Army snipers prove that in high tech battlefields, the most dangerous weapon is the mind

Jack Murphy
April 27, 2020 - 10:06 am
Army Sniper

Photo by Master Sgt. Becky Vanshur

On a future battlefield, a U.S. Army sniper team silently stalks the enemy. In a large scale urban military operation, the United States no longer maintains air superiority. Drones get shot down or jammed overhead. An invisible electronic warfare environment exists, cast like a net over the entire battlespace which renders everything from radios to GPS inoperable.

However, the 21st-century sniper kills the enemy with bolt and semi-automatic rifles — technology that is a hundred years old and relies on no electronics. First and foremost though, the sniper is a reconnaissance expert. He sketches the battlefield with a pencil and paper, making accurate and detailed observations about enemy command and control hubs, armored vehicles, and chokepoints such as bridges.

If the sniper can identify the enemy's electronic jamming equipment, he can even take it out with large caliber anti-material rifles, paving the way for American troop formations to push into the city, now able to make full use of their high-tech arsenal.

The sniper is often over glamorized by Hollywood and a public oddly obsessed with the notion of a highly trained shooter who can place a precision shot on a single enemy at a great distance. Resource-poor forces in Syria and Ukraine have over-relied on snipers as they are not able to bring to bear the sort of combined arms strike packages that the United States does. However, these conflicts do demonstrate that many future battlefields will continue to be dominated by precision marksman and school trained snipers.

Army sniper training
Photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret

The U.S. Army sniper school has taken note of these developments and now aims to prepare for the future.

“Given their inherent low-tech nature, the sniper is an extremely effective counter to enemy electromagnetic capabilities,” several sniper school instructors wrote for Infantry Magazine. “Snipers can be employed in the contested electromagnetic environment where GPS-guided unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) fail to hunt for and neutralize adversary EW systems, and snipers can also minimize their own electromagnetic signature to avoid detection.”

To this end, the Army sees sniper teams as able to infiltrate into that invisible electronic warfare net cast over the battlefield, and using low-tech means, eliminate it so that the main force can then follow on.

“Snipers can move in 48-72 hours prior to the brigade’s movement and begin disrupting enemy formations within the cities and identifying obstacles and bypasses,” sniper instructors write. They describe how sniper teams can then soften up the enemy by taking out enemy observation posts, dog teams, roving patrols, communications antennas, mortar and machine gun teams, and pinpointing target for indirect mortar or artillery fire.

Army sniper instructors point out that sniper teams can even be effective at stymieing enemy armored vehicles. While they may not be able to penetrate the armor itself, they can kill exposed crew members forcing the survivors to button up inside their vehicles. From there, the sniper can start shooting out the tank's optics and periscopes. And while thermal imaging has been a game-changer on the battlefield, it is just one more friction that snipers will have to contend with as counter-measures do exist.

In a high tech world of joystick operators engaging in push-button warfare, the sniper of the future may very well prove that the world's most dangerous weapon is the human mind, especially the one that knows how to weaponize science and math to calculate long distance ballistics.

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