Military snipers traditionally have struggled to defend their image in the
public eye. “Some people think that we are the sneaky guys who just go
out and indiscriminately kill,” said Master Sgt. Mark Carey, an instructor
at the Special Warfare Training Group at Fort Bragg, N.C. The reality is that,
“in the military, we talk discipline and controlled fire,” he said.
The selection process to become a special operations sniper is rigorous, he
said at a National Defense Industrial Association’s armaments conference.
“You do not want a power shooter,” he said.
The soldiers selected are “above-average intelligence for the most part;
they are independent, self-disciplined; they have to demonstrate marksmanship
ability and field craft skills, and they have to be cleared by a Defense Department
psychiatrist,” to eliminate the possibility that they might snap, Carey
said. “At least, we are hoping that nobody is going to get out there and
do the wrong thing some day.”
The Defense Department operates seven sniper schools. Three belong to the Marine
Corps, three to the Army and one to the Army National Guard. Training ranges
between two to eight weeks, and snipers will acquire precision shooting skills,
observer skills and field-craft techniques. While conventional snipers can train
for eight to 24 hours without food, the special operations snipers go out for
10 days and subsist on MREs and water, Carey said.
It is possible to be a sniper and be assigned to other duties, Carey explained,
but increasingly the sniper is becoming a primary capability within special
operations. The Marine Corps, he acknowledged, always has considered being a
sniper a primary duty.
In current operations, the role of snipers has gained so much importance that
the Army Rangers will receive an additional 26 snipers to every battalion on
top of the existing 14. The special operations forces, both in the Army and
in the Navy, have two snipers per detachment, according to Carey.
“In the sniper community, we have different types of snipers out there,
but the key is training,” said Carey. “When the CINC calls us and
says ‘it’s go time,’ then training time is over. It is something
that we have to remember, because we need more sustained training.”
During operations, SOF snipers go on assignments in two to four-man teams.
The SOF snipers have satellite communication capabilities to contact the Joint
Task Force, while conventional snipers are limited to line-of-sight communications.
SOF snipers have more access to command and control structures than regular
Army snipers, Carey said. The two-man conventional teams usually are sent out
for short assignments, while the SOF teams could be gone for long periods of
time, he added.
Snipers also provide commanders with valuable intelligence. For example, a
sniper could warn a commander not to shoot long-range missiles, because there
are civilians in the area, Carey explained. “On the battlefield, the sniper
is the human sensor and the shooter. He has a dual capability. That human link
is really important in war fighting, because decisions can’t be made by
In a nutshell, “near real-time intelligence is what we provide commanders,”
SOF snipers have access to digital imagery and video, he said. They generally
hit “limited-exposure” targets as close as 100-400 meters away.
With specialized weapons, they typically shoot enemy troops from as far away
as 800 meters, and even 1,200 meters. “Of course, we can shoot farther
than that,” he noted.
Inclement weather, such as high wind, always puts a damper on missions, said
Carey. “The weather has been our enemy for years,” he said. Visibility,
both in the “fog of battle” and “the fog of reality,”
is a problem, he said. Even though the industry provides snipers “great
ammunition, […] we have a lot of work to do.”
“There are weapons systems that we currently have, or are fielding, but
they have their limitations,” he said. Firearms technology, unlike information
systems, doesn’t get updated too often, he added.
Nevertheless, the special operations community is fortunate in many respects,
because it has its own combat developers. “We are fielding to a small
amount of people, [so] we can field faster,” he said.
For example the MK12 is an in-house project, “because we knew we needed
a 5.56 gun that was suppressed for the urban environment,” he said. We
… sent it to Afghanistan, the Philippines and Iraq.”
The Special Operations Command made changes to the 10-year-old MOD 11 MK2 weapon
to make it work with the new AA11 and subsonic 7.62 mm ammunition, said Carey.
The upgrade was done in less than six months, once the need was identified,
he said. The XM 107 rifle has been a success in the field, due to its extended
range and high-performance A606 Raufus ammunition, he added.
“The guys are coming back from current operations and saying that Raufus
is the way to go,” Carey said. “It is dual munition and is explosive
as well as penetrating, .50 cal and accurate.”
The universal night sight kit is another in-house project, said Carey. It already
has been fielded to SOF troops. “We needed a night-vision system that
sits in front of the scope, because currently everything is a day/night optic,”
he said. “This system works on AA batteries. It is light. You can carry
it in your pocket, and it has a daylight scope.”
With new equipment rolling off the production line, compatibility is a major
issue, Carey pointed out. “We can do more for a longer time if we have
better compatibility,” he said. Acquisition program managers should work
more closely with the “training side of the house, so that those pieces
of equipment get to the trainer and at the same time it gets to the field.”
Soldiers pick up their new weapons systems within days of leaving for their
deployments, and therefore never have time to shoot that weapon before combat
Carey recalled one Ranger who was sent by his commander to pick up his new
XM 107sniper rifle right before deploying. “That is not the way to send
people to war,” he said.
Despite their new technology, SOF snipers have trouble operating in urban environments.
“We have never developed anything that goes through glass,” he said.
Mixed metal bullets will need to be developed, “because lead can’t
keep going into the ground. The mixed metal bullets are ballistically more enhanced,
they are more lethal and give us more range,” he said.
The counter-sniper/long range rifle, in the urban environment, sees through
barriers, Carey said. Snipers also need a hyper velocity Sabot or rail gun,
so that the shots are not affected by mirage and wind, and “we can take
the enemy away from his weapons.” Gyroscopic stabilization of the weapons
systems is imperative, he said.
Carey’s advice to contractors is to develop technology to improve lethality,
“increase our accuracy without degrading it, decrease our weight, make
things that are ergonomic and look at a modular systems approach, all in one
rifle. This is SOF thinking.”