One Shot, One Kill — Guaranteed?

A US Army sniper team from Jalalabad Provincial Reconstruction Team near Dur Baba, Afghanistan, Oct. 19, 2006. The sniper is armed with a 7.62-mm M24 (US DoD).

This week Lockheed Martin won a $6.9 million contract from the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to further develop a system that is said to radically increase a sniper’s chances of achieving a first shot kill in daylight or darkness. Lockheed Martin has agreed to deliver fifteen field-testable prototypes of the new weapon system by October 2011.

With the lengthy US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, there has been an increasing demand for trained snipers and designated marksmen, far more than the American sniper schools can produce. Today, many of the American snipers operating in the cities of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan are not school-trained. They’ve learned their stuff on the job, from other snipers. Part of the reason for this lack of school-trained snipers is the length of time needed to train a sniper — between eight to ten weeks — a lot of it devoted to the skills needed to shoot at long range; skills that a sniper must retain because no piece of equipment is available to replicate it.

Warfare has changed a lot in the last one hundred years. We’ve seen the warplane develop from a struggling motorized kite with less horsepower than a lawnmower, to a near-invisible death-dealing robot that can be controlled from halfway across the world. We’ve watched as the lumbering cast iron box of Amiens became the sleek, fast and efficient killing machine that is the modern main battle tank (MBT). We’ve seen the rise of the all-steel battleship, the king of the sea, and watched it humiliated and exiled into obsolescence by the aircraft carrier, the greatest single weapon of naval power projection the world has ever seen. We’ve watched aerial ordnance develop from hand-held bombs no larger than a light mortar shell into the nuclear monsters that leveled Hiroshima and Nagasaki, before going on to become virtually controllable missiles that can differentiate between your house and your neighbour’s. Soldiers no longer need to trudge through the mud as they did on the Somme, or race their horses through machine-gun fire as they did at Spion Kop; they ride into battle — by land, sea, or air — ferried over obstacles and armoured against the enemy’s fire.

To cope with the changing technology, warriors have had to be more intelligent and literate, trained for longer and with ever greater expense. Militaries today must maintain an ever growing component of support and technical personnel that have far surpassed that of the number of fighting men. In fact, in a modern multi-arms force, the warriors are in the minority, outnumbered by technicians, IT specialists, mechanics, and electronics experts. Even a lowly grunt in a western army today must have a basic working knowledge of computers, the ability to communicate over various networks, and operate electronic systems. Continue reading “One Shot, One Kill — Guaranteed?”

How to Kill Innocent Women & Children

A page from a sniper’s logbook.

It’s easy. You just lead them a little less. It’s an old joke, born in the Vietnam War, and first recorded by Michael Herr, though Kubrick made it famous with his portrait of the crazed US Marine door gunner in Full Metal Jacket. In layspeak, a shooter “leads” a running figure so that he’s aiming at where the target will be when the bullet reaches it. Women and children run slower than an adult male.

It’s not so funny anymore though, when we’re fighting a war in which the uniformed enemy often is a woman or a child. Earlier this week, a US military court sentenced Sgt Evan Vela, a 24-year-old Army sniper, to ten years imprisonment for killing an Iraqi civilian. Funnily/sadly, the reason he was convicted was because he lied about planting a weapon on the dead man. The Iraqi and his teenaged son stumbled into a sniper ‘hide’, where Vela and his team were sleeping. The Americans took them prisoner, and later killed the father (it’s claimed he tried to warn some passing insurgent suspects of the American position) after releasing his son. They then planted a rifle on the body and claimed he was an insurgent. If they had killed the two Iraqis immediately, probably nothing would have happened, as it would have been passed off as a simple case of mistaken identity. Sad, but an inevitable part of a dirty war. Continue reading “How to Kill Innocent Women & Children”