With the arrival of the combat tank on the battlefields of World War 1 (1914-1918), the Germans hastily developed the Mauser T-Gewehr heavy rifle as a counter. This weapon became the first anti-tank rifle to serve with any military anywhere in the world. From then on, the anti-tank rifle - better recognized now as "anti-material rifle" - evolved to become a fixture of many national armories around the globe.
In 1984, the Barrett Firearms Manufacturing Company introduced their classic anti-material rifle product through the M82 - one of the first American-originated 50-caliber anti-material weapons. This large rifle, designed by Ronnie Barrett, fired the massive .50 BMG cartridge through a semi-automatic action at ranges out to 2,000 yards from a 10-round detachable box magazine feed. The weapon went on to find considerable interest in the military and special forces markets ranging from Australia to the United States. The success of this weapon, and continued development of the line, produced the M82A2, a less popular version featured in a "bullpup" configuration which resulted in a lighter weight design. The bullpup arrangement moved the magazine and its feed system aft of the pistol grip and trigger unit, concentrating the weapon's mass at the rear.
The idea of a bullpup-configured M82 continued when, in 1990, the Barrett M90 was unveiled. This weapon did away with the semi-automatic function of the M82/A2 models and introduced a manually-operated bolt-action system to the mix as many shooting purists preferred (and continue to do so today) a manually-operated system of chambering and ejecting cartridges. The shift in action forced a redesign of the breech action among other changes.
The rifle was arranged in a bullpup format as in the A2 but featured a cleaner look with an established receiver area, frontal bipod support (the A2 replaced this with a foregrip), and more useful shoulder stock. Sighting was still through an optics fit (Leupold M-series 10x or other) and feeding from a five-round detachable box magazine. The feed system was located aft of the pistol grip unit. A massive twin-chambered muzzle brake was fitted over the barrel in the usual way ad chambering remained .50 BMG.
The result was a slightly lighter and more transport-friendly weapon still retaining the ranged penetration power of the original. Recoil forces remained relatively violent but acceptable for a weapon of this class considering the power of the cartridge at work. Production of the M90 rifle spanned from 1990 to 1995 to which the M95 (detailed elsewhere on this site) was then introduced to take over the line and this product brought along with it some minor improvements and changes.
Along with the Barrett M82, the M90 was featured in the Provisional IRA's arsenal during the South Armagh Sniper Campaign targeting British security elements during 1990-1997 (The Troubles). The M95 model went on to find far more official operators than the M90 did.