During the Second World War, Soviet snipers took a heavy toll on German troops at the infamous Battle of Stalingrad — one of the most legendary of these was Vasily Grigoryevich Zaytsev, who killed 32 axis soldiers with a standard-issue rifle.
Decades later, circa year 2020, the Russians have somehow regained this sniper dominance, and the Pentagon is worried.
For years, US forces enjoyed sniper dominance in the Middle East and North Africa.
Now, pitted against so-called “great power” adversaries, China and Russia, who have rapidly re-armed as part of a modernization push, the Pentagon finds itself outmatched and trailing far behind, Jared Keller of Task & Purpose reported.
Indeed, a 2016 Army report warned that Russian snipers have become “far more advanced than the precision shooters US formations have encountered over the last 15 years” in the aftermath of the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea.
So what, exactly, is the Pentagon supposed to do about it?
The first challenge for this is a matter of equipment.
The US arsenal of precision firearms — the M40 sniper rifle, M110 Semi-Automatic Sniper System, the M2010 Enhanced Battle Rifle, and the M107 sniper rifle — has for years possessed a significant advantage over the Soviet-era Dragunov rifle, Task & Purpose reported.
But in recent years, the Russian military has adopted several rifles — the Chukavin sniper rifle and Orsis T-5000 Tochnost rifle — as part of a military-wide effort to allow snipers to reach out beyond 1,600 and 1,800 yards, respectively.
“The Russians are right there with the US materially, in terms of technology and ammo,” Chief Warrant Officer 5 Christian Wade (Ret.), a former sniper, told Task & Purpose. “The Russians either bought our technology … or they just duplicated it.”
On the tech side, the Pentagon is fighting back.
The Army and Marine Corps have both fielded new rifles (M110A1 Squad Designated Marksman Rifle and M38 variant of the M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle, respectively) and new sniper rifles (the M110A1 Compact Semi-Automatic Sniper System that the Army’s new SDMR is based on and the Mk 13 Mod 7), Task & Purpose reported.
More importantly, both the Army and Marine Corps, as well as US Special Operations Command, plan to adopt the Multi-Role Adaptive Design (MRAD) bolt-action sniper rifle from Barrett Firearms.
As Task & Purpose previously reported, the Army wants to adopt the “state of the art” MRAD under its Precision Sniper Rifle program, while the Marine Corps wants to purchase the MRAD to replace all of its bolt-action sniper systems.
The MRAD boasts an effective range of well over 1,600 yards, according to Barrett.
The problem, says Wade, is the snail’s pace of the federal acquisition system, which he says hobbles the Pentagon when it comes to fielding new weaponry, Task & Purpose reported.
The Pentagon “isn’t adapting nearly quick enough to Russian and Chinese threats,” Wade says. “Given the operating environment of the federal acquisition system, we simply can’t keep up with some of these other countries.”
Then there is the elephant in the room issue — Russian snipers aren’t just angling for a materiel advantage, but a doctrinal one as well.
While American snipers test their mettle on static training courses, Russian snipers have in recent years enjoyed the heat of active combat in the contested theater of Crimea, Task & Purpose reported.
Worse yet, the Army and Marine Corps don’t even make sniping a primary military occupational specialty, resigning sharpshooting to a backseat skill set.
“If you’re not going to make someone a full-time sniper, then it’s your personnel and training that will end up holding you back,” Wade says. “You need to turn sniping into a true profession, cradle to grave. It’s an art and a science, but right now, we don’t really let Marines be snipers.”
To catch up to Russia, the quest for lethality means rethinking sharpshooting entirely, according to Robert Scales, a retired Army major general, Task & Purpose reported.
“The traditional distribution of weapons is an obsolete concept,” Scales said. “If you’re a light recon unit every soldier in that unit should be carrying that new SDMR because scouting units tend to maintain stand-off of 1,000 meters or more. Why carry a weapon with an optimal range of 300 meters?
“The vision is not to make the sniper a more elite element but to expand the skills and knowledge and technologies down so that, instead of one guy in a company who can accurately hit a target at 1,200 meters, you have an entire unit that can hit between 600 and 1000 meters,” Scales said. “That’s overwhelming killing power.”