|The British Army is to double the number of snipers it has - and also to increase their skill and power.
The British Army super snipers who will target terrorists ... from three-quarters of a mile
By CHRISTOPHER LEAKE
14th April 2007
The British Army is creating a new breed of super-sniper to take on insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan who use innocent women and children for cover.
Until recently the Army's regiments had an average of just four snipers each and they were taught the basics of their role within their units.
But now senior officers have decided to double the number of snipers - and to train them to a far higher standard on an intensive eight-week course at the Army's weapons training ground in Brecon, Mid Wales, where they will learn the kind of advanced skills previously limited to units such as the SAS.
To complete their transformation into super-snipers, they will be trained to use a devastating new weapon - the British-made L115A1 rifle which can bring down an enemy target nearly three-quarters of a mile away with remarkable accuracy.
Army insiders say its great advantage is that snipers will be able to kill with a single shot, avoiding the "collateral damage" of hitting innocent bystanders.
Although the L115A1 will not officially be used by regular soldiers until next year, Army sources admitted last night that a small number would probably be trialled in the two war zones in the next few months.
The weapon will replace the less powerful L96 sniper rifle, which has a shorter kill range of just over half a mile. Most frontline soldiers use the standard Army issue SA80 rifle, accurate only to about a quarter of a mile.
The doubling of sniper numbers will bring the total in the Army to just under 300. Depending on military needs, snipers could be seconded between regiments to maximise efficiency.
Sniping has become a vital skill in Iraq and Afghanistan as insurgents increasingly use groups of women and children for cover while launching attacks on British troops.
The new super-snipers will be able to eliminate the gunmen while minimising any risk to the innocent civilians surrounding them.
Top brass believe they will also be able to tackle Iraqi snipers who have been using high-power Russian weapons to target British soldiers in the Basra area.
In a deadly game of cat and mouse, insurgent snipers hide their weapons under their clothes and move around in innocent-looking cars or trucks, melting into a crowd after firing at troops.
Tory MP Patrick Mercer, a former infantry regiment commander, said last night: "The crucial thing is one shot, one kill, with no collateral damage to civilians who may well be used to shield enemy gunmen.
"Sniping is a desperately important skill that requires as much time and resources as the Army can give it."
Scores of soldiers are clamouring to join the new sniping course. The first, earlier this year, attracted 20 soldiers. The current course had 56 men applying for 40 places. Thirty-nine names are already down for July and 25 per cent of the November course is full.
As well as marksmanship, snipers are also taught how to get into enemy territory without being detected, how to move to a firing position and then how to escape. The course also covers map reading, observation skills, physical fitness and stalking.
Major Marcus Braithwaite-Exley of the Scots Guards, commanding officer of the Direct Fire Division at Brecon's Support Weapons School, said that the high-intensity operations in Iraq and Afghanistan had led to the central sniping course being introduced.
Major Braithwaite-Exley said: "Snipers must be able to get into enemy territory without being detected, move to a firing position and escape.
"And while soldiers will be used to firing the SA80 weapon, here they will be equipped with the L96 rifle, which has more sophisticated sights.
"People are very quickly realising the importance and lethality of the sniper on military operations."
An MoD spokesman said: "Sniping is a vital soldiering skill and we need as many trained snipers as possible."
Tory Shadow Defence Minister Mark Harper said: "Any improvement in operational capabilities is good news.
"Hopefully this development will start dealing with the threat from insurgent snipers."