The sniper rifle is a precise shooting weapon equipped with optical sight and is intended for the performance of special purpose tasks. Such a weapon differs from an ordinary one by optical sight, adjustable and softer trigger mechanism, better quality and construction of tubes, special stock making and the use of special ammunition. When talking about the precision of a particular weapon, it is important to point out that the sniper weapon is only half the guarantee of a precision target hitting, while the other half is the ammunition used by the weapon. If the quality of weapons or ammunition is insufficient, it is not possible to deal with the possibility of precision strikes in the long run. Specially constructed sniper rifles allow for targeting in very large distances, sometimes more than 2,000 m.
Along with all the finest equipment, a well-trained and expert soldier is needed to achieve the goal, because when the task is too hard for a regular soldier, sniper shooters are invited. The sniper is usually an officer, a soldier with special abilities, special training and equipment, whose duty is to destroy with a high precision a strictly determined target that cannot be otherwise affected for distance, size, location, visibility, etc.
The ability to conceal, the skill to survive in hard conditions, patience, calmness, strong nerves, and of course the ability to hit the target from a distance are the characteristics that good snipers must have. There are numerous examples in the history of warfare that confirm that only one armed soldier with these characteristics might be more useful than a tank. Snipers are inherent in being able to cling to the enemy division very easily and almost seamlessly. They are very well trained for scouting and observing the situation so that they can work best at the right time. Their primary goal is to seamlessly eliminate the enemy without much crowd and noise.
The word "sniper" began to be used among the units in British India, according to a legend from the time of the 1770s. The word was used by British officers who, in their free time, went to hunt the "Gallinago gallinago" bird, the snipe bird in English. The bird was very difficult to guess because it has very good camouflage properties and a complicated i.e. unique flight style. The bird is extremely fast and hard to hit, so the officers who were skilled and precise in hunting them were called snipers. Over time, this concept spread to the entire British army, signifying a trained shooter, with the great skill in defeating, and the ability to hit the target with the first fired shot. Before the word sniper came in use, the word - sharpshooter (a sharp shooter) was widespread up to the time of the American Civil War (1861-1865).
Sniping activities take root from the far past. The old records report that they were applied during the American Civil War in 1861, as well as in Russia during the Russo-Turkish War in 1790. In Germany, their widespread application began at the end of the 19th century. The word sniper started to be used more frequently in the world at the time of World War I, and the word was established and fully accepted in World War II. By the end of 1945, most of the armies used sniper rifles as special models of their standard rifles. Thus, in the Soviet Army, the old Mosin Model 1891/1930 rifles and semi-automatic rifles Tokarev SVT40 were modified for sniping. The US Army first used the sniper rifle M1903A4 to replace the later models with optical sights M1C and M1D.The Rifle 98 and Springfield were also used as good sniper rifles, although nearly all Russian snipers used the Mosin-Nagant rifle.
After World War II, significant efforts were made both in the East and in the West to develop new sniper rifles. For example, we can point out that during the Vietnam War, due to the specificity of the combat mode, the 7.62 mm M14 shotgun rifle got an optical pendant mount. So theoretically, each of these rifles could serve as a "sniper" if needed. Still, just an optical sight is not enough to make a rifle a sniper rifle.
Although the existence of the optical sight is the most visible difference, the sniper rifles have generally better quality tubes, especially shaped stocks, lighter and more specially trigger set-up, a different bullet container, and more precisely manufactured parts and mechanisms.
By today's standards, every shotgun with its optical or optical-electronic sight can be called sniper. A common feature for all types of sniper rifles is the increased accuracy of the fire on the required ranges compared to the standard weapon, so it is highly probable that the requirements for a first hit will be met. From a technical point of view, the increased precision of sniper rifles (regardless of the type and the ammunition caliber they are using) with respect to standard weapons is achieved by more precise production of vital parts of the weapon (e.g. the rifle tube itself, bullet tube and muzzle), by the choice of thicker pipes, shutter, lower force and shutter equality, anatomically shaped and adapted to the stock and embedded optical - electronic sight.
Regarding the sniper rifle mode, they can be automatic, semi-automatic or repetitive. With automatic sniper rifles the gunpowder energy is exploited to replenish the weapon and fire the next bullet, as long as the trigger is pressed by the shooter or while there are bullets in the tank. In semiautomatic sniper rifles, gunpowder energy is exploited to recharge the weapon, and for each shot it is necessary to retract the trigger. In repetitive sniper rifles, after each shot, a shutter is manually activated to bring the bullet into the cradle and at the same time force the trigger.
Some military experts think that a number of targets per single sniper occurring in modern warfare can be very big, which requires quick action and therefore semi-automatic and automatic sniper rifles are a better solution. Others think that only repetitive snipers can achieve the ultimate precision of shooting. Classical military sniper rifles are divided into two tactical categories - sniper rifles used to support battlefield units and sniper rifles for precise shooting at great distances.
One of the important parts of the sniper rifle is definitely a stock. Its shape is conditioned by the position of the optical sight itself, which is located at a relatively large distance above the tube, and the desire to shake the rifle as little as possible. Therefore, with most sniper rifles, the upper surface of the stock is aligned with the longitudinal axis of the tube. The stock and all the other wooden parts have been replaced by synthetic ones by most manufacturers. They have proved to be much more durable and more resistant to weather influences than wood, with minimal deformations to strong temperature oscillations and changes in humidity.
High-quality sniper rifles are equipped with bipods (stand) that can easily be put on or removed from the rifle and the height can be adjusted. The foot construction must allow the rifle to rotate to the left and right side for a certain angle (usually up to 15 degrees) and lateral tilting. Some sniper rifles can also be fitted with a silencer. Most of them are just about reducing the noise level that is generated due to the leakage of gunpowder gases from the tube, while the noise created by the ultrasonic movement of the bullet is not eliminated. The result is that the enemy can hear a shot but can not determine the location where a shootout is coming, which is, however, a great advantage for snipers. Some manufacturers make the so-called silenced sniper rifles in which the tube is drilled to reduce the initial bullet speed and the silencer forms a whole with a rifle.
Mechanical sights used by most standard automatic rifles can not meet the requirements of the sniper rifles, and they are completely removed from most modern sniper rifles. Of course, the development of sniper rifles has also brought to the development of optical sights, which in the second half of the twentieth century were virtually perfected. A range of optical-electronic sighting devices have been introduced, enabling effective night-time shooting and underwater visibility conditions (e.g. active and passive IC sights, thermal sights etc.) and quick and precise distance-to-target alignment (laser sights) . That's why all sniper rifles have optical sights to help them better identify targets, especially in large distances, and to pinpoint more precisely. Another important feature of these sights is the ability to zoom in or out, which can be permanent or changeable.
Since ammunition is one of the most important factors affecting the precision of shooting, sniper shooters use the higher quality bullets whose ballistic features are more uniform than from standard ones. It is well known that the same caliber bullet traits differ from series to series, and especially among different manufacturers. Therefore, when using different bullets (other weight and shape), the sniper rifle should be fired again.
The basic difference between sniper and classical ammunition is the quality of gunpowder filling and higher ballistic quality of bullet. More attention is paid to bullet production itself during production than for bullets of ordinary ammunition. This to some extent increases the cost of sniper rifle production but improves its quality. In the NATO countries sniper rifles use a 7.62 x 51 mm bullet (also known as 308 Winchester), while in the former Warsaw Convention ones the use of a shot was 7.62 x 54R. The bullet 7.62 x 51 mm (number 51 denotes the length of the bullet sleeve) was developed in the early 1950s. It has become the NATO's standard bullet and has a very wide application. The Russian bullet 7.62 x 54R is one of the oldest bullets still used because it was introduced in the armament in 1891. It differs from other bullets in a different shape of the sleeve, but also in a huge maximum range. Other types of bullets are much less used.
The accuracy of a rifle mostly depends on the construction and quality of the design (especially the tubes), and the accuracy of the quality of the sight. The theoretical accuracy of the shooting is ideal when the middle hit fits with the middle goal or the chosen point on it. The precision of a rifle is determined by the size of scattered hits and the proportions of that size according to the tabular norms. Both the accuracy and the precision of the sniper rifle are necessary, but it is not enough for the target to be hit. It requires a well-trained shooter - a sniper. The two largest variables that affect the path of the bullet are wind and gravity forces, which the sniper and the spotter must necessarily have to consider when assessing the distance of the target. Regardless of the strength of the rifle, the gravitational force begins to affect the bullet at the same time as it leaves the tube and makes a vault to the the target. Thus, it compensates for the path where the "overshooting" target is being made, which means that in order to hit the target, the optical sight is adjusted so that the muzzle of the rifle while shooting is directed above the target.
The sight adjustments use certain mathematical formulas, as well as the sniper and spotter's experience, and techniques are practised on a daily basis so that in real combat compensation is made automatically by feeling (from experience). As with gravitational influence, the sniper together with the spotter adapt the sight to exclude the effects of wind on the bullet path. Indicators such as smoke or blown leaves, etc. are often used to better assess the speed of wind. The bullet path is also influenced by the air temperature, as the cold air thickens and provides higher bullet resistance, as well as the air moisture itself.
To show what elite soldiers snipers are, it is enough to say that only the best individuals of a particular military unit are selected for training. When nominating candidates, the authorities are not only looking for great shooters, since many soldiers are fairly good at arms, but those who are responsible and who, in the most difficult situations, are able to make a cold head decision, ie. the best possible decision at that moment, because the lives of their peers may depend on them.
The sniper training is a long and complicated job because the high risk of combat requires high level of training and high motivation. Proper selection of humans, the kind and caliber of the weapon, optical sights, as well as other equipment used by snipers, play a very important role. The sniper candidate is required to have good body constitution, ability to comprehend and concentrate, and a balanced and peaceful character. Selected candidates first go through basic training, which lasts about two to three months (depending on the particular army), during which they acquire the knowledge they will need in the field. Candidates pass mental preparation, shooting exercises, but also certain "games" on polygons that simulate real-world "action" in order to always be prepared for all situations. Additionally, there is also training in classrooms, during which candidates get acquainted with tactics, distance estimation, and various variables affecting the path of the bullet and the like. From the group of 12 to 20 candidates who passed the basic training, on average, only a third of them go to further training ie. to another "advanced" training. All snipers also have to continue training and refresh it to perfection.
The sniper tactic is different from country to country. For example, American snipers mostly work in pairs (so called binomial), covering each other with fire and movement. Russian snipers mostly operate independently within the shooting lines, and if necessary sniper groups are formed to destroy particularly important targets. In the British Army, snipers act mainly as individual shooters who are most often given the primary task, and the actualization is left to their personal initiative. The German army is mostly formed by sniper groups of three to five snipers, while independent shooters are rare and in this case they are mostly very experienced snipers.
Basically, the snipers are usually sent in a group of three (so-called triangles) of which two are snipers, one plays the role of the shooter and the other helps him as a spotter, while the third soldier has the role of protection. Sometimes, for some goals, several sniper teams are sent, e.g. three teams of two or two to three teams of three soldiers, who aim for the same target. They surround the target, ie. they are placed in different positions according to their capabilities depending on the terrain configuration, and they shoot at the target from multiple sides at the same time. In military terminology such association of sniper teams is known as the wolf pack. War clashes, especially in the last decades, confirm the need for good shooters - snipers, whose actions are extremely convenient and effective for the weaker side, while the dominant side of the conflict generally uses for counter-sniper and anti-guerrilla actions. Although it is commonly believed that snipers are a part of the elite units, which in essence they are, in many armies corps are not respected enough. The reason for this lies in the fact that snipers operate from a long distance and undercover, and in the opinion of some officers from the "old military school" such covert operation and from such a distance - is not honourable enough for a brave soldier (military code of honour).
More recently, mainly due to the different modes of warfare, this has been gradually changing. So nowadays a sniper soldier is increasingly respected and takes a special place in all the armies. How this branch of army is difficult and dangerous is best illustrated with the fact that, when soldiers are captured, the so-called Geneva Convention on Prisoners of War is applied only for snipers.
It can be certainly stated that the snipers have influenced the events of the war and have largely changed the way of warfare. Already from the first known archers that entered the legend as eg. the Irish soldier Thomas Plunkett, who in 1809, during the Spanish War, struck General August M.F. Colbert from a distance of 600 meters, although the rifles at that time had only about 50 meters range. There is also a legend from 1864 when a certain Sergeant Grace took his famous shot. Namely, at the time when General John Sedgwick told, during the battle at Spotsylvania, his soldiers that they had nothing to fear because "They could not hit an elephant from that distance ",Sergeant Grace hit him from as many as 900 meters distance.
One of the eight civilians who won a medal of honour in American history was a great shooter William Dixon. Dixon, during the defense of Adobe Wall in Texas from the Indian invasion in 1874, hit an Indian from a distance of 1500 meters. Captain Francis Pegahmagabow, a Canadian Indian from the Oxburg tribe in Ontario, who had survived the entire war of 1914-1918, was also a famous shooter. His custom was that when the night came down he would crawl from a trench to no man land, from where he shot the German soldiers.
There are some other legendary shooters – snipers that deserve to be mentioned like the Finnish sniper Simo Hayha (1905-2002) who, during the Winter War against Russia (1939 - 1940), killed 505 enemies in 98 days. During the war, Hayha was 33 years old, and the enemies were silently attacked from hidden positions in the snow that were even 275 meters away. He is also known for not using an optical sight, and he used to keep the position at extremely low temperatures from -20 to -35 degrees. Hayha used a Mosin - Nagant rifle.
Another one is the famous Russian sniper Vasly G. Zaytsev (1915-1991), who got the fame during World War II in the Battle of Stalingrad.
There are even women to be found among snipers, and the best example is of the Ukrainian Lyudmila Pavlichenko (1916 - 1974), who had just become a sniper at the age of 24 in the Russian army during the World War II when she killed 307 German soldiers, including 39 German snipers. Lyudmila was also known for being able not to move from a certain position for more than 15 hours. The Russian sniper shooter Ivan M. Sidorenko (1919 -1994) during the World War II killed 500 German soldiers and was celebrated at the Battle of Moscow.
The Chinese sniper Dzang Teofang gained fame in the Korean War. In the Vietnam War, the American sniper Carlos Hathcock (1942-1999) was particularly prominent. His 2,886-meter-long shot was 36 years „the best" hit in history. He was also known for reaching the enemy by hiding for four days. The fame was also achieved by the soldier K.H. (secret -still active) from the British military cavalry who killed an enemy in Afghanistan in 2009 from 2,475 m distance.The other important snipers worth mentioning are: the Canadian Sniper R.F. (secret - still active) with a shot of 2,403 m, as well as A.P. (secret -still active) with a 2,310 m shot; the Sniper B.K., Sergeant B.K. (secret - still active), who in 2004 shot an enemy soldier from the roof of the building with a distance of 2,300 m. Also, the US sniper Chris Kayl (1973-2013) has an outstanding position, killing 255 enemy soldiers. The longest hit in Iraq was carried by an „unnamed" Canadian (his name is a military secret, still active) who shot the enemy from a distance of as much as 3,450 m.
More recently, there have been international sniper racing events, such as the "Sniper Border" competition held in Kazakhstan, where 12 countries participated. There is also an international sniper competition organized by American Marines called Trophy - Silent Warrior.
Russian armourers have recently introduced a new modernized sniper SVLK-14 Twilight for long-range fire. The Russian sniper "Twilight" broke the previous world record, which was set in the United States and was 4,150 m, hitting the target at a distance of 4,210 m.
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