The conflicts stemming from the attacks on 9/11 showed America’s military snipers were badly in need of modernization. Their gear, operational doctrine and training needed an update — and fast. As the war evolved, units with combat experience shared lessons learned, identifying new requirements for a unique conflict. Fortunately the services took notice and began to revamp the sniper community in numerous ways.
Problem: Inadequate/outdated doctrine.
Solution: Small-unit leaders began to develop employment strategies that earlier training never covered, based on 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 during movement and relying on the sniper to provide the real-time intelligence for on-the-spot combat decisions.
Probably the biggest change was when-and-how to bring the snipers to bear for the desired result. Unit leaders learned that snipers could control large areas, create enemy reluctance and force enemy movement in a desired direction. There was a gradual recognition of how valuable assets like snipers and designated marksmen could be when properly utilized.
Problem: Inadequate equipment.
Solution: A number of commercially procured items became popular, including the Eberlestock pack, which allows the sniper to carry his rifle on his back protected and concealed while he carries a battle rifle for his own protection during movement. Other items such as rests, tripods and various bipods were procured to meet the varied terrain and conditions.
The issued spotting scope and tripod did not perform as needed in environments where ranges were either very long or very short, and precise optical definition was an absolute requirement for friend-or-foe identification. 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. Individual and organizational efforts outside of official channels to provide free equipment/gear to snipers played a huge role in sniper evolution as well. Groups such as “Adopt a Sniper” (www.AmericanSnipers.org) collected and pushed large quantities of equipment to operators in the war zone 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.
Solution: Early on the word went out to procure optics for a variety of uses from crew-served weapons to M4 carbines. Many snipers purchased or procured variable-power optics for use on their sniper systems to allow them to open up their 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 Marine Corps 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 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. Devices such as the “angle cosine indicator” from Sniper Tools and a variety of mounting solutions like the 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 reticule 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: A shortage of snipers and precision weapons.
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, units quickly discovered that troops with above-average shooting ability and snipers could extract a heavy toll on the enemy with such a system. It was this revelation that helped define the concept of the designated marksman – basically a soldier with slightly more training than the average grunt, equipped with an optically sighted rifle to engage targets at ranges the “typical” shooter could not.
Problem: Modernization of existing SWS (Sniper Weapons Systems.)
Solution: Around 2004, Remington introduced its M24A2 as an upgrade to the M24. This included a new stock, variable power optics, 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. The U.S. Navy worked with Sage International to procure the 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.
Solution: This problem 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. But it now appears that snipers need 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.
Solution: Early solutions included the application of the .300 WinMag, but the availability of ammo was an issue. Many U.S. 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.
The benefit of the current conflict in terms of equipment and technology development has been vast and modernization efforts in this area will likely continue. 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.