"The significant causes of attrition in the course are in practical application evaluations, which includes stalking, marksmanship and land navigation," Training Command said in a statement to Marine Corps Times. "The eligibility requirements and training requirements have not been made more difficult."
The one-shot, one-kill capability that snipers bring to the battlefield continue to be invaluable in protecting troops and civilians from enemy fighters – including enemy snipers. Snipers also support infantry battalions with forward reconnaissance and observation. And they are often used to boost force protection, especially at U.S. embassies, where security has intensified during the past several years.
Having scout snipers on the battlefield will be even more important given the types of environments where Marines will likely fight in the future, a Marine Corps official said.
But the Marine Corps has determined that it has a shortfall of scout snipers, said Maj Henry Nesbit, deputy infantry advocate for the Ground Combat Element Branch of Plans, Policies, and Operations.
"While we remain proud of those who achieve the hard-earned right to be a scout sniper, we recognize that there is a critical gap that must be addressed," Nesbit said.
To boost the graduation rates for student snipers, the Marine Corps is overhauling the way those Marines are trained.
Until now, scout snipers have honed their skills in a single training program where they learn critical skills that include blending into any environment, moving without drawing attention and hitting targets at long distances.
Starting this spring, however, the Corps will experiment with breaking up the training into two parts and, in between, giving those Marines time on an operational unit, a Marine Corps official said.
"Traditionally, there’re two areas that challenge our students: one is stalking and the other is the marksmanship skills," the Marine Corps official said.
"The intent is to give a sniper student the basic skills they need to join their unit under seasoned scout snipers," the official said. "Then they will be doing [on-the-job-training] out in the operating environments and doing certain skills, holding certain billets at a lower level in their teams to gain that experience and be mentored and coached under the senior scout snipers of their unit prior to going to the advanced course – and having a greater chance of success."
A Marine student undergoing the 2nd Marine Division Combat Skills Center Pre-Scout Sniper Course looks through an M40A5 sniper rifle at Camp Lejeune, N.C., Jan. 6, 2016.
Photo Credit: Cpl. Paul S. Martinez.
"The Marine Corps understands the importance of that capability," the official said. "So we're looking at ways to be able to increase throughput and enhance our training. That's why we're doing this."
Many details of the planned experiment have yet to be worked out, such as how many student snipers would participate and what requirements they would have to meet to move from the basic to advanced course, officials said. Breaking the training course in two and having the students spend time with units will lengthen the overall training.
"It's not finally approved," the official said. "It's predecisional. I don't want to get ahead of the commandant on this one. We're testing the concept at this point."
Battalions select infantry Marines at the rank of lance corporal and above for the training, which is held at School of Infantry-East at Camp Geiger, North Carolina; School of Infantry-West at Camp Pendleton, California; and Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia.
One challenge the Marine Corps faces in filling out Scout Sniper platoons is that many of the Marines completing the course are nearing the end of their first term of enlistment.
Top Marine Corps officials are reportedly considering a plan to make the scout sniper military occupational specialty, 0317, into a primary MOS, which would allow recruits to come into the Corps and move directly into a sniper training pipeline, according to a report from the online publication We Are the Mighty.
As an elite force, scout sniper teams have "one of the most dangerous jobs on the battlefield," so it make sense that the required training is hard, she said.