28 September 2012

One rifle....

There are those of the opinion that you can get by with just one rifle, and there are those of the opinion that you need more than one rifle to fulfill different needs in your life.  MadOgre recently expounded on the "scout rifle" as an example of a "one rifle solution" that is viable in our modern society.

Personally I believe that you can do it all with one, or even "none" as the situation may require.  Bows, arrows, spears, swords, knives, snares, have all been used for offense, defense, and hunting purposes long before the invention of the firearm, and are still used to this day.  The human brain and will is the most important survival tool.

That being said, I am a product of the modern world, and I believe that the optimal solution for me is multiple firearms. 

22 rifle and pistol
Big Game rifle, 45 ACP/9mm pistol
12 gauge Shotgun.

To explain my reasoning, I have a family, and while I won't ever carry more than two firearms at a time, that doesn't mean my family won't also have need of a firearm.  The 22s are useful for taking small game, and teaching new shooters how to shoot.  The 45 or 9mm is for protection, and the big rifle and 12 gauge are for hunting and protection.

That is the bare minimum that I would feel comfortable and still calling myself "prepared" by any stretch of the imagination.  If it were just me, pistol, rifle, shotgun, would be enough to feel fully prepared, and if I needed to be very mobile, just the rifle.

27 September 2012


Well, I found a K98 for a price that didn't make my stomach turn too many flips.  Although there has to be something slightly obscene for paying a new rifle price for a vintage war surplus rifle.

The marking is DOU 43, so it is a tad rougher than an earlier production rifle, but not so late in the war I have safety concerns.  Strong rifling, which looks very clean without pitting.  Nazi markings ground off so it destroys any collectors value, but since it will be further desecrated with a reproduction short side rail and ZF39 as another "Vintage Sniper" competition rifle, I think it meets my needs nicely.

Do I need another sniper rifle?  No, but everybody needs a hobby.

Comparing the K98 to the Savage Axis it becomes clear where a smart prepper would spend their money, and it wouldn't be on the Mauser.  The Axis will shoot tighter, have better tolerances, and much more easily accept an optic, and the SR models accept a suppressor.

But sometimes it is fun to tinker with old stuff, old trucks, muscle cars, vintage saxophones or guitars.  Sometimes the "intangibles" of history make the extra expense just seem worth it.  It isn't logical, or rational, but it is an oh so human concept.

Tam may carry the "Platonic ideal of a pistol in plastic" but still lust after antiquated straight pull Austrian war rifles.  In fact the only gunny I know that doesn't seem affected by the "history bug" is Joe Huffman, but I have a deep suspicion that the STI Eagle he carries is something he sees just as the natural progression of the 1911 platform and probably wonders about us idjits who bought one in "single stack" configuration.

 I've fired sniper rifles made by Remington, Savage, and Barrett (military service has it's perks, and the Barrett is one of them).  All of them will shoot tighter than any WWII era sniper rifle (except the Barrett, with the ammo we feed it it is a 3 MOA system at best, but when the holes are .50 inches themselves, you don't mind so much).  So why am I wasting resources on an old rifle?  Because somehow it is worthwhile in my world.  I don't want to be a Nazi sniper, but I do want to own a rifle set up in that configuration.  Eventually I'd love to get a 1903A4, but that may have to wait for a few more paychecks to get tucked away for a rainy year.

And if anyone asks for pictures, just google "K98" it looks just like the rest of the several million made by Germany....

25 September 2012


I recently made it home from a several month Army school stuck way deep in flyover country.  On the way back I took a side trip to visit my friend B who lives in the greenest state in the land of the free.

So this isn't the first time I've met someone I met on the internet, but it is the first time I've done so based on the content of this blog.  First off, he came off in person just like his internet persona, second, he and his wife were excellent hosts.  And I guess they liked me alright, since the dogs continually came back for petting.  I did have a post about "Linking up, more awkward than any first date."  and it is true.  I recommend getting to know people now, because when things get hairy and you've never exchanged a photograph you can't be sure that the person you are meeting is really the one you want.

We checked out his emerging reloading setup, he showed me his recent addition of a Savage Axis Suppressor Ready 308 rifle.  I was quite impressed, and further research proves that a Savage Axis in 308 is a really great buy if you don't have the cash to spend on a Savage 10 or 110. 

So, here are what I consider the big pros of the Savage Axis.
1. Cheap, can be had for less than a 100 bucks more than a quality milsurp Mauser.
2. Accurate, 2 minutes of precision or less out of the box, and often half that with good ammo.
3. Available in Suppressor Ready configuration, which is one less thing you have to pay a gunsmith.
4. Stiff action, there actually seems to be more steel in the Axis action than on the 10/110 series.
5. Lightweight.  The Axis felt very well balanced, and quite light compared to my normal 308's.

The big Cons.
1.  Barrel Contour.  Limited selection, but they seem to be a "heavy sporter" contour which is an excellent choice.
2.  Basic Stock.  Injected molded plastic is purely functional, but I prefer something with a little more meat to grab on to (I'm a relatively big guy).
3.  Optic bases not included.  There is no excuse to not include at least a weaver rail with a rifle anymore.
4.  No back up iron sights out of the box.

In my opinion the Pros outweigh the Con's by more than enough to recommend the Axis to someone looking to get their first Big Game rifle, or when in 308, get a starter rifle setup for F-Class competition.  Before anyone flames me for recommending a budget rifle for "belly benchrest" remember that the goal of competing is to get better, not necessarily win against the guy who has a custom stick topped by Nightforce scope shooting reloads touched with fairy dust.

But, after several months, I am home.  And until my next adventure I'm quite happy to stay here and play with the rugrats and ever so understanding wife.

24 September 2012

The ethics of killing, part 2

There have been some pretty intense comments on my last post, here and at AP's.  I'd like to respond not to each charge one by one, but with a story that I hope explains the root of the ethical problem.  If you read the following and still have questions, feel free to ask.

"AM, you kneel before your Creator.  How do you plead?"

It is impossible to not kneel before the Almighty, even when you stand guilty of the life you chose to live.  There is no defiance to the infinite.

How could I plead?  My life never lived up to the standard, my best efforts at moral and Godly living were utter failures.  The list of the law scrolled past my eyes.  Murder, envy, lust, adultery, idolatry, blaspheme.  Each instance of failure shown in full living color before my eyes, my failed life on complete display between me and the Almighty.

I couldn't look up from where I knelt.  There is no defense to the crime of being yourself.  I looked at each instance where I knew I'd fallen short, where my best wasn't good enough, where even when I did what was right I did it for the wrong reasons.

Before the words, "Guilty, utterly guilty."  could escape my lips a scarlet covering began erasing my sins from the charge sheet.

"Redeemed."  Came the words not from my lips, but from beside His throne.

At the same time billion upon billions of similar scenes took place in the infinite splendor of His court.  Those who heard "Condemned" fell into two categories, those who lived their life without the thought of the cost of redemption, simply expecting redemption based on ceremonial faith, and those who slavishly followed the letter of the law, trying to force others to live according to the precepts of the Bible trying to earn salvation.  At the end of it all it was the lazy and those who put themselves in the position of God, trying to enforce His will, that lost out on eternity with Him.

To my left I heard a man cry out, "But I killed them for YOU!" and the Almighty replied with sadness, "I told you to love them."

To my right I heard, "But I let them die because it was written to turn the other cheek!" and the Almighty replied, "I told you to feed the sheep, and protect the lambs."

Behind me I heard, "But I obeyed your laws, the very best I could!"  and the Almighty replied, "and it was written, 'judge righteous judgement'"

As the day of judgement wore on I began to notice that those who understood their shortcomings and counted the cost of their transgressions were redeemed, and those that didn't count the cost, or those who let legalities replace love were cast out.  Those who were redeemed were covered, rejoicing with Him.  Those who were condemned had condemned themselves, and their protests faded quickly from memory.

22 September 2012

Moral High Ground in killing

Claiming moral high ground when you are in the business of killing people seems a dubious exercise in ethics at best.  You can quote me on that.  But there is a serious bit of ethics that you need to work out for yourself, if you want to be able to live with yourself at the end of the day.  Using lethal force is always an ethical decision, and having a proper ethical framework to deal with the aftermath is something you need to put into place.

My bottom line, if you justify your killing as being "for the greater good" you need to shoot yourself next.  Fighting for the "greater good" is the justification of tyrants both great and petty.
When you need to justify your actions remember what you are fighting for, which is your own individual liberty and freedom.  You don't need to justify yourself beyond that.  Killing those who would oppress you, or aid in your oppression, is a simple act of self defense.  And there is no justification needed for protecting yourself.  The people who lie to themselves and ascribe grand notions to the justification of their actions usually end up needing chemical support (alcohol, drugs) to keep their brain from shouting the truth back at them and destroying their self worth.

In the serious study of ethics there is the cliche "trolley" analogy where you have to choose between acting to kill the fat man and letting multiple others die.  The great thing about the trolley scenario is that there are no "wrong" decisions, just decisions that make you defend the ethics of your choice.  But here is a better question, is it your place to choose who lives or dies?  If you answer yes, then you place yourself in the realm of God and if you say no you then you by definition lose the right to choose to kill someone else to benefit others.  But saying "no" still leaves room to kill to benefit yourself, to protect yourself, to protect your intangible interests. 

So understand the ethics of war, your reasons to fight should be personal.  The communists and tyrants of the world asked in a reasonable manner for everyone to give up "just a little bit, for the common good of course" which lead not to common good, but to common tragedy.  When your justifications echo those of the biggest mass murderers in history you need to stop lying to yourself and figure out why you do what you do.  "Cause it's fun" is the justification of a monster, but at least it is honest.

There are those who will never have this conversation with themselves.  Some people cannot bring themselves to kill, some others cannot help but feel deep regret at the act.  On the other end of the spectrum you have those who feel only recoil, or who enjoy enforcing their will on others. It is the people who exist in the middle between those two extremes that need to get straight first.

I can't help you with your personal ethics, I can't tell you that what you choose is right or wrong.  At the end of the day you need to be able to look at your reasons for doing what you do and live with yourself.  If you need someone else's approval, you need to move beyond that. 

21 September 2012

What future history texts might say...

*Notes from History 305, the Second US Civil War* Third Period, University of Portland.

The American Refugee Camps in British Columbia were a bit of a problem for everyone involved.  Americans running from their own Government were a black eye to the American Government.  The Iranians had a field day in the UN accusing the administration of ethnic cleansing and human rights violations.  The Canadian government, facing the reality that if America decided to remap their border a scant 90 miles north would absorb 90% of the Canadian population, decided to do the classic method of survival, pretend it didn't exist.

The tent cities popped up, and notices to vacate were passed around, and the tent cities moved.  The Canadian government kept up the pretense that they were simply "homeless" and not "political refugees."

And all was well between the Governments of the United States and Canada until the refugees started organizing.  First it was little things like boxes of hunting ammunition.  Then it was slightly bigger things, pipe bombs and pilfered construction grade det cord.  Then it became bigger things, training camps in the back woods on infantry tactics, guerrilla operations, sniping, sabotage, Sapper and Engineer schools.

The desperate would make the long walk North, often arriving with sneakers in tatters, rips in their blue jeans, and shivering in the daily drizzle.  Time passed, and those same desperate people turned back to the south, armed with knowledge, sturdy boots, and weapons.

The ones who stayed behind, too old or too sick to make the long walk, lived under the constant patrols.  They watched.  They waited.  Old men and women with nothing to between them and death but time and chance took notes.  The helicopters landed at FOB Seattle and took off again 15 minutes later, three hours after that the Media always reported another "Key Terrorist Leader" killed or captured.  Pretty young girls who could stomach the touch of an oppressor caught snippets of pillow talk and gave all they heard back to crafty old men and women used to solving the NY Times crossword puzzle in pen.  Routes took shape, command structures were established.  Locations of leadership identified.

The network of safe houses began with the local churches.  Everybody knew somebody else they trusted, and those on the run were hustled between houses.  Refugees would leave for church from one house, and return from church to another house.

The farmers were the most helpful.  An old dairy cow slaughtered in the dead of night could feed a platoon for half a month without bringing up any particular grocery bill.  Church chili cooks could set aside one bag of rice in ten.  Little by little the fighters were fed by the many, a hundred old ravens feeding ten hawks one bite at a time.

Reloading supplies were still legal for purchase in Canada, and young children and old men worked deep into the winter nights turning components into high quality ammunition.  The sale of reloading components was technically legal in the United States, but required a hefty "Tax Stamp" and background check, and no more than 2 pounds of powder could be on hand at any given time, and the owner had to agree to random "compliance checks."  When Canada passed a law requiring Canadian ID to purchase reloading components Canadian sympathizers began assisting more deeply in the effort.

Geocaching, the sport made popular by cheap GPS became the preferred method for transporting powder and primers south into the occupied states.  Brass was plentiful, and wheel weight bullets were perfectly adequate for killing.  By transporting the lightest components, and gaining the the two heaviest components locally the freedom fighters were able to stay well supplied with ammunition.  The oppressors counted it a good day when they busted an old men with an honest to God Dillon 650 press cranking out 9mm shells by the hundred.  They shot him, claiming self defense.  The picture they released to the public showing the old Browning HiPower in his right hand backed up their story, save that the old man was left handed.

Bit by bit everyone did what they could.  Some made soup.  Some collected information.  Some turned information into intelligence.  Some made bullets.  Some shot bullets.  Some simply picked up a package at point A and hiked it to point B.  One lady bound to a wheelchair knitted six matching sweaters, for her six "Grandsons" who visited on Christmas.  The disguises worked, and the "Port of Tacoma Six" are still remembered as heroes by the resistance.

20 September 2012

Prepper's Cache

"The problem with prepping" John said as he leaned against his shovel.  "Is that it isn't like insurance."

"How so?" Asked Bob as he flung another load of dirt onto the growing pile.

"Well" John replied philosophically as he rammed his shovel deep into the dark Pacific Northwest soil.  "With insurance when something bad happens, someone else is supposed to make it better."

"True."  Bob said, flinging another pile of dirt.  "So think of this more as a savings account."

"All right" John said.  "Although with a savings account your assets are managed by someone else."

"Ok."  Bob said, brain obviously not into this conversation.  "Then think of it as tucking a little something away for a rainy day."

"Except that you keep praying that rainy day never comes."  Countered John.  "I mean, they say we keep hoping to live out end of the world fantasies because we are prepared to deal with them."

"People say a lot of stupid shit" Bob agreed.  "And yet they also buy insurance, put money into savings accounts, and tuck away a little cash for a rainy day."

"But didn't we just agree that this was nothing like that?"  John argued.

"Only in the small details." Bob replied, another shovelful of dirt added to the pile.  "Planning for the future is the same in all cases."

"I concede the point."  John smiled, "Think we are deep enough?"

"Yup."  Bob replied. "Start handing me the buckets."

One at a time the 5 gallon buckets, sealed with duct tape and wrapped in 2.5 mil barrier plastic were lowered into the pit.  Food, MRE main meals and starches, peanut butter squeeze packs, .  Ammunition, 308, 223, 9mm, 22lr, along with a 9mm pistol and 22lr pistol with spare magazines.  Clothes in a third bucket, along with a first aid kit, some precious metal coins.  The fourth bucket contained normal "survival" supplies, cordage, poncho, topographic maps, thermal space blankets, plastic bags, and even a small camouflage tent.

When the whole bundle was wrapped in more vapor barrier plastic the hole began to get filled in.

"Sure doesn't seem like opening a savings account."  John commented.

"In that case consider it 'buried treasure' where 'X marks the spot' or something" Bob quipped, placing sod over the bare dirt, and vegetation over the sod.

"Well, as long as I get to talk like a pirate" John quipped, holding the "r" just a tad too long.

Bob simply confirmed the GPS coordinates, took a photograph of the surrounding area with his digital camera, and shot an azimuth to two prominent hills one last time to be sure using a lensatic compass.  "When this treasure gets dug up, We can only hope it is a joyous occasion."

Neither John nor Bob would know.  They were "shot while resisting arrest" late the following year.  Bob's daughter was able to reach the cache on her long walk towards Canada.  John's two sons stayed behind and were lost to a drone strike after trying to free political prisoners from the Yakima Concentration Camp.

15 September 2012

SDM Training

The Squad Designated Marksmanship Course is a 10-day training program held at Ft. Benning, Georgia. The focus of the course is on the Soldier’s need to rapidly engage targets at 300-600 meters with accurate fires under day and night conditions. The program begins with the fundamentals of marksmanship and progresses to more rapid and accurate engagements employing the individual rifle. The following are samples of the skills trained:

  • Correctly zeroing iron sights at 25 meters  
  • Fundamentals as they apply (sight picture, sight alignment, trigger control)
  • Theory and method of grouping and of zeroing
  • Understanding external ballistics at extended ranges
  • Rapid and effective manipulation of individual weapon system for reloads and positioning
  • Supported and unsupported position shooting while wearing full combat gear
  • Single and multiple target engagements
  • Effective employment of barricades
  • Shooters will learn how to analyze/self critique their performance in order to identify areas for self improvement
  • Learn how to compensate for environmental conditions
This is not the entire Program of Instruction for the course, but it gives a pretty good understanding of what the AMU SDM course is designed to accomplish, turn out a Soldier that can make a hit on a man sized target at 600 yards from field expedient shooting positions in standard kit through the wind and understands the principles involved.

Conversely the Big Army doctrine as outlined in FM 3-22.9 covers:
  • Position Shooting, Foxhole, Prone Unsupported
  • Dry Fire Training, Dime and Washer, Borelight
  • Range Estimation Training
  • Elevation Knob Training
  • Windage Knob Training, affects of wind on ballistics
  • Record Fire Event, score 14 of 20 or higher, 100 to 500 meters
So why the divergent difference between the Army Marksmanship Unit SDM training and official doctrine for Big Army?  The answer is in the additional knowledge needed not just to be a good shooter, but a good instructor.  Every skill that Big Army teaches as doctrine for SDM training has a checklist of performance measures associated with it that any competent NCO or Officer can download, put into a training packet, and use to train Soldiers.  For those who have been through it, the "Range Estimation Training" is going to be dang near exactly what you would get from EIB training.

The AMU on the other hand, is not seeking to impart just skills, but actual knowledge.  How would I train someone to be an SDM standard?  3 Gun competition and High Power competition.  If you can do those two activities well, you will eventually meet the standard (and more than likely exceed it easily).

11 September 2012

The future of Army precision rifle work

Below is an excerpt from a document requesting white papers from various bidders on how they would meet the following technical requirements.  The original document is labeled FOUO, so if any of you have any good ideas about meeting the following criteria, look at writing a white paper and submitting: https://www.fbo.gov/download/77f/77fc6da5ac0a01f52697987e7b098c62/Sniper_Wind_Ballistic_Solution_BAA.pdf  The document is listed as FY11-FY12, so you still have a few days until FY-13 starts on 1 October 2012.


Long Range Sniper Ballistic Solution Sensors and Computers: USSOCOM warfighters require technologies that provide the capability to measure continuously or sample winds at multiple ranges, from multiple directions and at varying speeds all the way from muzzle to target. A discrete vs. continuous sampling (average) of the wind vector is acceptable. The measure of effectiveness being the increase in first round hits at extended ranges. Technologies that measure or receive input from other devices for range, angle of fire, cant, temperature, humidity, air density, angular rate of moving targets. The technology must rapidly and accurately integrate the sensor data and compute a ballistic solution based on individual weapon and ammunition resulting in hits on stationary personnel size targets at 1500m and moving targets to 1000m. The technology must interface with issued ballistic tools to give a range and wind correction in mils or minutes of angle (MOA) that can be applied on the shooters weapon though hold or dial on data. This capability is specifically aimed at improving sniper first round target hits on stationary personnel sized targets out to 1500m Threshold and 2000m Objective.

Sniper/Designated Marksman Affordable Ballistic Solutions: Technologies that provide affordable ballistic solution enhancements to meet the objectives of current SOF sniper rifles and assist the sniper in operating more effectively without the support of a spotter. The technology must be light, affordable, provide accurate hold offs compatible with current weapons and optics, and be easily trained and rapidly employed. This capability is specifically aimed at maintaining and improving sniper first round target hits out to 1000m Threshold and 2000m Objective.

Enhanced Target Detection and Identification: Technologies that provide enhancements for snipers to detect camouflage, gunfire, and threat optics, recognize weapons/uniforms, facial features, and visually augmented day/night vision, at extend the ranges to 1500m Threshold 2000m Objective. This capability is specifically aimed at improving the snipers ability to locate and identify targets commensurate with the rules of engagement. Enhanced Ergonomics: Technologies that would significantly reduce the size, weight, and power consumption of the snipers mission equipment. Technologies that enhance the man/machine interface with the weapons system making easier, quicker and more intuitive in operation, and/or simplifying training requirements.

Virtual Training: Technologies to provide “virtual” training that adapts to the individual’s knowledge level, reticle patterns, and scope adjustments in mils and minutes of angle while accurately modeling the effects of wind, atmospheric conditions, altitude, range, angle of fire, etc., in varying terrain and include target detection / identification. This capability is specifically aimed at maintaining and improving sniper first round target hits out to 1500m Threshold and 2000m Objective while reducing training resource requirements.

I've bolded some things to highlight the "where is this going" issue, at least from a technical equipment methodology.  At least from USSOCOM's perspective, SDM's are going to continue to be "baby snipers" for the time being.  There is already some equipment on the market that meets the Threshold requirements (Barrett's 416 system with Ballistic computer/scope system comes to mind).

09 September 2012

Small Arms "Entry Level" considerations.

Every once in a while I'll get the urge to write about how I would outfit a team.  So here is how I would do it, if I were Daddy Warbucks and could afford to set up my own arms room.  If I had to design a squad it would be a 12 man team, 2 "fire teams" and one "HQ" Team which includes a 2 man sniper team and the Squad Leader and RTO.

Basic Rifle (10 total).  AR-15.  Choices, S&W M&P-15,  Optics, Burris AR-332 prismatic sight with BDC reticle.  Total package under 1,100 US at this time (if you can get them on sale).  Alternative to the 3x BDC site is an operator choice of Red Dot, but nothing less than a Vector and I'd prefer an Aimpoint.

Pistol, 12 total.  Glock, Springfield XD, or S&W M&P 9mm's.  No modifications.  Low end 340 US.

SDM Rifle (one per fire team).  AR-15.  Choices.  Armalite National Match A4 or Rock River National Match A4.  Optic, Leupold Mark AR 3-9x40 with BDC turret and mildot reticle.  Total package cost 1,500 US (can be had for less). 

Sniper Rifle, bolt action, 1 total.  Savage 10 (any variant in 308 Win) or Remington.  Optic, Weaver 3-10x40 Tactical.  Package can be had for 1,200 or less.  You can find used rifles for a lot less.

Sniper Rifle, semi automatic 1 total.  DPMS LR-10 Varmint.  The 24" barrel makes this a better choice than a Knights SR-25.

Sniper Rifle, Anti-Material (1 total, mission dependent).  50 Caliber upper for an AR and deal with the bruised shoulder.  1,600 from Zel Manufacturing.  Armalite AR50 as an alternate.  Barrett M82A1 if funds don't run out.

Laser Range finder, 3 total: Bushnell 1500.  Spotting Scope, 1 total: Leupold Gold Ring with mil reticle.  Binoculars, 4 total: Weems and Plath 7x28 Apaches.

Ammunition:  For the AR's Mk318 equivalent 210 rounds per man, and Mk262 equivalent for SDMs, 210 rounds per man.  For Sniper rifles, Mk316 equivalent for 308 150 rounds per man.  For 50 cal, API and 750gr AMAX loads, mission dependent.

Radios, 128bit encrypted Motorola handhelds, at least until I could figure out how to get some Harris spread spectrum tactical radios.  Military/Government grade encryption is a huge tactical asset.  1 radio per man is the optimum.

Night vision: PVS-14. 12 total.

Body armor, molle plate carrier with level 4A plates.  Molle pouches for magazines, radio, and first aid kit, set up user dependent.  Helmet: ACH, or other kevlar ballistic dome cover that can accept a rino mount for the NODs.  Eye protection: user preference. Gloves, user preference (I prefer Hatch myself).  Boots, operator dependent (Belleville 390s for me).  Uniform, multicam in the old BDU style, screw velcro.  Rucksack, large ALICE (I don't have enough experience under other frames to have an informed opinion on what is the latest and greatest in rucksacks).  Knee and elbow pads, user preference.  Compass, gps, user prefference (a map compass is good for planning, an engineering compass better for land navigation).

As you can see, this gets expensive very quickly, and the bare minimum needed to stay trained as an effective team is a solid weekend a month as a team.  This isn't "get together and qualify on weapons" time, this is everybody showing up, getting a mission brief, then conducting multi-echelon training (individual tasks, buddy tasks, team tasks, squad tasks) that covers land navigation, individual movement techniques, fire and maneuver, an ambush, a raid, a recon, demolition, and a break contact with first aid, tactical comms, patrol base ops and mission planning included.

And this doesn't cover the "staff work" that supports this squad, such as intelligence production, mission deconfliction/FRAGO production, logistic resupply and support, medical support, and the rest of the "staff work" that makes this squad successful in a fluid tactical environment.  A good C2 and logistics node is an art form all to itself.  There may be little glory on an SFOD-B, or the HQ platoon for an Infantry Company, but keeping people fed, in bullets, and bandaged up is a demanding job, and one that stays "high intensity" even if the battle isn't.  The loggies, planners, and intel geeks are always working (or should be).

07 September 2012

Training Snipers

Sniper training has historically been ignored during peacetime, at least by the US military.   As I wrote previously the modern .mil sniper training came out of the jungles of Vietnam.  We owe so much to those warriors who went before us and passed down the legacy we hold today.  I had originally planned on writing three posts to cover ammunition, rifle, and training, but John Mosby asked a good question about the future of precision marksmanship in the Army, which led to the last two posts.

Fundamentally the skills are simple in and of themselves, the math isn't terribly complicated, and the fieldcraft isn't particularly difficult.  The marksmanship standard can be met by nearly anyone who cares to compete in High Power rifle matches.  So why do so many potential snipers wash out of sniper school?  Because adding all the little things together makes something more than the sum of its parts.

Outside of the .mil world there has been a lot of changes.  Since the 1980s there has been a rise in civilian interest in military sniper style training and shooting.  Hollywood helped by portraying American Snipers as heroes instead of "cowardly murderers" as the Marquis of Queensbury would have proclaimed.  Also the publication of several biographies and autobiographies of American Snipers has helped turn "Sniper" from synonymous with "murderer" to "Life Saver."  There has been a rise in equipment built for "sniper style" shooting, from first focal plane mil/mil scopes to heavy barreled "tactical" bolt action rifles.  Both "match grade" and "tactical" ammunition is readily available.

There are some very good books and instructional videos for those who are interested, and several worthwhile schools open to anyone with money and willingness to learn.  I don't think it is possible to do justice to sniper training in one blog post, so I'll focus on what I see as the "problem areas."  In my experience the two things that wash students out of Army sniper training is shooting movers at distance, and the dreaded stalk exercise.

When you are shooting at movers there are two basic techniques, "trap" and "lead."

Trapping is pointing your rifle at a place where your target is likely to be, and pulling the trigger when they hit a mark (either near them, or a mil measurement on the reticle).  Leading is moving your rifle to a point in front of your target and pulling the trigger.  Duck hunters are quite familiar with leading the target, "butt belly beak BOOM!" is an old catchphrase to teach young waterfowl hunters to lead the bird.

Trailing is the same as "leading" but it means you are moving faster than your target.  Shooting from a helicopter (really cool when it works) is like this.  The principle is the same, aim at a point other than your target and if all goes well the bullet and target meet at the right time and place.

This is simple right?  Now account for the wind.  Now account for temperature changes.  Now account for humidity changes.  As I wrote before, nothing on its own is too difficult, but they all add up quickly to make it hard to get first round on target.

Stalking is relatively simple in concept, approach a target unseen, take a shot, remain unseen, leave unseen.  How do you do that?  By not violating the rules of camouflage; Shape, Shine, Silhouette, Shadow, Slow and Still.  The human eye notices light (shine) before movement (slow/still), movement before shape (silhouette), shape before color and depth (shadow), and this is the key to staying unseen.  Go slow, break up your silhouette, match color with your surroundings, stay in the shadows and don't cast any that you don't absolutely have to.  All simple concepts, all difficult to get correct at the same time.

Training to pass the stalk exam is a bit more complicated than simply competing in High Power matches.  But only because it involves actual stalking.  You have to hunt.  If you don't want to kill an animal (why are you reading my blog) you could hunt with a camera.  The technique can be called "still hunting" or "deer stalking" and it doesn't matter if you use a bow, muzzle loader, or modern rifle, just practice moving through an environment and sneaking up on something that is intent on not being your dinner.

05 September 2012

Precision Rifle Fire, an equipment based solution mindset

The second part to John Mosby's question, "Where is this SDM and Sniper thing going" requires a look at capabilities and effects.

The most skilled sniper on the team doesn't pull the trigger.  The most skilled sniper does everything else, calculates bullet drop, windage, the ballistic arc to confirm loophole placement, the angle of the shot, correction for altitude, humidity, and temperature.  All of these considerations get plugged into either a calculator or referenced against a DOPE (Date On Previous Engagement) book to ensure that the first round down range hits the intended target.

Lets think about all the factors that affect that bullet. 
Muzzle Velocity, which depends on
- Temperature
- Bore Condition
Atmospheric Density, which depends on
- Altitude
- Pressure
- Temperature
Wind Deflection
Rotation of the Earth

Now think about all the things that we can control, or things we can gain some extra measure of control over.

Muzzle velocity.  Do you know why SOCOM abandoned M118LR and had NSW Crane develop Mk316?  They use the same bullet, just a different primer, brass, and powder.  The accuracy standards are even interchangeable.  The answer is in muzzle velocity changes with temperature.  The Mk316 charge of IMR4064 is more "temp stable" in that it varies only about 20 FPS across a 100 degree F range.  The charge of Reloader 15 in M118LR can vary as much as 50FPS across a 50 degree F range.

Why is that important?  Because it is one less thing for a human to account for when making the shot.  A 20fps difference accounts for about a 0.9 MOA difference at a thousand yards, while a 50 fps difference is over twice that.  The difference is between a 9 inch circle and a 20 inch circle, and when you are aiming at a upper chest cavity 18 inches across, it is clear to see that removing temperature as a variable that affects muzzle velocity has a direct impact on probability of a successful first round hit.

Now, why is the .mil looking into advanced sniper scopes that do the ballistic calculations for you?  Because just like in my previous post, it is easy to get an SDM to pull the trigger after a Sniper has done the math and put him on target.  This is the same reason money is spent researching laser guided 50 caliber ammunition.

What is the end goal of all of this?  A system that anyone who can take a steady shooting position, and then pull the trigger, can make a first shot hit out to the maximum effective range of the weapon they are holding.  Imagine a weapon system that could turn anyone who can hold 1 MOA at 100 yards into a shooter who can hold 1 MOA out past 1000 yards.  That is the goal of an "equipment centric solution."

Now, will we get there?  Probably, but probably those computer systems won't be as good as someone who has actually "been there, done that" and built their DOPE book for their load in their rifle in all the conditions that they find themselves needing to operate.  An equipment based solution is at best a compromise.

Right now an M24 or M110 sniper system is stupid easy to shoot in calm weather.  Just turn the Bullet Drop Compensating elevation knob to the distance you are shooting and then pull the trigger.  Once you get into the wind, you REALLY need that guy beside you calculating your wind correction, or you end up tossing lead down range hoping to see splash so you can make the correction yourself.

In all honesty I would really hate to see the Army abandon good marksmanship training to rely on a software solution.  Batteries die, electronics fail in the heat, cold, or rain, which are all conditions that our current crop of snipers and SDMs are all too familiar with.

Now thankfully the training doesn't look like it will change any time soon, however that means that the current state of "constantly in flux" that SDMs and Snipers find themselves will continue for a while.

Sniper, SDM, Small Kill Team concept

John Mosby read the writing on the wall from my last post and asked the next logical question.
I'd be curious to hear/read your impressions of the modifications that have been made to sniper employment doctrine based on operations in OIF, i.e. the use of larger elements with organic security for sniper teams, and the employment of multiple snipers in the same hide site. From your standpoint, what has that done to the future of the sniper role, and how does that correlate to the actual role of the SDM (packing an accurized M14 or an SR25), versus the doctrinal role of the SDM, packing the same M4/M16 platform as the rest of the squad?
Unfortunately a simple question often gets a complicated answer fairly quickly, such as "How do magnets work?"  Or in this case, "what the hell is Big Army thinking about SDM and Sniper Ops?"   To sum up how complicated the answer to that simple question is, this is only the first of two posts trying to scratch the surface of a thoughtful and complete answer.

As an aside, sometimes I think the Army has doctrine just so it can be ignored.  "Doctrine is just guidelines" is something I hear often.

The missions for snipers in a Counter Insurgency (COIN) environment are much more fluid than in a traditional high intensity conflict.  Comparing the roles of Marine Snipers in the second battle of Fallujah (very effective at killing enemy insurgents) to stability and support operations conducted by Army snipers in Baghdad and you see very different aspects of the same job.  In one you gave your snipers a "free hand" to engage targets of opportunity in support of an infantry assault and clear operation.  In the other you have a "soldier as a sensor" who may or may not have a "Be On the Look Out" list (BOLO) of targets that he is cleared to engage.  Different tactics dictated by different circumstances, operational goals, and even different commanders.

So how did we get there?  Well modern Army/USMC sniping began in the jungles of Vietnam.  The modern Marine Corps and Army sniping programs trace their roots back to that conflict, and the tactics that worked there are still the fundamental basis for sniper operations and training.  This is the traditional two man team, ghillie suited up, crawling into position to take a shot.  No matter the environment, these principles apply, even if the tactics and equipment changes.

In an urban desert environment a ghillie suit doesn't help you much, so your camouflage has to be different.  A man-dress, a head scarf, a rifle that doesn't look like a sniper rifle.

In the jungle a two man team was the right mix of capability and security, two men, three rifles, two pistols.  In the urban desert environment, it became clear that three men was the new bare minimum, and that third man needed to carry an m249 SAW for firepower.  Three men, three rifles, one machine gun, one grenade launcher.  Often a fourth man was added for more security, and more batteries for communication.

In the jungle there was no need for a Squad Designated Marksman as most engagements were close, the VC hugged American units to deny them use of artillery and air support.  In the urban desert engagements got a lot longer, as the enemy hid amongst the civilian population and conducted complex ambushes and attacks on coalition forces.  It became clear that having two SAW gunners per squad who were trained to shoot out to 600 meters was insufficient to deal with the "no mans land" between 300 meters and 600 meters.

Arming the SDMs became a heated issue.  Everyone wants an M14 because it is cool.  The actual ballistic requirement is easily satisfied by a rack grade M4 shooting ball ammunition.  However, multiple SDM courses were stood up (the best by the AMU) and many SDM's were trained.  Snipers traditionally took the SDM's under their wing during home station training and taught them such things as spotting, range estimation, so that if needs be the SDMs could augment the Sniper teams.  This worked out really well, as now you could split up the B4 (sniper qualified) snipers into separate teams with two SDMs apiece and increase your tactical options.  Normally the SR25/M110 is reserved for actual snipers as there aren't enough to go around the Army just yet.

All of this "sniper" training generally pulled the best qualified SDMs away from the squads and into the BN (or Company) Sniper teams, leaving the Squads with the same problem of not having a precise shooter to engage small targets at long range.  The best answer isn't to get rid of SDM "sniper" training, but to train more riflemen to actually shoot their damn rifle.

Now, arming all those SDM is still a contentious issue, I gave mine an M14 when I could in Iraq, but an M4 was the only thing I could get them to train on at home station.  The M4 with an ACOG is perfectly adequate for an SDM, and even many of our B4 snipers chose that combination when conducting urban operations (infiltration, don't look like a sniper).

In the end the SDM ended up to the Regular Army much like the 75th Ranger Regiment ended up to SOCOM, all things to all people.  SDM training is very much unit specific answer despite an official Infantry School course that spits out fairly competent marksmen for a unit to use as they see fit.  The overall trend in usage is as "baby snipers" instead of "dedicated marksmen" in terms of training (this is because the B4 qualified Snipers are usually tasked with SDM training at the BN level).  Doctrinally this is wrong, but tactically it is right as it forces commanders to utilize snipers in normal operations as a combat multiplier (integration of enablers is the big enduring lesson to officers who are veterans of OIF/OEF).

Unfortunately the real reason for this trend is that new Lieutenants are NOT taught how to properly train, equip, and sustain SDMs at the platoon level.  Even Captains who graduate the Career Course are not given an official block of instruction on how to manage that (because doctrinally much of the training is left up to the unit, so no need to teach it right?).  That is why the B4 Snipers at BN level (or Company level in a Stryker unit) are passed that torch.

So where does all this point to?  SDM's are often best used to augment real snipers to increase the number of Sniper teams available to the commander.  Snipers who are actually snipers choose a rifle that is suitable for the task they are given (the Barrett is cool, but no one needs it to do anything but stop a vehicle or punch through a wall), which often includes a standard issue rifle with an optic.  SDM's get their training on an M4 with an ACOG, but are often handed an M14 and told to "figure it out" in combat.  Would I like to see enough M110s in the inventory to give one to every Infantry Squad?  Yes, but would that actually increase the effectiveness of that Infantry Squad?  No, not without additional training.

04 September 2012

Sniper Rifles

Sniper rifles have been defined through history as meeting the following criteria, either been selected from amongst many issue service rifles as exceptionally accurate and adapted into service (Mosin-Nagant, SMLE, K98, 1903A4, M1C/D, M21/M25, Swede M41) or purposely built to serve as a snipers rifle (Druganov, M40, M24, M110, AI 96, Sako TRG).

I've written before about "sniper rifles" and my last post was about ammunition.  Successful sniping operations are the sum of man, rifle, ammo.  The most important part of the equation is the man, and the training that goes into making him (or her) successful.  John Mosby wrote (and I paraphrase here) that people who focus on an equipment solution to a training problem are fools.  He couldn't be more correct.

But in the vein of not handing a surgeon a meat cleaver, I'd like to address the rifle for a sniper.  Bottom line, any rifle will do, depending on the mission you give him (or her).  Accuracy is distant dependent, and a rifle that holds 4 inches at 100 meters can shoot out the eye of a sentry at 25.  Even an AK with a red dot sight is perfectly adequate to shoot someone in the face at 25 meters.  The Israelis used a suppressed Ruger 10/22 for such "close in" work.

The best sniper rifle is one that doesn't look like a sniper rifle, one that has the ballistics to do the job, and has the accuracy in combination with the ammunition to put that ballistic energy and momentum where it needs to go to destroy the target.

But since the standard for "sniper rifle" is a scoped, bolt action rifle, we will begin there.  The standard sniper rifle is a 12 to 16 pound monstrosity with a very slow rate of fire and very distinctive profile.  During infiltration and exfiltration the shooter doesn't carry this heavy bolt action rifle, the shooter carries something much more standard, like an M4 or an AK (or an L85 for the Brits, an AUG for the Aussies).  In WWII German snipers would remove the scope from their Short Slide Side Rail mounted K98's until they reached their Final Firing Point.

Once at the FFP camouflage is improved, positions dug in (if necessary), range cards sketched, distances mapped, the rifle is put into position, the loophole carefully calculated.  Iraqi "snipers" (and I use the term loosely) would often leave their sniper rifle in the final firing position.  The point is, that up until this point, the rifle has been of very little use to the sniper.

If everything goes as planned, the sniper will take one single shot, and then exfiltrate out of the FFP, with no enemy the wiser where he was, or where the bullet came from.  So you see, the sniper rifle has only a very small part to play in the overall mission, and for most of the mission it is dead weight.  There you have it, humping in a monstrosity to take one shot then hump it out.

Now the Squad Designated Marksman, or Soviet Platoon Sniper, is a different role all together.  Instead of separate missions, they become dedicated support to the organic maneuver force.  Instead of deliberately prepared mission plans it becomes dedicated precision rifle support for targets of opportunity.  Different mission, different tactical requirements.  Only the Soviets put a doctrinal sniper rifle with the Platoon Sniper.  Americans use M4s or M14s.

01 September 2012

Sniper Ammunition

American Military Snipers are good, the issue equipment is completely adequate for the tasks they are given, and the training is perfectly adequate.  Sniping is the sum of men, equipment, and ammunition.  I'm not going to get into the training and equipment right now, but I would like to touch on ammunition.

In the last twenty years we've seen a lot of increase in the realm between the 7.62x51 (from henceforth known as the 308 Win, or just 308) and the 50BMG.  We've seen the Secret Service adopt the 7mm Rem Magnum, the adoption of the 300 Win Mag and 338 Lapua Magnum by various portions of the military (SOCOM I'm looking at you) and completely civilian ventures like the 408 Cheytac and 416 Barrett.

But at the bottom of the barrel, the 308 has had a steady stream of capability increases.  Let's go back to the "original" sniper load, M118 Special Ball.  This started out as sort of a "best practices" ammunition, since the M72 match bullet was already in the inventory, and IMR4895 was already used for M72 match ammo it was a natural progression put those components into the new shorter round and call it good.  Alternate lots were loaded with WC846, which is the same powder used to propel standard M80 ball ammo.

EDIT: I've been getting a lot of hits on this page for folks looking for 30-06 sniper loads.  I recommend the old NRA competition loads, which duplicate the M72 match load.  M72 used a 173~175 gr FMJBT and various amounts of bulk grade IMR4895, with cannister grade it is 46.0 grains.  If you want to use IMR4064 for better temperature stability, it is 47.0 grains.  The M72 match bullet and 175gr HPBT load data is used interchangeably. EDIT COMPLETE. 

This existed as M118 Special Ball for quite some time.  The competitive shooters in the .mil insisted on better, and so M852 was loaded with the venerable 168gr Sierra Matchking bullet, and the boxes were labeled "For Competition Use Only" for a number of years until the stance on Open Tip Match bullets was changed to allow their use in war.

Then came the original M118 Long Range adaption, a 175gr Sierra Matchking bullet over WC750 ball powder.  This proved an inadequate arrangement and Reloader 15 was chosen to replace WC750.

So over the course of the history of sniper operations with the 308, we are on the third match bullet, and fourth powder.  Development still goes on, as the Navy has been working on Mk316 (also shooting the 175gr Sierra Matchking) but using a powder reported to be IMR4064.

And what pray tell, is the accuracy requirement for M118LR, the pinnacle of American ammunition development?  20 inches extreme spread at 1000 yards, or 2 minutes of precision.  The same level of accuracy that Carlos Hathcock was able to obtain with a 30-06.  It is true that M118LR normally shoots much tighter, usually MOA or better.

Now, I find the possible use of IMR4064 in Mk316 ammo to be a curious choice, as it is rumored to be the only difference between Mk316 and M118LR.  However, the commercial Federal Gold Medal Match 175gr SMK loading was originally loaded with IMR4064 before it too transitioned to Re15. EDIT: Mk316 uses Federal Match brass and an Federal Match primer, which is different from Lake City LR brass and the arsenal primer used in M118LR.

What does the history of ammunition tell us?  That two spherical powders, WC750 and WC846, and two (possibly three) stick powders, IMR4895 and Reloader15 (possibly IMR4064 now) have launched bullets from 168grains to 175grains.  The dedicated sniper ammunition has used 2 bullets, but all of the powders, so I guess picking the right bullet is twice as important as picking the powder?  I don't know, but when you are crafting ammunition to meet a minimum standard of accuracy for a variety of weapons it seems that there is only so much performance you can wring out of a cartridge.

Now, it isn't hard to duplicate M118LR performance if you are a handloader or reloader.  There are plenty of good recipes out there.  If you want to stockpile quality ammunition and don't have the cash to pay for new ammo, you can reload it for about half price.

Mil spec for M118 Special Ball / Match
Bullet: 175 grain FMJBT
Powder: 44 grains WC846 or 42 grains IMR 4895
Velocity = 2550 +/- 30 fps @ 78 ft.
Pressure = 50,000 psi max average, copper
Accuracy = Carton - 3.5" mean radius @ 600 yards

Mil spec for M852 Match
Bullet: 168 hollow point boat tail
Powder: 42 grains IMR 4895
Velocity = 2550 +/- 30 fps @ 78 ft.
Pressure = 50,000 psi max average, copper
Accuracy = Carton - 3.5" mean radius @ 600 yards

Mk316 (data pulled from one lot label)
Bullet: 175gr Hollow Point Boat Tail (Sierra Match King)
Powder. 41.745 gr IMR4064
Velocity = 2640 fps +/- 15 fps
Pressure =50k psi, copper
Accuracy = 1 MOA out to 1K

M118LR (best guess from pulled components)
Bullet: 175gr Hollow Point Boat Tail (Sierra Match King)
Powder, Reloader15 (reported 43.0 grains)
Velocity = 2580 fps (78 feet from muzzle)
Pressure = 50k psi, copper
Accuracy = 3.5" mean radius at 600