Weapons: December 3, 2004

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One of the most important  urban warfare tactics, especially for insurgents, involves the use of snipers. Booby traps and ambushes are all well and good, but nothing harasses the enemy or makes troops more afraid than a clever, well-positioned sniper in a crowded city. Fortunately for the US troops in Fallujah, this is exactly what the insurgents did not have. Snipers were particularly prevalent during the Fallujah battles and were heavily used against US forces. While still very dangerous, the insurgent snipers were far from expert. None had specialized sniper training and the quality of their weapons was very poor. Its very hard to be a precision shooter when all you've got is a battered, rusting AK-47 with no scope and partner with no binoculars to spot for you. Also, the insurgents tended to have no concept of movement. Marines reported that insurgent snipers would choose obvious hiding places, the minarets of mosques were a favorite, and not move after firing at US troops. A smart sniper would have picked an unlikely location and moved around after each attack. The insurgents' poor technique made them easy targets for airstrikes, bunker busters, and even counter-snipers. This is consistent with the poor marksmanship and just-about-everything-else skills of the rebels. 

By contrast, Marine snipers did extremely well, with one corporal racking up 24 confirmed kills during the battle. Of course, he was equipped with state of the art binoculars, ammunition, a spotter, and a state of the art weapons system. Today's sniper equipment is far from simple. Two people are required to make a sniper team work, a spotter and the actual shooter. Depending on the environment and how long it is likely to take for the enemy to spot your position, firing position can take very little effort or a great deal. Stalking the enemy and moving into position can take as little as ten minutes or as much as three days (as was often the case in Vietnam), since soldiers, especially officers, are probably to some degree aware that they are considered a prime target, depending on the enemy's reputation for sharpshooting. 

A sniper much also consider his escape routes, since it does him no good to have a shot an enemy and then be hit with an airstrike or shoulder-fired munition, especially if he is in an enclosed space with no way out. In most modern armies, the sniper rifle is a specially modified military or hunting rifle, with advanced infrared/night vision technology, a sound suppressor (if necessary), flash suppression, and a design that ensures maximum lethality. Night vision and infrared scopes vary is sophistication. The one used on the Russian SVD is extremely simple by Western standard, but extremely effective, not the least because it is easy to use. The PSO-1 sight is capable of firing at infrared targets under low light because the IR rays radiated from the target appears illuminated through the sight's reticle. Western scopes tend to be a lot more sophisticated. Take the ATN 2-6x68 DNS 3, for example. ATN touts it as the best night vision sniper scope in the world, with day and night capabilities and a detection range of up to 350 meters and a 30-hour battery life. Unfortunately, scopes like these generally come out to $1-2,000 (The ATN costs $1795). The Dragunov scope is far cheaper, probably one fourth what a Western scope would cost, plus it comes with the rifle. 

The problem with outfitting a sniper like this, however, is that most sniper rifles, at least in Europe and the US, are extremely expensive, particularly with special sights. Heckler & Koch is notorious for this (the PSG1 rifle costs $9,000 and after adding a quality scope, the whole package can come out to $10-11,000). Plus, most armies prefer to spend whatever little money they have for arms procurement on things  like air defense and tanks. Small arms are way down the list, usually at rock bottom. After all is said and done, anything less than an extremely wealthy government is not going to want to shell out several thousand dollars a pop to equip a few expert marksmen. The exception to the rule is the Dragunov SVD, which is simpler by Western standard, but extremely durable and just as deadly, but costs about half (or less) what an HK PSG1 would, one reason why Third World armies tend to opt for it. 

 


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