Much has changed since 9-11. Our nation’s military has been faced with a steep learning curve as it relates to warfare in the 21st century and is engaging an enemy who seems uneducated and backwards, yet has presented many unique challenges. America, however, has a unique ability to rise to the occasion and adapt to, and overcome situations, where many other countries do not.
As the war began, an immediate need was identified to modernize snipers and their gear. An initial problem was that snipers were being incorrectly utilized and therefore the actual requirements were hard to define. As the war evolved, with more units experiencing combat and information being shared, the needs began to be identified. This situation is hardly remedied; but it has reached a point of visibility, which equates to programs, funding and policy change. For the purpose of this article we will look at problems and solutions as a means to analyze the overall situation.
Problem: Inadequate/outdated doctrine.
Discussion: One of the greatest issues was sniper employment. The old concept of a lone sniper team stalking to a final firing position clearly was not going to work. The environment and situation dictated snipers move with larger elements in order to occupy a position from which they can provide over watch. Snipers quickly learned how to establish urban hides and conduct movement. This was not the jungles of SE Asia, for which existing doctrine largely had been developed.
Solution: Small-unit leaders and above began to develop employment strategies that their training never covered, based upon the current situation and environment. This, coupled with after-action reports, lessons learned and the general sharing of information, led to comprehensive sniper planning, support and employment—things like providing security for the sniper team in movement, and relying on the sniper to provide the real-time intelligence to make on-the-spot combat decisions. Probably the biggest “epiphany” was that of when-and-how to bring the snipers to bear for the desired result. These leaders learned that snipers could control large areas, create enemy reluctance, force enemy movement in a desired direction, etc. There was a gradual recognition of what a valuable asset snipers, and designated marksmen, could be when properly utilized.
Problem: Inadequate equipment.
Discussion: The evolution of gear was probably the first issue that was addressed almost universally. Soldiers quickly realized that they needed special equipment in order to accomplish their mission, not all of which the military had in the supply pipeline. Everything from uniforms to rucksacks was in high demand and low supply.
Solution: A number of commercially procured items became popular; items such as the Eberlestock pack, which allows the sniper to carry his rifle on his back protected/concealed while he carries a battle rifle for his own protection during movement. Other items such as rests, tripods, and various bipods were procured in quantity to meet the varied terrain and conditions. The issued spotting scope and tripod did not perform as needed in environments where mirage was high and ranges were either very long or very short, and precise optical definition was an absolute requirement for friend-or-foe ID. High-end spotting scopes such as the Leupold 12-40x60mm Mark 4, Zeiss 85mm, and Swarovski ATS 80’s were quickly procured along with better quality tripods/mounts. Hydration systems, too, became a crucial ingredient in the sniper’s pack. The sniper of today is vastly better outfitted than he was six years ago. It should be mentioned that one aspect of resolving the “gear” issue—one that contributed greatly to overcoming bureaucratic inertia, and one that speedily put much-needed gear in the hands of the troops who needed it—were individual and organizational efforts outside of official channels to provide free equipment/gear to snipers. Efforts such as “adopt a sniper” (www.AmericanSnipers.org) collected and pushed large quantities of equipment to individuals in-country and provided a conduit for specific requests from the field. In most cases the equipment was donated by industry or provided at a huge discount.
Problem: Inadequate optical sights.
Discussion: Probably the first weapons-related items of concern to the snipers were optics. Going into the war, virtually every sniper, except those in Special Operations, had optics on their weapons that were developed in the 70’s or 80’s. The Army and Marine Corps had fixed-power scopes that had been the “state-of-the-art” in their day but were found wanting in 2001. Either they didn’t provide enough magnification or they provided too much.
Solution: Early in the war the “word” went out to procure optics for a variety of uses from crew-served weapons to M4 carbines and everything in between. Many snipers purchased or procured variable-power optics for use on their sniper systems to allow them to open up their FOV (field of view) while retaining the zoom capabilities. In other cases higher-power optics were procured to allow the snipers to engage at extended ranges. The USMC was in the process of selecting the Schmidt & Bender PMII (a.k.a. M8541), which has proved to be an outstanding product. Many Army units procured the Leupold Mark 4 M3 LR/T 3.5-10X as a replacement for or in addition to the fixed 10X Leupold M3 “Ultra.” Many other optics companies such as U.S. Optics and Nightforce saw increased sales of their products in an effort by the military to meet field requirements.
The acquisition of new optics also opened up the need or desire for mission-enhancing accessories or “upgrades.” Devices such as the ACI (Angle Cosine Indicator) from Sniper Tools and a variety of mounting solutions like the MARS (Modular Accessory Rail System) from Remington became popular and are now in widespread use. In addition to the new optics, mounts and accessories, this new war brought interest in new reticle systems such as those offered by Horus Vision, Leupold, Nightforce and U.S. Optics, which provide different or enhanced approaches to range estimation, hold offs, elevation/windage changes and firing solutions.
Problem: Lack of snipers and precision weapons.
Discussion: As the war progressed, more interest developed in alternate weapons systems or modifications of existing systems to meet the environments that snipers were now facing.
Solution: Simple things such as adding an optic to an M4/M16, which previously had been considered “Hollywood,” became the norm with the widespread purchase of the Trjicon ACOG. While not by itself a “sniper” system, it was discovered quickly that personnel who had above-average shooting ability or the snipers themselves could extract a heavy toll on the enemy with such a system. It was this revelation that helped define the concept of the DM (designated marksman)—basically a soldier with slightly more training than the average grunt, equipped with an optically sighted rifle with which he can engage targets at ranges the “typical” shooter could not. It should be noted that the Army and Marine Corps took two different approaches to the issue of the DM.
Based on the experience and development of the SPR (Special Purpose Rifle) by Special Forces, the Army chose to use a modified M16 for their designated marksman rifle. The Corps chose to use the M14 as the platform, due to the superior ballistics of 7.62mm over 5.56mm at extended ranges. Both services discovered that the DM could provide an invaluable service when integrated into line units. Initially, snipers were not overly happy with what they saw as an infringement into their arena. Over time they came to accept them, given that there were/are never enough snipers to go around.
Problem: Modernization of existing SWS (Sniper Weapons Systems.)
Discussion: The Army went (and is going) to war with the M24 SWS, which is an excellent system in terms of accuracy, reliability and durability. However, the rifle had no way to mount in-line night vision, IR lasers, etc. It still had the five-round internal magazine, and had a stock that lacked the ability for the user to adjust his cheek height (needed for different optics and night vision). The Marines took both their M40A1 and M40A3 to combat, but here again the same issues are present. Both service’s snipers have done exceptionally well, but it was and is apparent that they could do better with some additional upgrades and/or modifications.
Solution: Around 2004, Remington introduced its M24A2 as an upgrade to the M24. This included a new stock, optics (variable power), an optics rail that allows the use of in-line night vision IR lasers, and a sound suppressor. While being very popular with the snipers, funding and authorization have never materialized. In addition to the DM concept, several other weapons and concepts evolved as a result of our experiences in the war. The U.S. Navy worked with Sage International to procure the EBR (Enhanced Battle Rifle), which is a modified M14 placed in an aluminum chassis that features multiple rails and a collapsible stock. They found this combination, although somewhat heavy, to be very effective. The Corps has conducted a variety of experiments with adding suppressors to their M40A3’s but to date these suppressors are not in widespread use.
Problem: Rate of fire.
Discussion: Given the change in environments and subsequent employment strategy, snipers realized that in many situations they could not engage multiple targets as fast as the mission required. Additionally, internal five-round magazines do not lend themselves to quick reloads, thus placing the snipers and others at risk in target-rich environments.
Solution: This gave rise to the development by the Army of the Semi-Automatic Sniper System solicitation. This effort was intended to procure a 7.62 semi-auto system that provided the accuracy of a bolt system in addition to the rapid firing capability of a semi. The Army eventually selected a system which they are now beginning to field in small quantities. The original concept was to replace all of the bolt-action systems with the new autoloading system, however it now appears that snipers have come to a realization that they have a need for both capabilities. The USMC and USAF are currently reviewing the concept to determine which direction they will go.
Problem: Weight and the inability to engage targets at ranges beyond 1,000 meters.
Discussion: The big guns became an issue early on. Those that had them took the Barrett M107 with them. The .50 allowed snipers to penetrate barriers behind which the enemy sought refuge. However, they realized that the weight and accuracy were going to be an issue.
Solution: This led to inquiries as to what else was out there, which in turn began an industry race that continues to this day. Early solutions were the application of the .300 WinMag, but the availability of ammo was an issue. Many of our allies fielded systems chambered in .338 Lapua Magnum, which has gained considerable popularity among U.S. snipers. It remains unclear as to what direction this will take, as both industry and the services themselves are exploring alternatives.
Problem: Lack of adequate night vision and ability to use ancillary devices.
Discussion: Going into the war the Army had the AN/PVS-10 and the USMC the SIMRAD for night vision. Given the rate at which night vision had (and is) maturing, other systems were needed. The quality was so improved over the old systems that snipers could make a shot at more than 500 meters at night, which previously was unheard of. Deploying units were provided with substantial deployment funds that allowed them to procure high-end in-line night vision systems like the UNS (Universal Night Sight) by Omnitech. With the new systems they needed the ability to mount them. This led them to a number of mounting solutions such as the McCann rail system and Remington’s modular accessory Rail System. Most of these rails attached to the receiver the same way normal optics mounted, but provided a front rail for the UNS and side rails for the PEQ or other device. The USMC and Navy looked at another approach consisting of securing a block into the stock, onto which a top section is bolted, providing a mounting platform for the in-line NVG.
As I am sure most understand, this war is far from over, but the benefit in terms of equipment and technology development has been vast. This effort will continue for the foreseeable future due to the fact that the “door” has been opened, and once open, it is virtually impossible to close again. As in any war, necessity has been the mother of invention and snipers have never been as educated and well equipped as they are today. The downside is that in many cases they are far from being adequately outfitted, but at least the flow of information is out there and they are becoming much more sophisticated in terms of gear and its application.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Michael Haugen spent 26 years in the U.S. Army, more than 17 of which were in Special Forces. He focused his career on sniping and has trained soldiers and law enforcement officers throughout the U.S. and overseas. He currently resides in Washington State with his family.
Much has changed since 9-11. Our nation’s military has been faced with a steep learning…
by Tactical Life / Mar 1, 2008