The Accuracy International Arctic Warfare rifle is a family of bolt-action sniper rifles 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.
Generally Arctic Warfare rifles are outfitted with a Schmidt & Bender PM II telescopic sight with fixed power of magnification or with 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 PM II product line as sighting components on their rifles, which is rare for a rifle manufacturer. However, the German and Russian Armies preferred a telescopic sight made by Zeiss over Accuracy International's preference.
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). Accuracy International's name for this rifle was the PM; the Army designated it as the L96A1 and outfitted it with Schmidt & Bender 6x42 telescopic sights. It was selected over the Parker Hale M85.
A few years later, the Swedish military were also on the hunt for a new rifle, and Accuracy International entered an upgraded version of the PM, now known as the AW or Arctic Warfare. This was the start of the Arctic Warfare name, which would become the primary name of the rifle family despite its earlier names.
The rifle now featured special de-icing features allowing it to be used effectively at temperatures as low as -40 °C. The stockhole, bolt, magazine release and trigger guard on the AW are large enough to facilitate use with heavy Arctic mittens. This version was accepted into use by the Swedish Army in 1988 as the Psg 90.
The modifications to the original PM or L96A1 made the British Army decide to order the 'improved' AWP version too and designated it as the L118A1. The rifles were fitted with Schmidt & Bender 3-12x50 PM II telescopic sights. This rifle has seen service in recent conflicts such as Operation Granby and Operation Telic.
It 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, 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).
Each country's rifles differ slightly. The Swedish Psg 90 for example, uses a Hensoldt (Zeiss) scope and can also use sabot rounds. The German Bundeswehr adopted a folding-stock Magnum version of the AW chambered in .300 Winchester Magnum (7.62x67mm) and with optics made by the German company Zeiss as the Scharfschützengewehr 22 (G22).
The AW's unique 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 x 42 PM II scope is around 800 m.
The Arctic Warfare family's main commercial competitor/equivalent on the high end factory sniper rifle market is the Sako TRG product line, that is capability-wise, generally on par with the Arctic Warfare system but somewhat less expensive.
The AW system is almost unique in being a purpose-designed sniper rifle, rather than an accurised version of an existing, general-purpose rifle.
The modular design of the AW system allows for flexibility, serviceability and reparability under field and combat conditions. Major rifle componets like the barrel and bolt can be switched between rifles or replaced in the field by their operator with the help of some tools. The chambering can also be switched by the operator as long as the barrels, bolts and feeding mechanism can handle the different cartridges dimensionwise.
Rather than a traditional wooden or polymer rifle stock, the AW is based on an aluminium chassis which extends the entire length of the stock. All other components, including the receiver, are bolted directly to this chassis. Two hollow polymer "half thumbhole stocks", usually green, are in turn bolted to the chassis, creating a remarkably rugged, yet for its sturdiness comparatively light, weapon.
The AW is usually equipped with an integrated bipod and it also has a monopod mounted on the buttstock.
The AI receiver is bolted with 4 screws and permanently bonded with epoxy materiel to the aluminum chassis and was designed for ruggedness, simplicity and ease of operation. To this end, the heavy-walled, flat-bottomed, flat-sided receiver is a stressed part, machined in-house by AI from a solid piece of forged carbon steel. AW rifles are offered in two action lengths - standard AW (short) and long SM (magnum). The six bolt lugs, which are arranged in two rows of three lugs each, engage a heat-treated, steel locking ring insert pinned inside the front bridge of the action. The ring can be removed and replaced to refresh headspace control on older actions. The AW system cast steel bolt has a 0.75 inch (19.05 mm) Ø combined with gas relief holes in a 0.785 in (19.94 mm) Ø bolt body and front action bridge allowing high-pressure gases a channel of escape in the rare event of a cartridge case head failure. Against penetrating water or dirt the bolt has milled slots, which also prevent freezing or the occurrence of other disturbances. Contrary to conventional bolt-action rifles the bolt handle is bent to the rear, which eases the repeating procedure for the operator and reduces the contours of the weapon. The action cocks on opening with a short, 60 degree bolt throw and has a non-rotating (fixed) external extractor and an internal ejector. Firing pin travel is 0.26 in (6.6 mm) to keep lock times to a minimum. Finally, a 11 mm integral dovetail rail located above the receiver is designed to accommodate a number of different types of optical or electro-optical sights.
Cartridges are fed through the bottom of the receiver using a detachable, double-column, steel magazine.
A three-position, firing pin blocking safety lever on the bolt shroud allows the bolt to be manipulated with the safety on. If the weapon is decocked, the firing pin is tactile at the end of the bolt-action, making it possible to feel if the weapon is ready to fire or not in poor visibility. The safety of the weapon is also positioned at the rear. It carries two coloured markings: white point – safety on, red point – safety off.
The free-floating, heavy, stainless steel barrels (stainless steel barrels resist throat erosion better than normal barrels) for the available cartridge chamberings all have a different length, groove cutting and rifling twist rate optimized for their respective chambering and intended ammunition. If the consistent accuracy requirement of an operator is no longer met the barrel can fairly easy be renewed. This is normal practice for active high performance precision rifle operators, who regard barrels as expendable items.
There are two main types of AW models. Models offered by AI, and type classified models in service with governments. AW models are related to, but not necessarily exactly synonymous with specific models adopted by countries.
Adopted as the following:
The AW is available in 7.62x51mm NATO and 5.56x45mm NATO chamberings.
The Accuracy International AWSM is an AWM variant chambered for long, high-powered cartridges like the .338 Lapua Magnum round. It has been adopted by several armies: