The Thinking Rifleman: Profitable Strategies for the Military Sniper
By SGT Christopher Rance

Snipers are becoming an increasingly valued weapon in the mountains and deserts of Afghanistan. A definite renaissance of sniping is being seen across the front lines of war. The sniper was such an effective tool in Iraq that the sniper’s tactical comeback in Afghanistan is being facilitated by the mounting concerns over the number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan caused by collateral damage from coalition air strikes. This has made the sniper the military’s most cost effective, discriminating fighting machine in the Global War on Terror.

As the military draws down and budget cuts loom, the military will place additional dependence on affordable force multipliers. Two of the most effective force multipliers currently in the war on terror are unmanned aerial drones (UAVs) and the modern military sniper. These force multipliers can be outfitted to emphasize any role necessary, from reconnaissance to combat and everything in between. Both are relatively inexpensive and fit well into the military’s transformation to a smaller, more agile force.

Cost will always be a driving force in any military discussion. Statistics from past wars on the expenditure of ammunition to kill an enemy combatant are mind-numbing. In World War II, the United States and its Allies expended 25,000 rounds of ammunition to kill a single enemy soldier. In the Korean War, the ammunition expenditure increased fourfold to 100,000 rounds per soldier. In the Vietnam War, the average number of rounds expended per kill with the M16 rifle was 50,000.

In Contrast, United States Army and Marine snipers in the Vietnam War expended 1.3 rounds of ammunition for each claimed and verified kill, at an average range of 600 yards. This figure shows the combat effectiveness of the sniper and the minimization of risk to noncombatants. In today’s current war on terror, analysts have estimated US forces have expended an estimated 250,000 rounds of ammunition for every insurgent killed. John Pike, director of the Washington military research group GlobalSecurity.org has said that based on the GAO’s figures, U.S. forces had expended around six billion rounds of ammunition in training and combat between 2002-2005. This figure has obviously gone up since 2005.

Figures from the United States Army Sniper School and it’s fiscal year forecast for ammunition for training new snipers has its rounds per student for M118LR ammunition at 55,380 with a total year cost of $489,739. For .300 Win, it has 34,225 rounds per student with a year cost of $347,384. A relatively small number to train a sniper when compared to the overall costs of ammunition. The fact is that the sniper can now take that training and be efficient and effective in both cost and action on the front lines. The Army still has to ask the question, “How do I make every round count?”

Planning sniper employment needs to be thorough and sound. The sniper needs to become a thinking rifleman. The sniper has to explore the uncertainties and inaccuracies of real world shooting so he can make informed decisions about how to improve his hit percentage. Bryan Litz, author and successful long-range shooter, has developed a modeling system that if applied correctly can change how snipers plan for future operations. The analysis method used in his book, Accuracy and Precision for Long Range Shooting, is called The Weapon Employment Zone, or WEZ. Bryan states, “This is a systematic and comparative evaluation of small arms performance. The WEZ analysis is model based, statistical in nature, and it quantifies the hit percentage of a given shooting system on specified targets as a function of range.”

The value of quantifying the hit percentage of a given weapon/sniper/ammunition combination in a specific environment, is that the information collected can be used to quantify sniper effectiveness in war-gaming scenarios. Bryan Litz continues to explain the importance of quantifying hit percentage by comparison of several weapon systems under the same condition to ask important questions such as; how does a 10% BC increase affect hit percentage? How much hit percentage is improved by training a shooter to judge cross wind to within +/- 2 mph as opposed to +/- 4 mph? Are resources better spent on new rifles, better ballistic software, or more training? These are all important questions to ask, and by a thorough and careful WEZ analysis, the results can guide decisions as to which weapon systems and shooting skills are most effective at maximizing hit percentages in certain environment and confidence scenarios.

The decision makers, who control how the military training budgets will be allocated, need to be educated on how the sniper employs, how to calculate a meaningful hit percentage and decide on where to focus resources, training, budgets and ECT. This role needs to be created and employed by the United States Army.

The Army needs to establish a formal career progression for Sniper qualified personal to become Sniper Employment Officers through a Warrant Officer program. This position would create an incentive for Sergeants and Staff Sergeants who have exhausted their Sniper Team Leader and Section Leader time in a brigade combat team to become United States Army Warrant Officers. The move to adopt a Warrant Officer Sniper MOS would open the door for snipers to work in the field longer, receive better training, and improve the overall quality and hit percentages of the Army sniper. The Sniper Employment Officer would be able to advise and assist combatant commanders on the employment, training and equipment needs of snipers. This career field would be highly competitive and cost effective to the unit and the Army.

The United States Army needs to act. Snipers have a unique skill set that is not being used to its full capacity. The demand for their skills and expertise continues to increase, but the incentive for seasoned snipers to stay is non-existent. The framework and structure for a Warrant officer sniper MOS would prove to be very successful and would continue the growth of the military’s greatest force multiplier, the sniper.

Lessons Learned from 2012 International Sniper Competition

This past November, 36 teams from around the world gathered to compete at the 12th Annual International Sniper Competition. The teams came from all branches of services and from the Special Operations community. The competition is hosted by the United States Army Sniper School and the Army Sniper Association. This year the cadre put together a tough course of fire that would challenge each sniper both physically and mentally. Without a doubt, the Sniper School cadre are the most professional instructors that you will come across in the Army.

Competitive shooting exposes the team’s strengths and weaknesses and helps the team gain a better understanding of what they need to train on for future operations. Competitive shooting needs to be pushed harder in the sniper community. It is an excellent opportunity for units to build cohesion in the sniper community and share knowledge on today’s area of operations. This was the first year my sniper partner SGT Christopher Stevens and myself competed in this competition. We had failures and successes throughout the three-day event. Our best events were the ones we took 1st place in, the rapid precision shoot and the KIM urban shoot event. During these two events, our team communication was excellent and shot placement was spot on. The KIM event was a great way to display our speed, communication and accurate PID ability as a team.

The biggest training value came from learning TTP’s from other sniper teams. The Special Operation community was very helpful and the International teams brought new and innovative ways to train and fight. The biggest training tools that I took away from the event were:
  1. Train Movers at every possible opportunity.
  2. Train Non-Standard positions – both strong and weak side.
  3. Fluid training. Enforce the Shoot, Move and Communicate principle. Train in full kit.
  4. Effective communication. Keep it clear and concise. 3 D’s – Distance, Direction and Description.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review SAW (May 2013)
and was posted online on March 22, 2013


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