back to article Snipers - Cowardly assassins, or surgical soldiers?

Snipers are nasty, everyone knows that. They hunt people like animals, killing them without giving them a chance to fight or even to surrender. Few soldiers are more hated; even their own armies often seem less than pleased to have them around. So why is the British Ministry of Defence happy to announce that it has just spent …


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  1. Michael


    At first, I was irate at the introduction to this article. To consider calling a military sniper a 'coward' is not only short sighted and misinformed, but downright insulting. These men and women put themselves, alone, in the worst environments for days at a time with no backup, and return with little to no fanfare when their mission is complete. To call any members of the armed forces 'cowardly' when they are doing their part to ensure YOUR protection, while you can sit down and write an article when your biggest threat is spilling your chai tea mint latte and ruining your pleatless khakis, is itself cowardly.

    Thankfully, the introduction alluded to the exact opposite of the rest of the article. Thanks for that.

  2. Cal

    Where do you get your information from?

    (Quote)Snipers are nasty, everyone knows that. They hunt people like animals, killing them without giving them a chance to fight or even to surrender. Few soldiers are more hated; even their own armies often seem less than pleased to have them around.(/quote)

    What? Where on earth did you find this liberal clap-trap from or is this your own beliefs?

    Us grunts in the army like to hear nothing more than "Snipers are covering" or "You've got a sniper attached to you for this patrol."

    Snipers are an excellent and effective tool at removing enemy forces with minimal escalation of force.

    The reason a sniper doesn't give people a chance to surrender or fight, is well, rather obvious.

    If they fought back, you're ignoring the basic Rules of Engagement, which is our Law of Armed Combat.

    If you let them surrender, well, most of them wouldn't.

    Also, most snipers that we've used in the last 12 Operation Telics in Iraq and the last 10 Herricks in Afghanistan have killed people in the process of doing bad things, such as laying bombs and explosives, or firing upon Coalition troops.

    You have an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) team setting up a site 2km from your position. You have in your team the usual firesupport, as well as a Javelin and a sniper with his L96.

    Do you:

    A: Fire the Javelin, which costs around £40,000 and would not only eliminate the threat, but also a large chunk of the land in the immediate area

    B: Use your sniper to fire minimal rounds to eliminate the threat, causing minimal disruption

    The British Army Snipers Course is one of the best courses to get, it's held in high opinion by all military Commanders and it's an excellent aid to promotion. I intend to go for mine in the next two years, or at least aquire the basic Sharpshooter qualification. Which is actually the shooting part. The sniper qualification only comes if you complete the Stalking phase, when you have to cross open ground without being spotted, then hit a static target that appears within a 24hr period for 3 seconds. So there are a lot more snipers out there than you might think, it's just they've only got the Sharpshooter section completed.

    You have a ridiculous opinion, and I would love to know what it is based upon.

    American movies perhaps?

  3. Brian
    Thumb Up

    What about Zaitsev?

    Thanks Lewis - a good informative article (as ever), but Vasily Zaitsev must rank up there for his role in the siege of Stalingrad - maybe not as the best sniper ever, but as a rallying tool for the troops.

    He used a Mosin Nagant, too - a bog-standard infantry weapon.

    But then he was Russian, so probably not as well known as Hathcock, though 'Enemy at the Gates' is a much better film than 'Sniper'.

  4. Chris
    Black Helicopters

    SMART bullets

    Haven't DARPA been trying this for a while?

    That's from 11 years ago - and targeted at aerial combat. Did anything ever come of it? It seems that if they struggled with Big 'ol shells, smaller ones will be even tougher...

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    One correction

    The 'R' in 7.62x54R stands for 'Rimmed' and not 'Rimfire' - the cartridge, like more or less every modern cartridge larger than the .22 Magnum, uses a centerfire primer. '54R gets the designation because it has a prominent rim or lip around the base of the casing as opposed to the more common cutout groove. When the cartridge was first adopted together with the Mosin-Nagant rifle in 1891, use of this rim for headspacing purposes allowed looser machining tolerances in the rest of the rifle's chamber, both to avoid overtaxing the Russian Empire's limited industrial ability and to enable the rifles to be made relatively cheaply - hence why Izhevsk and Tula were able to crank out upwards of seventeen million Mosin-Nagant 1891/30s by 1945.

    Call me pedantic if you like, but facts are facts.

  6. Gareth Morgan

    19c Snipers

    Wasn't it 'chosen man' in the Napoleonic Army?

  7. Andy Barber

    Star Treck

    Didn't Captain Kirk get targeted by a "fire & forget weapon?" In the first Series.

  8. Evil Consultant

    Evil Consultant

    As regards the 7.62x54R cartridge designation, the "R" stands for "Rimmed" and not "Rimfire." 7.62x54R is a centrefire cartridge.

    Most modern rifle cartridges are described as being "Rimless". They have a cannelure just in front of the base of the cartidge for extraction and ejection but actually headspace off the neck of the cartridge. Older cartridges, such as the venerable 303 and 7.62 Russian headspace off the rim.

    On another note, the wind starts to play a seriously big effect from about 800 to 900 yards out. The wind allowance for a 7.62 round is about 10 inches per mile an hour of wind coming from 90 degrees to the trajectory. A fairly mild breeze can take you five feet off target with no problems whatsoever.

    Otherwise an excellent and highly interesting article, well up to Lewis' usual standards or excellence.


  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "most famous sniper ever"

    No mention of Simo Häyhä?

    Simo Häyhä was a Finnish sniper in the Winter War with 505 confirmed kills (estimated 542 actual kills) within 100 days (using a rifle with iron sights, as a telescopic sight presented a larger target for other snipers as well as making the user more visible) in addition to almost 200 additional kills with a machine gun.

  10. Anonymous Coward

    Be vewy qwiet I'm hunting wabbits huhuhuh

    Having some experience in hairydynamics and ballistics (competition shooting); I can state with some certainty that ballistic projectiles cannot be steered. Put fins on a bullet and it will just carry on, but sideways.

    What you would need to do is use a "rocket" in the bullet to push it at 90 degrees to its trajectory path. The combined forwards and sidewards travel would result in very limited steerage.

    All theoretically do-able but the miniaturisation needed is pretty awesome.

  11. Martin Lyne

    A scary video

    Showing you just how unrealistic films can be.

    Next time you see someone hide behind a barrel or US mail box.. just consider.

    Er, I thought this was relevant due to the collateral damage/assault rifle paragraphs.

  12. evilbobthebob


    If it's going to be a laser guided bullet, some well positioned mirrors would mess it up a bit...

    I'll get my coat. The one with the mirrors.

  13. Robert Moore
    Dead Vulture

    RIP - Lewis Page

    I would just like to say here publicly, that Snipers are the finest most honourable people it has ever been my pleasure to meet.

  14. Hans Mustermann
    Dead Vulture

    just as a small nitpick

    Just as a small nitpick,

    1. The mentality that most fights happen under 300m isn't really a Cold War era idea, but also why WW2 used SMGs. And not just the Schmeisser; the Russians produced far more of their own burp-guns, the Brits produced quite a few Stens, and the Americans developed the grease-guns because the Thompsons were too expensive and slow to produce for how many the army wanted. Also why it culminated with the invention of the assault rifle.

    But even WW2 didn't produce that idea. The Thompson itself was born out of a WW1 need for a "trench broom", i.e., something to put a lot of bullets in the air at close ranges.

    2. The designated marksman rifle isn't just for short range sniping, or it would be a bolt action rifle for maximum accuracy. It's also for suppression. Psychologically, a "sniper" ranks up there with heavy machineguns for suppression factor.

    3. Calling "snipers" murderers is at least as old as the American Independence War, where brits with muskets without sights (not that you'd have use for sights on a musket, given that the only way to be hit by a musket ball was if it was aimed at someone else) called the Minutemen murderers for having rifled guns with iron sights.

    I guess it's just that most people have this aversion towards killing someone personally. Probably more people got PTSD ("shell shock") because they shot someone point blank, than because of being shelled by MLRS.

    That, in turn, is known at least as early a the Roman Legion. The Romans rotated ranks in the middle of the battle, so their soldiers wouldn't get a nervous breakdown from all the killing. For all the willy-waving about being the sons of Mars and all that, when push came to shove, even for them it was pure stress.

    The aircraft and airstrip crews, and often even those soldiers with assault rifles and machineguns, have an element of plausible deniability. You can lie to yourself that maybe it wasn't your bullet that killed that guy, or maybe those kids in that bombed school weren't hit by the bomb _you_ loaded, etc.

    Or if you will, it's why a few weapons in almost all firing squad were loaded with blanks. Even though anyone who's fired a rifle can tell the difference, each soldier can still lie to himself that _his_ gun had a blank.

    Or if that doesn't work, you can convince yourself that it was self-defense. That guy was trying to shoot you, so you shot him first.

    What I'm trying to say is that the loathing of snipers doesn't necessarily have anything to do with numbers of kills. It's got to do with knowing that someone can calmly look you in the eyes (through a scope) and squeeze the trigger. Even if you're no danger to him, due to different weapon ranges. And then he can do it again. That's unsettling people.

  15. Anonymous Coward

    A cheaper way...

    ...2 ways to make sniping cheaper.

    1. use a mobile phone application to have a wind, air, temp calculator for the snipe. This is the IT angle ;-)

    2. Ring the dirty rotten terrorist, who will stand up to get the best signal - then shoot him.

    BTW, I though Vassili Zaitsev was the most famous sniper .

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Nice article, pity it is so poor hystorically

    The first 50'cal rifles were introduced into massive sniper use by Russians in 1941 and nearly immediately after that by the Germans using captured Russian guns and munitions. The guns in question were the PTRD and PTRS. It became clear in 1941 that they are pretty useless even against the relatively weak german tank amour. However, the extreme precision along with 1200m+ killing range made them the ultimate sniper rifle of the second world war. After the war they were taken onboard by guess whom - the Chinese and the Koreans. Their sniper crews were armed with this and the american/british in-field customisation of machine guns for the same purpose was a hasty response to a 50 caliber already present in the field.

    As far as "white socks", well... I would not be surprised. These countries supported Dudaev directly and helped ship a large portion of the ex-Warsaw pact munitions down to Chechnia when Eastern Europe joined NATO. I have seen a plane with "bulgarian cucumbers" leave for there from Gorna Oriahovitca more than once a week for several years in a row until Putin came to power. One of his first actions was to called the Bulgarian and other ambassadors and tell them exactly what will happen if they continue with this practice.

    The Baltics have also been the main producer of snipers and shooting sportsmen for both Russia and Germany for 100-odd years. I would not be surprised for them to be in Chechnia, though I would not expect the ones there to be female. I have seen the attitude of a Chechen to a woman myself one time too many in Grozny so I find this particular part of the urban legend hard to believe in. The rest is not that far off.

  17. Christoph

    How do you make sure only your own side has these?

    If these super-range rifles are used in action, then some will be lost.

    How will the US react the first time one of their presidents is killed from five miles away? Or just random strangers on the streets of Washington?

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    [quote]Having some experience in hairydynamics and ballistics (competition shooting); I can state with some certainty that ballistic projectiles cannot be steered. Put fins on a bullet and it will just carry on, but sideways.[/quote]

    You may want to reconsider your statement by taking a look at

    While it relates to an artillery shell, the shell is still un-powered and is guided to its target over 25miles away to an accuracy of a few feet.

  19. Anonymous Coward

    @Cal - I can see you're not a sniper..

    ... what with that hair-trigger you've got!

    >"What? Where on earth did you find this liberal clap-trap from or is this your own beliefs?"

    Take a deep breath, count to ten, then go read the rest of the article *after* the first paragraph - it's all about how that stereotyped view is a load of clap-trap. You really jumped down the author's throat a bit quick there.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Nice article

    Nicely balanced article.

    Snipers are pretty much the ultimate infantry soldier...

    Saying that, they're still G.R.U.N.T.S.

    Saying that, no matter how many specialists you have back in echelon (gunners, engineers, frigates, crabs...) you cant hold any land without the G.R.U.N.T. in the field.

    A.C. as I know a few grunts...

  21. Steve John

    Good article

    As always, a well written and well reasoned article from Lewis Page. Looking at the comments so far, I wish people would read the entire article before venting.

    Keep up the good work.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hey, Cal... the article, rather than just the first three lines you halfwit.

  23. Dave Ball
    Thumb Down


    Gotta love people who only read the first page of an article..

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    R is for rimmed cartridge

    The R is for rimmed cartridge not rim fire as with a .22 rim fire primer. Although uncommon in rifle cartridges in America, the rimmed cartridge is still popular in Europe where break action rifles are commonly used for hunting rather than bolt action or semi-automatic designs.

  25. Mike Moyle

    @ Michael, Cal


    I read the title/opening as "Everybody knows..." in the sense of "Everybody knows that the world is flat..." -- an ironic assertion for the rest of the article to disassemble.

    OTOH, it seems to me that whenever the other side (whomever the "other" is) uses an unconventional-warrior strategy, we (whomever "we" happens to be) will refer to the unconventional warriors as "cowards":

    Setting Gatling guns against single-shot rifle infantry? Cowardly.

    Potshotting from behind trees with rifles rather than standing and firing in massed ranks of musketry? Cowardly.

    Shooting arrows from long-distance, rather than going hand-to-hand with sword and axe? Cowardly.

    Whacking with a bloody great stick rather than using the teeth and nails that the Ungchuk the Creator gave us? Cowardly.

    Mine's the one with the extra pockets for all sorts of Cowardly toys.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Steering a bullet

    Steering a bullet is possible. Obviously fins or flaps can not be deployed and actuated due to the stabilization spin of the bullet in flight would make even the fastest adjustment operate over a large degree of arc. The answer would be a jet steering mechanism utilizing the 1960's technology of the Gyro-jet weapon system and the latest nano-technology allowing a stabilized, non-spinning central port to steer using directed jets of solid fuel powered gas to steer the bullet.

    I'm not certain that laser guidance would work all that well. The big problem is to keep a bullet straight over long distances. Micro-gyros and a fairly simple ASIC would be able to adjust for wind deflection and bullet drop (within reason) as long as the bullet had momentum and jet fuel. Using a laser to paint a moving target works with missiles and guided bombs but that is with a very large lens that can find the laser dot. Besides lens size the required lens shape wouldn't work. A long range bullet needs a pointed ballistic shape and a lens needs a nearly flat shape.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wind etc

    There are a few issues with wind (and other atmospheric conditions) that will non-uniformly and non-predictably affect projectiles.

    Firstly, wind is different at different heights and different areas. So as a bullet travels in its ballistic arc it will pass through many different atmospheric "regions" with different conditions.

    Take the 2400m kill. A bullet with a muzzle velocity of 1000m/s is going to be in the air for pretty much 3 seconds. As gravity is constant this means it will drip by something like 27metres. Which means it will have traveled 2400 metres horizontally and 27 metres vertically.

    It is not possible to predict the local weather at all those points, and it cannot be guaranteed that 2 (or more) bullets fired in exactly the same way will be affected exactly the same by teh atmosphere (winds change, gust etc)

    I also cannot believe that a "guided" bullet can react quickly enough to a gust of wind or errant thermal to be able to get back on track.

    Surely, and I offer this to the military for free*, the way to deal with targets up to 2000m is through standard snipers, to about 4000m through getting a standard sniper to crawl a couple klicks and then go oldskool and over 4000m to use laser guided aircraft delivered munitions. said munitions needn't be large area effect weapons, they could be small, anti-personnel murdertech.

    *I'd love an Apache if any military out there has one free and feels sufficiently grateful for this consultancy.

  28. MPT

    sniper adoration

    Now I now this is not strictly about the article but it reminds me of Grosse Point Blank.

    He says himself that he had "a certain disposition" for what they needed. Got trained by them and then went to work for himself after they had used him for what they needed.

    Surely this covers a huge portion of the population who would not fit the profile for this type of work. Yes it is work, as Utopia is still around the corner and not quite here yet.

    Ruthless, probably. Dangerous, only for two people and they obviously choose to be in the way. Necessary, rather that than collateral for the possibility of getting one.

  29. Mark Finn
    Thumb Down

    An invalid generalisation.

    "nobody thinks of a bomb armourer, or a "fighter" pilot", or a base cook as a cowardly assassin."

    I must disagree with you there. Quite strongly.

  30. Cal


    Well, when you've done tours of Iraq and Afghanistan and you owe your life to sniper fire taking out bad people, you can understand why I flew off like I did.

    However, I then read the remainder of the article and felt paragraph after paragraph like a bigger and bigger prick. :)

    Apologies to the author.

  31. Daniel Luedtke

    7.62x54R (rimmed not rimfire)

    Register, Your explanation of this new technology is quite accurate. One little mistake I caught is the meaning of the R suffix in the Russian 7.62x54R cartridge. The first number is the diameter in mm, the last is the length in mm. However R suffix indicates a rimmed case, like .303 Lee-Enfield or quite a lot of first generation small bore smokeless or cordite cartridges. Normally now, most cases don't have a rim that exceeds base diameter, rather a grove is carved into the solid thick bit of brass (or steel) with the result is a smooth case that can readily slide against other cases in the magazine or clip. No high pressure rimfire case is possible as the primer resides in the hollow rim and is crushed to ignite the powder. This requires a very thin shell of brass to easily crush, hence no hope of containing the 50-65 thousands of lbs/in pressure generated.

    Another additional point to realize is that often the heavy .50 cal (mostly Browning .50 machine-gun) sniper setups are used to destroy high value, soft equipment targets. .50 cal armour piercing rounds do great damage to delicate AL skinned aircraft, even from a mile away. A 8ft x 40 ft target is a bit easier to hit than the 1 ft x 1 ft zone of a man (and planes at rest don't move too much either).


    PS, Very good to see others realize the humane aspects of sniper shooting and tactics. The real butchery is the mass-death stuff used so much.

    PPS, from a citizen of one of the few countries that allows ordinary people own such weapons, develop loads for them and practice shooting them without supervision.

  32. Jacob Lipman

    Sorry, Mr. Page, you are incorrect.

    The "R" in 7.62x54R stands for rimmed, not rimfire. It is a centerfire cartridge, like all modern high-powered rifle cartridges. Also, the length of the casing doesn't give you that great an idea of the powder charge, or indeed the power of the round. The width of the case, the taper of the shell and angle of the case neck, the weight of the bullet, how much of the bullet is seated inside the case neck, how much powder is actually loaded into the shell, and what type of powder is used in the shell can make a huge difference in the power of the round. I handload ammunition for my Mosin-Nagant and as such have done a fair amount of research on the cartridge. A factory Russian round propels its 150-grain FMJ bullet from the muzzle at approximately 3,000FPS; a factory .30-06(7.62x63mm) propels its 150gr Nosler ballistic tip (note; superior bullet) at about 2900 FPS. That amounts to roughly 3,940 and 3,820 joules, respectively.

    Yes, there are a lot of variables and I only picked those particular rounds to illustrate the point. The x54R is not as long as the x63, and indeed CAN and often is a less powerful round, but such is not always the case.

    Also, in response to:

    "This means that not only are the rifle's blast and flash eliminated, but also the supersonic crack made by a normal high-velocity bullet - in other words the weapon is totally silent, ideal for quietly knocking off sentries or whatever."

    Bullshit. A suppressor suppresses sound, it does not eliminate it. Propel an object at high speed through atmosphere and it will make sound. A suppressor eliminates most of the sound of the expanding gas resulting from the combustion in the shell, via internal baffles. Using a subsonic round prevents a sonic boom. You still must deal with the sound of the action, especially if it is a semi-automatic, and the aforementioned zip of a bullet tearing through the air. What the hell is the point of a subsonic round in a high-powered rifle? You're taking an expensive, unusual round and turning it into a low-powered piece of shit. Why not use a .45 ACP? It's already subsonic, everybody and their brother makes suppressors in the caliber, the round is common and match-grade bullets are available.

    Cue Brits mocking the 'Merkin gun nut. It's okay, I deserve it.

  33. Pat

    @ Cal

    Re: Where do you get your information from? by Cal

    [quote from article] even their own armies often seem less than pleased to have them around.[/quote]

    Possibly from 'A Rifleman Went to War' by H. W. McBride, as something similar is mentioned.

    IIRC - During WWI static trench warfare sometimes sections of the line on one side would fire enough shots/shells to satisfy administrative demands, but would deliberately aim off so as not to cause casualties on the other side; and in return the other side would also adjust their aim so as not to inflict casualties. With this unofficial co-operation they would reduce their chances of death or injury. Then a sniper team would be assigned to that part of the line and after a few deliberate sniper shots/kills real hostilities would kick off again.

  34. Chris

    Maybe your opinion isn't shared by the majority

    I highly doubt anyone with a clue views snipers as assassins. They are highly trained individuals who place their life on the line in defense of our country. Society owns a lot to all who serve in the military including snipers. If you don't have the stomach to defend your country, you're not entitled to the freedoms it provides.

  35. NS Clerk
    Thumb Up

    Snipers make find coworkers, too

    Regarding snipers as cold-hearted killing bastards: I've worked on IT projects with several retired commandos/special forces and snipers. I liked working with them all, but got along personally with the snipers best. While certainly very controlled individuals, they never struck me as psychopaths and generally exhibited real human emotion. From what they have told me, the United States and British armed forces are intent on preventing some of the problems created by previous generations of snipers who came to enjoy their jobs too well, continuing professionally after release from service. A sense of remorse, at least for unintended kills of non-combatants, was required. However, remorse at achieving the objective (killing a particular person) was not. You should not feel guilty about killing the enemy leader but should if a stray shot kills his six year old daughter.

    Interestingly, I found the snipers to be extremely intelligent.

    Great article and some excellent corrections in the comments. El Reg has quality readers.

  36. jake Silver badge

    Two issues, otherwise nice article.

    1) The only people I've seen who don't appreciate snipers are bean counters and folks who have never been on the ground in a real life combat situation.

    2)You passed along the myth "In one incident, shooting at one of these men, Hathcock's bullet flew down the other sniper's scope and killed him."

    This was nicely debunked by Mythbusters. The various layers of glass in the optics prevents this from happening. The energy of the round is spent before it gets halfway thru' ...

    A couple friends and I tried the same thing 20 years ago with a box of otherwise useless Vietnam era scopes that an uncle had acquired. Fast and small bullets exploded on impact (duh!), typically not getting thru' more than two layers of glass and breaking the third; slow and heavy typically didn't make it thru' more than three layers of glass, breaking the fourth (and sometimes the fifth).

    Heavy & fast is another issue entirely ... The .50 Browning sent miscellaneous shrapnel into areas that would probably have been fatal. The 20mm blew everything apart.

    This was on a totally enclosed range, and distances were short (maybe 10 yards), except the .50 and the 20mm; those were on my favorite long distance range (can do 3,750 meters), but the targets were only out about 50 yards.

    We're still kicking ourselves that we didn't propose a "Mythbusters" style show back then ...

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    RE: @Mark_T by AC

    "You may want to reconsider your statement by taking a look at"

    Doh !

    It says;

    "a smart artillery round that has an integrated GPS tracking system along with fins and rockets"

    You didn't read my post properly did you ? No I don't want to reconsider it thanks.

  38. Sillyfellow


    you people make me SICK !!

    ALL of LIFE is precious and sacred. nobody has the right to take any life of any form for any reason. period.

    "but they're just doing their jobs.".. the usual useless excuse. in truth there is NO excuse.

    can you not understand this? can people not think and decide for themselves? can people claim to have no choice?

    yes.. you spiritually retarded people can tell me how much good things (technology etc) we have as a result of military research, but that is plain bullshit. if we had focused our resources on doing things to benefit life as opposed to extinguishing it, we would have got a heck of a lot further and would have even more tech of benefit to us than we have presently.

    let me tell/remind you that the taking of any life is the worst crime against nature and existence, and there will be a heavy price to pay.

    if you ask me if that means i would not protect my own family or my own life, my answer to that is: yes i would do my best to protect myself and family, BUT only by being with them (not in another country, or even away from my family), AND not by means of taking life. and if you think this isn't viable then you are wrong.

    if it's a matter if "kill or be killed" then i will accept to be killed, but when skilled and trained correctly (by means of martial arts) there is always a chance of living without having to take any life.

    PS. it made me feel ill, but i did read the whole article and all the comments.

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's all been said before

    The idea for steerable rounds is at least 3 decades old and was portrayed by Michael Crichton in his film "Runaway" in 1984:

    Bugger. I must be getting old.

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Mike_T and TW Burger

    Contrary to what Mike_T says, and following on from TW Burger's comments, a steerable non-powered projectile is possible, but difficult.

    Firstly, the spin stabilisation doesn't make steering impossible, merely difficult - some missiles roll but are steered with conventional fins (Sidewinder being one example) albeit the relative roll rate is lower than that expected with a bullet - the rolling frame of reference is just another guidance variable.

    Secondly, steering does NOT rely on powered flight, and any number of air vehicles demonstrate this fact. The projectiles are only ballistic in the first place because they're unsteered. As long as there's sufficient airflow over the steering surfaces, and the surfaces are designed with supersonic airflow in mind, then the round is steerable.

    Thirdly, conventional fins may not be necessary - tailoring airflow can be achieved by different methods, such as changing flow rate/pressure in different sectors of the projectile (with the right shape, of course). Drag and deceleration is a side-effect of any steering mechanism, so implementing steering impacts range and residual kinetic energy (necessary for the ultimate effect in an inert round, obviously) - there is a major design trade-off there. Personally, I'd like to see what is achievable with configurable "golf ball" dimples or a mechanism with a center air-scoop and dynamically re-directed airjet near the round's base.

    IMHO, to make any of this worthwhile, either the range must be shortened, calibre increased or the round given in-flight power.

  41. Brutus


    Well done, sir, on coming back to the board and owning up to going off half-cocked!

  42. Ian Michael Gumby


    Did you try a .308 FMJ round?

    Didn't think so.

    The FMJ = Full Metal Jacket and the round will not frag that quickly.

    Also if you did any ballistic tests, you'd see that the bullet would behave differently based on the distance to target. On targets where the bullet has retained most of the original muzzle energy, the bullets did frag more. On targets down range, further from the rifle where most of the energy was lost due to flight, the bullet retained more of its initial weight and fragged less.

    Guns and Ammo, a hunting magazine did an excellent article on the different types of hunting rounds fired in to gel at different lengths to show their terminal impact at both close range and normal distance to the target.

    So unless you hand loaded your rounds to take in to account that the energy of the bullet would be much less... seems like your myth just got busted. ;-)

    Unlike most hunting cartridges, an FMJ doesn't have a hollow point or a ballistic tip for creating large frags.

    Trained snipers are more than just Designated Marksmans. They are *scout/snipers*, meaning that they also function as recon. So they may not kill you with a long shot, but may also call in an air strike too.

  43. Matt Bryant Silver badge

    RE: Nice article, pity it is so poor hystorically, and TW Burger

    RE: AC

    Oops! Nice comment, pity it is so poor historically. Present your rear for hoisting on your petard, pronto! The Fins were officially using their Lahti L-39 20mm anti-tank rifles as a counter-sniper weapon and for long-range fire before the Russians did the same with the PTRD and PTRS. The Lahti used both the standard AP round and HE, the latter being very popular for targeting machinegun nests. It's likely because the Fins did so with success that the Red Army started sniping with their obsolete AT rifles.

    And both the Brits and Germans in North Africa in early '41 often used obsolete anti-tank rifles for harassing fire, though not as an official sniper function, so that again pre-dates the Soviet use mentioned. There are some accounts of British troops using up the heavy Boys .55in AT rifle ammo for long-range harrassing fire on the advancing Germans in France in 1940, but that seems to be more of a case of the Brits looking for an excuse to lighten their load!

    RE: TW Burger

    On the point of pointy-nosed bullets being too sharp for laser lens, I had an interesting chat with a clever MoD gent a few years back about the same topic, namely using laser-guided .50 cal bullets to target the thinner armoured parts of tanks. When I raised the pointy-nosed point, he said this would apply to a bullet designed to look for the laser splash on the target, but a bullet could be designed with a laser lens in the base that looked backwards at a laser projector on the rifle, and steered the round to ensure it stayed in the beam. This would allow the nose to be the aerodynamic point required, and the rear lens could be shielded by a cap that fell off after leaving the muzzle, much like the jacket on a discarding sabot round. His problem was not the laser guidance, but that he didn't think the idea of using the same round for sniping humans "would be economically viable" for her Majesty's forces!

  44. Thomas Baker
    Thumb Up

    Cool article as always.

    Thanks Lewis. Fascinating.

  45. Stuart Van Onselen


    1) Shouldn't beancounters actually *love* snipers? Snipers use a ludicrous number of rounds when training, but far fewer in combat, making them cheaper in the long run. Maybe I have my facts wrong, or maybe beancounters are idiots. (Just ask the BOFH.)

    2) But didn't Hathcock use a 50-cal, the very round you said caused potentially fatal shrapnel?

    Or were you drawing a distinction between "head shredded by flying bits of his own scope" on the one end, and "surgical shot leaving the scope barrel intact, like I saw in the movies, so it has to be true" on the other?

    I'd have loved to be there watching you try out those guns. It does sound like a very Mythbuster-y experience and a lot of fun.

  46. Anonymous Coward

    my opinion

    Is that the snipers my neighbor and his buddies had in 'Nam were much appreciated part of their team and they sure wanted them around. they weren't considered "bad" anything.

    having done a little 30-06 at 1000 yds with iron sights i have to admire anyone making that difficult a shot with or without scope at that range or more.

    thanks for the article!

  47. Mark Duncan


    Reminded me of a quote from a Faux News (i think) interview with a sniper.

    Interviewer : What do you feel when you shoot someone.

    Sniper : Recoil


  48. Hate2Register
    Paris Hilton

    Some hate journalists in much the same way..

    Some hate journalists in much the same way..

    Your title is "Snipers - cowardly assassins, or surgical soldiers?", but you only manage to hold to topic for the first page or so. Your real story is a report on sniper's kit.

    But I think the lady doth protest too much.

    I met a British sniper in Gleneagles train-station bar. I don't think he would be thrilled by your attack on his morals. Thusly I assume that you get in a lot of fights, (in bars I imagine), while drunkenly upholding the pen as mightier than the sword.

    Do I make too many assumptions about you? Perhaps I do, just as you do about people who fight and kill in places which would only leave a brown stain in a writer's undergarmentry. Keep writing, I'll watch your career with a little interest.

    Paris because to El Reg, there is no other woman.

    [You wrote:

    "Snipers are nasty, everyone knows that. They hunt people like animals, killing them without giving them a chance to fight or even to surrender. Few soldiers are more hated; even their own armies often seem less than pleased to have them around."]

  49. Hate2Register

    Nice article, sort of..

    No new stuff here. But of interest to peaceniks, techno-mentalists and anyone that hasn't played "America's Army".

    But a balanced piece? Maybe, if you see the world in black or white. "Snipers are quite possibly evil psychos, even their friends think so, but anyway here's a breakdown of new kit they might like".

    Somebody pointed out that a steerable bullet is a nice-but-dim dream. And the more I think about it the truer that sounds. So perhaps El Reg is falling for the press release that claims that American arms are the best in the world, even the arms that are physically impossible.

    So where exactly was the article going? Moo-moo land?

    No icon because you only have a few to choose from and they're all the same.

  50. alan
    Thumb Up


    that was a sweet article, thanks :)

    and to add a little to the conversation regarding the history of sniping:

    I have it on not so good authority that the idea of firing rifles at range to pick off the enemy one by one before they got closer was in use up to around 200 years ago by Britian (ftw) as a way to sap the enemy and scare the sh*t out of them before they could even start to retaliate. Apparently they used older musket-style rifles that had much better range but took ages to reload compared to the more current guns of the time. There would be a limited number of these more specialised troops in a unit and the rest would be using faster loading weapons for closer combat. man we used to pwn teh baad guyz so much XD

    I accept full responsibillity of this being totally wrong as my information is coming from a conversation with my brother who likes to read fact-based history books, usually about alexander the great et al and also about ye-oldy blighty empire.

    however it sounds plausible to me, like the longbow idea of taking everyone out at range, just carried over into newer weapons.

    please feel free to correct as is required :)

    p.s enemy at the gates was awesome..... but so was sniper, mostly because it was so bad it was good :)

  51. jake Silver badge

    @Stuart Van Onselen

    "1) Shouldn't beancounters actually *love* snipers? Snipers use a ludicrous number of rounds when training, but far fewer in combat, making them cheaper in the long run. Maybe I have my facts wrong, or maybe beancounters are idiots. (Just ask the BOFH.)"

    Re-read Lewis' article. Between wars, they shave costs by cutting the more intensive and costly training programs that are deemed "unneeded in peace time". Training snipers is very costly. Many standing armed forces don't keep up war-time numbers of snipers-in-training, in order to save money. I guess they figure there is enough time to train 'em after war breaks out, but before they are needed in the field. Fortunately, the USMC doesn't see it that way.

    "2) But didn't Hathcock use a 50-cal, the very round you said caused potentially fatal shrapnel?"

    Probably not. Although they played with mounting optics on Browning .50 MGs fired in single shot mode, that kinda gear is a trifle heavy for most Scout/Sniper work. Most snipers in the field back then used Winchester Model 70 chambered for 30-06. Kinda like the one in the gun cabinet over my right shoulder. Personally, I prefer the Remington Model 700 chambered for 308, sitting next to it, for long distance work when I have to lug the weapon around ... If I don't have to carry it more than a couple feet, the .416 Barret wins hands down.

    Also remember that with any distance shooting, the bullet isn't following a flat trajectory. It is ballistic in nature, meaning you'd have an incoming bullet not only hit the center of the scope, but it would have to be as near as possible coming in at the same angle of the scope tube. So, in answer to your next question:

    "Or were you drawing a distinction between "head shredded by flying bits of his own scope" on the one end, and "surgical shot leaving the scope barrel intact, like I saw in the movies, so it has to be true" on the other?"

    The later is how the shot is described by the myth, not the former.

    We fired a LOT of rounds, in a LOT of calibers, loaded for a LOT of velocities ranging from hot-handload at the muzzle, to the velocity at the extreme effective range of the weapon, according to standard ballistics charts. (We had over 5500 otherwise useless surplus scopes to play with, so we did ... If you are wondering, they failed calibration testing).

    In all short range tests, we laser aligned the barrel and target scope before taking the shot. In the longer range tests with the heavier rifles, we fired a shot to find the true zero, then aligned the target scope to that.

    Weapons ranged from some of those above, a Kimber .45 (my competition pistol), a couple TC Contenders, one in .30 Herret and one in 357 Herret, a S&W K-frame .38, a .22 magnum revolver, a High Standard .22lr (7 inch barrel), a bog-standard Winchester 30-06 rifle, a .44Mag Rugar carbine and matching Rugar revolver, a .50 black powder replica Kentucky, a highly customized .220 Swift, a .177 Bee, a 45-70 rolling block (Great Granpa's buffalo gun), a 12 guage with both deer slugs and buck shot ... There were others.

    We captured a bunch of lead within the scope tubes. The only round that broke the actual eyepiece was the 20mm target load, at 50 yards ... but even then, it just broke the glass and didn't push any lead out the far end of the scope tube. It probably broke it from the initial impact. I'd like to run the experiment again, but with high speed video to get a better idea of the mechanics. Unfortunately, I don't have a stock of surplus scopes anymore.

    And yes, to whoever asked, we used FMJ, hand cast lead (type and dive belt), and various mixtures of lead & "other", and a bunch of factory lead. All were handloaded, by us, and tested, by us. Is it possible we made a mistake, or missed something? Of course! We're only human.

    But as far as I am concerned, it never happened as described. It's a myth.

    HOWEVER, I'm enough of a realist to be shown otherwise :-)

  52. jake Silver badge


    "if it's a matter if "kill or be killed" then i will accept to be killed"

    What you just said means that you accept that your $DEITY wants the bad guys to win.

    You really are a silly fellow, aren't you?

  53. Pedantic Twat

    @cal -- me too

    Very impressed that you came back and apologised -- nice one.

  54. Gary Shields

    Cal hit the mark

    As a current British Army sniper, I can honestly say that this article appears to have been quite poorly resourced. The sniper course is one of the hardest in the Army to complete sucessfully, and the skills and capabilities we provide add sigificantly to a formation's assets and protection, and also strike ability.

    The first comment by Cal is more factual than this article.

    El Reg is very informative for IT related news, so please don't try and add a poorly resourced article to your mariad of great and often funny articles. Stick to what you guys know ;) Happy to discuss.

  55. Anonymous Coward

    RE: @Mike_T and TW Burger

    ROFL !

    The "I'm-right-because-I-wannabe" theory of science and engineering at its best. Oh and it's Mark, not Mike. Classic !

    "Secondly, steering does NOT rely on powered flight, and any number of air vehicles demonstrate this fact. The projectiles are only ballistic in the first place because they're unsteered."

    Having actually flown several powered and unpowered "air vehicles," can I draw your attention to a little feature we use called wings? Either fixed or rotary.

    Nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, can be guided without aerodynamic lift or the use of power.

    If it has wings it ain't ballistic, if it has power it ain't ballistic. If it is ballistic all you can do is change the direction it points, not travels.

    Can I take this opportunity to remind those in the colonies that guns are a European invention? ;o))

  56. Anonymous Coward

    Actually any soldier is a killer

    Even if it sounds obvious, anyone who kills is a killer.

    Killing is a taboo in almost any mainstream culture

    (let's skip the Maya for simplicity - they are anyhow extinct)

    and it is "justified" if the killing is needed for the gain of the culture itself.

    You belong to culture X and kill the enemy of culture X, which is Y, then

    - for X, you are a soldier (or a policeman) and you can climb the ladder up to hero,

    you kill for an "absolute good"

    (in western term: the progress of civilization)

    - for Y, you are a terrorist, you commit crime against humanity

    you kill because you are "evil"

    (in western term: Islamist )

    strictly speaking you have killed in both case and you are not different

    in the eye of a culture Z which does not have any stake in the fight

    between Y and X

    having said that, it is pretty depressing to see so many user involved

    in killing (or learning to kill) for the prosperity of Exxon Oil and Halliburton

    and even somehow apparently justifying this for some strange code of honor

    of some other relics of the pre-corporation age.

    An advice, play "HAZE" to understand where the west is going.

  57. Eric Olson

    About that whole Mythbusters thing...

    Actually, Mythbusters recently went and redid the bullet through the scope myth. After taking all the suggestions given in good faith by their viewers, even if misinformed, they tried again. Using Jamie's impressive skills at shooting through a scope, nothing worked. However, the ballistics expert they had on-site brought in a "secret" weapon for one last try. Out came an armor-piercing, tungsten-core round. One shot later, and they had a ballistics dummy with a pretty serious eye wound... and a bullet lodged 2" into it's brain. Now, there was no skull, as it was just ballistics gel, but one could make the assumption that the shot would have been a mortal wound without immediate medical attention. Keeping in mind how a sniper is supposed to operate, it would be quite likely they would bleed to death before a medic could reach them.

    Otherwise, good article, and congrats on Cal for owning up to falling for the journalistic ploy of emotional manipulation. Misstating the intention of the article in the first couple of paragraphs is a cheap, but effective trick. Journalists are way more amoral and ruthless than your typical sniper.

  58. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Good article crap title

    I nearly missed reading this article because of the title, I mistakenly assumed that it would be full of moralising bullshit. Then an old friend recommended it so I read it, nicely done as always Mr Page.

    Although I have to agree with the beancounter quoted, in that this kind of ammo (if ever developed) would be too expensive to use against meatsacks in general, just specially selected high value ones.

    Oh! and to the person who is sickened by us all, if you're so ready to die why dont you fuck off and do just that and spare us your sniveling. (do it live online so we can all have a laugh).

    an ex grunt

  59. Jon Tocker

    I'm gobsmacked

    I'm so used to Mr Page being quite accurate with his military-based articles that him making as basic a mistake as saying the "R" in 7.62x54R refers to it being a rimfire round (rather than centrefire), truly shocked me.

    OK, I do have the advantage over many casual readers in that I once owned a WWII-vintage Mosin-Nagant "3-Line rifle" (a "Line" being a unit of measurement, three of which equates to roughly 7.62mm) which was chambered for the 7.62x54R and so I am quite familiar with the *rimmed* *centrefire* cartridge in question.

    Saying the "R" stood for "Rimfire" is not a mistake I would personally make and I would have thought that Mr Page - avid militaria nut that he seems to be - would not have made that mistake either.


    OBTW, I personally think modern bomber crews are craven cowards. Being able to sit back well out of range of the enemy's anti-aircraft emplacements and fire guided smartbombs or cruise missiles at distant targets with no regard for whether or not the casualties include civilians strikes me as very cowardly - and callously indiscrimate and inhumane as well.

    Personally I think someone who gets within rifle range of the enemy is far braver than any bomber and those within rifle range with the skill to cherry-pick their targets are far more humane and discriminating than anyone who fills the area with death-and-destruction in the faint hope that at least some of the casualties are actually combatants.

    If we ever were invaded, I'd hope the invaders made extensive use of snipers and very little use of bombers - me and my kids would be less likely to be shot by a sniper than killed or maimed by someone indiscriminately flinging bombs at our city.

  60. Ian Michael Gumby


    "2) But didn't Hathcock use a 50-cal, the very round you said caused potentially fatal shrapnel?"

    Hathcock used the .50 cal M2 Machine gun a couple of times since he could tap off a single shot.

    (I don't have a copy of his book in front of me so going from memory...)

    They put a scope on the machine gun, and his target was a VC on a bicycle approx 2300 yrds away.

    In the field, AFAIK, he used a Winchester M70 bolt action rifle.

    Getting back on topic of the article, the .50 cal bullet is large enough to be able to hold things like an explosive core and some micro-electronic circuits.

    As to the shape of the bullet, you could mount a sensor even in the "pointy" nose of a bullet so you could retain the streamlined BC of a .50 cal boat-tail round.

    Whats scary is that I know this stuff. ;-)

  61. Maksim Rukov

    if I had a penny...

    ...for every time I saw an online gaming nick with "sniper" (or some variant) in the name I would be quite rich. I would be exactly twice as rich if I got an extra penny every time such a nick's user happened to be a teenager with bad manners and a poor grasp of teamwork.

    I wonder what real snipers make of that?

    It's this annoying gamer sniper adulation that urges me to be cautious. Snipers serve a very useful role, no doubt about that, but they are not so awesome-amazing that you could field an army made entirely of them and expect to win your average everyday conventional war. Not that you clever Register chaps would need to be told that...

    Then again, don't listen to me, I'm just mad at the amount of men I've lost to snipers in Company of Heroes.

    Mine's the one with the Jeep keys in the pocket.

  62. Loki

    Doesnt go far enough..

    The whole business of snipers doesnt go far enough. I've always though that rather than bloody huge wars with civilian losses, that it should be the leaders who start the bloody things should be at the front of every conflict rather than the peons.

    If a leader isn't willing to be at the front of a battle then better they didn't start the whole shebang in the first place. Better still, lets have like celebrity deathmatch where the leaders are thrown in a ring together and the winner takes all.

    Just imagine, Bush vs Hussein. On the side of the US a man who alledges to have spent some time in the army and other the other side a man who (or so we are led to believe) was more than combat capable.

    Would give the US final justification as well for making Schwarzenegger (yeah, had to use the spell checker on that one!) president... ok, a bit old now but im sure he would still be capable of pushing Gordon Brown's face through the back of his head. ;-)

  63. druck Silver badge

    Fly eye

    You don't need a conventional spherical lens in the nose a bullet to track a laser, think of the compound lenses in a fly's eye.

  64. Jesrad


    "ALL of LIFE is precious and sacred. nobody has the right to take any life of any form for any reason. period."

    Well, yes, precisely. However people take their own life for lots of stupid (un)reasons day in and day out, and there is nothing you or I or the Gub'n'mint can do about this sad consequence of existence.

    Soldiers on both sides of a war, to the exclusion of most conscripts (war serfs), intend to go out and get killed while trying to kill the other bastard, otherwise they'd spend their time elsewhere. Shooting them down brings them exactly what they want. It even has an aesthetic side: yes, I think there is something beautiful in the life arc of some stupid person meeting an equally stupid and timely death through a thoroughly free chain of thinking and acting, without malicious interference with his or her thinking and acting from outside, unto reaching the pointless conclusion.

    Man's condition is stupid and tragic because he's free to develop his own purpose and justification for existing but incapable of perfection at that task, so fulfilling this existence one way or another will on average be just as stupid and tragic as we are as a species. The most we can do is to avoid one's stupid chosen purpose in life from affecting another's equally stupid chosen purpose in life, so as to maintain everyone's aesthetic standing. When applying this thinking to people bent on killing each other, it means avoiding collateral damage. In that sense, within this understanding of life, smart bullets and sniping are beautiful.

    Of course, a duel at dawn between just the couple persons who'd initiate wars in the first place, would be even more beautiful. But those people tend not to play fair.

  65. Zmodem

    political warlords

    gods of man or just pen pushers

  66. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up


    They appear "cold-blooded killers" as they are "seen" to kill intentionally as opposed to the wonderful ground troops who only kill if provoked! Absolute cods, but as with many things in life, perception is all. Personally I think they're the dog's wotnots! Who doesn't enjoy taking on the role of sniper in any computer game that permits it? Creeping about, getting it just right, then taking out the target with surgical precision. Fantastic!

  67. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Subsonic Rounds

    I used to shoot rabbits with a .22 rifle with silencer and hollow point subsonic ammo (that way you can take out a couple of the suckers before they know what's happening). The subsonic rounds were necessary for the silencer to work properly.

    Anyone who has used subsonic ammo knows that it is not silent. Even with a .22 cal round, there is still quite a lot of noise generated by the flight of the bullet. This is not so bad if you are low to the ground and surrounded by soft earth and foliage where the sound of the bullet is absorbed. However, if you are shooting from a higher position, from anything other than a short range, it is quite easy to track the flight of the shot, especially if you are facing perpendicular to and in front of the shooter (and are not the one being shot)

    Also, there is some quite sophisticated acoustic triangulation equipment out there which is able to pinpoint the position of a sniper. The more advanced systems do this not just by listening to the origin of the initial shot, but also by listening for the actual flight of the bullet to determine trajectory.

    Also: Agree that the shot-through-the-scope story is bunkum

    And: Vasili Zaitsev is the most famous (if not the most prolific) sniper of all time. Interestingly the translation of his name does not make him sound very hard at all - Basil the Rabbit.

  68. Chris

    Snipers rule.

    I don't think snipers are cowardly at all. They often have to make their way into very dangerous situations with no back up, and they serve an extremely valuable function.

    As for the "LIFE IS PRECIOUS OMFG" person - a small number of sniper kills on high ranking enemy commanders can prevent a great many more deaths. Lewis did state this in the article, but I guess you'd already made up your mind to rant long before reaching that part.

    Anyway I'm more of an AWP man myself. In source of course!

  69. TeeCee Gold badge

    Re: Steering a bullet.

    Well, the Excalibur system solves the fin deployment problem by being fired on a spin-countering discarding sabot to both allow for the projectile's deployable fins and to dramatically reduce the spin with which the actual projectile itself is imparted. The one thing everyone's fogotten here is that the last thing you want on a dirigible projectile is spin. Quite apart from the difficulties in operating any kind of steering system, the gyroscopic effects are a PITA. I found it quite amusing when it was pointed out that the ideal weapon for firing Excalibur and its ilk would be a smoothbore cannon, but they went with the sabot as the US don't have any smoothbored heavy artillery pieces in service right now.

    I'd have thought that producing a sabot-discarding round in a similar vein that can be fired from a .50 cal rifle would be difficult, but not beyond the realms of possibility. However, far simpler would be to produce a .50 cal (or similar) dedicated smoothbored weapon to fire such an object from. The bore could then be whatever shape in cross-section was most convenient to accomodate a projectile with deployable fins. Yay! Muskets are back.

  70. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Thanks for remaining polite and sensible ... not. You need to go back to school.

    You asserted that unpowered objects cannot be steered:

    > "I can state with some certainty that ballistic projectiles cannot be steered. Put fins on a bullet and it will just carry on, but sideways."

    You then ridiculed my statement about any number of air vehicles demonstrating you wrong. Then you decided to add a new case of "aerodynamic lift" to try and get yourself out of the hole you dug. Bit late now, though, isn't it?

    > "can I draw your attention to a little feature we use called wings?"

    Sure. Can I draw your attention to a little something we call body lift?

    Some examples: Gliders are not powered, but steer, even in descent. That should be enough to prove this, but wait, there's more. Missiles (several varieties) do not apply power for the entire flight - the rocket motor cuts out, but, the missile continues to steer providing there's sufficient airflow over the fins - they wouldn't work otherwise, but I can assure you that they do. But wait, I'll also throw in one more for free: Unpowered bombs (several varieties) have guidance packages with fins that steer to a target ... sometimes from a very long way away. I can assure you that they work too.

    A simpler, related example: A ship will continue to steer even after the engines are turned off providing there's enough water flow over the rudder. We call this "steerage way". You can try this one yourself: Get a power boat, get it up to speed, cut the engines and it'll still steer (and change course) for a while.

    For the less technically minded, here's another simple example: A bowler in cricket can get the ball to move left or right IN THE AIR by polishing one side of the ball and roughing the other side. Different drag (and therefore different airflow) creates a pressure differential which causes the ball to "swing". Now, that cricket ball is definitely not powered and has bugger all "aerodynamic lift" either. But it works, and you can see it work right on your own TV.

    Back to snipers: Without power, steering creates extra drag (I said that already) and that limits range. So, also as I said, to make any of this worthwhile, either the range must be shortened, calibre increased or the round given in-flight power.

  71. Phil
    IT Angle

    Minor nitpick about American 50-cal machine guns

    I liked most of the article, but I wanted to point out that American 50-caliber machine guns have a built-in sniping capacity. At least, they have since before I was in, during the first Gulf war. I heard the capacity dated to the Viet Nam war, so it was built in back then too.

    In the back of the machine gun, directly under the big trigger lever, is a round knob. You rotate it, locking it into one position or another to switch from full auto to single shot. Since a 50-cal is usually tripod mounted, and has a pintle and t&e, you can be extremely accurate. It's range, technically, is several thousand meters.

    You can mount a scope on top, in particular the nightscope (AN/PVS4) they trained me on.

    My favorite Hathcock story: One day, he was using one of the 50 cals, and he bet his assistant that he could hit a viet cong in the nose (the person was about 1500 meters away). He fired and hit him in the throat, just under the chin, losing the bet.

    I don't know where you got the idea people disliked snipers; we Marines LOVED ours. We thought they were awe inspiring. Most of us got our camoflage training from a sniper who visited our boot camp specifically for that purpose. He told us some amazing stories, then taught us how to be almost invisible in the woods (including how to make our own ghillie suits relatively cheaply). He was a hell of a guy. Big, burly fellow with a walrus mustache, believe it or not -- not exactly regulation!

  72. Anonymous Coward

    RE: @Mark_T

    Ah bless. You don't understand the science yet you cling to your beliefs like a religion.

    The Civil Aviation Authority says I'm skilled enough to teach, my ranking in NRA (the British one) competitions says I know ballistics and the EITB and BTEC say I understand mechanics...

    But you know better ;o))

    When one encounters a pig rolling in S**T one has two choices; join the pig in the S**T and try to convince it that it is wrong and that is in S**T or realise that it is happy in the S**T, doesn't want to know different and should be left alone.

    Stay anonymous, it's really is best for you ;o) I'm very sorry to have disturbed you.

  73. Dave Harris

    @Gareth Morgan (way up top)

    Just a minor correction - Chosen Men were redcoats (or green jackets in the 95th and, I think, 60th Regiments, antecedents of the Royal Green Jackets), who were considered above the average soldier, but not quite/yet deserving of a sergeant's stripes. These were the trusted men of a company, relied on by their sergeants and officers.

    BTW, with so many knowledgeable people here, can someone confirm or deny that snipers are routinely issued beta-blockers, like propranalol hydrochloride, to reduce any shakes or tremors? I was told I'd have to come off them when I was going through recruitment (failed).

  74. Anonymous Coward

    Shoot the lot of them

    Bloody military bastards wasting our tax money on assassinating America's political enemies.

    Remember: we only need an army to protect us from the sort of violent retards who join the army. Every penny spent on them is a penny wasted, even if - paradoxically - we need them.

  75. Mike

    @Jesrad @Sillyfellow

    Jesrad, the ability to eloquently describe the human condition is nothing more than a trivial observation, Sillyfellow is indeed in a minority, but his core intention is far purer than yours, imagine;

    1. Everybody had Sillyfellow attitude

    No killing

    2. Everybody had Jesrad attitude

    You watch the killing from afar, detachment giving the illusion innocence and no responsibility, excusing everything they do "as their nature", this is a vicarious liability that Sillyfellow doesn't have, but you do.

    To all those who justify a sniper as "better than the alternative", it's not about that, it's all about having a full range of ordinance, there's no such things as "alternatives"; it's "complementaries", we don't need snipers so we can replace carpet bombs, choices like this are never equal, and those that decide on the ordinance to use will use what they think is most effective and as sniper technology moves on so does everything else, Jarhead might just be a bit of filmotography pap but surgical isn't always seen as effective, and remember the killer is a victim too.

    Notwithstanding, don't forget that technlology never stays in the "good guys" hands only.

  76. Martin

    Wow - Such passion on this thread.

    Can I just say that I have a pet slug named Kevin.

    But he's not terribly smart.

  77. Anonymous Coward

    RE: Where do you get your information from?

    "You've got a sniper attached to you for this patrol.".

    Great. The military have started glueing each other together. It must make the snipers work considerably harder.

    Mine's the one with the UHU in the pocket.

  78. Anonymous Coward


    So we can pick off individual enemy targets with more accuracy?

    Or rather, we think we can.

    The victims of our illegal wars will no doubt be overjoyed to hear that they've got even less chance of survival than before.

  79. Matt Bryant Silver badge

    Snipers even save enemy lives - kinda.

    "Peacekeeping" stories from mates in Iraq. Story one - they are at a roadblock, they don't have a sniper, they see a group of OMS militia (that's Sadr's Shia nutters, the ones we were supposed to liberate!), set up a mortar two-thousand metres out and have to endure an hour of incoming beacuse they don't have any long-range response available. The mortar team finally got plugged by the RAF dropping a bomb on them. Unfortunately, whilst it took out the five-man mortar crew, it also killed two unarmed locals who were just unlucky to be in the area.

    Story two. Similarly, they spot another mortar team moving into position, but this time they had a sniper team with them. The sniper team put down harrassing fire (it was too far away for accurate shooting), and the OMS packed up and went home. No-one died. If the sniper team hadn't been their, they would have called in another airstrike, so ironically the sniper actually saved the mortar crew's lives as well as possibly any innocent locals in the area.

  80. Dave Wallace

    If reported eponomously

    The distance would be 12.

  81. Rod Bowes

    Incorrect detail

    A good, interesting article, but 'The R on the Russian sniper round signified "rimfire" ' is incorrect, it actually signified 'rimmed' as opposed to the more common 'rimless' cartridge case, it has nothing to do with 'rimfire'.

    From: A proper (ex) Ammunition Technician (and pedant)

  82. n


    By using their new snipers the brits could have killed Jean Charles do Menezes with just one well aimed bullet, rather than a dozen at various points in the head and body.

    This would have saved money on salaries of personal and saved ammunition which helps to reduce their carbon footprint.

    How very thoughtful of them.

  83. n

    helmet at hand?

    Can't beat a story like this for flushing out the strokers like matt bryant et al, kneeling on the floor with their copies of "guns and ammo monthly" spread open around them.

    The "Sadr's Shia nutters" you speak of are actually the citizens of iraq defending themselves against an illegal occupation and the murder of 1 million+ iraqis at the hands of occupying forces.

    Do you feel less guilty by dehumanising them? Help you get harder does it?

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