A sniper is a military/paramilitary marksman who operates to maintain effective visual contact with and engage enemy targets from concealed positions or at distances exceeding the target's detection capabilities. Snipers generally have specialized training and are equipped with high-precision rifles and high-magnification optics, and often feed information back to their units or command headquarters.
In addition to marksmanship and long range shooting, military snipers are trained in a variety of tactical techniques: detection, stalking, and target range estimation methods, camouflage, field craft, infiltration, special reconnaissance and observation, surveillance and target acquisition.
The verb "to snipe" originated in the 1770s among soldiers in British India in reference to shooting snipes, which was considered an extremely challenging game bird for hunters. The agent noun "sniper" appears by the 1820s. The term sniper was first attested in 1824  in the sense of the word "sharpshooter".
Generally, a sniper's primary function in modern warfare is to provide detailed surveillance from a concealed position and, if necessary, to reduce the enemy's combat ability by neutralizing high-value targets (especially officers and other key personnel) and in the process pinning down and demoralizing the enemy. Typical sniper missions include managing intelligence information they gather during reconnaissance, target acquisition and impact feedback for air strikes and artillery, assisting employed combat force with accurate fire support and counter-sniper tactics, killing enemy commanders, selecting targets of opportunity, and even destruction of military equipment, which tend to require use of anti-materiel rifles in the larger calibers such as the .50 BMG, like the Barrett M82, McMillan Tac-50, and Denel NTW-20.
Soviet- and Russian-derived military doctrines include squad-level snipers. Snipers have increasingly been demonstrated as useful by US and UK forces in the recent Iraq campaign in a fire support role to cover the movement of infantry, especially in urban areas.
Military snipers from the US, UK and other countries that adopt their military doctrine are typically deployed in two-man sniper teams consisting of a shooter and a spotter. A common practice is for a shooter and a spotter to take turns in order to avoid eye fatigue. In most recent combat operations occurring in large densely populated towns, such as Fallujah, Iraq, two teams would be deployed together to increase their security and effectiveness in an urban environment. A sniper team would be armed with a long-range weapon and a rapid-firing shorter-ranged weapon in case of close quarter combat.
The German doctrine of largely independent snipers and emphasis on concealment, developed during the Second World War, has been most influential on modern sniper tactics, and is currently used throughout Western militaries (examples are specialized camouflage clothing, concealment in terrain and emphasis on coup d'œil).
Sniper rifles are classified as crew-served, as the term is used in the United States military. A sniper team (or sniper cell) consists of a combination of one or more shooters with force protection elements and support personnel: such as a spotter or a flanker. Within the Table of Organization and Equipment for both the United States Army and the U.S. Marine Corps, the operator of the weapon has an assistant trained to fulfill multiple roles, in addition to being sniper-qualified in the operation of the weapon.
The shooter fires the shot while the spotter assists in observation of targets, atmospheric conditions and handles ancillary tasks as immediate security of their location, communication with other parties; including directing artillery fire and close air support. A flanker's task is to observe areas not immediately visible to the sniper or spotter and assist with the team's perimeter and rear security, therefore flankers are usually armed with an assault rifle or battle rifle. Both spotter and flanker carry additional ammunition and associated equipment.
The spotter detects, observes, and assigns targets and watches for the results of the shot.
Law enforcement snipers, commonly called police snipers, and military snipers differ in many ways, including their areas of operation and tactics. A police sharpshooter is part of a police operation and usually takes part in relatively short missions. Police forces typically deploy such sharpshooters in hostage scenarios. This differs from a military sniper, who operates as part of a larger army, engaged in warfare. Sometimes as part of a SWAT team, police snipers are deployed alongside negotiators and an assault team trained for close quarters combat. As policemen, they are trained to shoot only as a last resort, when there is a direct threat to life; the police sharpshooter has a well-known rule: "Be prepared to take a life to save a life." Police snipers typically operate at much shorter ranges than military snipers, generally under 100 meters (109 yd) and sometimes even less than 50 meters (55 yd). Both types of snipers do make difficult shots under pressure, and often perform one-shot kills.
Police units that are unequipped for tactical operations may rely on a specialized SWAT team, which may have a dedicated sniper. Some police sniper operations begin with military assistance. Police snipers placed in vantage points, such as high buildings, can provide security for events. In one high-profile incident, Mike Plumb, a SWAT sniper in Columbus, Ohio, prevented a suicide by shooting a revolver out of the individual's hand, leaving him unharmed.
The need for specialized training for police sharpshooters was made apparent in 1972 during the Munich massacre when the German police could not deploy specialized personnel or equipment during the standoff at the airport in the closing phase of the crisis, and consequently all of the Israeli hostages were killed. While the German army did have snipers in 1972, the use of army snipers in the scenario was impossible due to the German constitution's explicit prohibition of the use of the military in domestic matters. This lack of trained snipers who could be used in civilian roles was later addressed with the founding of the specialized police counter-terrorist unit GSG 9.
The previous record holder was Craig Harrison, a Corporal of Horse (CoH) in the Blues and Royals RHG/D of the British Army. In November 2009, Harrison struck two Taliban machine gunners consecutively south of Musa Qala in Helmand Province in Afghanistan at a range of 2,475 m (2,707 yd) or 1.54 miles using a L115A3 Long Range Rifle. The QTU Lapua external ballistics software, using continuous doppler drag coefficient (Cd) data provided by Lapua, predicts that such shots traveling 2,475 m (2,707 yd) would likely have struck their targets after nearly 6.0 seconds of flight time, having lost 93% of their kinetic energy, retaining 255 m/s (840 ft/s) of their original 936 m/s (3,070 ft/s) velocity, and having dropped 121.39 m (398 ft 3 in) or 2.8° from the original bore line. Due to the extreme distances and travel time involved, even a light cross-breeze of 2.7 m/s (6.0 mph) would have diverted such shots 9.2 m (360 in) off target, which would have required compensation.
The calculation assumes a flat-fire scenario (a situation where the shooting and target positions are at equal elevation), utilizing British military custom high-pressure.338 Lapua Magnum cartridges, loaded with 16.2 g (250 gr) Lapua LockBase B408 bullets, fired at 936 m/s (3,071 ft/s) muzzle velocity under the following on-site (average) atmospheric conditions: barometric pressure: 1,019 hPa (30.1 inHg) at sea-level equivalent or 899 hPa (26.5 inHg) on-site, humidity: 25.9%, and temperature: 15 °C (59 °F) in the region for November 2009, resulting in an air density ρ = 1.0854 kg/m3 at the 1,043 m (3,422 ft) elevation of Musa Qala. Harrison mentions in reports that the environmental conditions were perfect for long range shooting, "... no wind, mild weather, clear visibility." In a BBC interview, Harrison reported it took about nine shots for him and his spotter to initially range the target successfully.
Before the development of rifling, firearms were smoothbore and inaccurate over long distance. Barrel rifling was invented at the end of the fifteenth century, but was only employed in large cannons. Over time, rifling, along with other gunnery advances, has increased the performance of modern firearms.
Early forms of sniping or marksmanship were used during the American Revolutionary War. For instance, in 1777 at the battle of Saratoga the Colonists hid in the trees and used early model rifles to shoot British officers. Most notably, Timothy Murphy shot and killed General Simon Fraser of Balnain on 7 October 1777 at a distance of about 400 yards. During the Battle of Brandywine, Capt. Patrick Ferguson had a tall, distinguished American officer in his rifle's iron sights. Ferguson did not take the shot, as the officer had his back to Ferguson; only later did Ferguson learn that George Washington had been on the battlefield that day.
A special unit of marksmen was established during the Napoleonic Wars in the British Army. While most troops at that time used inaccurate smoothbore muskets, the British "Green Jackets" (named for their distinctive green uniforms) used the famous Baker rifle. Through the combination of a leather wad and tight grooves on the inside of the barrel (rifling), this weapon was far more accurate, though slower to load. These Riflemen were the elite of the British Army, and served at the forefront of any engagement, most often in skirmish formation, scouting out and delaying the enemy. Another term, "sharp shooter" was in use in British newspapers as early as 1801. In the Edinburgh Advertiser, 23 June 1801, can be found the following quote in a piece about the North British Militia; "This Regiment has several Field Pieces, and two companies of Sharp Shooters, which are very necessary in the modern Stile of War". The term appears even earlier, around 1781, in Continental Europe, translated from the German Scharfschütze.
The Whitworth rifle was arguably the first long-range sniper rifle in the world. A muzzleloader designed by Sir Joseph Whitworth, a prominent British engineer, it used polygonal rifling instead, which meant that the projectile did not have to bite into grooves as was done with conventional rifling. The Whitworth rifle was far more accurate than the Pattern 1853 Enfield, which had shown some weaknesses during the recent Crimean War. At trials in 1857 which tested the accuracy and range of both weapons, Whitworth's design outperformed the Enfield at a rate of about three to one. The Whitworth rifle was capable of hitting the target at a range of 2,000 yards, whereas the Enfield could only manage it at 1,400 yards.
During the Crimean War, the first optical sights were designed to fit onto rifles. Much of this pioneering work was the brainchild of Colonel D. Davidson, using optical sights produced by Chance Brothers of Birmingham. This allowed a marksman to observe and target objects more accurately at a greater distance than ever before. The telescopic sight, or scope, was originally fixed and could not be adjusted, which therefore limited its range.
Despite its success at the trials, the rifle was not adopted by the British Army. However, the Whitworth Rifle Company was able to sell the weapon to the French army, and also to the Confederacy during the American Civil War, where both the Union and Confederate armies employed sharpshooters. The most notable incident was during the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, where on 9 May 1864, Union General John Sedgwick was killed by a Confederate Whitworth sharpshooter at a range of about 1,000 yards (910 meters) after saying the enemy "couldn't hit an elephant at this distance".
During the Boer War the latest breech-loading rifled guns with magazines and smokeless powder were used by both sides. The British were equipped with the Lee–Metford rifle, while the Boers had received the latest Mauser rifles from Germany. In the open terrain of South Africa the marksmen were a crucial component to the outcome of the battle.
The first British sniper unit began life as the Lovat Scouts, a Scottish Highland regiment formed in 1899, that earned high praise during the Second Boer War (1899–1902). The unit was formed by Lord Lovat and reported to an American, Major Frederick Russell Burnham, the British Army Chief of Scouts under Lord Roberts. Burnham fittingly described these scouts as "half wolf and half jackrabbit.". Just like their Boer scout opponents, these scouts were well practised in the arts of marksmanship, field craft, map reading, observation, and military tactics. They were skilled woodsmen and practitioners of discretion: "He who shoots and runs away, lives to shoot another day." They were also the first known military unit to wear a ghillie suit. Hesketh Hesketh-Prichard said of them that "keener men never lived", and that "Burnham was the greatest scout of our time." Burnham distinguished himself in wars in South Africa, Rhodesia, and in Arizona fighting the Apaches, and his definitive work, Scouting on Two Continents, provides a dramatic and enlightening picture of what a sniper was at the time and how he operated.
After the war, this regiment went on to formally become the first official sniper unit, then better known as sharpshooters.
During World War I, snipers appeared as deadly sharpshooters in the trenches. At the start of the war, only Imperial Germany had troops that were issued scoped sniper rifles. Although sharpshooters existed on all sides, the Germans specially equipped some of their soldiers with scoped rifles that could pick off enemy soldiers showing their heads out of their trench. At first the French and British believed such hits to be coincidental hits, until the German scoped rifles were discovered. During World War I, the German army received a reputation for the deadliness and efficiency of its snipers, partly because of the high-quality lenses that German industry could manufacture.
Soon the British army began to train their own snipers in specialized sniper schools.
He also devised a metal-armoured double loophole that would protect the sniper observer from enemy fire.
The main sniper rifles used during the First World War were the German Mauser Gewehr 98; the British Pattern 1914 Enfield and Lee–Enfield SMLE Mk III, the Canadian Ross rifle, the American M1903 Springfield, the Italian M1891 Carcano, and the Russian M1891 Mosin–Nagant
During the interbellum, most nations dropped their specialized sniper units, notably the Germans. Effectiveness and dangers of snipers once again came to the fore during the Spanish Civil War. The only nation that had specially trained sniper units during the 1930s was the Soviet Union. Soviet snipers were trained in their skills as marksmen, in using the terrain to hide themselves from the enemy and the ability to work alongside regular forces. This made the Soviet sniper training focus more on "normal" combat situations than those of other nations.
Snipers reappeared as important factors on the battlefield from the first campaign of World War II. During Germany's 1940 campaigns, lone, well-hidden French and British snipers were able to halt the German advance for a considerable amount of time. For example, during the pursuit to Dunkirk, British snipers were able to significantly delay the German infantry's advance. This prompted the British once again to increase training of specialized sniper units. Apart from marksmanship, British snipers were trained to blend in with the environment, often by using special camouflage clothing for concealment. However, because the British Army offered sniper training exclusively to officers and non-commissioned officers, the resulting small number of trained snipers in combat units considerably reduced their overall effectiveness.
During the Winter War, Finnish snipers took a heavy toll of the invading Soviet army. Simo Häyhä is credited with 505 confirmed kills, most with the Finnish version of the iron-sighted bolt-action Mosin–Nagant.
One of the best known battles involving snipers, and the battle that made the Germans reinstate their specialized sniper training, was the Battle of Stalingrad. Their defensive position inside a city filled with rubble meant that Soviet snipers were able to inflict significant casualties on the Wehrmacht troops. Because of the nature of fighting in city rubble, snipers were very hard to spot and seriously dented the morale of the German attackers. The best known of these snipers was probably Vasily Zaytsev, featured in the novel War of the Rats and the subsequent film Enemy At The Gates
German Scharfschützen were prepared before the war, equipped with Karabiner 98 and later Gewehr 43 rifles, but there were often not enough of these weapons available, and as such some were armed with captured scoped Mosin–Nagant 1891/30, SVT or Czech Mauser rifles. The Wehrmacht re-established its sniper training in 1942, drastically increasing the number of snipers per unit with the creation of an additional 31 sniper training companies by 1944. German snipers were at the time the only snipers in the world issued with purpose-manufactured sniping ammunition, known as the 'effect-firing' sS round. The 'effect-firing' sS round featured an extra carefully measured propellant charge and seated a heavy 12.8 gram (198 gr) full-metal-jacketed boat-tail projectile of match-grade build quality, lacking usual features such as a seating ring to improve the already high ballistic coefficient of.584 (G1) further. For aiming optics German snipers used the Zeiss Zielvier 4x (ZF39) telescopic sight which had bullet drop compensation in 50 m increments for ranges from 100 m up to 800 m or in some variations from 100 m up to 1000 m or 1200 m. There were ZF42, Zielfernrohr 43 (ZF 4), Zeiss Zielsechs 6x, Zeiss Zielacht 8x and other telescopic sights by various manufacturers like the Ajack 4x, Hensoldt Dialytan 4x and Kahles Heliavier 4x with similar features employed on German sniper rifles. Several different mountings produced by various manufacturers were used for mounting aiming optics to the rifles. In February 1945 the Zielgerät 1229 active infrared aiming device was issued for night sniping with the StG 44 assault rifle.
A total of 428,335 individuals received Red Army sniper training, including Soviet and non-Soviet partisans, with 9,534 receiving the sniping 'higher qualification'.
In the United States Armed Forces, sniper training was only very elementary and was mainly concerned with being able to hit targets over long distances.
Those tactics were also a consequence of changes in German enlistment.
In the Pacific War, the Empire of Japan trained snipers. In the jungles of Asia and the Pacific Islands, snipers posed a serious threat to U.S., British, and Commonwealth troops. Japanese snipers were specially trained to use the environment to conceal themselves. Japanese snipers used foliage on their uniforms and dug well-concealed hide-outs that were often connected with small trenches. There was no need for long range accuracy because most combat in the jungle took place within a few hundred meters. Japanese snipers were known for their patience and ability to remain hidden for long periods. They almost never left their carefully camouflaged hiding spots. This meant that whenever a sniper was in the area, the location of the sniper could be determined after the sniper had fired a few shots. The Allies used their own snipers in the Pacific, notably the U.S. Marines, who used M1903 Springfield rifles.
Common sniper rifles used during the Second World War include: the Soviet M1891/30 Mosin–Nagant and, to a lesser extent, the SVT-40; the German Mauser Karabiner 98k and Gewehr 43; the British Lee–Enfield No. 4 and Pattern 1914 Enfield; the Japanese Arisaka 97; the American M1903A4 Springfield and M1C Garand. The Italians trained few snipers and supplied them with a scoped Carcano Model 1891.
Military sniper training aims to teach a high degree of proficiency in camouflage and concealment, stalking, observation and map reading as well as precision marksmanship under various operational conditions. Trainees typically shoot thousands of rounds over a number of weeks, while learning these core skills.
Snipers are trained to squeeze the trigger straight back with the ball of their finger, to avoid jerking the gun sideways. The most accurate position is prone, with a sandbag supporting the stock, and the stock's cheek-piece against the cheek. In the field, a bipod can be used instead. Sometimes a sling is wrapped around the weak arm (or both) to reduce stock movement. Some doctrines train a sniper to breathe deeply before shooting, then hold their lungs empty while they line up and take their shot. Some go further, teaching their snipers to shoot between heartbeats to minimize barrel motion.
The key to sniping is accuracy, which applies to both the weapon and the shooter.
A sniper must have the ability to accurately estimate the various factors that influence a bullet's trajectory and point of impact such as: range to the target, wind direction, wind velocity, altitude and elevation of the sniper and the target and ambient temperature.
Snipers zero their weapons at a target range or in the field. This is the process of adjusting the scope so that the bullets' points-of-impact is at the point-of-aim (centre of scope or scope's cross-hairs) for a specific distance. A rifle and scope should retain its zero as long as possible under all conditions to reduce the need to re-zero during missions.
A sandbag can serve as a useful platform for shooting a sniper rifle, although any soft surface such as a rucksack will steady a rifle and contribute to consistency. In particular, bipods help when firing from a prone position, and enable the firing position to be sustained for an extended period of time. Many police and military sniper rifles come equipped with an adjustable bipod. Makeshift bipods known as shooting sticks can be constructed from items such as tree branches or ski poles. Some military snipers use three-legged shooting sticks.
Range and accuracy vary depending on the cartridge and specific ammunition types that are used.
Servicemen volunteer for the rigorous sniper training and are accepted on the basis of their aptitude, physical ability, marksmanship, patience and mental stability.
From 2011, the Russian armed forces has run newly developed sniper courses in military district training centres. In place of the Soviet practice of mainly squad sharpshooters, which were often designated during initial training (and of whom only few become snipers per se), "new" Army snipers are to be trained intensively for 3 months (for conscripts) or longer (for contract soldiers). The training program includes theory and practice of countersniper engagements, artillery spotting and coordination of air support. The first instructors are the graduates of the Solnechnogorsk sniper training centre.
The method of sniper deployment, according to the Ministry of Defence, is likely to be one three-platoon company at the brigade level, with one of the platoons acting independently and the other two supporting the battalions as needed.
Targeting, tactics and techniques
The range to the target is measured or estimated as precisely as conditions permit and correct range estimation becomes absolutely critical at long ranges, because a bullet travels with a curved trajectory and the sniper must compensate for this by aiming higher at longer distances. If the exact distance is not known the sniper may compensate incorrectly and the bullet path may be too high or low. As an example, for a typical military sniping cartridge such as 7.62×51mm NATO (.308 Winchester) M118 Special Ball round this difference (or “drop”) from 700 to 800 meters (770–870 yd) is 200 millimetres (7.9 in). This means that if the sniper incorrectly estimated the distance as 700 meters when the target was in fact 800 meters away, the bullet will be 200 millimeters lower than expected by the time it reaches the target.
Laser rangefinders may be used, and range estimation is often the job of both parties in a team. One useful method of range finding without a laser rangefinder is comparing the height of the target (or nearby objects) to their size on the mil dot scope, or taking a known distance and using some sort of measure (utility poles, fence posts) to determine the additional distance. The average human head is 150 millimeters (5.9 in) in width, average human shoulders are 500 millimeters (20 in) apart and the average distance from a person's pelvis to the top of their head is 1,000 millimeters (39 in).
To determine the range to a target without a laser rangefinder, the sniper may use the mil dot reticle on a scope to accurately find the range. Mil dots are used like a slide rule to measure the height of a target, and if the height is known, the range can be as well. The height of the target (in yards) ×1000, divided by the height of the target (in mils), gives the range in yards. This is only in general, however, as both scope magnification (7×, 40×) and mil dot spacing change. The USMC standard is that 1 mil (that is, 1 milliradian) equals 3.438 MOA (minute of arc, or, equivalently, minute of angle), while the US Army standard is 3.6 MOA, chosen so as to give a diameter of 1 yard at a distance of 1,000 yards (or equivalently, a diameter of 1 meter at a range of 1 kilometer.) Many commercial manufacturers use 3.5, splitting the difference, since it is easier to work with.
At longer ranges, bullet drop plays a significant role in targeting. The effect can be estimated from a chart, which may be memorized or taped to the rifle, although some scopes come with Bullet Drop Compensator (BDC) systems that only require the range be dialed in. These are tuned to both a specific class of rifle and specific ammunition. Every bullet type and load will have different ballistics..308 Federal 175 grain (11.3 g) BTHP match shoots at 2,600 ft/s (790 m/s). Zeroed at 100 yards (100 m), a 16.2 MOA adjustment would have to be made to hit a target at 600 yards (500 m). If the same bullet was shot with 168 grain (10.9 g), a 17.1 MOA adjustment would be necessary.
Shooting uphill or downhill is confusing for many because gravity does not act perpendicular to the direction the bullet is traveling. Thus, gravity must be divided into its component vectors. Only the fraction of gravity equal to the cosine of the angle of fire with respect to the horizon affects the rate of fall of the bullet, with the remainder adding or subtracting negligible velocity to the bullet along its trajectory. To find the correct zero, the sniper multiplies the actual distance to the range by this fraction and aims as if the target were that distance away. For example, a sniper who observes a target 500 meters away at a 45-degree angle downhill would multiply the range by the cosine of 45 degrees, which is 0.707. The resulting distance will be 353 meters. This number is equal to the horizontal distance to the target. All other values, such as windage, time-to-target, impact velocity, and energy will be calculated based on the actual range of 500 meters. Recently, a small device known as a cosine indicator has been developed. This device is clamped to the tubular body of the telescopic sight, and gives an indicative readout in numerical form as the rifle is aimed up or down at the target. This is translated into a figure used to compute the horizontal range to the target.
Windage plays a significant role, with the effect increasing with wind speed or the distance of the shot.
For moving targets, the point-of-aim is ahead of the target in the direction of movement.
The term "hide site" refers to a covered and concealed position from which a sniper and his team can conduct surveillance or fire at targets.
The main purpose of ghillie suits and hide sites is to break up the outline of a person with a rifle.
Many snipers use ghillie suits to hide and stay hidden.
Shot placement, which is where on the body the sniper is aiming, varies with the type of sniper.
Police snipers, who generally shoot at much shorter distances, may attempt a more precise shot at particular parts of body or particular devices: in one incident in 2007 in Marseille, a GIPN sniper took a shot from 80 m (87 yd) at the pistol of a police officer threatening to commit suicide, destroying the weapon and preventing the police officer from killing himself.
In a high-risk or hostage-taking situation where a suspect is imminently threatening to kill a hostage, police snipers may take head shots to ensure an instant kill.
Snipers are trained for the detection, identification, and location of a targeted soldier in sufficient detail to permit the effective employment of lethal and non-lethal means.
The targets may be personnel or high-value materiel (military equipment and weapons) but most often they target the most important enemy personnel such as officers or specialists (e.g. communications operators) so as to cause maximum disruption to enemy operations. Other personnel they might target include those who pose an immediate threat to the sniper, like dog handlers, who are often employed in a search for snipers. A sniper identifies officers by their appearance and behavior such as symbols of rank, talking to radio operators, sitting as a passenger in a car, sitting in a car with a large radio antenna, having military servants, binoculars/map cases or talking and moving position more frequently. If possible, snipers shoot in descending order by rank, or if rank is unavailable, they shoot to disrupt communications.
Some rifles, such as the Denel NTW-20 and Vidhwansak, are designed for a purely anti-materiel (AM) role, e.g. shooting turbine disks of parked aircraft, missile guidance packages, expensive optics, and the bearings, tubes or wave guides of radar sets. A sniper equipped with the correct rifle can target radar dishes, water containers, the engines of vehicles, and any number of other targets. Other rifles, such as the.50 caliber rifles produced by Barrett and McMillan, are not designed exclusively as AM rifles, but are often employed in such a way, providing the range and power needed for AM applications in a lightweight package compared to most traditional AM rifles. Other calibers, such as the .408 Cheyenne Tactical and the.338 Lapua Magnum, are designed to be capable of limited AM application, but are ideally suited as long range anti-personnel rounds.
Often in situations with multiple targets, snipers use relocation.
As sniper rifles are often extremely powerful and consequently loud, it is common for snipers to use a technique known as sound masking. When employed by a highly skilled marksman, this tactic can be used as a substitute for a noise suppressor. Very loud sounds in the environment, such as artillery shells air bursting or claps of thunder, can often mask the sound of the shot. This technique is frequently used in clandestine operations, infiltration tactics, and guerrilla warfare.
Due to the surprise nature of sniper fire, high lethality of aimed shots and frustration at the inability to locate and counterattack snipers, sniper tactics have a significant negative effect on morale.
Historically, captured snipers are often summarily executed. This happened during World War I, and World War II, for example the second Biscari Massacre when 36 suspected snipers were lined up and shot on 14 July 1943.
As a result, if a sniper is in imminent danger of capture, he may discard any items (sniper rifle, laser rangefinder, etc.) which might indicate his status as a sniper.
The negative reputation and perception of snipers can be traced back to the American Revolution, when American "Marksmen" intentionally targeted British officers, an act considered uncivilized by the British Army at the time (this reputation was cemented during the Battle of Saratoga, when Benedict Arnold allegedly ordered his marksmen to target British General Simon Fraser, an act that won the battle and French support). The British side used specially selected sharpshooters as well, often German mercenaries.
To demoralize enemy troops, snipers can follow predictable patterns.
The occurrence of sniper warfare has led to the evolution of many counter-sniper tactics in modern military strategies.
The risk of damage to a chain of command can be reduced by removing or concealing features that would otherwise indicate an officer's rank.
Friendly snipers can be used to hunt the enemy sniper.
The more rounds fired by a sniper, the greater the chance the target has of locating him.
Other tactics include directing artillery or mortar fire onto suspected sniper positions, the use of smoke screens, placing tripwire-operated munitions, mines, or other booby-traps near suspected sniper positions. Even dummy trip-wires can be placed to hamper sniper movement. If anti-personnel mines are unavailable, it is possible to improvise booby-traps by connecting trip-wires to hand grenades, smoke grenades or flares. Though these may not kill a sniper, they will reveal their location. Booby-trap devices can be placed near likely sniper hides, or along the probable routes to and from positions. Knowledge of sniper field-craft will assist in this task.
Irregular and asymmetric warfare
The use of sniping (in the sense of shooting at relatively long range from a concealed position) to murder came to public attention in a number of sensational U.S. criminal cases, including the Austin sniper incident of 1966 (Charles Whitman), the John F. Kennedy assassination (Lee Harvey Oswald), and the Beltway sniper attacks of late 2002 (Lee Boyd Malvo). However, these incidents usually do not involve the range or skill of military snipers; in all three cases the perpetrators had U.S. military training, but in other specialties. News reports will often (inaccurately) use the term sniper to describe anyone shooting with a rifle at another person.
Sniping has been used in asymmetric warfare situations, for example in the Northern Ireland Troubles, where in 1972, the bloodiest year of the conflict, the majority of the soldiers killed were shot by concealed IRA riflemen. There were some instances in the early 1990s of British soldiers and RUC personnel being shot with.50 caliber Barrett rifles by sniper teams collectively known as the South Armagh sniper.
The sniper is particularly suited to combat environments where one side is at a disadvantage.
Snipers are less likely to be treated mercifully than non-snipers if captured by the enemy. The rationale for this is that ordinary soldiers shoot at each other at 'equal opportunity' whilst snipers take their time in tracking and killing individual targets in a methodical fashion with a relatively low risk of retaliation.
In 2003, the U.S.-led multinational coalition composed of primarily U.S. and UK troops occupied Iraq and attempted to establish a new government in the country.
Training materials obtained by U.S. intelligence had among its tips for shooting U.S. troops, "Killing doctors and chaplains is suggested as a means of psychological warfare.", suggesting that those casualties would demoralize entire units.
Some sniper teams in Afghanistan have killed large numbers of Taliban in quite short periods of time. For example, while in Helmand Province, two British snipers (part of the Welsh Guards Battle group) shot dead a total of 75 Taliban in only 40 days during the summer of 2009. In one session of duty, lasting just two hours, they shot and killed eight Taliban. On another occasion, the same team scored a "Quigley" (i.e., killing two Taliban with a single bullet) at a range of 196 metres.
Taliban snipers have themselves caused problems for coalition forces.
Sniper activity was reported during the Arab Spring civil unrest in Libya in 2011, both from anti-governmental and pro-governmental supporters, and in Syria at least from pro-government forces.
Notable military marksmen and snipers
- Lord Brooke, who represented the Parliamentarians in the English Civil War, was the first recorded British sniper victim, killed by a Royalist soldier hiding in a bell tower in Lichfield.
- Timothy Murphy (American Revolutionary War) – killed British General Simon Fraser during the pivotal Battle of Saratoga, hampering the British advance which helped cause them to lose the battle.
- Patrick Ferguson (American Revolutionary War) – developer of the world's first breech-loaded military rifle (which advanced sniping and sharpshooting tactics), fought with his Corps of Riflemen (recruited from the 6th and 14th Foot) at the Battle of Brandywine, where he may have passed up a chance to shoot George Washington.
- Napoleonic Wars – Use of Marine sharpshooters in the mast tops was common usage in navies of the period, and Admiral Nelson's death at Trafalgar is attributed to the actions of French sharpshooters. The British Army developed the concept of directed fire (as opposed to massive unaimed volleys) and formed Rifle regiments, notably the 95th and the 60th who wore green jackets instead of the usual redcoats. Fighting as Skirmishers, usually in pairs and trusted to choose their own targets, they wrought havoc amongst the French during the Peninsular War.
- British Rifleman Thomas Plunkett (Peninsular war) – shot French General Colbert and one of his aides at a range of between 200 and 600 metres (219 and 656 yd) using a Baker rifle.
- Colonel Hiram Berdan (American Civil War) – commanded 1st and 2nd US Sharpshooters, who were trained and equipped Union marksmen with the.52 caliber Sharps Rifle. It has been claimed that Berdan's units killed more enemies than any other in the Union Army.
- Jack Hinson (American Civil War) recorded 36 "kills" on his custom-made.50 caliber Kentucky long rifle with iron sights.
- During the American Civil War, an unidentified Confederate sniper shot Major General John Sedgwick during the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House probably with a British Whitworth target rifle at the then-incredible distance of minimum 730 metres (798 yd). Ben Powell of the 12th South Carolina claimed credit, although his account has been discounted because the general he shot at with a Whitworth rifled musket was mounted, probably Brig Gen. William H. Morris. Union troops from the 6th Vermont claim to have shot an unidentified sharpshooter as they crossed the fields seeking revenge. The shooting of Sedgewick caused administrative delays in the Union's attack and led to Confederate victory. Sedgwick ignored advice to take cover, his last words according to urban legend being, "They couldn't hit an elephant at this dist-", whereupon he was shot. In reality, he was shot a few minutes later.
- Major Frederick Russell Burnham – assassinated Mlimo, the Ndebele religious leader, in his cave in Matobo Hills, Rhodesia, effectively ending the Second Matabele War (1896). Burnham started as a cowboy and Indian tracker in the American Old West, but he left the United States to scout in Africa and went on to command the British Army Scouts in the Second Boer War. For his ability to track, even at night, the Africans dubbed him, He-who-sees-in-the-dark, but in the press he became more widely known as England's American Scout.
- Billy Sing (World War I) – An Australian sniper with at least 150 confirmed kills during the Gallipoli Campaign; he may have had close to 300 kills in total at Gallipoli, and went on to fight at the Western Front.
- Francis Pegahmagabow (World War I) – Native Canadian sniper credited with 378 kills, and an unknown number of unconfirmed kills. He only took credit for kills when they were verified by an officer.
- Finnish Lance Corporal Simo Häyhä, nicknamed "White Death", was a sniper during the Winter War and is regarded by many as the most effective sniper in the history of warfare, being credited with killing up to 705 (505 sniper kills, and estimated 200 sub-machine gun kills) Soviet soldiers accomplished in fewer than 100 days. Häyhä used a White Guard M/28 "Pystykorva" or "Spitz", variant of the Russian Mosin–Nagant rifle.
- Mihail Ilyich Surkov has been said to have killed 702 enemy troops, Vladimir Gavrilovich Salbiev with 601 confirmed kills, Vasilij Kvachantiradze with 534 and Ivan Sidorenko with ~500.
- Lieutenant Lyudmila Pavlichenko (World War II) – female Soviet sniper with 309 confirmed kills, making her the most successful female sniper in history.
- Junior Lieutenant Vasily Zaytsev (World War II) – credited with killing about 200 German soldiers during the Battle of Stalingrad, he is portrayed in the film Enemy at the Gates and in the book War of the Rats
- Semen Nomokonov killed 367 persons, including a general.
- Gefreiter (Private) Matthäus Hetzenauer (World War II) – Austrian sniper who was credited with 345 confirmed kills on the Eastern Front, the most successful in the Wehrmacht.
- Obergefreiter (Private First Class) Josef 'Sepp' Allerberger (World War II) – Austrian sniper credited with 257 confirmed kills on the Eastern Front. (the same situation as has Hetzenauer – German officers seldom confirmed kills).
- Klavdiya Kalugina – Soviet sniper in the Second World War, entered active service at age 17 in March 1944, fighting on the 3rd Belorussian Front as one of the youngest women snipers. She is credited with 28 confirmed kills.
- Helmut Wirnsberger – German sniper, who has served in 3. Gebirgsjaegerdivision during WW II and credited 64 confirmed kills.
- Chinese Sergeant Tung Chih Yeh claimed to have shot and killed over 100 Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) soldiers using a Chiang Kai-Shek rifle in around Yangtze during the Second Sino-Japanese War.
- Zhang Taofang (Chinese: 张桃芳; Traditional Chinese: 張桃芳; Wade–Giles: Zhang Tao-fang) was a Chinese soldier during the Korean War. He is credited with 214 confirmed kills in 32 days without using a sniper magnifying scope.
- Clive Hulme was a New Zealand recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. He is credited with stalking and killing 33 German snipers in the Battle of Crete.
- Ian Robertson served as a sniper with Australia's 3RAR post World War II. He became one of the most effective snipers during the Korean War where in one instance he killed 30 enemies in a single morning.
- Roza Shanina – Soviet sniper during World War II, credited with 59 confirmed kills, including twelve soldiers during the Battle of Vilnius.
- Gunnery Sergeant Carlos Hathcock (Vietnam War) – achieved 93 confirmed kills but believed to have over 200 unconfirmed kills. With a telescopic-scoped.50 caliber M2 Browning heavy machine gun, he set a world record for the longest recorded sniper kill at 2,286 m (2,500 yd) which stood for 35 years until 2002.
- Chuck Mawhinney (Vietnam War) – 103 confirmed and 216 probable kills.
- Adelbert F. Waldron III (Vietnam War) – achieved 109 confirmed kills.
- Master Sgt. Gary Gordon and Sgt. First Class Randy Shughart (Somalia: Operation Gothic Serpent) – were Delta Force snipers who were awarded the Medal of Honor for their fatal attempt to protect the injured crew of a downed helicopter during the Battle of Mogadishu. This action was later dramatized in the film Black Hawk Down
- British Army CoH Craig Harrison of the Household Cavalry successfully engaged two Taliban machine gunners south of Musa Qala in Helmand Province in Afghanistan in November 2009 at a range of 2,475 m (2,707 yd), using an L115A3 Long Range Rifle rifle chambered in .338 Lapua Magnum. These were the longest recorded and confirmed sniper kills in history.
- Canadian Corporal Rob Furlong, formerly of the PPCLI (Operation Anaconda, Afghanistan) – achieved a recorded and confirmed sniper kill at 2,430 m (2,657 yd) in 2002 using a .50 caliber (12.7 mm) McMillan TAC-50 rifle.
- Canadian Master Corporal Arron Perry, formerly of the PPCLI (Operation Anaconda, Afghanistan) – briefly held the record for the longest recorded and confirmed sniper kill at 2,310 m (2,526 yd) in 2002 after eclipsing US Marine Gunnery Sergeant Carlos Hathcock's previous record established in 1967. Perry used a .50 caliber (12.7 mm) McMillan TAC-50 rifle.
- U.S. Navy Chief Chris Kyle of SEAL Team Three, during four deployments to Iraq between 2003 and 2009, had 255 kills, 160 of which are confirmed by the Pentagon. With the force of the confirmation, and in popular mythology that he be the holder of a title, the figure takes Kyle to being the deadliest marksman in US military history. During the Second Battle of Fallujah alone, when US Marines fought running battles in the streets with several thousand insurgents, he killed 40 enemy personnel. For his deadly record as a marksman during his deployment to Ramadi, the insurgents named him 'Al-Shaitan Ramad' – the Devil of Rahmadi – and put a $20,000 bounty on his head. His most feted shot came outside Sadr City in 2008 when he shot an insurgent with a rocket launcher near an Army convoy with his .338 Lapua Magnum rifle at 1,920 m (2,100 yd). Kyle was honorably discharged in 2009, and on February 2, 2013, was murdered at a shooting range along with another victim in Texas by a Marine veteran suffering from PTSD. Subject of the movie American Sniper
- British Army Corporal Christopher Reynolds of the 3rd. battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland, the Black Watch, shot and killed a Taliban commander at a range of 1,853 m (2,026 yd) using a .338 Lapua Magnum (8.6 mm) L115A3 rifle.
- U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Steve Reichert – Killed an Iraqi insurgent and possibly injured two more hiding behind a brick wall with a shot from 1 mile in Lutayfiyah, Iraq on 9 April 2004.
- U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Jim Gilliland – Previously held the record for the longest recorded confirmed kill with a 7.62×51mm NATO rifle at 1,250 m (1,367 yd) with a M24, while engaging an Iraqi insurgent sniper in Ramadi, Iraq on 27 September 2005.
- U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Timothy L. Kellner – regarded as one of the top snipers still active in the U.S. Army, with 78 confirmed kills during the Iraq War and 3 in Haiti.
- Canadian Master Corporal Graham Ragsdale using a 7.62mm C-3 registered 20 confirmed kills over ten days during Operation Anaconda.
- Sri Lankan Army Sniper, Corporal I.R. Premasiri alias "Nero", of the 5th Battalion in the Gajaba Regiment has 180 confirmed Tamil Tigers kills.
- Iraqi insurgent "Juba", a sniper who features in several propaganda videos. Juba has allegedly shot 37 American soldiers, although whether Juba is a real individual is unknown. He may be a constructed composite of a number of insurgent snipers.
- Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith VC MG of the Australian Special Air Service Regiment was awarded the Medal of Gallantry for his actions in 2006 during Operation Perth in the Chora Valley of Oruzgan Province, Afghanistan. In that action, patrol sniper Roberts-Smith prevented an outnumbered patrol from being overrun by anti-coalition militia with sniper fire. Subsequently, in early 2011, he became the second Australian to be awarded the Victoria Cross on Operation Slipper in Afghanistan. During the Shah Wali Kot Offensive in June 2010, having provided sniper over-watch for ground forces from a helicopter with a M14 EBR rifle, Roberts-Smith was placed into a firefight by helicopter and subsequently eliminated machine gun positions.
- U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Justin Morales – As part of the U.S.
- U.S. Army SPC Christopher Dale Abbott- As part of a U.S.
- During May 2017, in Iraq a Canadian Army Joint Task Force 2 sniper using a McMillan Tac-50 sniper rifle set a new world record for the longest confirmed kill shot at a distance of 3,540 m (3,871 yd). The shot was fired from a high-rise building and the bullet travelled for "under 10 seconds" before hitting the target, an ISIS insurgent.
- Popular Mobilization Forces volunteer Abu Tahsin al-Salhi, was a Shia Iraqi veteran sniper with 350 confirmed ISIS kills.
- Israeli Police YAMAM sniper Pascal Yom-Tov Avraami – decorated with the police Medal of Bravery and two Medals of Valor. During his service in the Israeli counter-terrorism unit he killed many terrorists. He was killed in action on 2011 at the age of 49.