Weapons: Truth Is Scarier Than Fiction

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February 2, 2017: Since 2001 Western armies have created a new, larger, better trained and armed army of snipers. This is partly due to the many new weapons, bullets and accessories have driven this sniper renaissance and new records keep getting set. Some of these new records were more a matter of chance than intent. The most recent (November 2016) example of that was a 1,800 meter shot by a British SAS (commando) sniper in northern Iraq. An SAS team was conducting a reconnaissance and surveillance mission for Iraqi troops, to obtain an accurate view of what the Iraqis would be advancing into as they made their way towards Mosul. The SAS spotter saw a group of ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) gunmen in a village some 1,800 meters away and noted that the ISIL men seemed to be shouting at a group of women and children. It will never be known what exactly was going on out there but it was probably ISIL rounding up civilians to be human shields against air attack. The civilians had learned to avoid this sort of thing, especially since if the target was deemed important enough, air strikes would ignore human shields and bomb anyway. The ISIL men were not only shouting at the fleeing civilians but had raised their assault rifles and were apparently preparing to kill the women and children. The SAS sniper quickly sorted this all out and decided that it was, literally, worth a shot. The SAS man was using a L115A rifle and the new (since 2003) favorite among snipers, the 8.6mm (.338) Lapua Magnum round. The Lapua had already proved it could do very accurate shots at very long distances, but 1,800 meters was a few hundred meters beyond what the rifle was certain to hit. But this was a case where it was take a shot or watch the women and kids get slaughtered. So the SAS man took the shot which not only hit the target (the guy who seemed to be in charge) but the bullet passed through that man, hit another ISIL gunmen then ricocheted off a wall and hit a third gunman. A later investigation ascertained that all three ISIL men died, at least one of them lingered a while. The remaining ISIL gunmen scattered and the civilians got away safely.

Normally details of commando operations are kept secret for a long time, usually to protect tactics and methods. But exceptional incidents like this, especially incidents that are demoralizing to the enemy. Before details of this incident were released various distorted descriptions of what happened were circulating among ISIL members and local civilians few people knew who actually did it and how. It has been found useful to publicize who carried out a particular mission because it sets the record straight and turns out to scare the enemy more than the distorted gossipy version, There have been a growing number of these spectacular sniper shots, and publicizing the details has caused the enemy, even homicidal Islamic terrorists, to adjust their tactics and to operate more slowly and with less confidence. Fear is an effective weapon and skilled snipers bring a lot of it to the battlefield.

Then there is the anger factor, as during an incident earlier in 2016 when another SAS sniper used a new Israeli 8.6mm sniper rifle to kill an ISIL instructor who was about to demonstrate to 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, especially after it was revealed that 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 SAS sniper in Iraq also used a suppressor and for the same reason. If a sniper shot kills someone near y0u and there is never any apparent sound of firing, the incident is scarier still. For Islamic terrorists in general and ISIL in particular, letting it be known that some new Israeli tech was involved and the enemy becomes particularly agitated, enraged and dismayed.

The Israel rifle involved during the Syria incident was 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 8.6mm Lapua Magnum round. Snipers in Iraq, and especially Afghanistan had been calling for a smaller long range round because they found the 12.7mm rifles 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 had over a decade of experience with these larger caliber rifles at that point. 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 so far (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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