The M26 MCR (Imperial designation Rifle, 5.56mm, M26) is the standard-issue service rifle of the Grand Imperial Military. Essentially an extensively modified and modernized variant of the venerable AR-15 style rifle (particularly the HK416), the M26 continues the "AR tradition", sharing almost precisely the same operation and handling characteristics of rifles past. The M26 has a reputation for being extremely accurate, very reliable, and, thanks to the revolutionary Plasma Cartridge ammunition it was designed around, quite powerful for its relatively light weight. Ergo, it's often considered one of the finest "conventional" military rifles around.
The M26 was introduced in 2121, immediately replacing the legendary-yet-obsolescent M19 Battle Rifle and the M33 SMG. The M26 was brought up to be a more lightweight, reliable, and modular replacement to the M19, which had become more problematic with it's lack of individual firepower. It was decided fairly early on that it was to take cues from the old-world M16, which had remain practically unmatched by any later rifle in striking a perfect "balance" between performance and practicality. Despite many submitted prototypes, none had impressed the War Office more than the surplus Winter War-era 416 that the submissions were benchmarked against. On recommendation from the Office, a reinforced receiver and barrel was designed at Colt-Browning for the 416 to accomodate Plasma Cartridges. At the same time, the national arsenal at Chihuahua designed a new AR-style rifle with the 416's signature short-stroke system in a bullpup configuration to submit for the second round of testing. The concepts were combined to form the first iteration of the M26. The bullpup configuration, though unorthodox in a rifle of the style, tested well, allowing for unmatched accuracy and range in a more compact package.
The M26 is issued to the standard infantry in all branches of the GIM, though it is used by practically every armed uniformed service within the NFE, from IDISA to the Cadets' Guards. Though not adopted en-masse by any foreign military (most likely due to the Imperial government's unwillingness to export or license in any significant number), the M26 is often used by special forces across the solar system, most notably the Baltic Union's Tier One forces. After a couple hundred were discreetly shipped in by "sympathetic voices within Imperial government" after renewed tensions between the Union and the Russian Mechanocracy, the M26 has grown to be the preferred rifle of some Baltic commandos; typically those operating in harsh environments that would render their complex and comparatively fragile ChemRails a liability. However, the finite supply of advanced 5.56 PC ammunition available to the Union has kept widespread use of their (already small) cache of rifles limited.
Despite the M26's "modular" selling point, the only mainstream variant of the M26 is the M26C Commando Carbine, a shortened, integrally-suppressed version designed for covert operations. Though the internals are largely the same as the standard M26, the suppressed barrel in which the Commando is built around is extremely innovative, taking inspiration from the ancient Welrod pistol. Using modern materials, the M26C's suppressor has a long lifespan and is extremely quiet. The "Commando 26" is often loaded with the 7.62 "Blackout" round, giving the rifle greater power and less penetration at the cost of significant accuracy and range.
- Both the M26 and M26C Commando are scheduled to make an appearance in Operation Red Hammer.