Tuesday, December 28, 2010


The war in Afghanistan has shown the faulty thinking that soldiers never need to shoot past 300 yards, and that the 5.56x55mm round and an assault rifle are all a grunt could ever want or need. Of course, the US Army didn’t always think that way.

Army Talks, Feb 1945: “The new German automatic carbine, encountered during the recent counter-offensive, proved no match for the M-1 rifle. The carbine produces a considerable volume of fire but is quite inaccurate and lacks range.”
This British report from 2009 echoes those 1945 sentiments even after 60+ years of development of and improvements to the intermediate caliber sturmgewehr.
“Official and anecdotal reports provided by British, American, German and other NATO allies have all surfaced the same common complaints suggesting that issues fall into four categories as follows:
• Ineffectiveness at long range
• Inconsistent wounding effect
• Poor intermediate barrier penetration
• Ease of deflection
In the open and undulating countryside of Afghanistan, Taliban forces frequently engage ISAF units at distances beyond 300 metres. Using Russian made sniper rifles and machine guns firing high-powered 7.62 mm ammunition (equivalent in performance to the 7.62 mm NATO), the enemy can engage allied forces at ranges of up to 900 metres. Equipped with SA80 weapons firing 5.56 mm ammunition, British troops are unable to return fire because the effectiveness of small calibre 5.56 mm rounds diminishes rapidly at ranges beyond 300 metres; even the long-barrelled L86 light support weapon is ineffective beyond 400 metres.”
The average small arms engagement range in Afghanistan has become 500 meters. The jihadists are evil but not stupid; they can blast away at that range and need not fear the M203 40mm grenades (max range 400 meters) nor much from 5.56mm weapons. They are rediscovering full power old school military rounds like the 7.62x54Rmm and the .303 British, among others. In particular, large numbers of PK-series machine guns are being used. In one battle, it was estimated that one in four men out of the TAQ force was armed with a PKM.
Fortunately, the TAQ boys use the PKM the same way they do the AK-47:
1. Point weapon in the general direction of the infidels.
2. Ask Allah to guide your bullets.
3. Pull trigger until weapon stops firing.
4. Thank Allah for anything you happen to hit, animal, vegetable, or mineral, and declare it an infidel.
5. Reload weapon and repeat process.
Unfortunately, a few real shooters are reappearing amongst the jihadists. Some apparently are just a few old school boys shooting open-sighted .303 Lee-Enfields. Others appear to be Chechens armed with SVD’s. And the opium growers who are in tight with the Taliban are able to purchase the best weapons money can buy, including state-of-the-art Western sniper rifles.
One of the reasons (besides piss poor marksmanship training after 1945) for the whole “no need to shoot beyond 300 meters” rationale was the difficulty of target detection and acquisition with the naked eye. The WWII German Wehrmacht was the first to realize this and take steps toward distributing telescopic sights to as many riflemen as possible, not just snipers.
“There seems to be a general but incorrect impression that our sniper rifles improve the marksmanship of men who are only moderately good shots. These rifles are provided with telescopes only to make more distinct those targets which are not clearly visible to the naked eye.”
“Increasing the allotment of telescopic sights to riflemen strengthensthe fire power of the squad and favors the more frequent firing of single shots. Concentration of the fire of all rifles with telescopic sights to overpower important single targets (enemy leaders, observation posts, and machine guns) can be of particular advantage before and during an attack, and also in defense.”

Not a true sniper rifle, the Germans equipped many 7.92mm K98k Mausers with the Z41 1.5x long eye relief scope to give their riflemen the ability to engage targets more effectively and at longer ranges. They produced almost 90,000 of these small scopes, more than any other optic.
Today’s technology can provide every soldier with good optics on his rifle; there’s really no excuse not to. Bringing back full-power 7.62x51mm NATO weapons into coalition usage, coupled with good modern optics, is enabling at least some of the boys to “reach out and touch” the jihadists.
Back-up open sights, of course, need to be readily available in case of failure or breakage. Telescopic sights of any kind are a particular boon in the mountains. In an idea slightly before its time, both the Heckler & Koch G3 and the FN FAL/L1A1 main battle rifles from the good ol’ days carried quality tactical optics that put them in the realm of today’s Designated Marksman Rifle.
The H&K wore the 4x Hensoldt Z24 telescopic sight on the solid but awkward (chin weld vs. cheek weld) STANAG quick-detach claw mount. The Hensoldt was equipped with a bullet drop compensator calibrated out to 600 meters. A small attachment electrically illuminated the reticle, which had, in addition to a pointer, stadia for leads and estimating range. This sounds silly, but the scope covers are really cool too, and the vast majority of people who try them wonder why the idea was not more widespread.

Reticle of the Z24 2x Hensoldt scope.

I don’t have a manual for my old Z24 Zielfernrohr fur Sturmgewehr (1 each), and my German isn’t good enough to be of much help if I did, but I have found that at 300 yards, a man-sized silhouette fills the pointer lines. At 500 yards, a silhouette fills three of the lines.

I’ve never been the world’s greatest H&K G3/HK91/CTEME (I’ve fired all three) mainly because of the awful trigger pull and the standard sights. A scope takes care of half my complaints. OF COURSE, I have to acknowledge the H&K’s sheer strength. You can run it over with a deuce-and-a-half or drop it fifty feet out of a hovering helicopter and it will probably still be good to go. This combination has found its way out of mothballs to fill the need for a DMR for German forces in Afghanistan.

I’m baaaack!
The British (and Israelis) used the Sightunit, Infantry, Trilux L2A2 on their inch-pattern L1A1s and FALs. Its purpose, according to them manual: “With the sight fitted the Infantryman’s night vision capability is extended enabling him to engage targets at longer distances. The amount of improvement depends on the light falling on the target and the target/background contrast. The increase in range varies from two to three times that of conventional open sights. By day, the sightunit assists in the acquisition and engagement of targets with low background contrast at the effective range of the weapon to which it is attached.”

British/Israeli SightUnit Infantry Trilux. Under 400 yards? Shoot. Over 400 yards, flip lever and shoot.
The mount, riveted to the top rail, was the weakest link, but it could be fixed easily enough (by soldiers and civilian shooters). Although it does not have a true ballistic drop compensator, the Trilux has two settings, one for engaging targets from 100-400 meters and the other for 400-600. The reticle is only an inverted pointer, but a tritium element with adjustable brightness illuminates it from within in darkness, which, coupled with the quality glass (86% light transmission) greatly enhances low light shooting abilities. The inverted pointer also has the advantage of not obscuring the target when holding over for longer shots, and it was used out to 800 meters on occasion in the Falklands War.

Even with the improved and fully adjustable 1P29 4x scope, the former ComBloc 5.45x39mm round still lacks reach and suffers from the same performance problems the 5.56mm NATO does, while the 7.62x39mm (AK) round has the trajectory of a softball.
The Russians have been manufacturing a near copy of the SUIT known as the 1P29, which has been mounted on the various AK series rifles, the PKM machine gun, and other weapons. The 1P29 features improvements such as a PSO-style “squeeze”-type rangefinder on the side of the reticle and more precise 100 meter range adjustments.
The Americans, of course, had the excellent M14 rifle, accurized and scoped into a true sniper rifle in the M21. This weapon too has made a big come-back in the form of the DMR. The shooter below is using the ACOG, which is one awesome piece of kit.

I’m baaack too!
They range from 1.5x CQB (Close Quarter Battle) scopes with doughnut-and-dot reticles to the 6x48 model calibrated for the .50 BMG round. There is an almost bewildering array of ACOGs. One important shared feature is the illuminated reticle; lit by fiber optics during the day and by a trititum element in the dark. Although rubber armored and built like a tank, just in case of some bizarre breakage, the ACOGs also have auxiliary sights, whether an adjustable aperture or a mounting for a red dot, enabling the shooter to keep right on going without needing to stop and dismount the scope.

Now the ACOG’s BAC Bindon Aiming Concept. The shoulders of a man-sized target fit the 700-meter crosswire. Hold right there and shoot.
Particularly important to the mountain fighter is the ACOG’s BAC (Bindon Aiming Concept) reticule. While the Soviet PSO-1 scope had a range-finding ability, it requires a target the size of a fully erect standing man, and one still had to manually adjust the BDC to the correct range. It was perfectly adequate, but the ACOG has both the range-finder and the BDC built right into the reticle. Plus, it only requires one to be able to see the head and shoulders of a man-size target to get the range. A series of small horizontal stadia of different lengths run out from the vertical stadia. Whichever stadia fits across a man’s torso/shoulders is the range and one simply uses that stadia as the appropriate crosshair and fires. If the target does not fit exactly on one stadia, one can hold in between for more precise placement than a mechanical 100-meter increment BDC.
The Soviets recognized the inherent weakness of having their motorized infantrymen equipped solely with 7.62x39mm and later 5.45x39mm Kalashnikovs, so each squad also included a sniper armed with the semi-automatic Dragunov SVD rifle in 7.62x54Rmm, which is slightly more powerful than the 7.62x51mm NATO. The 4x PSO-1 scope has a “squeeze” type stadiametric range-finder and a BDC graduated out to a thousand meters, and it works fine. The reticle is illuminated via a small battery-operated lamp. It also had three extra chevrons above the crosshairs for aim points at 1,100, 1,200, and 1,300 meters, although with the MOA of most of these rifles first-shot hits past 800 meters started to get iffy. Plenty of thousand-yard kills have been made with this combination over the years, though.

PSO-1 “squeeze-type” reticular range-finder. Target is at 600 meters. Turn BDC knob to 600, hold on the chevron, and shoot.
It’s 1960’s technology, but, like the 1911A1, the B-52, and the AK-47, old does not mean out-dated. The system’s ruggedness and reliability and the fact that it performs just as well as it ever did, and on par with a DMR, shows it will be around for a lot longer.

I never left!
Mil-Dots require visual identification of items with a known size, i.e. 1 meter or 1 yard. There are a plethora of items, structures, vehicles, posts, etc. in urban and rural terrain which can be used, but very little in the mountains. Like the old Soviet PSO-1, if you can get a man to stand up in the open the Mil-Dot has a good 2 yard size to go off of for range estimation. Or if you can measure across the shoulders and figure 1/2-yard. The same formula works for meters as well, but you must choose one or the other and make all calculations in the same measurement. Mil-Dots require a great deal more math; sniper-spotter teams carry calculators. It actually works very well for professionally-trained real snipers and precision rifles shooting way out there past Fort Mudge, but is a bit much for this Joe Snuffy Tentpeg and his main battle rifle.

The standard US Army Mil-Dot scope. One mil is actually from the center of the dot to the center of the dot. So, you supposedly know the size of your target in yards (or meters) and then figure out how many mils your target measures using the above. Then you use this formula.

Okey-Dokey. Now you have a standing man. You assume he’s 6 feet tall, or two yards. He measures 2 mils. (I’m making this a simple one). 2 x 1000 = 2000 divided by 2 = 1000 yards. Of course, it’s never that simple. What if he measures 0.375 mils and he’s a midget? What if you’re an ignoramus who doesn’t know that a ZSU-23-4 is 3.42 yards wide? What if said ZSU-23-4 is facing you at a 37-degree angle on a 20% slope? What if you don’t even know what the hell a ZSU-23-4 is?
However, if the second moon of Jupiter is in its 3rd phase and the magnetic declination is +17 degrees…
Yeah, if I had the money I’d just get an ACOG, too.
For now, my old school 1980’s vintage British SUIT on my MOA-shooting “junk” Century Arms FAL is certainly “good enough for government work”.


Finn said...

Bawb, Check out this site for info on ranging you Hensoldt scope!


Bawb said...

Thank you Finn. I had already actually seen that site and without it I probably never would have figured out how to zero the Hensoldt!

Personally, I just leave the range setting on 200 meters and you're good to go holding center mass out to 300 meters. Ranging with Mils and Mil-Dots requires a calculator and gives me a headache and a nervous tic under one eye.

Since the sight is only "good" (technically) for out to 600 I was trying to find a fast and easy way to quickly determine rough ranges out that far.

Prone with a MOA rifle and no wind I find with either scope you can count on a solid first shot hit on a man-sized target at 600 meters. For me, things are quickly going to shit at 700, though, usually requiring ranging shots. Hold-over is real iffy with either reticle.

Still twice the effective range of an assault rifle, though.