|Snipers from Wikipedia
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
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 snipe was dubbed a "sniper".
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. In general, a skirmish was a limited combat,
involving troops other than those of the main body. The term 'sniper' was
not in widespread use in the United States until after the American Civil
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".
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. "What
would Tom Berenger do?"
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) and in the process pinning
down and demoralizing the enemy.
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 destruction of military equipment,
which tend to require use of rifles in the larger calibers such as the
.50 BMG, like the Barrett M82, McMillan, and Denel NTW-20. Snipers have
increasingly been demonstrated as being 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.
Snipers during World War I and World War II
World War I
During World War I, snipers appeared as deadly sharpshooters
in the trenches. At the start of the war, only Imperial Germany had troops
that were issued scoped sniper rifles. Although sharpshooters existed on
all sides, the Germans specially equipped some of their soldiers with scoped
rifles that could pick off enemy soldiers showing their heads out of their
trench. At first the French and British believed such hits to be coincidental
hits, until the German scoped rifles were discovered. During World War
I, the Germans received a reputation for the deadliness and efficiency
of their snipers, partly because of the high-quality lenses the Germans
could manufacture. Soon the British army began to train their own snipers
in specialized sniper schools. Until the end of the war, the British tried
to close the gap between the German and their own snipers. Both British
and German sniper teams operated in pairs, with one sniper and one spotter
with binoculars. On the Eastern Front, Imperial Russia never introduced
specialized sharpshooters or snipers, allowing the German snipers to pick
off their targets without danger from counter-snipers.
World War II
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.
German sniper in France (1943)
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.
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 Master
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 a member of the 3rd
Battalion Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI). To make
the kill, he used a .50 caliber BMG (12.7 mm) McMillan TAC-50 bolt-action
If one takes the time-in-flight of the bullet with air
resistance to be conservatively about 1.5× the flight time without
air resistance, that would be about 4.5 seconds (2,430 m ÷ 823m/s
= 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 2,347 yards (2,146 m) using a scope-mounted Browning M2 .50 machine
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 860 metres (941 yd) with shots
that, due to strong wind, had to be “fire exactly 17 meters (56 ft) to
the left of the target for the bullet to bend in the wind.”
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 400 yards (370
m), with rough sea, from the deck of SPS Navarra (F85), 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
Honolulu Police Department Specialized Services Division
Counter-Sniper Team does aerial platform training.
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 100 metres (109 yd) and sometimes
even less than 50 metres (55 yd). 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.
Some police sniper operations begin with military assistance.
Police snipers placed in vantage points, such as high
buildings, can provide security for events.
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
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.
A US Marine extracts a fired cartridge casing and chambers
a new round into his M40A3.
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 scope 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
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.
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." 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. 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
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 700 to 800 metres
(770–870 yd) is 200 millimetres (7.9 in). 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 150 millimeters (5.9
in) in width, average human shoulders are 500 millimeters (20 in) apart
and the average distance from a person's pelvis to the top of their head
is 1,000 millimeters (39 in).
To determine the range to a target without a laser rangefinder,
the sniper may 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 1,000
yards (1,000 m). 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 1-yard (1
m) at 1,000 yards (1,000 m), means the Army's mil-dot is approximately
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
100 yards (100 m), a 16.2 MOA adjustment would have to be made to hit a
target at 600 yards (500 m). 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 scope 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
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.
The major components of a sniper's equipment include a
sniper rifle, ammunition, suppressor, camouflage, and/or a ghillie suit.
The modern military spotter usually brings along the same equipment but
instead of a bolt action rifle the spotter brings a semi-automatic rifle
and a spotting scope.
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
80 m (87 yd) at the pistol of a policeman threatening to commit suicide,
destroying the weapon and preventing him from killing himself. 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 involuntary 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
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".
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.
Due to the unexpected aspect of sniper fire, high lethality
of aimed shots and frustration at the inability to locate and attack snipers,
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,
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 I and also during World War II. 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.
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
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 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:
* A single round should be fired, avoiding
unnecessary and indiscreet firing
* Every shot should be accurately
placed, in order to kill or severely wound the victim
Whether the phrase actually reflects reality is of course
subject to debate, but it has been widely used in literature and movies.
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.
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).
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
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
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
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
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. 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.
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. 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."
Selected snipers in history
Even before firearms were available, soldiers such as
archers were specially trained as elite marksmen.
Before the 20th century
* Ninja or Shinobi (16th century Japan)
– supposedly trained to cover retreating armies, targeting officers from
needed] One of Japan's most famous warlords, Takeda Shingen, was possibly
fatally wounded by a sniper.
* Lord Brooks, who represented the
Parliamentarians in the English Civil War, was the first recorded British
* Timothy Murphy (American Revolutionary
War) – killed British General Simon Fraser during the pivotal Battle of
the British advance
and causing them to lose the battle.
* Patrick Ferguson (American Revolutionary
War) - developer of the world's first breech-loaded military rifle (which
tactics), fought with his Corps of Riflemen (recruited from the 6th and
14th Foot) at the Battle of Brandywine, where
he may have passed
up a chance to shoot George Washington.
* Napoleonic Wars – Use of Marine
sharpshooters in the mast tops was common usage in navies of the period,
and Admiral Nelson's
death at Trafalgar is
attributed to the actions of French Sharpshooters. The British Army developed
the concept of directed fire (as
opposed to massive unaimed
volleys) and formed Rifle regiments, famously the 95th and the 60th who
wore green jackets instead of the
usual redcoats. Fighting
as Skirmishers, usually in pairs and trusted to choose their own targets,
they wrought havoc amongst the
French during the peninsular
war against Napoleon's Forces.
* British Rifleman Thomas Plunkett
(Peninsular war) – shot French General Colbert at a range of between 200
metres (219 yd) and 600
metres (656 yd)
using a Baker rifle.
* Colonel Hiram Berdan (American Civil
War) – commanded 1st and 2nd US Sharpshooters, who were trained and equipped
marksmen with the
.52 caliber Sharps Rifle. It has been claimed that Berdan's units killed
more enemies than any other in the Union
* Sgt. Grace (American Civil War)
– sniped Major General John Sedgwick at the then incredible distance of
730 m (800 yd) during the
Battle of Spotsylvania
Court House, with a British Whitworth target rifle causing administrative
delays in the Union's attack, leading
to Confederate victory.
Sedgwick ignored advice to take cover, his last words according to urban
legend being, "They couldn't hit an
elephant at this
dist-" upon which he was shot. In reality, he was shot a few minutes later.
* Major Frederick Russell Burnham
- assassinated Mlimo, the Ndebele religious leader, in his cave in Matobo
Hills, Rhodesia, effectively
ending the Second
Matabele War (1896). Burnham started as a cowboy and Indian tracker in
the American Old West, but he left the
United States to
scout in Africa and went on to command the British Army Scouts in the Second
Boer War. For his ability to track,
even at night, the
Africans dubbed him, He-who-sees-in-the-dark, but in the press he became
more widely known as England's
* Billy Sing (Gallipoli Campaign, World
War I) - killed between 150 and 201 Turkish soldiers.
* Francis Pegahmagabow (World War
I) - Native Canadian sniper credited with 378 kills
* Finnish Lance Corporal Simo Häyhä,
aka "Valkoinen Kuolema" (the White Death) was a sniper during the Winter
War and is regarded
by many as the most
effective sniper in the history of warfare, being credited with killing
up to 542 Soviet soldiers (an average of 5 a
day) using a SAKO
m/28-30 (Pystykorva) and iron sights.
* Junior Lieutenant Vasily Zaytsev
(World War II) – credited with killing 225 German soldiers during the Battle
of Stalingrad, he is
in the film Enemy at the Gates and in the book War of the Rats; both however
are fictionalized accounts.
* Gefreiter (Private) Matthias Hetzenauer
(World War II) - Austrian sniper who was credited with 345 kills on the
Eastern Front, the most
successful in the
* Obergefreiter (Private First Class)
Josef 'Sepp' Allerberger (World War II) - Austrian sniper credited with
257 kills on the Eastern Front.
* Lieutenant Lyudmila Pavlichenko
(World War II) – female Soviet sniper with 309 confirmed kills, making
her the most successful female
sniper in history.
* Zhang Taofang (Chinese: ???; Traditional
Chinese: ???; Wade-Giles: Zhang Tao-fang) was a Chinese soldier during
the Korean War,
and is one of the
most successful snipers in history. He is credited with 214 confirmed kills
in 32 days without using a sniper
* Gunnery Sergeant Carlos Hathcock
(Vietnam war) – achieved 93 confirmed kills but believed to also have over
200 unconfirmed kills.
He held the
record of longest confirmed kill at a distance of 2,250 m (2,460 yd) (made
with a scoped M2 Browning machine gun) for 35
* Chuck Mawhinney (Vietnam war) –
103 confirmed and 216 probable kills.
* Adelbert F . Waldron (Vietnam war)
– achieved 109 confirmed kills.
* Master Sgt. Gary Gordon and Sgt.
First Class Randy Shughart - Operation Gothic Serpent - Delta Force snipers
awarded the Medal of
Honor for their
actions protecting the injured crew of a downed helicopter during the Battle
of Mogadishu. Dramatized in the film Black
* Canadian soldier Corporal Rob Furlong,
formerly of the PPCLI (Operation Anaconda, Afghanistan) - holds the record
recorded and confirmed sniper kill at 2,430 meters (1.509 miles) using
a .50 caliber (12.7 mm) McMillan TAC-50 rifle.
* U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Timothy
L. Kellner - regarded as one of the top snipers still active in the U.S.
Army with 139 confirmed kills
and over 100 unconfirmed
during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
* Canadian soldier Master Corporal
Arron Perry, formerly of the PPCLI (Operation Anaconda, Afghanistan) -
briefly held the record for
recorded and confirmed sniper kill at 2,310 meters (1.435 miles) after
eclipsing US Marine Gunnery Sergeant Carlos
record of 2,286 meters (1.420 miles) until it was later eclipsed by fellow
Canadian Corporal Rob Furlong. Hathcock's
record had stood
for thirty five years. Perry used a .50 caliber (12.7 mm) McMillan TAC-50