I spent the first four months of a 12-month deployment armed with two sniper rifles; the M24 and the M110. My 10th Mountain Division sniper section was deployed to RC East, Logar, Afghanistan where we would experience the crippling inability of performing the job of a sniper because, like many snipers before us, we were deployed with weapons that were incapable of effectively engaging the enemy across the vast terrain of Afghanistan.
While sitting atop mountains I stared down at our fellow brothers fighting for their lives in an ambush 2,000-meters away and witnessed insurgents firing from windows and walls during the attack. I then watched as the enemy calmly exfiltrated across open terrain and moved further out of our range fully exposed to my position. Our rifles were incapable of reaching them. The maximum effective range of both guns were 800-meters. It was almost 600-meters to the base of the mountain I was perched on. Despite the fact that we had no data of previous engagements (DOPE) for targets beyond 500-meters it was almost three times the maximum effective range of our weapon system’s capabilities.
Unbeknownst to me at the time of enlistment, the Army was suffering from the largest amount of causalities the war on terror had seen since it began in 2001. The number of US casualties had increased from 12 to 317 soldiers per year. A large number of complaints began to flood the chain of command from units deployed to Afghanistan, requesting improved long-range weapon capabilities. Units could see the enemy setting up attacks but was unable to engage. One solution to increasing the maximum range for US Army units was to add more trained mortarman to the unit. This initiated a new type of military training. The Army began training every soldier on mortars and after one week in the “square” soldiers would be awarded a “dual” MOS qualification. The unit would then decided how many new recruits would be used for the mortar platoon, and the rest would be used as regular infantrymen.
The second alternative to solving this problem was to examine the sniper rifle. When we consider the history of “battle-rifles” we begin in the year 1903 with the high powered M1903 bolt-action rifle that was issued to all military personnel. It was later replaced by to the semi-automatic M1 Garand during the mid 1960s, but both rifles were chambered 30-06 and both were issued with “full-power rifle” ammunition. Full-power ammunition 60 years ago is what we refer to today as long range, or L.R. ammunition, and exactly what we currently fire through the M24 and M110 sniper rifles. Of course the designs and process styles have certainly improved over the years, but this type of ammunition was essentially the same. During the beginning of the Vietnam War, the M14 replaced the M1 and it too was designed to fire the full-power rifle ammunition and issued to all military personnel. Despite being replaced by the M16, to stomach the harsh jungle conditions, the M14 currently remains the weapon of choice for many designated marksman. It serves to suggest that the sniper rifle simply needed to be realized before it could be created…did we have a sniper rifle all along?
By the end of the Vietnam War, the Marine Corps determined that a specifically designed sniper rifle would greatly improve the outfit and requested that Remington build one. From this request the M40 was born. It was modified from original version of the model 700 bolt-action hunting rifle and would serve as the first officially designed and issued sniper rifle for the military. Over the years, the Marine Corps unit armors made and suggested improvements for the M40 weapon system. One major request was to change the wooden stocks to a composite material to prevent swelling and warping around the free-floating barrel. The Army eventually wanted similar capabilities for the scout platoons within the ranks of a newly organized Light Infantry Division. They requested their own M40s but due to a lack of funding it was denied. Some units resolved the issue by procuring a Varmint Special hunting rifle and adding their own optics, but it would not be for another twenty years that the US government would actually make an official request to develop a new sniper rifle.
After finally acquiring the finically means, the Army added Remington and Knights Armament M24E1 and M110 SASS to their arsenal, both of which fired the 7.62 (308) caliber NATO ammunition and were quipped 10-power magnification optics. The SASS optic sported the new tactical mil-dot reticle (TMR) and quick detaching suppressor, and the M24 was the military’s most precise weapon system to date. They made a unique pair and were the talk of most military bases setting standards across the board for precision shooting.
For years, these two rifles were undoubtedly the military’s best precision sniper systems, however, the garrison lifestyle gave us of a rose-colored sense of capability. The maximum shooting distance on the average military post, known-distance (KD) firing range, stretched 500-meters. Both rifles were effective to a max range of 800-meters, so drilling iron maidens on the range all day long would prove little to how they would perform in the combat conditions of Afghanistan.
Typical engagements in Afghanistan ranged from 800 to 1,400 meters. The terrain was similar to that of the sate of Montana. So, the dry dessert like climate, sparse vegetation, flat open plains, and intermediate mountain ranges created ideal long-range shooting conditions. The mountains offered excellent vantage points from which to observe and engage targets of opportunity, however the enemy was aware of our sniper capabilities and often positioned themselves just out of range. Snipers used precision laser range finders (LRFs) to accurately measure distances to targets, and would typically indicate 400 to 600 meters just to the base of the mountain (straight line distance). From laying inside the sniper hide, to a reflective object near various target reference points (TRPs) in the vicinity of enemy positions. Targets could easily extend an additional 500 to 1,000 meters from the base of the mountain. Despite these great lengths, it was not difficult to acquire positive identification of targets or, in many cases, get a clear line of sight. With high powered spotting scopes (80 power magnification) and clear weather conditions, we could easily observe enemy activity from over a mile away. However, this made it even more frustrating when we were unable to provide assistance when coalition force came under attack; it seemed we had lost our ability to inflict fear into the hearts and minds of the enemy.
No, don’t say it…the M107 Barrett sniper rifle was not intended to be an anti-personnel weapon system. It is an anti-armorer weapon system and it is used to disable vehicles and penetrate thick, up-armored, structures. It is extremely heavy, loud, and relatively inaccurate. The ballistic coefficient of some high quality 50-caliber projectiles is actual ideal, however the Barrett’s M107 sniper system is only as accurate as the M4; 3 to 4-minutes of angle. Not an ideal alternative for increasing range capabilities. One round would send a booming alert in every surrounding direction and flag our exact position with a massive cloud of dust.
With the proper equipment Afghanistan would be a sniper’s paradise however, our weapons were not accurate to those distances and crippled our ability to be effective. We would need a rifle that would be capable of accurately engaging targets up to 1600-meters and with that kind of fire power we would be busy all day long.
The Army was alerted to this predicament in the year 2006 when the 10th Mountain Division submitted a special request from Afghanistan for longer range capabilities, but it would not be seriously addressed until three years later. Meanwhile, deployed snipers were limited to engaging only about 50-percent of enemy encounters.
Snipers watched the enemy move into position and be unable to engage. The Army was in pursuit of a long-term solution for improving the sniper weapon system since the late 1980s, but as complaints continued to rattle the Department of the Army from high ranking Army officials, the plan for a short-term solution was initiated. On the 23rd of July in 2009, the Army issued the Operational Needs Statement (ONS) for immediate reconfiguration of the M24E1. The intent was focused on fielding deployed sniper units immediately with a longer range sniper weapon system. Oklahoma’s republican senator, James M. Inhofe, submitted a proposal to amend the SA 1694 amendment and bill S. 1390 that would authorize the appropriate funding to be given for the development of a new sniper rifle during the fiscal year of 2010.