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News article about sniper training


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Snipers see eyes of men they kill
Crack shots capable of hitting targets a kilometre away headed for Afghanistan
Jim Farrell
The Edmonton Journal
Saturday, December 31, 2005

CFB DUNDURN, Saskatchewan - A loud hiss bursts from the silencer of an oversized rifle. A visible ripple moves through the air at twice the speed of sound and there is a loud clang as a bullet strikes a metal target 1,150 metres away.

In the gently rolling hills of central Saskatchewan, 14 young soldiers are learning how to be world-class killers.

Anyone on the receiving end of one of these snipers' .50 calibre bullets would never know what hit him. No one else will know where the shot came from if one of these Edmonton Garrison-based soldiers has fitted his $6,000 MacMillan sniper rifle with a silencer.

In late January, some of these young men may be part of the sniper group which will accompany the 1,500-strong Edmonton Garrison contingent which will deploy to Afghanistan. There they may be ordered to crawl through southern Afghanistan's barren hills, remaining undetected as they scout out an enemy position. Having identified the enemy, they may be ordered to kill without warning.

Three years ago in Afghanistan a sniper with Edmonton Garrison's Third Battalion PPCLI set a world record when he gunned down a Taliban soldier at a range of 2,430 metres.

During today's training at CFB Dundurn, members of this training school will only be required to hit a man-size target 1,150 metres away. Most do it with their first shot after performing a series of meteorological measurements and adjusting their telescopic sights for wind speed, air pressure, distance and temperature.

"After that, it's just the hard job of pulling two and a half pounds on the trigger," says Sgt. John, head of the Dundurn-based sniper school.

Like all snipers, Sgt. John won't allow his last name to be used. Snipers must remain anonymous, if only to protect their families back in Canada from revenge attacks or simple harassment.

Many people consider sniping a very nasty occupation because it comprises a unique blend of science, stealth and cold-blooded determination.

Sniping illustrates the moral contradictions of warfare. Bomber pilots and artillery crewmen kill scores of people with a single bomb or shell but they never see their victims, who may include innocent civilians.

A sniper kills one person at a time and he always sees that person as a live human being. But he kills only the person he wants to kill.

"It's surgical fire with little or no collateral damage," says Sgt. John.

That's important in dangerous places like Afghanistan where militants live among their families, often in small villages where a bomb or missile can't distinguish between enemy combatants and innocent bystanders. Sniping is the ultimate in "targeted fire."

The sniper's trade involves more than a stealthy approach, target identification and accurate shooting, however.

The sniper must also decide his priorities when multiple targets present themselves. If the sniper were up against an Eastern Bloc army he would initially shoot down the officers, since Eastern Bloc enlisted men and NCOs are accustomed to do nothing until given an order. But priorities can change depending on the opposition.

"The No. 1 priority is always another sniper because that's the guy who can hurt you worst," says Sgt. John.

"If you are up against a modern army, a corporal technician who can fix a satellite link is a higher priority than an officer. A modern military unit often can't do anything without satellite communications.

"If you're up against a reconnaissance detachment you shoot the scouts. If it's a dog and dog handler, you shoot the handler first because the dog can't operate without his handler."

This kind of deliberate, calculated killing requires a particular personality type.

"We need the kind of soldier who can turn the remorse button off," says Sgt. Buck, the head of an Edmonton Garrison-based sniper unit.

When asking for sniper volunteers, the military seeks well-balanced professional soldiers with great emotional discipline. Pathological killers need not apply.

"We give them extensive psychological tests to weed out the wrong types," Buck says. "We don't want these kind of skills going out onto civvy street."

Today's exercise begins with a session at a large sandbox called "the spoor pit." The previous evening, two instructors crawled across the sand and set up a

bipod-mounted sniper rifle and a spotting scope. They fired two rounds, then quickly scrambled away as if they had been spotted and had to make their escape.

Reading the marks left in the sand -- the "spoor " -- the students figure out what happened here.

The next exercise involves lying on the brow of a hill and peering at the countryside through binoculars. The sniper students have to spot and map 12 items laying in the grass, in the brush or hanging from tree branches 30 to 300 metres away. Every item -- a helmet, a gas mask, a military rifle, an ammunition magazine or the strap of a rifle -- is brown or green in colour.

"You scan near to far and right to left -- opposite to the way you read so that things jump out," explains Sgt. Mike, another instructor.

The supreme test of a sniper's fieldcraft is the ability to sneak into a firing position without being spotted, get off a shot and then escape.

To do that, a sniper must merge into the landscape and that usually involves a "ghille suit" -- a mesh jacket and hat adorned with prairie grass, green and brown yarn and dried grass or twigs and branches.

A sniper team comprising a shooter and a spotter initially study maps and photos of the terrain. Making use of hollows, gullys and trees, the team creeps within shooting distance of their designated target.

In today's test they are required to crawl through thick foliage to within 300 metres of an observation post without being spotted by the two instructors within that post.

To add to the difficulty, another instructor will stand 15 metres away and point his arm in their direction as they prepare to take their shot. If an instructor in the observation post can spot

either member of the sniper team, they have failed the test The walker then moves closer and stands within five metres of the team but doesn't point. If the observation post still can't make them out, the observation post is abandoned and the sniper takes his shot at the metal target within that post. Today, the instructors fail to spot any of the three teams.

Several kilometres away another group of students perches on the brow of a hill armed with .50 calibre MacMillans and lighter .308 Parker Hale sniper rifles.

Rounds are loaded into the bolt action rifles one at a time. That avoids the possibility of jamming but it also ensures the rounds remain at the ambient temperature. That's important because the temperature of a round affects the burning time of its powder, and burning time affects muzzle velocity and trajectory.

Some sniper students have perched the front of their rifles on bipods. Others use sandbags to attain a lower profile. With the MacMillan, the preferred method is to use a bipod and place sandbags behind the bipod to absorb some of the rifle's massive recoil.

All manner of problems crop up. Wind gusts push rounds astray. Rifles heat up as shooters put round after round into their rifles, muzzle velocities climb and bullets go high.

Some shooters notice the targets in their scopes are wobbling. Hot air is rising directly in front of the shooter's scope.

"Your cans (silencers) are heating up," Sgt. John tells them.

The students work out their problems and the metal targets off in the distance begin to ring like bells. A Journal reporter is invited to take his turn. The reporter's first round hits low. He can't understand why. The target, 500 metres away, was in the crosshairs.

"Let me see," Sgt. John says, examining the scope settings. He adjusts a knob a quarter turn. The reporter's second shot hits. Hammered by the massive recoil of the .50 calibre round, his shoulder aches for an hour.

Off to the side, those with the lighter Parker Hale rifles are doing a battlefield practice. Sgt. Mike tells them their next target is a steel stake, 240 metres away. Each sniper puts a hole in the eight-centimetre-wide steel stake with his first shot.

Sgt. Mike then directs their attention to the hulk of an armoured vehicle, 420 metres away. Through a spotter's scope it is possible to see the glint of glass from the vehicle's periscope. Sgt. Mike tells the snipers to take out the periscope and begins his countdown, "three, two, one, fire."

Four rifles bark. A small cloud of dust obscures the periscope. When the dust disperses, the periscope's glass is gone.

"The next thing that would happen is the commander sticks his head out the hatch to see where his vehicle is going," says Sgt. Mike. "He's next."


© The Edmonton Journal 2005
Wow, in depth and well written. Nice to see abit of good PPCLI promo. I wonder with the information provided how many new "instant soon to be snipers" will appear in bars across Canada. In some of the described training it was interesting to read that Canadian tactics developed era's ago are still being used and the target prioritization explanation brought in some things I would have never thought about ie. get the satellite tech. well done
I wonder how many wannabe snipers show up here at army.ca in the coming weeks.
I wonder...with the development of CSOR, will the CF be increasing the number of Cbt Arms personnel trained in these sorts of 'jobs', or simply rely on the personnel already trained and employed with the regiments.

All this excitement and opportunity in the CF now, makes me itch to visit the local recruiting centre again.
I am wondering that too CBH99. I know of early instances  when they need more of this skill and gave a bunch of us a Bn level course. Held a Bn shoot off, never fired so many rounds in my life. Allot of the real early JTF long rifles came out of the third. When did the school move from Gagetown?
3rd Herd said:
When did the school move from Gagetown?
It did not; Basic Sniper is taught in Area Trg Centers, Sniper Det Cmdr and Master Sniper courses are still taught in Gagetown. This article is either about a Sniper concentration or a Basic Sniper course out of WATC.
Armymedic said:
When asking for sniper volunteers, the military seeks well-balanced professional soldiers with great emotional discipline. Pathological killers need not apply.

Implying that pathological killers are OK in the rest of the army, just not as snipers - - sweet.
An excellent article about the capability and professionalism of our snipers and sniper trainees. I particularly liked "its surgical fire with little or no collateral damage"  :D
Like all snipers, Sgt. John won't allow his last name to be used. Snipers must remain anonymous, if only to protect their families back in Canada from revenge attacks or simple harassment.

Back in Canada?
More like protect them from goofballs back IN Canada.
Glorified Ape said:
Jeez, I need to release and sign up as an NCM. Officers never get the fun stuff  :'(

What copious amounts of paperwork doesn't thrill you at all?!

lawlerz now I can go JTF2 helicopter pilot sniper guy and blow everything up I RULEZ.

Just kidding.  ;D

These guys have balls of steel and must be amazingly competent, I couldn't imagine doing what they do then having it come back to me later on.

Amazing work, amazing men and women. Kudos for them for taking on a job that many would see as the ultimate awesome job but in reality isn't so much fun as persistance and dedication.