USMC Scout Snipers
By Robert Bruce

“The reputation of the Marine Scout Sniper that we, the present generation, enjoy was earned by those of our past. From Corporal Bertoli and Lieutenant Hawkins, killed on Okinawa and Tarawa, to Gunnery Sergeant Hathcock and Captain Land of Vietnam, we, the present generation, are forever indebted. It is our watch, our responsibility, and our privilege to take all that they have provided in order to train the world’s deadliest snipers. It is with young men no different from those of our past that we train for the battlefields of the present and future. This is our sacred obligation and duty to those who went before and to all who shall follow.” Scout Sniper School Mission Statement

“One shot, one kill” is the classic motto of the Marine sniper team, in many ways the most cost effective and deadliest force projection package on the planet. Experience in the Vietnam War showed that conventional tactical operations consumed more than 50,000 rounds for each enemy casualty. But the Marine sniper - epitomized by Gunnery Sergeant Carlos Hathcock - averaged just 1.3 rounds for the same result.

And it wasn’t just body count numbers. The Marine sniper’s target was most often “high value” such as officers, heavy weapons gunners and the enemy’s own snipers. Psychological devastation was an important side effect on the enemy, arising from the horrible reality of seeing a comrade standing and talking one minute then violently dispatched the next. Sin loi - “Sorry ‘bout that.”

None of this has changed over the years and the Marine Corps has taken the lead in making sure that its current and future snipers will be the best trained and equipped in the world. Elite Scout Sniper Platoons are key elements of all Marine Expeditionary Units, but training the increasing numbers needed is an ongoing challenge.

Snipers in Iraq

“We are the eyes, ears and trigger finger for the battalion commander. Anything he sees as a threat, we’re sent out to check on.” Sergeant Herbert B. Hancock, Chief Sniper, H&S Co., 1st Bn., 23rd Marine Regt.

Marine Scout Sniper teams are definitely upholding their proud tradition in the ongoing stabilization of Iraq. Numerous accounts from the fighting cite the value of their precision riflery and reports from forward observation. In one notable incident, the Platoon from 1st Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment is credited with an extraordinary victory over large numbers of heavily armed and determined insurgents in the city of Hit in October, 2004.

Reflecting on the results of intense firefights and sustained fighting over several days, Corporal Stephen R. Johnson, assistant team leader, got right to the point. “We showed how (a handful of) guys virtually eliminated a whole platoon. We have proven that snipers are cost effective with lives and rounds. There is no substitute for snipers on the battlefield.”

How to Become a Marine Scout Sniper

The long hard road to earning MOS 8541 begins with volunteers for Scout Sniper Platoons who have consistently fired expert on the rifle range, scored first class on physical fitness tests, and are strong swimmers. Indoctrination follows, where applicants learn the hard way if they have the necessary mental and physical attributes. Six months of probation follow, during which candidates are given on-the-job training and closer evaluation by the unit’s qualified snipers. Those who shoot, think and perform to exacting standards enter the pipeline for the Marine Corps’ Scout Sniper Basic Course.

Detailed information on all aspects of the United States Marine Corps, including the Scout Sniper application process, may be found on the internet at www.usmc.mil

Scout Sniper School(Excerpted from Official Mission Statement)

Training and education consists of three separate programs of instruction taught to over 130 Marines and Officers annually at Quantico.

The Scout Sniper Basic Course takes the world’s finest light infantry and provides the knowledge, experience, and training necessary to create a Marine Scout Sniper. Over 1,500 rounds of ammunition are fired by each and every Marine throughout the nine week course, emphasizing the techniques and procedures of marksmanship, patrolling, reconnaissance and surveillance. Successful completion results in award of the coveted MOS designation of 8541, Marine Scout Sniper.

The Scout Sniper Advanced Course trains senior Marine Scout Snipers in advanced marksmanship, ballistics, and tactics including counter sniping skills. It focuses on advanced techniques and procedures of scout sniping, but also places heavy emphasis on tactics and integration of the Marine Scout Sniper Platoon within the infantry battalion and training the scout sniper platoon.

The Scout Sniper Platoon Commander Course focuses on introduction and familiarization of the entry level ground intelligence and infantry officer to the tactics, techniques and procedures of the Marine Scout Sniper.

Marine Sniper Team Tops AFSAM 2004 (Based on a story filed by Corporal Susan Smith, MCB Quantico)

Once again a Marine team has emerged victorious in the intense sniper competition at the annual Armed Forces Skill-at-Arms Meeting in October at Camp Robinson, Arkansas. Last year’s champion sniper, Gunnery Sergeant Rodney Abbott, returned with new teammate Corporal Juan Vila, to out stalk, out spot and out shoot seventeen other pairings of some of America’s deadliest marksmen.

Abbott, staff non-commissioned officer in charge of the Marine rifle team at Quantico, reflected on what it took to emerge as number one. “I knew our performance, our training and our will to win would speak for itself,” he said.

Vila, although a sniper for four years including combat deployment to Iraq, had never been in formal competition and got only one day to work with Abbott before the event.

Remarkably, this handicap was not a significant factor and the Marines prevailed in a tough series of events including formal known distance marksmanship, stress shooting, land navigation, stalking and observation, plus a four and a half mile run with 45 pound rucksacks.

In addition to prestige won again for the Marine Corps, Vila found both personal and professional value in the experience. “I had fun, but I also received some good training by being out there with all of the other snipers.”

US Marine Corps Sniper Rifles

The Corps is currently using four very interesting rifles to accomplish different pinpoint shooting missions on today’s battlefields. The three detailed below are most commonly used by Marine snipers. A fourth, the 7.62mm Designated Marksman Rifle, is a customized version of the venerable M14 and is most commonly employed by specialists - not necessarily snipers - in Fleet Antiterrorism Security Teams, Special Reaction Teams, and Explosive Ordnance Demolition.

Traditional sniping - 1,000 meter precision shooting to take out key enemy personnel in the tradition of “One Shot, One Kill” - is the job of the M40A3. This is an updated version of the classic Remington 700 bolt action in 7.62mm NATO caliber. The A3’s receiver sports a Schneider match grade stainless steel barrel, snugly settled into an adjustable McMillan A4 polymer stock with Harris bipod. It keeps the old workhorse Unertl 10x scope, now clamped onto a length of M1913 “Picatinny rail” that will also handle any current night scope. This winning combo is built by Marine master armorers at Quantico’s Precision Weapons Section.

M40A3 Technical Specifications

Caliber:     7.62 x 51mm NATO (ammo is special M118 Long Range)
Overall Length:     44.25 inches
Barrel:     24 inches, twist is 1 turn in 12 inches, stainless steel
Weight:     16.5 pounds
Operation:     Manual, bolt action
Feed:     Internal 5-round magazine
Sights:     Standard optic is Unertl 10x day sight

Recent official Marine combat camera photos from Iraq show two versions of a hybrid weapon rolled up under the designation Squad Advanced Marksman Rifle, SAM-R for short. Both are essentially accurized and accessorized M16A4s, intended to maximize the effectiveness of the less-than-ideal 5.56mm NATO round for semi-precision engagements out to 300 meters.

“Real” SAM-Rs are built at Quantico with match triggers in semiautomatic only, heavy barrel floated in Knight’s Rail Adapter System, Harris bipod, and topped with a Leupold TS-30A2 3 to 9 power day optic. Another version, born of necessity in short-notice deployment to Iraq, looks to be an M16A4 topped with a 4 power Armson ACOG. Both SAM-Rs are used primarily by spotters but snipers also find them handy for dispatching multiple targets at closer ranges - particularly at night.

M16A4 SAM-R Technical Specifications

Caliber:     5.56 x 45 mm (NATO SS109)
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:     Armson ACOG 4x and Leupold TS-30A2 3 to 9x

When a thick-skinned or distant target requires big bore blasting, the .50 caliber Barrett M82A3 is just the thing. Ponderously named the Special Application Scoped Rifle (SASR), it is officially described as an “anti-materiel weapon designed to disable or destroy targets at ranges beyond that achievable with conventional small arms.” Usually fed with the A606 Raufoss Grade A ball cartridge, the “Sasser” can also spit any of the wide range of exciting projectiles so ingeniously contrived for the .50 caliber Browning by various makers. Two with combat proven capabilities are the tungsten needle SLAP (Saboted Light Armor Penetrator) and the old reliable API (Armor Piercing Incendiary).

M82A3 SASR Technical Specifications

Caliber:     .50 BMG (12.7x 99 mm)
Overall Length:     57 inches
Barrel:     29 inches
Weight:     32.5 pounds
System of operation:     Recoil, semiautomatic
Feed:     Detachable 10 round box magazine
Sights:     Standard optic is Unertl 10x day sight

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V8N8 (May 2005)
and was posted online on May 24, 2013


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