50 BMG The HTI or Barrett?
While I do not spend a ton of time with a 50 BMG these days, it was a primary focus while still in command of the SWAT team and training the sniper unit. Post 9/11 and beyond there was a perceived need for an anti-material cartridge and frankly there really is nothing better. Within LE it was seen as Hard Target Interdiction (HTI), or the need to stop vehicles or other armored threats. Real world value was certainly limited, but especially for agencies and cities that had clearly defined terrorist targets there was a real need. It prompted attending and training a few schools, most using the Barrett M107A1 semi-automatic 50 BMG rifle. Over the years I have used and tested several others too including the Desert Tech HTI and have frequently been asked “which is better” and / or what is the difference?
So who needs a 50 BMG?
This argument continues, always will, likely never to be answered. What is known is the effectiveness of a 600-750 grain cartridge making contact with hard objects. The issue has never really been will it work, but is it worth the downside. Penetration through armored targets at ranges under 1000 yards is a strong suit, the closer the better. Muzzle blast, recoil, and cost are the down sides. Duty use requires training, and not everyone likes shooting the 50 BMG. It requires a break or a suppressor, and the suppressor is costly and can actually increase recoil. Brakes lessen recoil considerably, but the blast can range from distracting to destructive. I have seen shooters stand up woozy after shooting them. Many can only stomach a few rounds, others experience dizziness. Most seem to generally just crack a really huge smile, but it is a consideration. Cartridges are big, rifles are big, and most are heavy. Penetration is significant, so much so it brings on liability, especially in an urban environment. But, if you decide to go that way there are a couple of choices, the Barrett M82 / M107, its variants, and everything else. One of those is the Desert Tech HTI, a rifle tested early on.
Barrett’s M107 A1 was designed to be an anti-material weapon. It’s all about penetrating armored vehicles, walls, construction, or other barriers using a mostly portable platform and an existing military round that is cheap and available. Given a good shooter and match ammunition it will hold a 2’-3” group at 100 yards without much issue, use mil-surplus ammo and that may stretch out quite a bit. Not a big deal if you are shooting at a truck, tractor, or barrier, but it was never designed to be a precision instrument. Each variant gets better, but that’s not what it is designed for. The HTI on the other hand is capable of precision rifle accuracy with match ammunition to the limits of the cartridge. Testing the HTI it produced what amounted to single hole groups at 100 yards, and three inch groups at 500 yards. I was able to maintain sub-moa accuracy to 1000 yards with boring consistency. Still capable of hitting large targets the HTI is equally able to hit smaller ones with as much precision as any working rifle out there. It has always been a strength of the platform in general, the HTI is no exception if you want rounds on target fast, the Barrett is the ticket, need precision the HTI Is better suited to the task.
I have often stated “recoil is everything” when it comes to accuracy. It keeps you on target after the first round and allows you to get first round hits. Recoil, its anticipation or control is one of the single most critical factors for long range accuracy. Barrett’s 50 BMG remains the king of that hill. There are some other semi-auto imports that can match it, but for general use there is just nothing like a Barrett for rapid or repeat fire. Videos are everywhere with people shooting these with one hand, and they are that soft to shoot. The break works, semi-auto action sucks up more recoil, and the barrel moves making it even better. Loud and blast intensive, but it will run as fast as you can pull the trigger and move little enough you can stay on what is a typical hard target. Desert Tech’s HTI has a great break as well, but like all box fed repeaters more of that recoil is passed on to the shooter, and the bull pup design puts it several inches closer to your face. Given the size of the 50 BMG it is also going to take longer for repeat shots. It is lighter by comparison, and while that makes it convenient to carry it means recoil is intensified. Depending on what’s critical to you the increased accuracy may be a tradeoff, but the Barrett remains one of the softest 50 BMG’s to shoot especially rapid fire.
No matter how you slice it a semi-auto will always have more things to fail, as simple as it is in design the Barret is no exception. Maintained properly shooting proper ammunition it is about as reliable as you would expect, but it is not the same as a box fed repeating bolt rifle. The HTI will shoot different types of ammunition more accurately and with greater reliability on the whole. You may not be able to do so as quickly, but like most bolt rifles it will work most if not all the time.
Maybe the biggest difference between the two is the interchangeable barrels on the HTI. The same chassis can be used with any of the 50 BMG based cartridges with a simple barrel swap. You can move between 50 BMG, 375 and 408 CT as well as 416 Barrett in a matter of minutes. In fact, several of those calibers are better suited to LE use with much less recoil and greater accuracy at longer ranges. When it comes to versatility there is really no comparison.
Barrett’s M107A1 has a 10 round capacity, the HTI cuts that in half. Depending on application it probably matters little, but it remains a consideration. If you are going to need to put multiple rounds on target quickly the HTI will be slower and requires magazine changes. If weight is a consideration the HTI is the winner. At 20 pounds with the 29” barrel it is 8 pounds lighter than the Barrett. Given the bull pup design it is also a foot shorter using the same barrel length. If you need to get in and out of tight spaces there is just no comparison, working around the rocks in the back country behind my range it was much easier. The HTI will fit in most full sized drag bags. During my testing an Eberlestock McMillan pack was used with no issues. When it comes to ease of carry the HTI is much better.
So, it really depends on what exactly you are looking for in a 50 BMG, both rifles are excellent with various strengths and weaknesses designed to perform what may be different jobs. Neither of these are for the faint of heart, a Barrett 107A1 will set you back around $12,000, as semi-auto 50 BMG rifles go it remains the most sought after, mostly due to its proven track record in the field. There are others for less money, none are as proven in the real world as the Barrett. The HTI similarly equipped is closer to $7,500 making it the least costly by quite a bit but right in line with other box fed repeaters of the same quality like the McMillan Tac 50 or similar. In the long run, it’s all about what you want, the semi-auto Barrett 107A1 remains the standard, but it simply will not do what the Desert Tech HTI will when it comes to versatility and value. Truth is, can’t go wrong with either one, even better, get both!