Weapons: ISIL Gets An 8.6mm Wake Up Call

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February 23, 2016: A new (since 2003) favorite among snipers, the 8.6mm (.338) Lapua Magnum round, was in the news again recently. In this case it was a situation in Syria where a British SAS commando used an Israeli 8.6mm sniper rifle to kill an ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) instructor. The ISIL teacher was about to show his students how to behead prisoners by using a live victim. The British sniper was 1,200 meters away and managed to hit the ISIL instructor in the head at that range. The head shot caused the skull to sort of explode, which apparently made an impression on the ISIL recruits because the SAS sniper was using a new Israeli designed rifle equipped with a suppressor. This is not a silencer but it does greatly reduce the flash and sound of the rifle. For long range shots this means those on the receiving end have a very difficult time telling where the shooter is and that often causes panic.

The rifle involved here is the Dan .338, which was introduced in 2014 and was designed by an Israeli firm for the Israeli military. The manufacturer expected to sell many to foreign police and military organizations and the British, who have been using .338 rifles for nearly a decade, were apparently giving the Dan .338 some field testing. The Dan .338 is a 6.9 kg (15.2 pound) weapon that, with scope and loaded ten round magazine weighs about nine kilos (20 pounds). This is a bolt action, adjustable stock, weapon with a 737mm (29 inch) barrel. The design is very well thought out, showing the influence of the many Israeli snipers who contributed ideas and opinions to the designers.

The British were already fans of the 8.6mm cartridge. Starting in 2007 the British Army began replacing most of its 3,000 7.62mm L96A1 sniper rifles with one modified to use the .338 (8.6mm) Lapua Magnum caliber round. This Accuracy International "Super Magnum" rifle is basically a L96A1 "Arctic Warfare" rifle modified to handle the larger, 8.6mm round. The L115A1 weighed 6.8 kg (without a scope), was 1.27 meters (fifty inches) long and had a 686mm (27 inch) barrel and a five round magazine.

Snipers in Iraq, and especially Afghanistan, had been calling for a smaller long range round because they found the 12.7mm weapons too heavy. The Lapua Magnum round has an effective range (about 1,500 meters) about 50 percent greater than the 7.62mm standard NATO round. Like most long range rounds, if the weather (clear) and winds (calm) are right, you can hit targets farther away.

The 8.6mm round entered use in the early 1990s, and became increasingly popular with police and military snipers. Dutch snipers have also used this round in Afghanistan with much success, and have a over a decade of experience with these larger caliber rifles. Recognizing the popularity of the 8.6mm round, Barrett, the pioneer in 12.7mm sniper rifles, came out with a 7 kg (15.5 pound) version of its rifle, chambered for the 8.6mm.

The 8.6mm also began setting records. Between 2009 and 2015 the distance record for sniper kills was held by a .338 rifle. In 2015 that record was broken by two Australian snipers in Afghanistan using M82A1 12.7mm (.50 caliber) rifles. In a coordinated shot at a Taliban leader 2,800 meters away the two snipers fired simultaneously and six seconds later the Taliban chieftain fell dead. It will never be known which of the two shots got him. The victim would not have heard the shot, the rifles were so far away and the bullet was travelling faster than the speed of sound. About two seconds later anyone with the dead Taliban man would have heard the two shots, but faintly as the shooters were nearly three kilometers (two miles) away.

The previous record shot was made in November 2009 by a British sniper (corporal Craig Harrison) who killed two Taliban in Afghanistan, at a range of 2,620 meters (8,596 feet). He did this with a L115A3 rifle firing the 8.6mm Lapua Magnum round. Before that the record was held by a Canadian soldier, corporal Rob Furlong, who dropped an al Qaeda gunman at 2,573 meters (7,972 feet) in 2002, also in Afghanistan with a 12.7mm rifle. These weapons are good at 2,000 meters or more, but weigh twice as much as the 6.8 kg (15 pound) 8.6mm rifles.

 


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