets in delicate locations – i.e. those saturated with non-combatants – within the grasp of the US military. While the caliber of the .300 Norma's projectile may lead some to believe this round is a downgrade from the .338 Lapua, it's more akin to a different tool for different situations.
This round may finally put a stop to insurgents using towers of religious buildings or hospitals to call in mortar strikes or coordinate ambushes.
But this is all speculation; with the round being as new as it is, and special operators just now adopting it, the public won't likely hear anything about its performance for years.
Either way, one thing is certain: the long reach of America's special forces, just got even longer.