The Chinese M99 50-caliber Anti-material Rifle was little known in the West until video clips of it being used by the Free Syrian Army in the current Syrian civil war were showing up in the Internet. The fact is that the M99 has been available since late 2005 and it is in use in anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden by the Chinese Navy and Marine Corps. Please note that the Chinese military has stopped using the idiom of PLA or People’s Liberation Army in its name about three years ago.
The M99 is produced by the Zijiang Machinery Company located in the Hunan Province in the southwestern center of the country. The factory was established in 1965 and it was named after the nearby Zi River or Zijiang in Chinese. The river is a major tributary of the Yangtze River. Like most of the Chinese small arms arsenals, the location was chosen for strategic purposes with lessons learned from pass wars. The spot is far away enough from the coast that an invasion from the sea won’t stop the arms production. It’s also outside the range of strategic bombers of the era that would fly in from both the north and the east. The close proximity to this major waterway provides access to an indestructible transportation network.
When the M99 started to appear with Free Syrian Army, many of the Internet “experts” quickly misidentified it as the Accuracy International (AI) AS50. While both bear resemblance externally, the M99 is substantially lighter with a completely different action. The M99 is also one of the first Chinese designs to adapt the Mil-Std 1913 Picatinny rail for its optic mount. The M99-I model chambers in the 12.7x108mm and a .50 BMG model is available as the M99-II. More recently, a bullpup version of it known as the M06, which is fed by a drum instead of box magazine, is also available. Although, there’s no indication that neither the M99-II nor the M06 have ever made it into production.
The M99 operates from a direct-impingement gas system with multi-lug rotating-bolt lock, which is very similar to how the AR-15 works. Since the bolt group locks into the barrel extension at the moment the 50-cal cartridge is fired, the receiver bears minimal stress from the weapon firing. Because of that, the M99’s one-piece receiver is made from lightweight forged aluminum alloy. The AI AS50 features a heavier milled steel receiver in a 2-section design and has a tilting-bolt locking action. The M99 has a 4.25 inches longer barrel yet it’s 5 pounds lighter than the AI AS50. The external similarities between the M99 and the AI AS50 are mostly due to the fact both use a large box-shaped receiver, a skinny vented gas tube for the direct-impingement gas system and the folding monopod on the stock.
Very little is known about the M99’s field performance. There was a trial conducted by the Pakistan military in August 2006 which demonstrated the M99 has the accuracy of 2-3 MOA with standard ball ammo and 1.6 MOA with selected ball ammo. The AI AS50 is capable of 1.5 MOA with good 50 BMG cartridge. One thing I noticed from high-speed videos of both weapons being fired is that the M99 flexes a lot more than the AI AS50.
So, the question that many want to know is how did the Chinese made M99 got into Syria? Initially, many believe that was through a 3rd country that is a traditional customer of Chinese weaponry such as Sudan. However, more recent findings have indicated that all the Free Syrian Army’s M99s came from Qatar and it was most likely purchased with CIA funding.
M99 12.7x108mm anti-material rifle Specification:
Caliber: 12.7×108 and optional 12.7x99mm NATO (.50 BMG)
Barrel Length: 31.5 inches
Action: Direct-impingement gas system with rotating-bolt lock
Magazine: 5-round double-stack box magazine
Muzzle Velocity: 2624 fps
Max Effective Range: 1500 meters
Weapon Weight: 25.96 pounds
Weapon Length: 58.27 inches
Manufacturer: Zijiang Machinery Company (Arsenal 9656)