The sniper in modern war

I guess the sniper from the movie “The Siege of Jadotville” got me to thinking…always a dangerous thing…

Thirty years ago the label “sniper” wasn’t very popular. Then a few movies come out, a few tell all books about being a sniper in the jungles of Vietnam. Then the war on terror, and the value of snipers as life savers providing over watch security are made clear by more books, movies, and even video games.

And not just for the “western” culture either, the terrorists have their own sniper mythos that they fed on, and they developed their own online sniper training. The world wide web democratized the art of shooting from concealment.

The “War on Terror” has seen all sorts of “sniper rifles” from the Hindu Kush to the streets of Baghdad. Before that the “makeshift milspec” sniper rifles used in the Balkans (a lot of old Mausers), and in Chechnya (a lot of SVDs and Mosins) entered the shady world of terror cells. Even today in Syria, craptastic Chinese scopes are being mounted in super tall rings on Mosin Nagant 91/30 rifles, and used effectively by sociopaths.

Makes you think the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) might just be a tad ineffective.

AK-47s with a field expedient “bullpup” mod were a bit of an Iraqi thing, as I haven’t really seen them migrate out of the dense urban enclaves of that nation. The Mosin Nagant sniper rifle is essentially ubiquitous from Afghanistan through Syria, and all of the former Soviet satellite states. The Short Magazine Lee Enfield had a good run in Afghanistan, although without a scope, but with such good effect that many M14s were brought back out of retirement to give light infantry units a ballistic match.

In the realm of violence, cheap fifty dollar rifles were good enough for the third world. Either some guy learned what he could on the internet, or some semi-nomadic tribesman has been using the same rifle for years and knows how well it shoots good enough at distance to be accurate with it. Minimal cost, minimal training, and moderate effects.

The first world…the first world invested a bit more heavily into kitting out their snipers. Weeks if not months of training. An optic that costs more than the rifle in some cases. GPS, ballistic computers. Spotting scopes with magnification levels and optical clarity to make astronomers of generations past green with envy. Standard 7.62×51 NATO sniper rifles gave way to 300 Win Mag, and 338 Lapua Magnum rifles. A number of confirmed long distance kill records for each caliber were broken by US, UK, and Canadian snipers.

Meanwhile, back in the civilian side of the US and Canada, new cartridges kept coming out. The 416 Barrett, the 375 Cheytac, the 6.5×284 and 6.5 Creedmoor. New electro optical targeting systems came out from Burris with the “Range Eliminator” series, and TrackingPoint gathered some interest with their technology.

It is quite clearly a great time to be into long range shooting.

But that semi-literate goat lover can still kill you with that crappy 50 dollar AK or Mosin launched from a hide inside the point blank zero range of the weapon system. All the gear in the world doesn’t make up for poor situational awareness.

This is the strange dichotomy of modern war, high tech and expensive meets low tech and cheap. Israel’s “Iron Dome” is a miracle of technology, but keeping it operational, spending tens of thousands of dollars per successful intercept of homemade rockets that cost a few hundred bucks is a long term losing proposition. The F-35 is an amazing piece of technology, when it works, and the million dollar missions the US Air Force had B-52, B1, and B2 bombers flying to drop precision munitions on terrorists was simply to give their pilots flight hours in a criminal waste of using “war funds” to meet “training requirements” rather than use a dirt cheap A-10.

Modern war drains the coffers of the western world, without having any measurable effect on increasing world stability or security. We spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on our snipers, so they can launch a fifty cent bullet, which is an amazing return on investment compared to a JDAM or B1B pass. But the other side is using 50 dollar rifles, and ten cent bullets.

The cruel calculus of modern war requires a nation spend on a military in high readiness, ready to “fight tonight” so that they can win decisively in the first battle of the next war. The other side doesn’t even care about the tenth battle, as long as they keep fighting they know we will eventually get tired of paying.

So what does this mean to you? Well, if you don’t have an Accuracy International Arctic Warfare Magnum sniper rifle, or Remington M24 5R Milspec, no need to go out and buy one. The odds are that any big game rifle you have on hand right now is every bit as good as a Mosin Nagant, and probably MUCH better.

But can you use it? Do you know your come ups? Do you know your wind correction and moving target leads? Long wars are fought on the backs of the fighters, on both sides. And technology only gets you so far.

Warfare hasn’t changed, not really. It’s still a dirty, horrible mess. It’s just gotten a helluva lot more expensive for the west, and dirt cheap for those fighting the west. Pound for pound and round for round, the snipers on both sides are the best return on investment for resources spent. After all, fifty cents a kill is a real bargain, especially when you get a scout and forward observer built in.

Today on the book of face I saw the same liberals who claimed that US intervention in Iraq or Afghanistan was essentially imperialism and unjustified make the case that since people might die in Aleppo that “we should do something! #signthispetition” slacktivism. I’m going to guess that anyone with any passing familiarity with the spontaneous outbreaks of peace in the Middle East are well versed in the knowledge that peace only happens when everyone is reloading at the same time.

But, eventually the Air Force will run out of million dollar flights of strategic bombers to drop precision guided munitions costing tens of thousands of dollars onto some terrorist with a fifty buck rifle and two magazines filled with ten cent bullets. Or not, never underestimate the ability of Congress to spend money on losing propositions.

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