The M14 rifle isn’t something you’d really expect to see in a rundown of new military equipment. The M16 replaced the M14 in the 1960s as the Army’s standard rifle.
But this November 2003 article, which discusses the Rapid Fielding Initiative (RFI), explains how something so old can be new again:
Another historically proven addition using the RFI for the Stryker brigade is the 7.62 mm M14 rifle. According to SFC Myhre, the M14s allow squad designated marksmen a larger caliber rifle that will cover more area and provide capability that was only available in very limited numbers within the individual sniper sections.
The M14s, which are equipped with Leopold Mk IV scopes, are fielded at a rate of one per squad, with additional weapons going to specific slice elements within the brigade.
A January NYT article about snipers in the Stryker Brigade included
The sergeant drew a bead on the shooter with his weapon of choice, an M-14 rifle equipped with a special optic sight that has crosshairs and a red aiming dot.
It struck me as a little weird that an Army sniper was using an M14 instead of the standard-issue M24, M40 (which I believe is used more by the Marines than the Army) or the .50 caliber M82. Darren Kaplan wondered, too. I guess this answers our question. It could very well be that the “snipers” the NYT article (which, BTW is now only available for $$$ so I grabbed the one at FR) were really “just” sharpshooters in the standard squads and not sniper team specialists.
This also seems to answer the “Is the 5.56 NATO round sufficient?” question. Apparently it is not. At least not for everyone in the squad. This demonstrates, to me at least, that the Army is very serious about getting its troops what they need to prevail. I also believe that it demonstrates that sometimes older is better.
The next paragraph reads
At the same time that some Army units are looking back to the venerable M14, small arms planners are also looking forward, hoping to accelerate the fielding of future weapon technologies to tomorrow’s warfighters. A clear example of this can be seen in the recently announced acquisition of 200 Heckler & Koch XM8 assault rifles for test and evaluation beginning late this year.
This indirectly describes what the 20″ barreled “sharpshooter variant” of the XM8 is designed to do. The longer barrel will allow longer ranged and more deadly fire by some members of the squad, while leaving the majority of the men armed with the shorter, lighter “baseline carbine” model for regular close-quarters firefights. The only question is “Is that 5.56 round good enough for the job?”