28 October 2014

Mauser Sniper Rifles through the ages.

Photo from k98.com
I had so much fun with the Mosin Nagant sniper rifle post that I decided to do a Mauser sniper rifle post.

The Gewehr 98 was the first M98 based sniper rifle, but it would be the K98 version that spread around the world. For any purists who gripe about the g98 not getting its due, feel free to write up your own blog post.

The modifications included a modified safety in addition to the optic and base system. The picture above shows side rail variants, but receiver claw mounts were also used.

After the fall of Nazi Germany, the new state of Israel armed itself with the Mauser rifle, and created their own sniper variant in 7.62x51 using a 4x optic with receiver mounts.

Israeli K98 with modified stock and 4x optic
The stock was modified to provide a better cheek weld, and the 4x optic used still commands a premium price on the military surplus market. The Israelis still have the k98 in the inventory for police last I checked.

The Parker Hale company used a commercial Mauser action (slightly modified bolt, no thumb cut on the receiver) to create the Parker Hale M82 target rifle, which would see service in the British and Canadian forces. Originally fitted with a 6x ZF69 rifle scope it was optimized for accurate lots of ball ammunition instead of dedicated sniper ammunition by means of a slower than normal twist rate (1:14 twist in some barrels).
Parker Hale M82 also known as the C3
Notice how the rings are not placing the scope too high.
After the Parker Hale M82 started getting a bit long in the tooth, the Canadians decided to upgrade the platform to the C3A (and the barrel twist rate standardized to 1:12).

Photo by CASR
The C3A1 is everything you expect from a modern bolt action sniper rifle. No backup irons, 10x optic, synthetic stock, detachable box magazine, bipod. Not a bad run for a rifle action marketed back in 1898.

The FN corporation created what I believe to be the first sniper rifle based on a chrome lined machine gun barrel, the FN 30-11.  The 20 inch FN MAG barrel was described as "inadequate" by some, although the weapon itself was considered quite accurate when using match grade ammunition. FN went on to make another sniper rifle with a controlled round feed action and chrome lined barrel, the FN SPR A1, which was adopted by the Secret Service.
FN 30-11 with machine gun barrel and bipod
and an ugly yet very functional stock

While military forces around the world are moving away from the Mosin Nagant and Mauser based sniper rifles, it is largely because newer platforms have come along that offer countries a "made here" option. The Canadians moved to the Timberwolf, the Brits to the AI platform, and the Finns moved away from the Mosin Nagant to the Sako TRG platform. America's love affair with all things Remington continues to this day.

Zastava M07, further modified M98 receiver
I have no idea why they used such high rings.
But, if you really want to find one, you can still find m98 based sniper rifles for sale from Zastava. You can also find sporting rifles that are drilled and tapped for scope bases, have good triggers, and decent barrels all over the place, whether they are Mauser, Remington, Savage, Tikka, Howa, or a Ruger (Ruger has been working quite hard to penetrate the tactical market with the Hawkeye and Scout offerings).

The truth is that even your average deer rifle with a cheap scope has enough accuracy and consistency to meet the needs of a WWII sniper. The belief that 20 million deer hunters can turn into 10 million sniper teams is sheer madness though, as simply having gear does not impart skill (except in video games). Thin sporter barrels shoot tight enough for three shots, and are often more stiff than long heavy Palma style barrels (although Palma style barrels have much more mass to absorb harmonic energy).

There you have it, Mauser sniper rifles through the ages. This is by no means an exhaustive list. But hopefully it has been as fun for you to read as me to write.

27 October 2014

Proposal for an Interim Armor Solution for the USMC

Soloman has been commenting on the status of Marine land force vehicles for some time. And while the current plan to continually upgrade the AAV has merit from a budget perspective, I think it is a bit "penny wise, pound foolish" in the long run.

However, that doesn't mean that the AAV can't be part of the "right mix" of vehicles for the USMC moving forward. The question then becomes, "what other vehicles would be the right mix of capabilities for the USMC?"

I think that the Stryker can be part of that mix, if the hull is upgraded to be amphibious like its sister the LAV III.

The US Army is moving slowly to the Double V Hulled (DVH) Stryker, similar to the way the US Navy has been transitioning from the Hornet to the Advanced Super Hornet by keeping the older birds in the inventory and upgrading wings as appropriate.

Part of the Stryker program is transferring all the common parts from a flat bottomed original hull to a new DVH. This saves the Army about 30% per vehicle over simply buying a new DVH Stryker.


The interesting thing is that there will be a bunch of flat bottomed Stryker hulls left over. For those not familiar with the Stryker lineage, it goes back to the Piranha vehicle, which also gave rise to the amphibious LAV III in use by the USMC.

Now it is generally much easier to make an amphibious vehicle non-amphibious than the other way around. But in this case the vehicle hull is based on an amphibious hull, but since the US Army didn't care about amphibious it was never delivered to the customer. But that doesn't mean that the capability can't be put back into the old flat bottomed hull, and then given new life as an interim solution for the USMC. I think that the Troop Carrier, Medical Evacuation Vehicle, and Mortar Carrier (with digitally controlled 120mm mortars) would be excellent if made amphibious and pushed forward as part of the Marine Expeditionary formations.

The AAV is a good solution for getting lots of Marines to shore. It is not an optimal patrolling solution. The Stryker is a great patrolling solution (decent arms and armor, moves fast, very maneuverable). Add in very precise 120mm Mortar Fire and things get very interesting for maneuver commanders.

From my perspective this seems like a win/win for the USMC. The hulls are available, the capabilities of the LAV III family are well known inside the USMC, and there is massive interoperability with the US Army built into the supply chain.

Now, the cons of this solution, it will cost money in an era of diminishing budgets. It won't provide a "leap forward" level of capability for the USMC compared to some of the other (more expensive) options on the table. It may seem to some Marines that they are getting "the Army's scraps" instead of the latest and greatest (although those flat bottomed hulls are still newer than most HMMWVs the USMC has in the inventory).

Comments are open.

25 October 2014

Marksmanship training drills.

In my last post I asked what is more important, equipment or training. Here is my thought on a great way to spend four or five hours on a weekend.

The hardest part about this course of fire is setting up the course. Ranges can be in meters or yards, your choice.

To set up the course you will need a 600 yard/meter range, nine 9" paper plates and five tennis balls and at least one buddy to keep you honest. You will need target stands for the paper plates, and I recommend taping the tennis balls to a bit of 550 cord and hanging them from something so they don't get lost in the grass (unless you have a very well kept range). The course is 28 shots for record, scoring is any measurable impact on the target.

It will be useful to have a laser range finder, and set up something reflective at the firing position before you set to set up targets. Just laze back to the reflector to get a good reading on distance, and pound in the target stands working your way out (or in). It would also be useful to have a bicycle or some form of transportation when having to go out to score targets because your spotting scope isn't good enough to see a bullet hole at a given distance.

This course is fired in three stages. There is no round count in magazines, so this can be fired using a single load rifle or simply loading up the required number of rounds in a magazine.

Prone supported position (bipod, ruck, sandbags, log, anything goes). One shot each at 9" paper plate placed 100, 200, 300, 400, 500 and 600. Time limit, 1 minute. One shot each at tennis ball located at 50, 100, 150, 200, and 250. Time limit 2 minutes. 11 shots total.

Score after completion of prone position stage.

Sitting position, unsupported (sling optional). 9" paper plate at 100, 150, 200, 250, 300 and 350. Time limit 3 minutes. Tennis ball at 50 and 100. Time limit one minute. 8 shots total.

Score after completion of sitting position stage.

Standing position unsupported (sling optional). 9" paper plate at 100, 150, 200, 250, 300 and 350, six minutes. Tennis ball at 50, 100, and 150, three minutes. 9 shots total.

Score after completion of standing position stage.

This should give a rifleman a good indicator of their skill level at taking rapid shots at small targets. I'll let you guess what a 9" paper plate and tennis ball might represent, but the official story is that I like picnics and tennis.

Alternately, if someone has a new rifle, setting up this course is great for getting data on their rifle and ammunition. Instead of getting one shot at a target, they get as many as they need to connect. Once they connect twice in a row, record the drop and wind conditions that made the shot.

Once someone has good data in their dope book for every shot on the course, actually going through the course becomes a measure of how quickly they can dial in or calculate hold over to make the shot.

Someone with a battlesight zero on an AR-15 could use that for all the paper plates out to 300, but would need something more precise for the tennis balls.

If you don't have access to a long enough range, you can either cut off the distant targets and just shoot what you can, or decrease the distance between targets to adjust for the difference (cutting every distance in half to fit it on a 300 yard/meter range for example, or by 2/3rds to fit on a 200 yard/meter range) and then using smaller targets (such as 6" plates and raquetballs or golf balls).

This isn't a hard and fast course of fire, but it is one that I know would challenge every sniper or competitive rifle shooter I know. Good luck in your training.

Improvised Sniper Rifles, even nation states start out pressing something into service

Tkiv-85. an old action with a:
new stock, barrel, and bent bolt handle.
The Mosin Nagant is the longest continued service serving sniper rifle in the world, even if the longest continued manufactured rifled is the M98 Mauser.

The Russians, then Soviets, literally built millions of them, and spread them out across the world to arm Communist Guerillas from Vietnam to Central America. Beyond that, other countries used them as they wound up in the inventory for some reason or other, such as Poland, Finland, and the United States.

The Finns created what I consider to be the pinnacle of excellence when it comes to a Mosin Nagant based sniper rifle, the Tkiv-85.

PU and PE Soviet Sniper Rifles
The familiar PU Sniper rifle is the worlds most common because it was the most common Soviet sniper rifle that was spread around the world in mass quantities. A PU configuration will cost between 400 bucks for a parts gun, and on up for authentic configurations.

The PU sniper rifle is what I consider a "first generation" sniper rifle in that it was originally a standard issue rifle that was simply modified to use an optic. The problems of cheek weld come up quite a bit when you actually use them, but the Swedes used their M41B for decades without upgrading the stock, so it isn't that big of a deal in terms of having effective snipers in the military.

Syrian Rebel with Mosin Nagant Sniper Rifle
Copyright Getty Images
You see this with other sniper rifles of the same era, K98, Swede M96, Lee Enfield, and 1903 Springfield sniper rifles from the same era that retain the stock designed for iron sight use all suffer from the same lack of good cheek weld.

When you get to the "second generation bolt action" sniper rifles, you see specific rifle builds on commercial sporting actions such as the M40 and M24 in the US. The Parker Hale M85 for various commonwealth countries. Other examples include the SSG 69, Mauser 2000, and FN 30-11.  Now the actions are designed to be used with optics instead of iron sights, stocks are designed with ergonomics in mind, barrels are intentionally thicker.

I don't know if all these images of Syrian Rebels, ISIS members, and Kurds using modified Mosin Nagants with what appears to be cheap Chinese scopes (although they could be Russian scopes as well, such as a VPOI)

Whatever the case may be, someone in the middle east has made a cottage industry of turning old bolt action rifles into the functional equivalent of a first generation sniper rifle.
It is telling that every nation in WWII except for Germany and Great Britain had to slap together a sniper training and equipping program. The equipping solution turned up looking a lot like what you see in Syria, but with fixed powered scopes.

I started studying insurgent sniper techniques because of Iraq. The Iraqi sniper insurgents generally used rifles that were available in their area (modified AK rifles in 7.62x39, PSL and SVDs in 7.62x54r). The techniques used there were often dictated by operators who did not have any formalized marksmanship training and more guts than brains. Some with more brains than guts did study open source material and become quite sufficient at harassing US forces.

An interesting mental experiment is to ask yourself if you could make a sniper system out of:

A lever action 30-30 with top eject (Winchester) or side eject (Marlin).
A bolt action skinny barrel hunting rifle.
A 22 long rifle of any variety.
A pistol caliber carbine.
A shotgun with rifled barrel.
A falling block or break action single shot rifle.
A semi auto AR-15, SKS, or AK variant.

What would you need to do that? How much would that cost? Would it look out of place in a sporting/hunting setting? How would you determine your max effective range? How would you stock ammunition? Spare parts? How would you maintain marksmanship proficiency?

Now with the results of that thought experiment, what would be more important; the training or the equipment?

22 October 2014


I would like to think that I'm not a coward, but when it comes to war, I'd much rather kill the enemy in a manner not resembling a fair fight at all. That is why I love snipers so much, the allow us to detect the enemy and kill them before they know what hit them.

I've written before about various "insurgent snipers" on this blog. But when the "sniper" in question isn't school trained, equipped, or supported, you can end up with something like this. Looks stupid, but works. Doesn't work optimally, but it beats having nothing.

No cheek weld, no concealment, no muzzle blast mitigation, no helmet, no problem evidently

Photograph from http://www.thefirearmblog.com/blog/2014/10/21/bubbad-mosin-nagant-spotted-syria/

If you are going to be "that guy" with a slapped together designated marksman rifle, at least be the "that guy" that made a cheek piece out of duct tape and foam. To be honest, the lack of a cheek piece is my only serious complaint, as everything else falls under the "it works" category.

Knowing the Kurds, what he lacks in equipment, support and training he makes up for in sheer guts. Now neither of the shooters pictured are "snipers" in the sense of school trained and specially equipped, working as part of a sniper team, but there is always a place for precision fires at the tactical level.

Compare to this guy...

Note the field expedient cheek piece, muzzle not over loose dirt, and the presence of a helmet.... Photograph U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson
Now this is a better set up in terms of getting the most from the rifle. This guy is not a sniper, he is a Squad Designated Marksman, or SDM. He is basically using the same solution for a rifle, what was a standard infantry rifle with a stock designed for iron sights but is now scoped.

So the lesson should be clear, having precision fire capability is more important than looking cool. Precision fires always have a place in the tactical toolbox, even if it comes from an ugly old rifle with a scope slapped on top shot by someone who learned to shoot the hard way.

After all, the first real "modern" sniper rifles were just infantry rifles with an optic on top, such as the K98, Swede M41, and Mosin-Nagant PE/PU sniper rifles. Cheek weld was not much of a consideration at the time, simply gaining the advantage of precision aiming through an optic was enough.

Last time I shot my M41 clone, cheek weld was a "chin weld" at best.

21 October 2014

The Low Ready

First the Condition1/Condition3 kerfuffle and now this:


The "low ready" is a lot of things to a lot of people.

But you SHOULD use the low ready when:

1, you aren't the number one guy in the stack.
2, you are moving into in tight quarters and don't want to project your weapon to where someone could grab it before you could react.
3, when competing in a CMP EIC Pistol event and you don't have a table to rest your pistol on before the fire command.
4, when you are using all your senses to detect a threat and don't want your hands, arms, or gun disturbing your line of sight.
5, when you have not identified a specific threat and don't want your muzzle to cover something you don't want to destroy.

You should NOT use the low ready when:

1, you are the number one man in the stack.
2, you are moving in tight quarters where there is even just barely enough room to properly pie the corners.
3, when you have identified a threat.

A lot of people in the military train to the low ready because for some reason the enemy likes to wear camo, hide behind cover and concealment, so detecting the enemy becomes more important than going around with your gun up all the time.

A lot of folks in the defensive pistol training circles say that if you've drawn your heater, it should be pointed at threat, not at the dirt.

If you are a cop, a low ready position gives you a faster time to shoot than a gun in the holster, and give the officer more time to bring clarity to an uncertain situation. Investigating a weird noise in a dark building, or providing backup to someone making a drug bust are both examples where the low ready would be an appropriate posture for self protection without unduly risking someone elses life (such as the cop actually doing the bust).

If I'm the first guy in the stack, I don't want the guys behind me to flag me with their muzzles. If I'm raided by SWAT I really don't want anyone to trip on their way in, because cops have a tendency to kill innocent people when they get the wrong house and accidentally trip doing a dynamic entry. But if you die it is ok, your life was just the cost of someone else to go home at the end of their shift.

The low ready has a place in your tactical toolbox. It shouldn't be the only tool in your toolbox by any stretch.

19 October 2014

Understanding risk and risk mitigation.

With all the drama about carrying round in the chamber, verses chamber empty I thought I would dedicate a third post. This post is really about the process of understanding risk and mitigating the effects of doing risky things. I am simply using carrying a pistol as the vehicle for explaining the process.

Most of the people who are advocating for carrying a round in the chamber are not veterans of multiple pistol fights and random knife attacks. I'm not either, but what I am is someone who has had to deal with the aftermath of Soldiers having negligent discharges where they either killed themself, or someone else.

Anyone who says that the risk of shooting yourself can be eliminated by proper training doesn't understand risk. Risk can be mitigated, minimized, and addressed, but it cannot be eliminated. That being said, the process of risk management is to identify risks, frequencies, and come up with strategies to minimize the enduring risk after mitigation strategies are implemented.

Here are the two most dangerous risks associated with carrying a round in the chamber that I've identified.

1. Trigger is pulled by equipment or foreign object (stick/antennae/belt end/strap).
2. Pistol discharges following a tumble.

The first risk, that the trigger gets pulled by something other than your boogerhook, can be mitigated by choosing a holster that also covers the trigger and trigger guard. If you carry a pistol with a manual safety, try to choose a holster that also covers the safety from unintentional manipulation. I will come back to this point again.

The second risk can be mitigated by ensuring that the trigger pull is not lightened beyond a safe pull, and that trigger pull length is not shortened, and all springs and engagement surfaces are in spec. If you are using a factory stock pistol this is the default mitigation as long as everything is in good working order. After 5000 rounds a parts kit to keep everything in spec is probably in order.

The second risk can also be mitigated by using a holster with positive retention. But positive retention also brings about the risk that it can slow or deny your draw if the retention system fails to let you pull the pistol in time. I think positive retention is better suited to open carry than concealed carry based on a risk analysis of that feature, but your choice may be different.

Now that is the process, identify a risk, identify a strategy to actively mitigate that risk, and then go forth and do great things.

But getting back to risk number one, the unintentional trigger pull caused by something other than your boogerhook, the risk really isn't with the pistol but in the interactions between your gear and the environment you are in.

If you are carrying concealed consistently in the same place, with the same holster, without adding or subtracting mission specific equipment then one risk assessment is all you need. But when you move the pistol to a different holder, to a different location, you need to re-assess the risk for that configuration.

A lot of Soldiers like to carry a pistol on their hip around the FOB, then transition the pistol to their body armor for going on missions. A couple of holster makers have made it simple by making adapter plates for the pistol/holster combination to get unsnapped from the belt and snapped on to the body armor. This is good, but you need to ask yourself if that radio antenna is going to trip the trigger where it sits on your gear. And you need to organize your gear so that you minimize the risk of shooting yourself by going back through and checking out exactly what the risks are in that configuration.

I will specifically recommend temporarily not carrying with a round in the chamber for the following people in the following scenarios.

1, you are carrying a new to you pistol (different make/model, significant service or repair).
2, you change holsters for a pistol you've carried for a long time.
3, you change the location of where you carry the pistol.
4, you add a new piece of kit to your carry routine (or vastly change the clothes you are wearing).

Once what is new becomes something old, and you've figured out the best way to configure everything, by all means load the chamber and continue to carry. I won't say that you need to carry in condition three for any specific length of time, because the length of time should be dictated by how long it takes you to figure out how your gear is going to interact so that you don't experience a negligent discharge.

This could be a few minutes checking yourself out in a room before going out, this could be a few days for someone who is trying to be really thorough. The time doesn't matter so much as the process.

In this case, I do want people to make my choice, and that is to make a conscious effort to see how their gear interacts with their carry piece. At the end of it, whether you choose to carry with a round in the chamber, empty chamber, concealed or open, in a minimalist holster, or a double positive retention holster, is all on you. As long as you go through the process to arrive at a level of risk that keeps you as safe as you are going to be, rock on with your bad self.