View Full Version : A Semiautomatic Sniper Weapons System?

10-17-04, 10:49 AM
A Semiautomatic Sniper Weapons System?

by Capt Brian J. Von Herbulis

Is it time to replace the scout/sniper rifle?

Are we properly equipping our scout/snipers with a weapons system that enables them to provide the supported unit commander with the most effective precision fire in support of combat operations? There are indications from Marine snipers who participated in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM (OIF) that we are not. After-action reports from operations conducted by Marine snipers during OIF suggest that the M40 bolt-action sniper rifle performed well, but there were numerous requests for a sniper weapons system that could potentially enhance the Marine scout/snipers’ capabilities on the battlefield.

At the request of 1st Marine Division, the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory (MCWL) sent a four-man team to visit Marine units in Kuwait, Iraq, and California for the express purpose of conducting detailed discussions with the warfighters who took part in combat operations in Iraq and to determine the applicability and validity of tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) that are the bedrock for the basic urban skills training program that was developed and taught by the members of MCWL PROJECT METROPOLIS. (See MCG, May02.) As part of this team I was assigned to focus on the infantry platoon and squad, as well as the scout/sniper platoons from each of the five infantry battalions with whom we had discussions.

In these discussions with the scout/sniper platoons, one recurring theme was that during OIF Marine snipers were often employed against multiple threats in rapid engagement sequences. The M40 rifle, with its limited five-round magazine capacity, could not keep pace with the number of potential targets that presented themselves.

To correct this deficiency, many of the Marine scout/snipers suggested that a semiautomatic sniper weapons system, capable of delivering precision fire on multiple targets, could have increased their combat lethality. By increasing their magazine capacity to 20 or more rounds with a semiautomatic weapons system, they expressed belief that they could have inflicted more casualties on the enemy, provided better force protection and overwatch of maneuver elements, and could have had greater psychological impact on the enemy.

Furthermore, many of the snipers suggested that a semiautomatic weapons system should possess a rail system such as the Military Standard 1913 Picatinny-style rail that allows for the quick attachment and detachment of day and night optical aiming devices. They also suggested that their weapons system should have a night engagement capability that does not require the removal of the day optic, nor should it require a separate zero. One sniper platoon in particular heavily stressed the requirement for a noise suppressor. Some of the snipers from this platoon were very adamant about this need when they told me their personal account of firing the M40 from a particular building and experiencing enemy mortar fire being returned in close proximity of the location from where they had fired the M40. They suggested that the noise signature of the M40 without a noise suppressor was such that the Iraqi forces could identify their position and target it with mortars and direct fire weapons. This makes a strong case for enabling our snipers to suppress their weapons system when the mission dictates the need.

The concept of semiautomatic sniper rifles is not new. In fact, the Marine Corps Combat Development Center (MCCDC) has in its combat development tracking system (CDTS) an operational requirements document (ORD) for a designated marksman rifle (DMR)—CDTS number 93116DA, dated 4 April 1998, stating the requirement for a semiautomatic 7.62x51mm NATO rifle. The ORD goes on to state the operational concept for the DMR is that it:

. . . will be located in infantry battalions, employed by scout/sniper teams, to provide commanders with an economical 7.62 semiautomatic small arms capability that will complement the operational capabilities of the M40A1 sniper rifle and the M16A2 rifle.

The ORD also states that:

. . . the DMR will complement the manually operated, bolt action M40A1 and the M16A2 rifle by adding flexibility and survivability to the two-man scout/sniper team concept. The 7.62mm DMR will not replace all M16A2 rifles in scout/sniper teams, but will be selectively employed when mission requirements and the commander dictate a 7.62mm semiautomatic, alternate DMR capability.

The ORD also suggests that engagement ranges for a sniper in urban terrain are typically 500 meters or closer. These ranges were fully validated by the after-action comments I received from the snipers who participated in OIF. The ORD states:

At these closer urban engagement ranges, the required manual operation of the bolt action of the M40 may adversely affect sniper survivability. This is another mission area deficiency where a medium range, self-loading, suppressed rifle would serve a valuable role, especially during counter-sniper missions in MOUT [military operations on urbanized terrain] operations.

The distribution plan spelled out in Annex A of the ORD denotes eight of the semiautomatic rifles would be distributed to the infantry battalions throughout the Corps as well as to the sniper schools and to other selected units. Marine Corps scout/sniper platoons never received these semiautomatic rifles to augment their capabilities on the battlefield despite ORD calling for this to be a weapon used by the members of the scout/sniper platoon.

U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCom) forces, as well as forces from other militaries around the world (United Kingdom, Israel to name a few), have exploited the capabilities of semiautomatic sniper rifles. Additionally, the U.S. Army has formally identified this deficiency and has requested for industry to provide market information on a 7.62x51mm semiautomatic sniper system for potential procurement.

Several suitable commercial off-the-shelf weapons systems are available today that meet the characteristics of those suggested by the snipers who where employed during combat operations in support of OIF. Many of these weapons meet the accuracy standard of the M40 and are comparably priced.

We should consider the benefits realized by USSOCom and other countries around the world, and like the U.S. Army should plan to procure a state-of-the-art, semiautomatic sniper weapons system. Such a weapons system will achieve the accuracy desired, increase the sniper’s ability to engage multiple targets, increase his rapid reload capability, and would be employed day or night using a noise suppressor when such a capability is required to accomplish the mission. A semiautomatic sniper weapons system could potentially increase the lethality of our individual snipers and could enable the advent of more effective sniper TTP. Both the primary and secondary sniper/observer in a conventional two-man sniper team could be armed with a semiautomatic weapons system. With this construct, the scout/sniper team could provide more effective overwatch and force protection for maneuver elements, could potentially inflict more casualties, and could have a greater psychological impact on the enemy while also providing the sniper the ability to defend himself. If we do not explore the procurement of such a weapons system, Marine snipers will continue to train with and employ a weapon that does not maximize their potential as a valuable combat multiplier. If Marine snipers are again employed against multiple threats in rapid engagement sequences like during OIF, they will remain less effective and potentially at greater risk.

>Author’s Note: A universal needs statement has been drafted by the MCWL project reconnaissance, surveillance, and intelligence team and has been forwarded up the MCWL chain of command for submission into the MCCDC CDTS.

>Capt Von Herbulis is an 0203 (ground intelligence officer), a former reconnaissance platoon commander, a graduate of the Marine Corps Basic Scout/Sniper Course and the Scout/Sniper Employment Officer Course, and is currently serving as the reconnaissance and sniper project officer at MCWL.