Thursday, December 09, 2010

New rifles give Army snipers in Afghanistan needed range

The Army is shipping powerful new rifles to its snipers in Afghanistan to kill insurgents who are firing from greater distances and shooting at troops more frequently than in the early years of the war. The XM2010 sniper rifle can hit a target 3,937 feet away, which is a quarter-mile farther than the current Army sniper rifle shoots.

The added distance is important because insurgents have been shooting down from ridges and mountaintops where gravity helps their bullets travel farther and beyond the range of Army snipers.

"They're not outgunning us, but they are putting our soldiers in a predicament where 800 meters (2,625 feet) may not be enough," said Col. Douglas Tamilio, referring to the maximum range of the current M24 sniper rifle.

"Because of the expanse, you can see so far and you can engage so far," Tamilio said. "You want to give guys the capability to do those things they need to do at those ranges."

Afghan insurgents appear more willing to shoot at U.S. troops than in the past, according to Pentagon data. Gunfire attacks on U.S. troops in Afghanistan have spiked over the past year and in July 2009 topped 1,000 for the first time in the war. That mark has been topped several times since.

Afghanistan is full of craggy mountains, broad valleys and desert where insurgents can hide and shoot from long distances. "There's an enormous amount of terrain there that favors snipers," said John Pike, a military analyst and director of, a website dealing with defense matters.

The Army's 2,500 snipers are to start receiving the XM2010 early next year, said Tamilio, who manages weapons programs for the Army. The M24 has been in service since 1988.

Among other improvements contained in the new sniper rifle are more powerful telescope and a device on the muzzle that dampens the noise and flash of a shot, helping to conceal the U.S. sniper.

Prior to the Afghanistan war the Army spent about $400,000 per year on sniper equipment; it spends about $19 million now. The Army began seeking the more powerful rifle in February based on requests from commanders in Afghanistan.

The Pentagon would not say how much the new rifle costs, but said Congress appropriated $5.6 million in 2009 and 2010 for the rifle's development and production.

The snipers are an important part of the counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan, which is designed to minimize civilian casualties, Tamilio said. Insurgents often mingle among villagers as cover because they know that U.S. troops want to avoid harming civilians.

"A well-trained sniper taking out somebody he knows he has to take out — if it's a high payoff target — he can do that with almost no collateral damage," Tamilio said. "He's going to put his round on target."

Pike agreed, saying a bullet is better than a bomb in most circumstances. "You don't want to kill the people that you're trying to defend," Pike said. "We won't win the war doing that. Anyone other than a sniper runs a serious risk of killing innocent people in the wrong place at the wrong time."


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