Sniper Explained

For other uses see Sniper (disambiguation).

A sniper is usually a highly trained marksman that shoots targets from concealed positions or distances exceeding the capabilities of regular personnel. Snipers typically have specialized training and distinct high-precision rifles. In addition to marksmanship, military snipers are also trained in camouflage, field craft, infiltration, reconnaissance and observation techniques.[1]


The term sniper was first attested in 1824 in the sense of the word 'sharpshooter'. The verb to snipe originated in the 1770s among soldiers in British India, where a hunter skilled enough to kill the elusive, difficult snipe was dubbed a "sniper". [2]

During the American Civil War, the common term used in the United States was 'skirmisher'. Throughout history armies have used skirmishers to break up enemy formations and to thwart the enemy from flanking the main body of their attack force. They were deployed individually on the extremes of the moving army primarily to scout for the possibility of an enemy ambush. Consequently, a "skirmish" denotes a clash of small scope between these forces.[3] In general, a skirmish was a limited combat, involving troops other than those of the main body.[4] The term 'sniper' was not in widespread use in the United States until after the American Civil War.

In the last few decades, the term 'sniper' has been used very loosely. Gun control advocates used this term so loosely that some people even called it sniping when a handgun was used; the term 'sniper rifle' was considered very "scary sounding" and was very effective in inciting fear, evoking a lot of unsettling images, such as "a lone gunman, undetectable, on the hunt".[5] ­[6]

The term 'sniper' has been used in more serious tones especially by media in association with police precision riflemen, those responsible for assassination, any shooting from all but the shortest range in war, and any criminal equipped with a rifle in a civil context. This has rather expanded the meaning of the term. It has also given the term 'sniper' mixed connotations. Official sources often use more positive connotative terms to describe snipers, especially for police snipers: counter-sniper, precision marksman, tactical marksman, sharpshooter, precision riflemen, and precision shooter. Some of these alternatives have been in common use for a long time; others are closer to undisguised euphemisms.

Snipers in warfare

Different countries have different military doctrines regarding snipers in military units, settings, and tactics. Generally, a sniper's primary function in warfare is to provide detailed reconnaissance from a concealed position and, if necessary, to reduce the enemy's fighting ability by striking at a small number of high value targets, especially officers, communication and other personnel.

Soviet Russian and derived military doctrines include squad-level snipers, which may be called “sharpshooters” or “designated marksmen” in other doctrines (see below). They do so because this ability was lost to ordinary troops when assault rifles (which are optimized for close-in, rapid-fire combat) were adopted. See the "Soviet sniper" article for further details.

Military snipers from the US, UK, and other countries that adopt their military doctrine are typically deployed in two-man sniper teams consisting of a shooter and spotter. A common practice is for a shooter and a spotter to take turns in order to avoid eye fatigue. In most recent combat operations occurring in large densely populated towns such as Fallujah, Iraq, two teams would be deployed together to increase their security and effectiveness in an urban environment. German doctrine of largely independent snipers and emphasis on concealment developed during the Second World War have been most influential on modern sniper tactics, currently used throughout Western militaries (examples are specialized camouflage clothing, concealment in terrain and emphasis on coup d'œil).

Typical sniper missions include reconnaissance and surveillance, target marking for air-strikes, counter-sniper, killing enemy commanders, selecting targets of opportunity, and even anti-matériel tasks (destruction of military equipment), which tend to require use of rifles in the larger calibers such as the .50 BMG. Snipers have of late been increasingly demonstrated as useful by US and UK forces in the recent Iraq campaign in a fire support role to cover the movement of infantry, especially in urban areas.[7]

Snipers during World War I and World War II

World War II

European Theatre

During World War II, snipers reappeared as important factors on the battlefield. During the interbellum, most nations had dropped their specialized sniper units, notably the Germans who had had such a reputation during World War I. However, during the Spanish Civil War, the effectiveness and dangers of snipers once again came to the fore. The only nation that had specially trained sniper units during the 1930s was the Soviet Union. Soviet snipers were trained in their skills as marksmen, in using the terrain to hide themselves from the enemy and the ability to work alongside regular forces. This made the Soviet sniper training focus more on 'normal' combat situations than those of other nations. During the 1940 campaigns of Germany, it appeared that lone, well hidden snipers could halt the German advance for a significant amount of time. For example during the close-in on Dunkirk, British snipers were able to significantly delay German infantry trying to reach Dunkirk. This prompted the British to once again upscale their training of specialized sniper units. British snipers were trained in the obvious marksmanship skills and taught to blend in with the environment, often by using special headgear that concealed them. However, the British Army offered sniper training exclusively to officers and non-commissioned officers, which reduced their effectiveness considerably.

One of the best known battles involving snipers, and also the battle that made the Germans reinstate their specialized sniper training, was the Battle of Stalingrad. Their defensive position inside a city filled with rubble meant that Soviet snipers were able to inflict significant casualties on the German Wehrmacht. Because of the urban nature of fighting, snipers were very hard to spot and seriously dented the morale of the German attackers. Though German sharpshooters appeared spontaneously, often armed with captured scoped Mosin-Nagant rifles, Germany re-established its own sniping school and set out to reclaim its reputation of the First World War. Germany drastically increased the number of snipers per unit. German training emphasized shooting at long-range targets to deliver a feeling of insecurity to the enemy, the ability to creep up on enemies and remain hidden with enemies nearby, plus especially good camouflaging. Germany evolved the most efficient ways of camouflaging, both by using the environment (branches etc.) and by the development of specially designed, reversible camouflage clothing. German snipers were also issued with special shovels and knives to create the best possible hiding places and shelters. As they had done during the First World War, German snipers also changed location after a few shots to further reduce their chances of being spotted. They were also issued highest-quality adjustable scopes.

In the United States armed forces, sniper training was only very elementary and focused on being able to hit targets over long distances. Snipers were required to be able to hit a body over 400 meters away, and a head over 200 meters away. There was almost no concern with the ability to blend into the environment. Sniper training also varied from place to place, resulting in a wide range of qualities of snipers. The main reason the US did not extend their training beyond long-range shooting was the limited deployment of US soldiers until the Normandy Invasion. During the campaigns in North Africa and Italy, most fighting occurred in arid and mountainous regions where limited concealment was possible, in contrast to Western and Central Europe. This resulted in disastrous effects in Normandy and the campaign in Western Europe where they encountered well trained German snipers. In Normandy, German snipers remained hidden in the dense vegetation and were able to encircle American units, firing at them from all sides. The American and British forces were surprised by how near the German snipers could come and safely attack them, as well as by their ability to hit targets over long distances. A famous mistake made by the green American soldiers was to lie down and wait when targeted by German snipers, thus allowing the snipers to pick them off one after another. German snipers often infiltrated Allied lines and sometimes when the frontlines moved, they fought from their sniping positions and withheld their surrender until their rations and munitions were exhausted. After World War II, many elements of German sniper training and doctrine were copied by other countries.

Pacific Theatre

In the Pacific War, the Empire of Japan also trained snipers. In the jungles of Asia and the Pacific Islands, snipers posed a serious threat to the British, Australian, Canadian and US troops. Japanese snipers were specially trained to use the environment to conceal themselves. Japanese snipers used foliage on their uniforms and dug well-concealed hide-outs that were often connected with small trenches. There was no need for long range accuracy, because most combat in the jungle took place within a few hundred meters. Japanese snipers were known for their patience and ability to remain hidden for long periods. They almost never left their carefully camouflaged hiding spots, partly due to the disciplinary training they received and partly due to their fighting mentality. This meant that whenever a sniper was in the area, the location of the sniper could be determined after the sniper had fired a few shots. The Japanese often fought until death and would seldom retreat.

The Allies also used their own snipers in the Pacific, notably the US Marines, who used M1903 Springfield rifles with elongated scopes that allowed for very effective long range shooting.

Common sniper rifles used during World War II

Some common sniper rifles used during the Second World War include: the Soviet M1891/30 Mosin Nagant and, to a lesser extent, the semi-automatic SVT-40; the German Mauser Karabiner 98k and semi-automatic Gewehr 43; the British Lee-Enfield No. 4; the Japanese Arisaka 97; the American semi-automatic M1 Garand (C&D variants); and the American M1903 Springfield; to a lesser extent, the Italians trained few snipers and supplied them with a scoped Carcano Model 1891.


The longest range recorded for a sniper kill currently stands at 2,430 meters (2,657 yd, or 1.51 miles), accomplished by Corporal Rob Furlong, a sniper from Newfoundland, Canada, in March 2002 during the war in Afghanistan. Furlong made this record-breaking kill while he was participating in Operation Anaconda. He was serving with Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) at the time. To make the kill, he used a .50 caliber BMG (12.7 mm) McMillan TAC-50 bolt-action rifle.[8]

If one takes the time-in-flight of the bullet with air resistance to be about 1.5× the flight time without air resistance, that would be about 4.5 seconds (2,430 m ÷ 823m/s[9] = 2.95s). Over that time, neglecting any aerodynamic lift on the bullet in flight, it would drop almost 100 m on its way to the target.

The previous record was held by U.S. Marine sniper Carlos Hathcock in February 1967 during the Vietnam War, at a distance of more than 2347yd using a scope-mounted Browning M2 .50 machine gun.[10] [11] [12]

By contrast, much of the U.S./Coalition urban sniping in support of operations in Iraq is at much shorter ranges, although in one notable incident on April 3, 2003, Corporals Matt and Sam Hughes, a two-man sniper team of the Royal Marines, armed with L96 sniper rifles each killed targets at a range of about 860m (2,820feet) with shots that, due to strong wind, had to be “fire[d] exactly 17 meters (56 ft) to the left of the target for the bullet to bend in the wind.”[13]

During Operation Enduring Freedom, Spanish Navy Marine snipers shot cables hanging from the mast to the bridge of the North Korean freighter So San, smuggling Scud missiles through the waters of Socotra Island. These cables were preventing it from being boarded by fast rope for an arms inspection. The shots were made at a range of, with rough sea, from the deck of a Santa Maria-class frigate, and the Marines were armed with Barrett M95 rifles.

During Operation Harekate Yolo in Afghanistan, one Norwegian sniper of the Kystjegerkommandoen, aiming from a trench, hit a Taliban insurgent from a distance of 1,380 meters, using 12.7 mm multi-purpose ammunition.[14]


Law enforcement snipers, also commonly called police snipers, and military snipers, differ in many ways, including their areas of operation, training, and tactics. A police sharpshooter is part of a police operation and usually takes part in relatively short missions. Police forces typically deploy such sharpshooters in hostage scenarios. This differs from a military sniper, who operates as part of a larger army, engaged in warfare. Often as part of a SWAT team, police snipers are deployed alongside negotiators and an assault team trained for close quarters combat. As policemen, they are trained to shoot only as a last resort, when there is a direct threat to life; the police sharpshooter has a well-known rule: "Be prepared to take a life to save a life." Police snipers typically operate at much shorter ranges than military snipers, generally under 1000NaN0 and sometimes even less than 500NaN0. Both types of snipers do make difficult shots under pressure, and often perform one shot kills.

Police units which are unprepared for tactical operations may rely on a specialized SWAT tactical team, which may have a dedicated sniper team member.[15]

Some police sniper operations begin with military assistance.[16]

Police snipers placed in vantage points, such as high buildings, can provide security for events.[17]

The need for specialized training for police sharpshooters was made apparent in 1972 during the Munich massacre when the German police could not deploy specialized personnel or equipment during the standoff at the airport in the closing phase of the crisis, and consequently all of the Israeli hostages were killed. The use of snipers of the German army was impossible due to the German constitution's explicit prohibition of the use of the military in domestic matters. This situation was later addressed with the founding of the specialized police counter-terrorist unit GSG 9.

In one high-profile incident, a SWAT sniper in Columbus, Ohio prevented a suicide by shooting a revolver out of the individual's hand, leaving him unharmed.[18]


Good training is essential to provide a sniper with the skills needed to perform well. Military sniper training aims to teach a high degree of proficiency in camouflage and concealment, stalking and observation as well as precision marksmanship under various operational conditions. Trainees typically shoot thousands of rounds over a number of weeks, while learning these core skills.

Snipers are trained to squeeze the trigger straight back with the ball of their finger, to avoid jerking the gun sideways. The most accurate position is prone, with a sandbag supporting the stock, and the stock's cheek-piece against the cheek. In the field, a bipod can be used instead. Sometimes a sling is wrapped around the weak arm (or both) to reduce stock movement. Some doctrines train a sniper to breathe deeply before shooting, then hold their lungs empty while they line up and take their shot. Some go further, teaching their snipers to shoot between heartbeats to minimize barrel motion.


The key to sniping is accuracy, which applies to both the weapon and the shooter. The weapon should be able to consistently place shots within high tolerances. The sniper in turn must utilize the weapon to accurately place shots under varying conditions.

A sniper must have the ability to accurately estimate the various factors that influence a bullet's trajectory and point of impact such as: range to the target, wind direction, wind velocity, altitude and elevation of the sniper and the target and ambient temperature. Mistakes in estimation compound over distance and can decrease lethality or cause a shot to miss completely.

Snipers zero their weapons at a target range or in the field. This is the process of adjusting the scope so that the bullet's points-of-impact is at the point-of-aim (centre of scope or scope's cross-hairs) for a specific distance. A rifle and telescope should retain its zero as long as possible under all conditions to reduce the need to re-zero during missions.

A sandbag serves as a useful platform for shooting a sniper rifle. In the field, a bipod is more common, although any soft surface such as a rucksack will steady a rifle and contribute to consistency. In particular, bipods help when firing from a prone position, and enable the firing position to be sustained for an extended period of time. Many police and military sniper rifles come equipped with an adjustable bipod. Makeshift bipods can also be constructed from items such as tree branches or ski poles.

U.S. military

Servicemen volunteer for sniper training and are accepted on the basis of their aptitude as perceived by their commanders. Military snipers may be trained as forward air controllers (FACs) to direct air strikes or forward observers (FOs) to direct artillery or mortar fire.

Effective sniping in a military context may necessitate assuming a stationary position for days at a time. Fatigue and muscle stiffness often result from the mandatory immobility. Also, urination and defecation into a bag or other container may become essential.

British military

The first British sniper unit began life as Lovat Scouts, a Scottish Highland regiment that earned high praise during the Second Boer War. The unit was formed by Lord Lovat and reported to an American, Major Frederick Russell Burnham, the British Army Chief of Scouts under Lord Roberts. Burnham fittingly described these scouts as "half wolf and half jackrabbit."[19] Just like their Boer opponents, they were well practiced in the arts of marksmanship, field craft, and military tactics. They were also the first known military unit to wear a ghillie suit.[20] They were skilled woodsmen but also practitioners of discretion: "He who shoots and runs away, lives to shoot another day." After the war, this regiment went on to formally become the British Army's first sniper unit, then better known as sharpshooters.[19]


The range to the target is measured or estimated as precisely as conditions permit and correct range estimation becomes absolutely critical at long ranges, because a bullet travels with a curved trajectory and the sniper must compensate for this by aiming higher at longer distances. If the exact distance is not known the sniper will compensate incorrectly and the bullet path will be too high or low. As an example, for a typical military sniping cartridge such as 7.62 × 51 mm NATO (.308 Winchester) M118 Special Ball round this difference (or “drop”) from 700to(-) is . This means that if the sniper incorrectly estimated the distance as 700 meters when the target was in fact 800 meters away, the bullet will be 200 millimeters lower than expected by the time it reaches the target.

Laser rangefinders may be used, but are not preferred on the battlefield because a laser can be seen by both the sender and the receiver. One useful method is comparing the height of the target (or nearby objects) to their size on the mil dot scope, or taking a known distance and using some sort of measure (utility poles, fence posts) to determine the additional distance. The average human head is 150mm in width, average human shoulders are 500mm apart and the average distance from a person's pelvis to the top of their head is 1000mm.

To determine the range to a target without a laser rangefinder, the sniper must use the mil dot reticle on a scope to accurately find the range. Mil dots are used like a slide rule to measure the height of a target, and if the height is known, the range can be as well. The height of the target (in yards) ×1000, divided by the height of the target (in mils), gives the range in yards. This is only in general, however, as both scope magnification (7×, 40×) and mil dot spacing change. The USMC standard is that 1 mil (that is, 1 milliradian) equals 3.438 MOA (minute of arc, or, equivalently, minute of angle), while the US Army standard is 3.6 MOA, chosen so as to give a diameter of 1 yard (36 inches) at 1000yd. Many commercial manufacturers use 3.5, splitting the difference, since it is easier with which to work.

Explanation: 1 MIL = 1 milli-radian. That is, 1 MIL = 1x10^-3 radian. But, 10^-3 rad x (360 deg/ (2 x Pi) radians) = 0.0573 degrees. Now, 1 MOA = 1/60 degree = 0.01667 degrees. Hence, there are 0.0573/0.01667 = 3.43775 MOA per MIL, where MIL is defined as a milli-radian. On the other hand, defining a mil-dot by the US Army way, to equate it to 10NaN0 at 1000yd, means the Army's mil-dot is approximately 3.6 MOA.

It is important to note that angular mil (mil) is only an approximation of a milliradian and different organizations use different approximations. Please see three definitions of the angular mil.

At longer ranges, bullet drop plays a significant role in targeting. The effect can be estimated from a chart which may be memorized or taped to the rifle, although some scopes come with Bullet Drop Compensator (BDC) systems that only require the range be dialed in. These are tuned to both a specific class of rifle and specific ammunition. It must be noted that every bullet type and load will have different ballistics. .308 Federal 175 grain (11.3 g) BTHP match shoots at 2,600 ft/s (790 m/s). Zeroed at 100yd, a 16.2 MOA adjustment would have to be made to hit a target at 600yd. If the same bullet was shot with 168 grain (10.9 g), a 17.1 MOA adjustment would be necessary.

Shooting uphill or downhill is confusing for many because gravity only affects it for the horizontal distance covered. An example would be if you are at the base of a tall building and your target is 400 yards away you would use your 400 yard zero. If you were to go to the top of a building that is 300 yards tall, the range to the target would be 500 yards, using the Pythagorean theorem; however, to hit the target, the rifle must use the 400 yard zero. If you use the 500 yard zero you will overshoot your target. Velocity and energy will be calculated based on 500 yards as well as windage which also plays a significant role, the effect increasing with wind speed or the distance of the shot. The slant of visible convections near the ground can be used to estimate crosswinds, and correct the point of aim. Recently, a small device known as a cosine indicator has been developed. This device is clamped to the tubular body of the telescopic sight, and gives an indicative readout in numerical form as the rifle is aimed up or down at the target. This is translated into a figure used to compute the horizontal range to the target.

All adjustments for range, wind, and elevation can be performed by aiming off the target, called "holding over" or Kentucky windage. Alternately, the telescope can be adjusted so that the point of aim is changed to compensate for these factors, sometimes referred to as "dialing in". The shooter must remember to return the scope to zeroed position. Adjusting the scope allows for more accurate shots, because the cross-hairs can be aligned with the target more accurately, but the sniper must know exactly what differences the changes will have on the point-of-impact at each target range.

For moving targets, the point-of-aim is ahead of the target in the direction of movement. Known as "leading" the target, the amount of "lead" depends on the speed and angle of the target's movement as well as the distance to the target. For this technique, holding over is the preferred method. Anticipating the behavior of the target is necessary to accurately place the shot.

Sniper equipment

See main article: Sniper equipment.

The major components of a sniper's equipment include a sniper rifle, ammunition, suppressor, camouflage, and/or a ghillie suit.

Sniper tactics

Shot placement

Shot placement varies considerably with the type of sniper being discussed. Military snipers, who generally do not engage targets at less than 300 m (330 yd), usually attempt body shots, aiming at the chest. These shots depend on tissue damage, organ trauma, and blood loss to make the kill.

Police snipers who generally engage at much shorter distances may attempt more precise shot at particular parts of body or particular devices: in one event in 2007 in Marseille, a GIPN sniper took a shot from 80m (260feet) at the pistol of a policeman threatening to commit suicide, destroying the weapon and preventing him from killing himself.[21] Less lethal shots (at arms or legs) may also be taken at criminals to sap their will to fight or reduce their mobility. In a high-risk or instant-death hostage situation, police snipers may take head shots to ensure an instant kill. The snipers aim for the "apricot", or the medulla oblongata, located inside the head, a part of the brain that controls voluntary movement that lies at the base of the skull. Some ballistics and neurological researchers have argued that severing the spinal cord at an area near the second cervical vertebra is actually achieved, usually having the same effect of preventing voluntary motor activity, but the debate on the matter remains largely academic at present.


Snipers can target personnel or materiel, but most often they target the most important enemy personnel such as officers or specialists (e.g. communications operators) so as to cause maximum disruption to enemy operations. Other personnel they might target include those who pose an immediate threat to the sniper, like dog handlers, who are often employed in a search for snipers.

A sniper identifies officers by their appearance and behavior such as symbols of rank, talking to radio operators, sitting as a passenger in a car, having military servants, binoculars/map cases or talking and moving position more frequently. If possible, snipers shoot in descending order by rank, or if rank is unavailable, they shoot to disrupt communications.

Since most kills in modern warfare are by crew-served weapons, reconnaissance is one of the most effective uses of snipers. They use their aerobic conditioning, infiltration skills and excellent long-distance observation equipment and tactics to approach and observe the enemy. In this role, their rules of engagement let them engage only high value targets of opportunity.

Some rifles, such as the Denel NTW-20 are designed for a purely anti-materiel (AM) role, e.g. shooting turbine disks of parked jet fighters, missile guidance packages, expensive optics, and the bearings, tubes or wave guides of radar sets. A sniper equipped with the correct rifle can target radar dishes, water containers, the engines of vehicles, and any number of other targets. Other rifles, such as the .50 calibre rifles produced by Barrett and McMillan are not designed exclusively as AM rifles, but are often employed in such a way, providing the range and power needed for AM applications in a lightweight package compared to most traditional AM rifles. Other calibers, such as the .408 Cheyenne Tactical and the .338 Lapua are designed to be capable of limited AM application, but ideally suited as anti-personnel rounds.


Often in situations with multiple targets, snipers must use a special kind of tactic. After firing a few shots from a certain position, snipers are known to move unseen to another location before the enemy can figure where he is and mount a counterattack. Snipers will frequently use this tactic to their advantage, creating an atmosphere of chaos and confusion. An experienced marksman will make it seem as if an entire squad of snipers is engaging the targets. This is known as "relocating".

Sound masking

As sniper rifles are often extremely powerful and consequently loud, it is common for snipers to use a technique known as sound masking. This tactic, in the hands of a highly skilled marksman, can be used as a substitute for a noise suppressor. Very loud sounds in the environment, such as artillery shells air bursting or claps of thunder, can often mask the sound of the shot. This technique is frequently used in clandestine operations and infiltration tactics.

Psychological warfare

Due to the without-warning aspect of sniper shot, high lethality of aimed shots and frustration of aimed troops not able to shoot back because they can't locate the sniper or it is out of their range, sniper tactics have a significant effect on morale. Extensive use of sniper tactics can be used as a psychological strategy in order to induce constant stress in opposing forces.

One may note that by many aspects (constant threat, high "per event" lethality, inability to strike back), the psychological impact imposed by snipers is quite similar to those of landmines, booby-traps, and IEDs.

Snipers have always had a varied reputation: to those whom they serve they are heroes. However, snipers are universally hated by the people they target because of the cold-blooded way in which they select targets. Snipers know that if they are ever captured, there is a high risk that they will be summarily executed. This happened during World War 1[22] and also during World War II[23] .[24] As a result, if a sniper is in imminent danger of capture, he may discard any items which might indicate his status as a sniper. The risk of captured snipers being summarily executed is explicitly referred to in Chapter 6 of US Army doctrine document FM 3-060.11 entitled 'SNIPER AND COUNTERSNIPER TACTICS, TECHNIQUES, AND PROCEDURES':

Historically, units that suffered heavy and continual casualties from urban sniper fire and were frustrated by their inability to strike back effectively often have become enraged. Such units may overreact and violate the laws of land warfare concerning the treatment of captured snipers. This tendency is magnified if the unit has been under the intense stress of urban combat for an extended time. It is vital that commanders and leaders at all levels understand the law of land warfare and also understand the psychological pressures of urban warfare. It requires strong leadership and great moral strength to prevent soldiers from releasing their anger and frustration on captured snipers or civilians suspected of sniping at them.[25]

The negative reputation of snipers can be traced back to the American Revolution, when American "Marksmen" would intentionally target British officers, an act considered uncivilized by the British Army at the time (this reputation would be cemented during the Battle of Saratoga, when Benedict Arnold allegedly ordered his marksmen to target British General Simon Fraser, an act that would win the battle and French support). However, the British side used specially selected sharpshooters as well, often German mercenaries.

To demoralize enemy troops, snipers can follow predictable patterns. During the 26th of July Movement in the Cuban Revolution, the revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro always killed the foremost man in a group of President Batista's soldiers. Realizing this, none of Batista's men would walk first, as it was suicidal. This effectively decreased the army's willingness to search for rebel bases in the mountains. An alternative approach to this psychological process is to kill the second man in the row, leading to the psychological effect that nobody would want to follow the "leader".

The phrase "one shot, one kill" has gained notoriety in popular culture as a glorification of the "sniper mystique." The phrase embodies the sniper's tactics and philosophy of stealth and efficiency. The exact meaning can be explained thus:

Whether the phrase actually reflects reality is of course subject to debate, but it has been widely used in literature and movies.

Counter-sniper tactics

See main article: Counter-sniper tactics.

The occurrence of sniper warfare has led to the evolution of many counter-sniper tactics in modern military strategies. These aim to reduce the damage caused by a sniper to an army, which can often be harmful to both fighting capabilities and morale.

The risk of damage to a chain of command can be reduced by removing/concealing features which would otherwise indicate an officer's rank. Armies nowadays tend to avoid saluting officers in the field and eliminate rank insignia on BDUs. Officers can seek maximum cover before revealing themselves as good candidates for sniping through actions like reading maps and using radios.

Friendly snipers can be used to hunt the enemy sniper. Besides direct observation, defending forces can use other techniques. These include calculating the trajectory of a bullet by triangulation. Traditionally, triangulation of a sniper's position was done manually, though radar-based technology has recently become available. Once located, the defenders can try to approach the sniper from cover and overwhelm him. The United States military is funding a project known as RedOwl, which uses laser and acoustic sensors to determine the exact direction from which a sniper round has been fired.[26]

The more shots a sniper fires, the more chances the defenders have to locate him, so they often try to draw fire, sometimes by offering a helmet slightly out of concealment. A tactic successfully employed in the Winter War by the Finns is known as "Kylmä-Kalle" (Cold Charlie).[27] They used a shop mannequin or other doll dressed as a tempting target, like an officer. The doll was then presented as if it were a real man sloppily covering himself. Usually, Soviet snipers were unable to resist the temptation of an apparently easy kill. Once the angle where the bullet came from was determined, a shot of a large calibre gun such as a Lahti L-39 "Norsupyssy" ("Elephant rifle") anti-tank rifle was shot at the sniper's direction to eliminate him.

Other tactics include directing artillery or mortar fire onto suspected sniper positions, the use of smoke screens, and placing tripwire-operated munitions, mines, or other booby-traps near suspected sniper positions. Even dummy trip-wires can be placed to inconvenience sniper movement. Where anti-personnel mines are unavailable, it is possible to improvise booby-traps by connecting trip-wires to hand grenades, smoke grenades or flares. Even though these may not kill the sniper, they will reveal his location. Booby-trap devices should be placed close to likely sniper hides or along the probable routes used into and out of the sniper's work area. Knowledge of sniper field craft will assist in this task.

One very old counter-sniper tactic is to tie rags onto bushes or similar items in a danger area. The rags flutter in the breeze creating random movements in the corner of the sniper's eye, which they find distracting. The main virtue of this tactic is that it is easy to use; however, it is unlikely to prevent a skilled sniper from selecting targets, and may in fact provide a sniper with additional information about the wind near the target.

The use of canine units was also very successful, especially during the Vietnam War. A trained dog can easily determine the direction of the sniper from the sound of the bullet and will lie down with his head aiming at the sniper to give his handler the direction of the firing.

Snipers in irregular and asymmetric warfare

See main article: Asymmetric warfare.

The use of sniping (in the sense of shooting at relatively long range from a concealed position) to murder came to public attention in a number of sensational U.S. cases, including the Austin sniper incident of 1966, the John F. Kennedy assassination, and the Beltway sniper attacks of late 2002. However, these incidents usually do not involve the range or skill of military snipers; in all three cases the perpetrators had U.S. military training, but in other specialties. News reports will often (inaccurately) use the term sniper to describe anyone shooting with a rifle at another person.

Sniping has also been used in asymmetric warfare situations, for example in the Northern Ireland Troubles, where in the early 1970s a number of soldiers were shot by concealed riflemen, some at considerable range. There were also some instances in the early 1990s of British soldiers being shot with .50 caliber Barrett rifles by sniper teams collectively known as the South Armagh sniper. In Northern Ireland, in addition to the uses listed above, a sniper was quite often a form of bait called a "come-on", whereby the sniper's position would be made obvious to a British patrol so as to draw them into an ambush in their attempt to close with the sniper.

The sniper is particularly suited to combat environments where one side is at a disadvantage. A careful sniping strategy can use a few individuals and resources to thwart the movement or other progress of a much better equipped or larger force. Because of this perceived difference in force size, the sniping attacks may be viewed as the act of a few persons to terrorize (earning the moniker 'terrorists') a much larger, regular force — regardless of the size of the force the snipers are attached to. These perceptions stem from the precept that sniping, while effective in specific instances, is much more effective as a broadly deployed psychological attack (see elsewhere in article).

In the war between Bosnian Muslim, Croatian forces, and Bosnian Serbs in the early 1990s, Serbian snipers in Sarajevo used sniping as a terror tool by shooting at any person, whether military or civilian, adult or child. These snipers would be classified as war criminals for deliberately targeting non-combatants.

Snipers are less likely to be treated mercifully if captured by the enemy. The rationale for this is that ordinary soldiers shoot at each other at 'equal opportunity' whilst snipers take their time in tracking and killing individual targets in a methodical fashion with a relatively low risk of retaliation.

War in Iraq

See main article: Iraq War.

In 2003, the U.S.-led multinational coalition composed of primarily U.S. and U.K. troops occupied Iraq and attempted to establish a new democratic government in the country. However, shortly after the initial invasion, violence against coalition forces and among various sectarian groups led to asymmetric warfare with the Iraqi insurgency, civil war between many Sunni and Shia Iraqis, and al-Qaeda operations in Iraq.

Through November 2005, when the Pentagon had last reported a sniper fatality, the Army had attributed 28 of 2,100 U.S. deaths to enemy snipers.[28] More recently in 2006, insurgent snipers such as the "Juba" have caused problems for American troops, where it was claimed the "Juba" had shot 37 American soldiers in Iraq as of October 2006.[29]

In 2006, training materials obtained by U.S. intelligence showed that snipers fighting in Iraq were urged to single out and attack engineers, medics, and chaplains on the theory that those casualties would demoralize entire enemy units.[30] Among the training materials, there included an insurgent sniper training manual that was posted on the Internet. Among its tips for shooting U.S. troops, there read: "Killing doctors and chaplains is suggested as a means of psychological warfare."[28]

Selected snipers in history

Even before firearms were available, soldiers such as archers were specially trained as elite marksmen.

Before the 20th century

20th century

21st century

See also


External links

Notes and References

  1. Web site: How Military Snipers Work - What Does a Sniper Really Do?. Howstuffworks. Valdes. Robert. 2008-03-24.
  2. Web site: Online Etymology Dictionary - Snipe. 2007-09-27.
  3. Web site: Definition of 'skirmisher'. Free Online Dictionary, Thesaurus and Encyclopedia. 2008-03-24. 2003.
  4. Web site: Definitions of Civil War Terms. January 4, 2007. 2008-03-24.
  5. Web site: Assault Weapons - Sniper Rifles. Joe. Huffman. February 7, 2008. 2008-03-24.
  6. Web site: How Military Snipers Work. Howstuffworks. For most of us, the word "sniper" evokes some unsettling imagery -- a lone gunman, undetectable, on the hunt.. Robert. Valdes. 2008-03-24.
  7. 02-Jan-2008 version: Section "Snipers during the First and Second World Wars": info taken from: Zeitgeschichte - Spezialeinheiten im Zweiten Weltkrieg: Scharfschützen German Documentary (EAN: 4020974153959)
  8. Web site: Canadian snipers in Afghanistan after September 11th made the longest recorded kills in history with this weapon. On a March afternoon in 2002, Cpl. Furlong of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) squinted through the scope of his McMillan TAC-50 and successfully killed an enemy combatant from 2,430 m.. 2008-03-24. April. 2007. Stupid Beaver. World longest distance kill - 2,430 meters (1.5 miles).
  10. Web site: ...famous Hathcock shot that killed an enemy from more than 2500yd away.... Marine Corps News. 2008-03-24. March 29, 2007. Range complex named after famous Vietnam sniper. Lance Cpl. George J. Papastrat.
  11. Web site: When a 24-year old Marine sharpshooter named Carlos Norman Hathcock II chalked up the farthest recorded kill in the history of sniping - 2,500 yards (1.42 miles, a distance greater than 22 football fields) in February 1967 he fired a Browning M2 .50 Cal. Machine Gun.. Sniper Rifles. GlobalSecurity. 2008-03-24.
  12. Web site: Viet Cong shot dead by a round fired from a scope-mounted Browning M-2 .50 caliber machine gun at the unbelievable range of 2500yd.. Marine Corps Sniper Carlos N. Hathcock II. Sgt. Grit. 2006. 2008-03-24.
  13. Web site: Matt's Shot in a Million. Nick. Parker. The Sun. 2003-04-05. 2008-06-13.
  14. Web site: Verdens Gang. Dreper fra 1380 meter (English translation: Kills from 1380 meters). 2008-10-08. October 7, 2008. Nilas Johnsen. Norwegian.
  15. Web site: The Sniper, SWAT Teams Grow In Number. CBS News. 2008-05-04.
  16. Web site: Gastonia Police Department - Sniper School. 2008-05-04.
  17. Web site: Police sniper watches from roof, Sydney. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 2008-05-04. September 6, 2007.
  18. News footage of sniper shooting gun out of a persons hand
  19. Book: John Plaster. The Ultimate Sniper

    An Advanced Training Manual For Military And Police Snipers

    . Paladin Press. 2006. 5. 0-87364-704-1.
  20. Book: Martin Pegler. Out of Nowhere: A History of the Military Sniper. Osprey Publishing. 2004. 0-87364-704-1.
  21. "J'ai fait mouche sur son arme à 80 mètres pour le sauver"
  26. Robotic-vacuum maker, BU team up on anti-sniper device - The Boston Globe
  27. Petri Sarjanen (1998). Valkoinen kuolema: Talvisodan legendaarisen tarkka-ampujan Simo Häyhän tarina. ISBN 952-5170-05-5
  28. Web site: Insurgent snipers sent after troops. USA Today. John. Diamond. 2008-03-21. July 27, 2006.
  29. Web site: U.S. military probes sniper threat in Baghdad. Paul. Holmes. Reuters news service. October 29, 2006. 2008-03-21.
  30. Web site: Iraqi Insurgent Snipers Target U.S. Medics, Engineers and Chaplains. Pensito Review. October 25, 2006. 2008-03-21. Jon. Ponder.
  31. Web site: Takeda Shingen (1521 - 1573) - The Takeda expand. August 16, 2004. 2008-04-03. The Samurai Archives. Shingen was either wounded by a sniper or fell sick (possibly with TB); a point modern scholars are divided on..
  32. [John Plaster]
  33. Stuart Hadaway Rifleman Thomas Plunkett: 'A Pattern for the Battalion.'
  34. June 25, 1896. Killed the Matabele God: Burnham, the American scout, may end uprising. New York Times. 0093-1179.
  35. Book: West, James E.. James E. West (Scouting)

    . James E. West (Scouting). Peter O. Lamb; illustrated by Lord Baden-Powell. He-who-sees-in-the-dark; the boys' story of Frederick Burnham, the American scout. Brewer, Warren and Putnam. 1932.

  36. May 5, 1901. England's American Scout. New York Times (London Chronicle). 0362-4331.
  39. Friscolanti, Michael. "We were abandoned", Maclean's, Rogers Publishing, 2006-05-15, pp. 18-25.