By Robert Bruce
(Editor’s Note: Robert Bruce’s extensive profile of Marine Scout Snipers (SAR May 2005, Vol. 8 No. 8) sparked requests for a similar look at precision shooters of the Army and other services. Unlike the Corps, which is publicly proud of its snipers, the Army is a bit squeamish about the subject. However, the Army’s apparent PC prejudice on the subject was pretty much limited to the Pentagon. The closer SAR’s inquiries got to the front lines the more enthusiastic the responses were, enabling a more complete picture of the essential and escalating contributions of snipers, sharpshooters and other precision marksmen in Central Command’s area of operations. What follows is mostly about the Army’s unsung heroes plus an update on what some Marines have been up to. – Robert G. Segel)
“Snipers are the most sophisticated and reliable source of human intelligence in my AO (area of operations) that I have at my disposal as an infantry commander. Their ability to depict complex situations accurately and to articulate them sensibly in a timely manner makes it a whole lot easier for me to finish off the bad guys and enable the good guys. Having competent sniper teams is an incredible overall combat force multiplier. Especially when you throw in a thousand meter surgical shot. That creates nightmares for our current enemy threat.” US Army Captain Keith J. Haviland, Commander, A Co. (Killer Company) 1st Bn., 184th Inf. Regt., 4th BCT, 3rd ID. May 2005, Iraq
Nightmares, indeed, and plenty of them as the US military and its allies operating against the insurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan urgently field more and more snipers, sharpshooters and other precision markspersons.
The nature of the conflict in these and other countries in Central Command’s AO has evolved into a struggle to eliminate the small percentage of extremist elements while minimizing casualties among the general population where they hide. Despite the increasing precision of various “smart” weapons including bombs, artillery and mortar munitions, collateral damage is still too often unacceptably high.
This challenge has been met in many instances by sharply increasing the number and frequency of heavily armed patrols as well as targeted house-to-house searches and raids. They are guided by intelligence supplied in part by sympathetic locals and tactical assets like the little Dragon Eye and Raven surveillance UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles).
But, as Captain Haviland so clearly stated, many infantry company and battalion commanders have come to rely most heavily on the real-time observations and deadly accuracy of their own specially trained hunter-shooter teams.
Hide, Observe, Report, Shoot
In addition to fieldcraft and high precision riflery, a significant amount of time is devoted to surveillance and intelligence reporting skills in the formal sniper schools run by the Army and Marine Corps. This training emphasizes the importance of careful observation of enemy activity and frequent radio transmission of clear and concise facts back to the chain-of-command.
Thus, the sniper team – shooter, spotter and often a team leader as well – becomes the commander’s eyes and ears well forward of his unit. In urban warfare this usually means the team moves out covertly into the upper part of a building then remains hidden while scanning a specific sector for an extended period of time. Mission taskings may include reporting of suspicious activity such as placement of IEDs (improvised explosive devices), movement and gatherings of likely insurgents, and spotting mortar positions.
While strict rules of engagement will vary according to the situation and location, most often the team must request and receive higher level permission before taking a shot. Also, when appropriate, the team may be called upon to call for and adjust artillery or air strikes.
Not to be overlooked is the force-multiplier and morale contribution of sniper teams providing security overwatch for friendly patrols as well as static guard posts. Many a GI has been spared as overly eager terrorist insurgents get dispatched with surgical precision when they raise a rifle or RPG (rocket propelled grenade) to fire from a window or alley.
Not All Are Snipers
While all precision shooters are valuable to the tactical situation, not all are genuine “snipers.” This distinguished name is best reserved for those who have successfully completed formal schooling by their respective services, resulting in award of the sniper MOS (military occupational specialty) 8541 to Marines or ASI (additional identifier) B4 in the Army.
For the most part these men are assigned in the role of sniper and armed with top-of-the-line bolt action Remington 7.62mm rifles like the Army’s M24 and Marine Corps’ M40, or semiauto .50 caliber Barretts.
Army Honors Barrett M107
The Vice Chief of Staff of the Army has recognized the Barrett M107 Cal. .50 Long Range Sniper Rifle as one of the Top Ten Greatest Inventions of 2004.
“Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom after action reports have identified the M107 as a top performer and one of the most useful pieces of equipment for the urban fight – particularly for our light fighters. Soldiers and their leaders had nothing but praise for the accuracy, target effect and tactical advantage provided by this weapon.”
Ronnie Barrett’s remarkable .50 caliber sniper rifles have rapidly made their way from Special Operations Command into widespread issue throughout the US Armed Forces and those of many allied nations.
The Army recently gave the M107 “full materiel release” status, signifying that rigorous testing and evaluation has determined that it is completely safe, operationally suitable and logistically supportable.
The M107, developed and made by Barrett Firearms Manufacturing, Inc. of Murfreesboro, Tennessee as the M82, was procured as a Soldier Enhancement Program to meet urgent operational needs in the Global War on Terror.
It is also known to the Marine Corps as the M82 series Special Application Scoped Rifle (SASR).
Corporal Torres and the Barrett .50 cal. 1,200 Meter Shot
3rd Brigade Reconnaissance Troop plays major role in Fallujah Offensive. 1st Infantry Division News, Fallujah, Iraq, December 2004.
Once in position and looking west down into the city, the scouts used their Long Range Advanced Scout Surveillance System (LRAS3) – a device that uses thermal imaging to register heat signatures – to call for fire on targets deep into the city in preparation for the main push.
Later in the day (8 Nov.) the troops began receiving sniper fire. As Spc. James Taylor scanned the city through the LRASS, he spotted another sniper in a window about 1,200 meters out.
Corporal Omar Torres, an infantryman and sniper from the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Scout Platoon, joined the men on the road, bringing with him his .50 caliber M107 sniper rifle. With Taylor acting as his spotter, he sent several rounds into the building.
“Oh man, you nailed him,” shouted Taylor who was still watching through the LRASS. “That was so cool, he just exploded!”
Sharpshooters and Designated Marksmen
Because the demand far outstrips the supply of these “real” snipers, worthy shooters with somewhat lesser degrees of schooling and proficiency are also deserving of membership in the precision riflery fraternity. Depending on variables including the marksman’s branch of service, duty assignment and specific weapon, there is much latitude in what they are called. Hair splitters are invited to weigh in but SAR finds it convenient to use two broad categories.
We’ll call the first category of semi-snipers “Sharpshooters/Designated Marksmen,” who are expert shooters given some advanced instruction and then assigned the role as an additional duty. They are usually identified by the distinctive scoped 7.62mm rifle with its protruding box magazine they proudly carry.
The M14 Rides Again
GI’s armed with accurized M14 rifles are taking a greater role in combat action in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are a number of reasons for dusting off these 1950’s era semiautomatic battle rifles but it’s fair to say this is mostly because they’re available and they do the job.
Replaced in the mid-1960s by the little M16, plenty of these 7.62mm NATO caliber warhorses remain in storage at Anniston Army Depot and, with a bit of tweaking, “Fourteens” way out range and out punch any version of the 5.56mm M16 family.
The Marine Corps has long embraced this rework – carefully done at its famous facility on Quantico – as the Designated Marksman Rifle. Specially trained shooters in FAST (Fleet Anti Terrorism Security) companies get most of these and praise their effectiveness against multiple and moving targets out to 600 meters and sometimes more.
Although modified Fourteens served with distinction in the Vietnam War as the M21 Sniper Rifle, the Army has only recently rediscovered it for this role. In the last couple of years hundreds have been pulled out of cosmoline, tuned up, and rushed out to the field in an admirable but apparently less than fully official manner. Despite Department of Defense news photos and stories featuring the Fourteen in Southwest Asia, the Army is strangely quiet about its very cost-effective recycling of a proven battle rifle. What’s up with this?
On the M14
SAR believes somebody ought to get a medal for responding to urgent requests from the field to overcome the Sixteen’s sniping deficiencies by quickly fielding surplus Fourteens. Inexplicably, we can’t find evidence of any such recognition.
Our requests for information on issue of modified M14 rifles started at the Pentagon and got routed in all manner of directions with no luck. Continued polite pressing through supplementary channels finally yielded a response from a knowledgeable source in the Infantry Center at Fort Benning. Some relevant excerpts:
SAR: Is the proper nomenclature Designated Marksman Rifle?
Army: There is no nomenclature for a modified M14 as this is not a formal Army program, but rather a unit-specific effort.
SAR: What is the basis of issue; how many per unit and who gets them?
Army: Zero. Some units have received depot surplus M14s to augment their authorized weapons but there is no formalized or standardized basis of issue, nor are all units authorized to have M14s – it is a capability provided for a limited time on a case-by-case basis.
SAR: What is the rationale for fielding these vs. the M24?
Army: All units authorized the M24 have their allocated quantity. Those units in receipt of M14s have not received them in lieu of M24 sniper rifles.
SAR: Where are the Designated Marksmen being trained and to what standards?
Army: Designated Marksmen are trained as part of marksmanship sustainment training at the individual unit level, according to standards established in Chapter 7 of FM3-22.9, Rifle Marksmanship.
Squad Designated Marksman
Not to be confused with those in the previous category, Squad Designated Marksmen are members of Army and Marine rifle squads who carry specially modified 5.56mm M16A4 rifles or M4A1 carbines. Telescopic sights and bipods are the most obvious indicators of this special status but the luckiest ones carry weapons with match grade trigger groups and heavy barrels.
They usually get extra training to go along with this high-speed gun gear and are expected to put this to good use in two very important ways. First, the day scopes – usually 4 power ACOGs – enable better identification of threats among friendlies. Then, when the need arises to apply 5.56mm persuasion, the accuracy package plus well honed shooting skills equals higher likelihood of finishing the job without collateral damage.
The Marine Corps has two versions of what they call the SAM-R (Squad Advanced Marksman Rifle), one made at Quantico’s Precision Weapons Section to match standards and the other less formally assembled by deploying Expeditionary Units. The essentials are the same for both, M16A4 with 4 power scope and bipod, and are said to easily do the job out to 400 meters and more.
USAMU Supports Squad Designated Marksmen
“It’s the same rifle, just fitted and better adjusted. Almost like NASCAR, all the improvements are under the hood.” Lieutenant Colonel David Ludwig, USAMU Commander
An excellent feature on the United States Army Marksmanship Unit in the Spring 2005 issue of Infantry Bugler magazine (National Infantry Assn.) detailed some extraordinary assistance at the request of the 3rd Infantry Division as it prepared for deployment to Iraq.
AMU’s expert in-house armorers, with skills honed in support of the Army’s finest competition shooters, took 240 of the division’s M16A4 rifles and fine tuned them for high performance shooting. Sporting a free-floated barrel, competition trigger group, bipod and optical sight, the resulting weapons were capable of putting 20 rounds of special M262 ammo in rapid fire inside the 10 ring at 600 yards.
3rd ID Squad Designated Marksmen also got an AMU tune up, learning from some of the world’s best shooters how to get the most out of their new rifles. The program of instruction for SDMs may be found in FM 3-22.9.
Stryker Brigade Snipers in Iraq
Troubled by the lack of recognition in news releases and other elements on the Army’s official website www.army.mil, SAR sent a request through Pentagon channels to the 25th Infantry Division, deployed in Northern Iraq. The response was immediate and enthusiastic. Some excerpts:
- Major Mark Bieger is the Battalion Operations Officer for 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment deployed in the 1st Brigade (Stryker Brigade Combat Team), 25th Infantry Division in Northern Iraq. “Snipers have been critical to successful operations in fighting the insurgency in Mosul, Iraq. The sniper provides two critical advantages: precision, long-range direct fires and covert surveillance. In an urban environment, the sniper’s unique capabilities cannot be matched with other, lesser-trained soldiers, technology or alternate tactic, technique or procedure. The snipers of this battalion are absolutely necessary and an invaluable piece of the organization.”
- Captain Chris Bachl is a Stryker Infantry Company Commander of A Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment deployed in Northern Iraq.
On Sniper Effectiveness in Iraq: “The seven man sniper squad (2 x three man sniper teams + 1 Squad leader) are used in a full array of operations in support of company and battalion targeting operations. Common operational uses include covert stay behind ambushes, cache/terrain of interest observation, counter IED, Iraqi Army patrol overwatch, and counter mortar/counter rocket and COP/Hard site security. They truly operate over a full spectrum of operations to include both lethal and non-lethal roles. One critical role they play involves the gathering of information and intel as they conduct observation and surveillance. My company snipers were very adept at pinpointing enemy actions at a distance using their advanced optics. Their spot reports translated into critical real time information (sensor to shooter link) that platoon’s were able to act on instantly using their digital capabilities.”
- One example: “While providing observation and counter reconnaissance in support of a platoon maneuvering forward from a COP the sniper team spotted ‘suspicious activity.’ After developing the situation and further observation, they observed military aged males gathering at a house at a distance of 600 meters from the combat outpost. The sniper team was able to then vector the maneuver platoon to the house while the spotter and sniper continued to maintain eyes on the situation. Once the platoon was in sight, the gathering began to disperse, some picked up RPGs and AK 47’s and started firing at the approaching platoon. The sniper team was able to isolate them with precision fires allowing the platoon to maneuver closer to the building.”
- Captain Kevin Saatkamp is an Infantry Stryker company commander in the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment deployed to Northern Iraq.
“Snipers fulfill a critical role in the urban insurgency. The benefits of the organic company sniper, unique to the Stryker Brigade, add a tremendous precision fire asset to those who need it most: the infantryman on the ground. Consisting of a 3-man element; the sniper team provides not only the ability to “reach out and touch someone,” but also the ability to observe targets covertly without a large signature. The largest challenge to the sniper in Mosul is the difficult and varied terrain. One mission the team may be placed in a 3-story building, the next in an open field. Leaving behind a sniper team in an area that just received contact has proved especially effective to US forces. Although not always employed, the sniper can provide an insight into the neighborhood that a normal dismounted patrol can’t. In short, the company sniper team is a tremendous combat multiplier to the Stryker company and battalions.”
Marine Sniper Receives Silver Star By Lance Corporal Ray Lewis
“Under fire for twelve hours at a time with rounds landing inches from his head, sniper Sergeant John E. Place volleyed with such lethal response that insurgents wouldn’t poke their head out their windows.”
His exploits in Operation Iraqi Freedom II as a sniper team leader with Company E, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, earned Place a Silver Star, awarded at Camp Pendleton, California, on June 23rd 2005. He is currently assigned to 1st Marine Division’s Marksmanship Training Unit.
Sniping for Allah
While it is authoritatively said that most “sniper fire” reported by US and allied forces comes from conventional small arms in the hands of marksmen of average skill, it would be naïve to think that there aren’t real snipers among the diverse ranks of the insurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq.
An undisguised propaganda piece filed by Baghdad correspondent Hala Jabar appeared in the 20 February 2005 issue of Britain’s Sunday Times, fawningly profiling an insurgent sniper who we are led to believe must be an Islamic version of legendary Marine sniper Carlos Hathcock. “Abu Othman” – not his real name – is said to be a star among the embittered Sunni Muslims who were the biggest losers when their benefactor Saddam Hussein was deposed.
Supposedly self-taught from internet research, computer shooting games, Hollywood sniper movies, and hours of Dragunov rifle shooting out in the desert, Abu is credited with killing over forty Americans – including some GI snipers – along with numerous Iraqi “collaborators.”
Under the heading of “Know Your Enemy,” here’s one from SAR that provides a sobering look into the bizarre internet world of insurgents and their many sympathizers plus a link directly to the Sunday Times’ story: http://abutamam.blogspot.com/2005/02/snipers-and-there-are-many-on-both.html
Army snipers – and maybe their Marine brothers – can look forward to receiving a fast shooting new 7.62mm sniper rifle in the next year or so. Program Manager Soldier Weapons is expected to soon announce the results of an extensive competition for the XM110 Semi Automatic Sniper System, essentially a beefed-up and tuned up M16 along the lines of the Navy SEAL’s MK11 Mod 0 (Knight’s SR-25).
Also, Ronnie Barrett hasn’t rested on his M107 .50 caliber laurels. Joint Services Small Arms Program is well along with developmental work and safety testing of his 25mm high velocity version called the XM 109 Anti-Materiel Payload Rifle. Insiders report this awesome weapon has already seen “operational evaluation” overseas.
Adopt a Sniper
Despite the best efforts of many on Uncle Sam’s team to get the latest and best guns and gear to his warfighters, bureaucrats who control purse strings and supply lines too often consider golf courses and day care centers to be more important.
This unconscionable situation – made worse by the rapid increase in the numbers of precision marksmen of all types – means that too many shooters must do without and others having to operate with obsolete, damaged or worn out equipment.
Brian Sain and a bunch of other law enforcement precision shooting professionals have organized a direct support effort for their GI counterparts in the Global War on Terror. For more information on how you can help with this noble and necessary work, visit them on the web at www.americansnipers.org
The internet has most everything Abu Othman and the rest of us need to know about precision shooting in GWOT. SAR recommends “The number one starting place for tactical marksmen” that starts right off with six full pages of direct links in three columns each. Visit this site at: www.sniperworld.com
M24 Technical Specifications
Caliber: 7.62x51mm NATO (ammo is special M118 Long Range)
Overall Length: 43 inches
Barrel: 24 inches, twist is 1 turn in 11.2 inches
Weight: 12.1 pounds
Operation: Manual, bolt action
Feed: Internal 5-round magazine
Sights: Standard day optic is 10 power Leupold M3A Ultra
The Army’s Unofficial Designated Marksman Rifle (M14)
Caliber: 7.62x51mm NATO
Overall Length: 44.14 inches
Barrel: 22 inches
Weight: 10.8 pounds combat ready
System of operation: Gas, semiautomatic
Feed: Detachable 20-round box magazine
Sights: Usually Leupold variable power day optics
M16A4 SAM-R Technical Specifications
Caliber: 5.56×45 mm (NATO SS109 and US M262)
Overall Length: 39.6 inches
Barrel: 20 inches, twist is 1 turn in 7 inches
Weight: 7.5 pounds
Operation: Direct gas, semiautomatic
Feed: Detachable 20- and 30- round box magazines
Sights: Trijicon ACOG 4x and Leupold TS-30A2 3 to 9x
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V9N5 (February 2006)|