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Snipers seek better weapons, ammo

Nov. 20, 2012 - 02:02PM   |   Last Updated: Nov. 20, 2012 - 02:02PM  |  
Lance Cpl. Paul Maxinoski, a scout sniper with 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, peers through the optic of M4 rifle with sound suppressor on a tripod in Trek Nawa, Afghanistan, on Oct. 25. Scout snipers with the unit, known as "Blackheart", have expressed concerns that more efficient weapons and ammo are needed in theatre.
Lance Cpl. Paul Maxinoski, a scout sniper with 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, peers through the optic of M4 rifle with sound suppressor on a tripod in Trek Nawa, Afghanistan, on Oct. 25. Scout snipers with the unit, known as "Blackheart", have expressed concerns that more efficient weapons and ammo are needed in theatre. (Dan Lamothe / Marine Corps Times)
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TREK NAWA, Afghanistan — Marine scout snipers deployed here since this summer are frustrated with their weapons and ammunition, and are urging the Marine Corps to upgrade.

In a position paper forwarded up their chain of command and provided to Marine Corps Times, the scout sniper platoon with 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, out of Camp Pendleton, Calif., outlined perceived deficiencies in the ammo used with the 7.62mm M40A5 and the .50-caliber M107 sniper rifles. The paper is authored by 1st Lt. Brian Hayek, the platoon commander, and Sgts. Steven Winn and Joshua Ott, team leaders in the unit, which uses the call sign "Blackheart."

Marines commonly use the M118 LR round in the bolt-action M40A5. It carries the Defense Department identification code AA11. On the M107, snipers use the Raufoss Mk 211 round, which uses the ID code A606.

Both rounds have been used for years but have flaws, Blackheart's scout snipers said. For example, they note that the M40A5 round loses supersonic speed and stopping power at less than 1,000 meters — problematic, considering the Taliban regularly engage Marines with 7.62mm PKM machine guns out to 1,200 meters.

"The ability of the AA11 round to inflict a kill on the enemy becomes drastically reduced after 800 meters," Blackheart said. "Multiple times on this deployment our scout snipers have had rounds impact combatants in their upper torso or in the pelvic girdle, and multiple times we have witnessed the enemy combatant drop to a knee or the prone [position] and then stand back up and surprisingly run to cover and concealment and continue fighting from another position."

The M107's ammunition maintains supersonic speed and stopping power out to 2,000 meters but is not accurate enough to consistently hit an insurgent through a 15-inch murder hole punched into a mud compound, the Marines said.

"The hits that our platoon has recorded out to 1,500 meters using the A606 round have required the sniper to fire multiple shots on one target in order to ‘walk' the rounds on to the target," the Marines said. "This is a waste of ammunition and it compromises the sniper's position by giving the enemy multiple rounds with which to locate the sniper's hide."

Blackheart said options for improvement are available, citing development of a new precision sniper rifle by U.S. Special Operations Command. The Corps could easily field the weapon once it's ready, since it's already a Defense Department program of record, the Marines said.

The Corps had interest in developing a new sniper rifle in 2009 and 2010, but stepped back as SOCOM launched its own PSR competition. Marine officials worked with SOCOM to develop specifications for the weapons, they said at the time.

The Army appears to have slowed development of the PSR as it improves the capabilities of the XM2010 Enhanced Sniper Rifle. Chambering the XM2010 for .300 Winchester Magnum ammo pushes its range from 1,200 to 1,500 meters.

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