Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Gun Review: RRA LAR-8

It had been many years since I had bought a gun and I was in need of a good battle rifle. Most readers of this blog will recognize that the term "battle rifle" refers to a self-loading rifle firing a full-sized (usually .30 caliber) rifle cartridge.  These are not to be confused with those weapons firing intermediate calibers (i.e. bigger than a handgun but smaller than a battle rifle) which can be called "battle carbines" or "assault rifles" (if they are equipped for select-fire) or are just "poodle-shooters" by my brother Bawb.

Why a battle rifle? Bawb has gone to great lengths stressing the superiority of the 7.62X51mm NATO (.308) round over the 5.56X45mm NATO (.223) round. You can read his thoughts here, and here. Since I shouldn't only reference authors who try to sneak the phrase "poopy drawers" into every paragraph, I will quote no less of a source than the Bible (Boston's Gun Bible, 2000 edition):

"Since rifles are for neutralizing long-distance threats, choose the .308 over the .223. Although the .223 will sometimes (and even often) suffice, it's in all honesty limited to 300yds through light cover, while a .308 will go through 12" of tree, or drop a bad guy out to 800yds. You can sportingly hunt deer and elk with a .308, but not with a .223. Get a .308 first."  Here endeth the lesson.

I had bought a cheap Spanish CETME battle rifle many years back. The CETME was the basis for the later German Heckler & Koch G3 (or HK91) which was very successful. My CETME was functional, but never really blew my skirt up. The "paddlewheel" rear sight on it was junk.

There were several contenders to become my new battle rifle. There were my brother's beloved FN FALs, as well as the M14 derivatives, the FN SCAR 17S, the aforementioned HK91s, and the AR-10 derivatives. There were about three-thousand reasons why I wouldn't be getting an FN SCAR 17S. The others seemed pretty good, but the AR-10 stood out to me.

It was my familiarity with the AR system that I liked. I started shooting M-16s when I joined the Nat'l Guard in 1992 and I'd had a civvy AR-15 (poodle-shooter) of my own since the mid-1990s. Operating the controls had been committed to muscle memory and I could (probably still) field strip an AR blindfolded. I don't have a lot of free time to practice with a new operating system and I'm too old a dog to learn new tricks. So, an AR-10 derivative it would be.

I originally figured on getting an Armalite, the original maker of the AR-10. I handled a few other AR-style .308's from some other manufacturers, like DPMS, and they seemed rather fragile and chintzy. I've never had much use for those telescoping M4-style stocks but it was hard finding one these days with the solid A2-style stock like I wanted.

That's when I came across a Rock River Arms LAR-8. It was solid and sturdy. It was a "Standard A4" model meaning it was a flattop with an A2 buttstock and handguard. It had a 20" chrome moly barrel with a 1:10 rifling twist. It had an A2-style flash hider, a gas block sight base and a Hogue rubber pistol grip. It came with one 20-round magazine, a RRA hard-sided carry case, manual and a warranty. I bought it along with a set of flip-up sights for it.

Of course the most important part of owning a rifle is naming it. I remembered playing "Medal of Honor" on my Sony Playstation years ago and having to infiltrate and destroy the rail-gun "Greta" on one of the missions. Seemed like a good name for a gun, so I named her Greta.

I couldn't wait to take Greta out shooting and I wasn't disappointed when I did. With her RRA two-stage trigger, Greta shot like a dream. Recoil was negligible. Greta was more accurate than I was. RRA says the LAR-8 Standard A4 should get 1 MOA at 100 yards. Zeroing at 25 yards with the flip-up sights I was getting one-inch groups, which ain't bad for me since I only get to the range a few times a year.

After consulting with Bawb on what riflescope to buy, I got a Burris MTAC riflescope in 1X-4X-24mm. This has the Ballistic CQ Reticle which eliminates having to guesstimate holdover for long-distance shots. According to the Burris literature, "the circular 'donut' in the center provides ultra-fast engagement at close distances, while the smaller dots of the reticle provide trajectory compensation out to 600 yards for 5.56 62 grain FMJ and 7.62 150 grain FMJ cartridges."
Once I got the scope sighted in I enjoyed blasting milk jugs and ringing a steel plate at 100 yards (the maximum of my shooting range regrettably.)
Using Rock River Arms' purpose-built poly mags, I put several hundred rounds through Greta with NO malfunctions. She gobbled up foreign mil surplus ammo, Sellier & Bellot, Wolf and Silver Bear FMJs and even some Serbian Prvi Partisan soft-points without so much as a hiccup.
Although I enjoyed shooting the LAR-8, perhaps it's unsurprising that one thing I liked the least was the thing I was least familiar with. Unlike the M-16s and AR-15s I was used to, the bolt stop and release lever was located between the mag well and the trigger guard. I said something earlier about an old dog and new tricks. But this new feature makes the bolt stop ambidextrous and I've read people saying they wished their ARs had it. I'm already growing accustomed to it.
I had bought a bunch of the RRA 20 round polymer magazines before the big magazine "panic" or whatever the hell that was. But the LAR-8 is supposed to also accept metric and inch FAL/L1A1 mags. Just to see how they'd work I bought a brand new DSArms FAL metric mag. Although Greta had never had a malfunction before, when I put the FAL mag in, she had numerous failures to feed. About 6 in a 20 round mag actually.
When she malfed, Greta wouldn't strip the next round off the magazine. No slapping up on the mag to seat it better seemed to change that. I got the message: She didn't like the FAL magazine. It's probably not scientific to base it on one magazine but I'll stick with the poly mags. Seems like RRA could have skipped the FAL mag compatibility and stuck with their own mags and been further ahead.
All things considered the RRA LAR-8 is a terrific weapon and I'm as tickled as a streaker in a feather duster shop with my purchase. Although I'm no Jeff Cooper, I give the LAR-8 high marks for reliability (with RRA mags), accuracy and maintainability. Now I just need to keep heading to the range and make the operator worthy of the rifle.
Update: Here's a picture from when I originally zeroed the open sights right out of the box. I guess that's better than a 1 inch group (like I said in the text) because the holes are actually several three-round groups with some sight adjustment (and one flier) with the last group. The black square is a 1 inch square. This was the first target. I was firing 25 yards from the prone.

Sunday, August 25, 2013


I know I ain't quite right in the head, but I find this absolutely hilarious.

Friday, August 23, 2013


“A scrimmage in a Border Station—
A canter down some dark defile—
Two thousand pounds of education
Drops to a ten-rupee jezail—
The Crammer’s boast, the Squadron’s pride,
Shot like a rabbit in a ride!”
"Arithmetic on the Frontier"
    Rudyard Kipling

          Long before Kipling wrote these lines, insurgents already knew the value of an accurate rifle in the hands of a skilled marksman as a “force multiplier”. American frontiersmen with their Pennsylvania or Kentucky long rifles played hell with the vaunted regulars of the British Army, firing from cover with weapons accurate to three times the range of the redcoats’ smoothbore Land Pattern “Brown Bess” Muskets. Virginia teamster, rifleman and future American Major General Daniel Morgan instructed his frontier riflemen to “shoot for the epaulets”, i.e. deliberately aim for British officers. Picking said officers off first from long range went a long way towards disrupting the disciplined command and control the regulars depended on for their tactical prowess. To this day, snipers are still trying to pick off enemy officers.

Well over a century after the American Revolution, as the British Army again found itself suffering heavy casualties from the new bolt-action Mauser firing smokeless cartridges in the hands of sharp-shooting Boer farmers, Major Charles Caldwell made special note of the effects of insurgent sniping in the Hill Fighting chapter of his book Small Wars. This book is often considered the first real Western counter-insurgency manual. Caldwell noted:

            “In the first place there is the wear and tear caused by isolated marksmen perched on the hilltops, who fire down upon the troops in camp and on the march, whose desultory enterprises render outpost duties very onerous, who inflict appreciable losses among officers and men, and who thin the columns of transport with their bullets this is more prejudicial to the efficiency of the army than is generally supposed.”

Military lexicon continues to change, probably to provide jobs for a certain breed of officers in the Pentagon who might otherwise try to make important decisions and thus prove dangerous to their own side. A sniper is now just a part of a Weapon System waging Asymmetric Warfare via Surveillance, Target Acquisition, and Reconnaissance to interdict and neutralize both soft and hard targets, thus acting as a significant force multiplier.

However you wish to say it, it all comes down to a good man (or woman) with a rifle. If said sniper is really proficient, he or she can single-handedly wreak more havoc than a conventional rifle platoon. Some of the tactics used by a Boer farmer before the turn of the last century, or by a buckskin-clad frontiersman yet another century before that, can still be successful when used today.

Geography is no longer a barrier to insurgents sharing information either; included later is a list of “sniper duties” as posted on a Muslim jihad website. With the advent of globalized terrorism, a former Chechen sniper who long ago learned his trade in the Russian Army could be teaching these same tricks of the trade to classes of Afghan or even Pakistani pupils at this moment.

What has been seen before is almost invariably seen again and again. Unfortunately, no matter how many times some information is presented, it just doesn’t penetrate the institutional memory of some large modern Western militaries. An example could be the stay-behind sniper, a tactic very seldom if ever used or discussed in the West, but a widespread and frequently encountered one nonetheless.

The Soviet Union, 1941: The German Army found itself unprepared for fighting in the vast forests and swamps of far eastern Europe. “A particular feature of these Soviet defence positions were infantry foxholes which were unidentifiable from the front and provided a field of fire only to the rear; they were intended for picking off the enemy from behind after he had pushed past.”

Guadalcanal, 1942: "They [Japanese snipers] shot at us from the tops of coconut trees, slit trenches, garden hedgerows, from under buildings, from under their shelter halves, and from under fallen palm leaves. I saw snipers buried in the ground with slits just sufficient for peek holes and the muzzles of their rifles. These positions were dug to face the rear of our troops after they had passed by.”

Vietnam, VC/NVA, 1969: “Some [VC/NVA] positions, especially well-camouflaged spider holes, would remain silent until the attackers passed and would open fire from the rear and flanks, sometimes not revealing themselves for a considerable time after action was initiated.”

Fallujah, Iraq, 2004: “Snipers began to turn up, with optical sights on rifles. Some would work in pairs. One would shoot and the other would wait for the Marines to move forward in response and try to shoot them in the back.”

Gumbad Valley, Afghanistan, 2005: “As B Company ran along the ridgeline to rescue the beleaguered Afghan squad, an insurgent sniper opened fire from a concealed position in the valley below, killing a US soldier.

As the company reached the squad’s position, the sniper shot and killed one of the Afghan soldiers and wounded another. He then shot a US troop in the back as he climbed the hill towards the insurgents’ machine gun position. The soldiers could not identify where exactly the sniper fire was coming from.”


Snipers were a constant problem for American troops in Vietnam as well. As in WWII, however, much of what was called “sniper fire” by the GIs was often nothing more than sporadic harassing fire directed in their general direction and could not really be attributed to genuine sniping as we know it. Yet both the VC and the NVA, especially the latter, did indeed field well-trained dedicated snipers whose training, fieldcraft and skills made them particularly dangerous and demoralizing. Just as in 1775, the snipers of the 1970’s were still “aiming for the epaulettes.”

The United States Marine Corps gathered considerable intelligence on the enemy sharpshooters they encountered and how they operated.

 “An analysis of the techniques and tactics of enemy snipers reveals several points of interest. Enemy snipers are organized into teams or cells. The team (5 men) and the cell (3 men) are trained as snipers by an organized unit with which they operate. Snipers have used the K-44 rifle (7.62mm Mosin-Nagant) with scope attached. This is a bolt-action rifle with a 5-round magazine. Maximum effective range with the scope is 1400 meters, and the maximum horizontal range is 3500 meters.

 “Trained snipers employ mines and other explosive devices to cause casualties; to channel friendly troop movements and to facilitate their own withdrawal. Snipers may engage at distances between 50 to 600 meters depending on the terrain. The snipers are usually deployed so as to permit the friendly force to be engaged initially from head on, and then from the flanks and rear. The initial fire is usually aimed at the point element in an effort to fix the friendly unit’s attention toward its front.

         “Remaining snipers are concealed in predetermined positions along the route of friendly advance. The flank and rear snipers’ principal targets are the unit commander and men carrying automatic weapons and radios. Enemy snipers usually do not fire more than about 5 rounds, with most casualties resulting from the first 2 or 3 rounds. Trained snipers will normally maintain contact with a target by withdrawing along preplanned routes paralleling the route of advance of the friendly column. Firing is continued from predetermined positions.

“Much of the fire reported as sniper fire can be attributed to local guerrillas. Such fire can be distinguished by its larger expenditure of ammunition and the shorter ranges involved. It is also usually less accurate. The local guerrilla operates independently, with a sector of responsibility rather than as part of a team.

“The basic tactic of enemy snipers should be studied to determine the most effective means of countering them. Unit commanders should bear in mind that harassing or sniper fire can be extremely effective, and can slow or even halt the friendly advance.”


It is worth noting that while Western military forces invariably use only the two-man sniper-spotter team, our opponents can and have used a wide variety of different structures. An insurgent sniper can actually be anything from a true lone wolf to just part of a team consisting of up to 15 members. Chechens operated with “cells” as the basic maneuver group, a cell being composed of three squads each consisting of one or two RPG gunners, a machine gunner, a sniper and two or three rifleman/ammo bearers with Kalashnikovs.

          Of the insurgents fielding real snipers, the Chechens have been the most successful. A large part of the reason is that some Chechen jihadists had formerly served in the Russian or even the Soviet armed forces and had received the same training as their opponents. Living and being educated in a modern society, they were also able to master the technical and intellectual aspects such as ballistics and mathematics involved in the modern sniper’s art.

The Chechens were also using many of the exact same weapons and equipment fielded by their Russian opponents. For snipers, that meant the Dragunov SVD. The Chechens had well over 500 of the weapons in 1992, and acquired more throughout and between the ensuing battles in 1996 and 1999.

Soviet/Russian SVD Dragunov

Caliber: 7.62x54R
Operation: Gas, semiautomatic
Barrel Length: 24in (610mm)
Overall Length: 48.2in (1,225mm)
Empty Weight: 9.5lb (4.31kg)
Magazine Capacity: 10 rounds
Maximum Effective Range: 800m

The old Soviet Union was well-pleased with Mikhail Kalashnikov’s AK47 assault rifle when they adopted it en mass for their large conscripted mechanized infantry forces. Someone with brass on his hat was smart enough to realize, however, that an infantry squad armed with nothing but assault rifles could find itself at the mercy of opponents armed with long-range, full-size rifles. To counter such a threat, one man in every infantry squad became a sniper armed with an SVD in order to keep some ability to “reach out and touch someone” within the squad’s own organic firepower.

Although introduced in 1963, the SVD remained an enigma in the West for a long time. During the Vietnam War, the CIA was offering a $25,000 reward for a captured Dragunov. Rumors persisted that white Russian snipers were conducting “live fire testing” of the SVD on American troops in the field during that war.

The SVD is an air-cooled, gas-operated semi-automatic rifle firing the older, more powerful 7.62x54R cartridge, a fully rimmed round dating back to Czarist Russia, the first Mosin-Nagants, and 1891. In power and performance, it falls between the .308 Winchester and the .30-06 Springfield, certainly nothing to sneeze at.

The Dragunov was partially based on the AK47’s gas system, but utilized a short stroke rather than a long-stroke gas piston and had a heavier, stronger machined rather than stamped receiver. With its impressive-looking PSO-1 scope, long, thin flash-suppressor equipped chrome-lined barrel, curved and ribbed 10-round magazine, and distinctive skeletal buttstock with removable cheekrest, the SVD was readily identifiable, almost sinister in appearance, and very modern-looking for 1963.
If the rifle looked futuristic for its day, the scope was positively Star Trek and indeed an up-graded model, the PSO-1M2, is still in production today.  For optics the SVD wore the PSO-1, a fixed 4x24mm scope with good quality glass, a 6-degree field of view and an accordion-type collapsible rubber eye pad. The PSO featured a separate squeeze-type range-finding reticle that allowed the shooter to determine the range of a man-sized target out to 1,000 meters. The scope also incorporated a built-in metascope that allowed the sniper to see if infra-red night vision devices were being used by his opponent. A battery-powered light illuminated the aiming reticle for low-light shooting and there was even a battery-warmer included to keep it working in those harsh Russian winters. The aiming reticle was an inverted “V” pointer adjusted via a mechanical Bullet Drop Compensator for ranges from 100 to 1,000 meters. For longer ranges, with the BDC maxed out, three additional “V” pointers provided hold-overs for ranges of 1,100, 1,200 and 1,300 meters.

Reticle pattern of the PSO-1 scope, with range-finding scale to be used with a 1.7m tall man in the lower left.

The latter was wishful thinking; effective range of the SVD is most often listed as 800 meters. For most of its lifespan in Soviet service, no special accurate Match-grade ammunition was available, and snipers were most often issued the standard LPS 147-grain mild steel core “light ball” ammunition. The very best accuracy this combination of ammunition and rifle could hope for was 2-2.5 MOA. This same lack of Match-grade sniper ammunition hindered American snipers up through the early years of the Vietnam War. The Russian Federation seems to be taking sniping more seriously and uses the Match-grade 7N14 cartridge for sniping, firing a 152-grain boattail bullet at 2,700 fps and which is supposed to be capable of MOA performance from the SVD.

The rifle can of course fire any standard military 7.62x54R cartridge and these include light and heavy ball, tracer, and light and heavy armor piercing incendiary rounds. Prior to the Iraq War, the Iraqi Army issued their snipers an extra five rounds of B-32 155-grain Armor Piercing Incendiary ammunition for use against hard targets and vehicles. Standard military body armor, including the Level 3 SAPI Small Arms Protective Insert plate, is not effective against such rounds.

The 2nd Generation (green) Level 3 SAPI plate is proofed against the 7.62x39mm API (bottom) but not the more powerful 7.62x54R API (top).

          In addition to training and equipment, viciousness helped Chechen snipers with their success as well. It was found to be a frequent tactic of Chechen snipers in the battleground city of Grozny to deliberately wound a Russian soldier, usually shooting him in the legs. When medics or his fellow soldiers tried to come to the aid of the first casualty, they too would be shot and only wounded if possible. When it appeared no one else would be coming out in the open to help the injured, the sniper would then methodically kill them all.

          As with snipers in Iraq, Chechen snipers often fired from well back within the interior of a building so that both the muzzle blast and report of the rifle would be obscured, hiding the location visually as well as making the gunshot harder to locate by ear.

          Sniper hides varied, of course. The top floors or attics of tall apartment buildings located at corners or major interactions were often used as such a location provided long fields of fire down two or more streets. Many times the gun port used to shoot through would be no bigger than a single roof tile removed for that purpose. Chechen snipers often preferred other high firing points, including chimneys, factory smokestacks, and overhead construction cranes.

          After the battles for the city of Grozny ended and the fighting moved to the mountains and countryside of Chechnya, the Russians noted significant changes in Chechen sniper tactics. Ranges became much longer, with snipers trying to engage Russian troops from 900-1000 meters. The sniper would fire no more than two rounds before relocating to a new firing position. Rather than two-man teams, the sniper operated with a four-man security team armed with Kalashnikovs, who might actually be as far as 500 meters away from the sniper. If Russian forces located and engaged the sniper, the support team would fire at them in attempt to distract them long enough for the sniper to escape.

          Chechen snipers were also found to possess an unknown but fortunately quite small number of the Russian Vintorez VSS Special Sniper Rifles. These weapons had formerly only been in use by SPETSNAZ Special Forces or by counter-terrorist units of the MVD internal security forces. The VSS utilizes the special subsonic 9x39mm SP-5 cartridge, which fires a heavy low-velocity bullet containing a carbide steel or tungsten penetrator core designed to pierce body armor. The rifle’s barrel has an integral sound suppressor built around it, which eliminates muzzle flash and effectively suppresses the sound of the muzzle blast, thus making a sniper firing a VSS, especially in the dark, very hard to locate. Its general effective range is 400 meters; it is accurate to 600 meters, but the large slow bullet’s performance drops off rapidly at longer ranges. Whether these weapons were captured or stolen from Russian forces is unknown. Luckily, their appearances in insurgent hands have been rare and the ammunition is hard to come by.


When the Soviet Union fought in Afghanistan from 1979-1989, most of the country had little to no experiences with the outside world. The hawk-eyed Pathan of Kipling’s verse still existed, his ten rupee jezail replaced by the .303 Lee-Enfield. Before the Soviet invasion, rifles were treasured items throughout the country, and men became intimately familiar with their personal weapon from a young age. Ammunition was both hard to come by and expensive in the impoverished countryside, so it could not be squandered by hasty or inaccurate fire. Additionally, ranges were often long and game scarce, so riflemen had to be good of necessity.

The most popular weapons were versions of the old British Short Magazine Lee-Enfield (SMLE) in caliber .303-inch British. A bolt-action rifle with a 10-shot magazine, the Enfield was reliable, durable, accurate and hard-hitting. With a magazine capacity twice that of other bolt-action rifles, and a bolt itself that had a conveniently-placed handle and a short, fast bolt throw, the Enfield remained a good choice. There was a saying after World War I that the German Mauser was the best hunting rifle, the American Springfield was the best target rifle, but the British Lee-Enfield was the best combat rifle.

Some things never go out of style: Afghans with the No. 4 Lee-Enfield (first adopted 1941) and RPG-7 (1961).

It served well indeed in the mountains even in the age of the assault rifle. With twice the range of the 7.62x39mm Soviet round fired by the AK and RPK, marksmen could pick off individual infantrymen in relative safety from return fire. The big 174-grain FMJ .303 bullet not only had good long-range ballistics and impressive knock-down power, but could also penetrate the body armor used by the Soviets at the time, whereas the Kalashnikov’s 123-grain 7.62x39mm could not.

In somewhat smaller numbers, other old bolt-action military rifles were floating around the country, such as the 7.62x54R Mosin-Nagant in its various models as well as copies of the German ‘98 Mauser chambered in a variety of full power cartridges and produced in various countries from Turkey to China.

When American troops entered Afghanistan, with our brass making many of the same tactical mistakes they had once chastised the Soviets for in the 1980’s, they encountered the same levels of Muslim fanaticism but much less marksmanship. The new generation of Afghan rebels had been raised with Mr. Kalashnikov’s AK-47 in hand rather than the Lee-Enfield, and ammunition had become both plentiful and relatively cheap. The single, well-aimed long-range shot had mostly been replaced by thirty rounds of ammunition fired from the hip in three seconds’ time in the general direction of the enemy. Such shooting is exciting and loud and looks very macho, appealing to young men the world over. Never mind those sights; if you were meant to hit your target then Allah would give some divine guidance to your bullets.

          In fact, it became worthy of note when a proficient Afghan rifle marksman actually did show up. When the U.S. Marines took the town of Marjah in 2010, they were expecting IEDs to be their main problem. Instead, it turned out to be snipers. A single sniper did the most damage, firing from the “holy ground” of the mosque, where American forces found a pile of fresh, empty .303 British shell casings, leading one to speculate the effective sniper was some dangerous old fart with a Lee-Enfield, most likely with open sights.

          The last two or three years have shown a disturbing trend towards better-trained and more effective insurgent snipers in Afghanistan. Until the Obama Administration and the MSM (but I repeat myself) felt the sudden urge to absolve all Chechens of misbehavior after the Boston Bombings, it was common knowledge that veteran Chechen snipers were coming to and operating in Afghanistan especially as well as assisting insurgents and terrorists elsewhere in support of the global jihad. Some other proficient shooters in Afghanistan have come from Iraq, Pakistan and Egypt. An Al Qaeda recruitment video quoted the Koran to inspire young Islamic men to take up the sniping trade. “Fight them and Allah will punish them by your hands, lay them low, and cover them with shame.” To bolster religious fervor, TAQ also offers bounties of as much as $25,000 for killing an American. Rumors have consistently popped up of a dedicated terrorist sniper training school run by Chechen and Arab imports.     

          In Helmand Province in 2010, American and British forces encountered four expert snipers operating in two pairs, believed to be foreigners brought to Afghanistan just for their expertise. Over a period of five months, these hired guns were credited with killing four US Marines and 10 British soldiers with precision long-range shots. Two British soldiers, including a sniper, were killed with single shots to the head, one of them while he was observing through a 9-inch loophole in a mud wall.

          The identity of the foreign snipers remains unknown. A combined British SAS and American Green Beret operation tracked down and cornered the sharpshooters in the Sangin Valley, where they were taken out by F-16s using precision-guided 1,000-pound bombs, leaving little evidence to collect afterward.


The vast majority of Afghan shooters, not just snipers, employ a few simple old-fashioned tactics to increase their effectiveness and survivability. As one American soldier summed things up, “Their accuracy wasn’t as impressive as their fieldcraft.”


1. Attack when the sun is low on the horizon and behind them, and in the eyes of friendly troops trying to fire back.
2. Infiltrate into pre-positioned firing positions under cover of darkness or during fog, rain or snow.
3. Attack from high ground.
4. Fire their weapons from directions intended to steer their targets toward a larger ambushes and/or IEDs.
5. Travel light. Superior mobility allows one to choose the site of engagement and, perhaps more importantly for survival, disengagement and in rugged terrain and mountains that mobility still often comes down to foot travel.



A fairly typical Iraqi insurgent “sniper”.

While Saddam Hussein’s former national Iraqi Army did have sniper rifles and a sniper training program, the actual numbers of trained snipers were small. The vast majority of snipers encountered during the insurgency generally had no special training or skill and could, in fact, be nothing more than a neighborhood goon who happened to find an SVD. This is hardly out of the realm of possibility considering that well over a quarter of a million tons of Iraqi Army ordnance was unaccounted for after the preliminary conventional invasion ended. Even so, insurgents equipped with real sniper rifles were seldom if ever encountered until the uprising in the spring of 2004. During and after this event, more insurgent snipers were encountered on a much more frequent basis.

In addition to some older Soviet-built genuine Dragunovs, the insurgents also possessed an Iraqi-manufactured copy of the same known as the Al-Kadissiya. Another similar weapon often mistaken for an SVD was the Romanian-made FPK, sometimes also known as the SSG-97. Although firing the same 7.62x54R round and closely resembling the Dragunov on the exterior, the FPK is actually based upon the RPK light machine gun and doesn’t deliver accurate long-range sniper rifle performance. They also used the Iranian-made Tabuk “Sniper Rifle” which is essentially nothing more than an AK47 with a heavy barrel and a scope. It fires the same 7.62x39mm M43 assault rifle round as the AK, SKS and RPK, giving it a range of only 400-600 meters at best.

Pretenders to the SVD throne encountered in Iraq: (Top) The Iraqi Tabuk Sniper Rifle in 7.62x39mm and (Bottom) the Romanian FPK (SSG-97) in 7.62x54R.

  Army National Guard Intelligence took notice of the Iraqi “snipers” generally poor quality.

“There are some estimates that the prewar Iraqi Army had approximately 3000 "trained" snipers; however, the prewar training these designated snipers received is questionable, since the incidents of insurgent sniper attacks reported generally exhibit a poor shot-to-hit ratio. Most of these "trained" snipers are equivalent in skill to a squad-designated

marksman. There is one report from August 2004 of a "sniper" in Najaf firing more than 80 rounds over the course of 8 hours at U.S. forces, but this sniper's firing did not result in any casualties. It is more likely that the firers of these weapons may actually be looking down the sights or through a scope and aiming rather than pointing the weapon and emptying the magazine, which is the typical procedure. The incorporation of scopes on weapons has probably increased the average insurgent's marksmanship out to perhaps 200 to 300 meters. There is evidence of some true snipers operating in some insurgent groups, which is exhibited by spikes in single shots to the head and torso (shots through the side of the IBA). A possible source of these true snipers might be the influx of experienced veterans from the Iran-Iraq war.”

          The majority of Iraqi snipers were also quite poor in terms of long-range precision fire, most of them only taking pot-shots at ranges of no more than 200-300 meters at the outside. This put them well within the effective range of accurate counter-fire from Western infantry small arms and many of these snipers did not live long. To compensate for their inability to match Western marksmanship, they often fired from the midst of crowds of civilians or took only a single shot before fleeing along a pre-planned route, ditching or hiding their weapon and then blending with the local population. Besides fleeing on foot, there were jihadist snipers who used ambulances, police cars and motorcycles as escape vehicles. Other Iraqi snipers, along with just about every other “religious” jihadist, used mosques as hides, knowing of American reluctance to destroy such “holy” sites.

          The DC Beltway Snipers, who seemed to completely disappear from the collective consciousness of the American media and government security apparatus when it was revealed they were not white male military veterans, killed ten people and seriously injured three more in October 2002 using many of the same techniques then being used by Iraqi insurgents. The technique involved using a car as a mobile sniper’s hide and to blend into the crowd as well as to escape quickly.

          The DC Snipers used a larger Chevy Caprice 4-door sedan with a roomy trunk. A small hole, just large enough for one of the men to aim and fire their stolen AR-15 through, was cut in the trunk lid just to the right of the license plate. The rear seat had been dismounted so that the shooter could easily access the trunk from the passenger compartment. The Irish Republican Army used similar methods in the 1990’s, in one example fitting a Mazda 626 with a firing port in the side of the vehicle and also adding some interior armor plate to protect the gunman. Iraqi insurgents have used too wide a variety of vehicles to even list.

 The small, hard-to-spot firing port the DC Beltway Snipers cut into the trunk of their Chevy Caprice.

          A 2012 US Army document outlined the basic tactics involved in a typical “Portable Shooter” attack as had been seen in Iraq.

          1. Surveillance will confirm static location and choke point.
          2. Range to target will be measured or estimated.
          3. Driver positions vehicle.
          4. Video cell may record the shooting.
          5. Shooter confirms specific target from camouflaged platform viewpoint and shoots.
          6. Vehicle moves calmly into traffic patter and departs area.

Jihadists increasingly communicate via the Internet, posting messages and setting up temporary Web sites to convey information. In May 2005, an Iraqi terrorist Web site gave seven "duties" or target priorities for that country's insurgent snipers. Here is a literal translation of that posting from U.S. Army Intelligence:

Duties of a Sniper

1. Target enemy snipers and surveillance teams.

2. Target commanders, officers and pilots; that is, to target the head of the snake and then handicap the command of the enemy.

3. Assist teams of mujahideen infantry with suppressive fire. These teams may include RPG brigades or surveillance teams.

4. Target U.S. Special Forces, they are very stupid because they have a 'Rambo complex’ thinking that they are the best in the world. Don't be arrogant like them.

5. Engage specialty targets like communications officers to prevent calls for reinforcements. Likewise, tank crews, artillery crews, engineers, doctors, and chaplains should be fair targets.

- A tank driver was shot while crossing a bridge, resulting in the tank rolling off the bridge and killing the rest of the crew

- Killing doctors and chaplains is suggested as a means of psychological warfare

6. Take care when targeting one or two U.S. soldiers or agents on a roadside. A team of American snipers [may be] waiting for you. They [may be] waiting for you to kill one of those agents and then they will know your location and they will kill you.

7. In the event of urban warfare, work from high areas and assist infantry with surrounding the enemy, attacking target instruments and lines of sight on large enemy vehicles, and directing mortar and rocket fire to front-line enemy positions.

Heavy or Anti-Material Sniper Rifles

Disturbingly, there were also a few instances of Chechen snipers using 12.7mm heavy sniper/anti-material rifles. The 12.7x107mm round (often mis-named the “.51-caliber” by Americans in Korea and Vietnam) is the Russian equivalent of the American .50-calber BMG (12.7x99mm NATO) round, and most often seen in the DShK-38 heavy machine gun, again roughly the equivalent of the Browning M2 machine gun in its roles and performance. Rounds include not only the standard full metal jacket (ball) ammo, but also Armor Piercing (AP) and Armor Piercing Incendiary (API) ammunition. The standard B-32 steel-cored API round that is most commonly available has been in production since WWII and is capable of penetrating over 20mm of RHA armor plate at 100 meters. At least during testing, the incendiary element proved successful 75% of the time in igniting fuel containers placed behind the 20mm plate. Russia also now makes a 12.7mm Snaiperskii “special sniper” round that utilizes a solid brass lathe-turned 864-grain bullet capable of Match-grade accuracy just for use with their heavy sniper rifles.

Russian OSV-96 Anti Material Rifle

Caliber: 12.7x107mm
Operation: Gas, semiautomatic
Barrel Length:
Overall Length: 1690mm
Empty Weight w/out Scope: 12.6kg
Magazine Capacity: 5 rounds
Maximum Effective Range: 1,800m+

The rifle is question is the Russian OSV-96, a gas-operated semi-automatic .50-caliber weapon fed by a 5-round magazine. This long-barreled bipod-equipped AMR rather resembles the WWII PTRD-41 anti-tank rifle on the exterior. First scoped with a modified PSO-1-1 scope with its magnification increased to 13x, the newer dedicated scope for the OSV is the POS 12x50mm. The OSV is also compatible with the PKN-05 night vision scope, effective to 600 meters. Maximum effective range is listed as 1,800 meters, just over one mile.

TAQ fighters in Afghanistan have on more than one occasion been video-taped using the old Soviet WWII PTRD Anti-tank Rifle. This simple but reliable old weapon fires the devastating 14.5x114mm round, which is roughly twice as powerful as the .50 BMG. The standard BS Armor Piercing Incendiary round fires a tungsten cored projectile with a muzzle velocity of 3,300 fps which can penetrate around 30mm of armor plate at 500 meters. Newer and even more potent rounds such as Armor Piercing Discarding Sabot and High Explosive Incendiary are now being made in Russian and Red China.

Another "oldie but goodie" shows up in Afghanistan: a WWII-vintage 14.5mm Soviet PTRD-41 anti-tank rifle, complete with custom green recoil pad.


Their 14.5mm round being so potent, the Soviet Union continued to manufacture and use their anti-tank rifles through the end of WWII when other countries had long since dropped the concept. Hundreds of thousands of the single-shot Degyratev PTRD-41 were made along with smaller but still significant numbers of the 5-shot semi-automatic Simonov PTRS-41. PTRs were popular weapons to air drop to Russian Partisans operating behind German lines; the weapons allowed the partisans to interdict German supply lines by destroying railway locomotives, rolling stock and trucks from long range. Further north, Finnish long-range ski patrols infiltrated through Soviet lines to shoot up Russian trucks and trains with their own Lathi 20mm anti-tank rifles. Many thousands of PTRDs and PTRSs were given to North Korea and Red China and were used in the Korean War. Once obsolete against tanks, they were used as anti-material and heavy long-range sniper rifles, some fitted with scopes by enterprising soldiers. Others went to Warsaw Pact satellite states; Albania kept their PTRs in service until the 1980’s.

Although there are probably still tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of these things crated away in forgotten armories, there is actually little need to resurrect any more PTRs out of mothballs. There are plenty of newer and lighter optically-sighted anti-material rifles available now that fire the same potent 14.5mm caliber rounds. The Hungarian Gepard, for instance, comes in 14.5mm and actually bears a strikingly similar appearance to the PTRD, and four other countries also currently manufacture other 14.5mm AMRs.

All of these weapons, of course, are easily capable of penetrating even the latest military body armor. Even many of the widely used light armored vehicles used around the world today are capable of being penetrated by such weapons. Modern military forces also have a wide variety of expensive high-technology equipment which can be destroyed by precision fire from weapons this large, as evidenced as far back as Operation Desert Storm where SAS “SCUD Hunter” teams were equipped with Barrett Model 82A1 .50-caliber rifles.

Fortunately, these weapons were only used in very small numbers in Chechnya and did not find their way to Iraq. More recently in Syria, however, these things seem to be popping up all over. Watching videos posted of the fighting there, the OSV-96 and the Chinese-made M99 12.7mm rifles are by far the most popular AMRs, but I've also seen a British AS-50, an MKEK and one that appears to be completely home-made.
Their effectiveness is usually highly limited by a lack of even remotely qualified operators. I've watched many shooters getting scoped repeatedly, guys shooting off-hand from the shoulder at flying helicopters and jets like they've got a giant Marlin Goose Gun, guys shooting with the barrel or even the muzzle brake itself resting directly on concrete or cinder blocks, AMRs being shot without sights, the semi-autos being used in spray 'n' pray mode, you name it; all are accompanied by the shooter and everyone else in the vicinity chanting "Allah Akbar!" in an apparent effort to get the projectiles to actually hit something. I saw only one video of a sniper actually trying to engage and destroy Syrian Air Force MiG-23 jet fighter-bombers parked on the ground at an air base and he didn't appear to be scoring any vital strikes in the video. In fact, the only thing that I saw deliberately targeted, hit and actually destroyed was a D-9 Caterpillar bulldozer. At least playing with their powerful toys keeps these rebels too busy to kill, behead and rape Christians or burn down any churches for the moment.

 "That ain't your daddy's shotgun, Cowboy!"

          One has to wonder at the convoluted journey the OSV rifles must have taken from Russian factory in Tula to wind up in insurgent hands in Syria. Russian President Vladimir Putin has been much more aware of and vocal about just how dangerous these Syrian Islamic rebel factions (who include Al Qaeda) truly are, certainly more so than American President Barack Obama, whose administration has both openly and clandestinely supported little-known and uncontrollable Muslim rebel groups there.

While they are not concerned in the least about increasing numbers of large-caliber AMRs in the hands of Islamic terrorist organizations including Hezbollah and Al Qaeda in the Middle East, the Obama Administration’s various government security agencies, politicians in both houses of Congress, gun control advocacy groups, and the Mainstream Media periodically become quite strident and frantic about banning .50-caliber BMG rifles from private ownership by American citizens. Despite the fact that such weapons have never actually been used in a crime in the US, these groups argue that they must be taken away because they have the potential to destroy an aircraft, especially a civilian airliner.

Oddly enough, these same groups apparently do not care nor even deem it worth mentioning that some 400 American-made AIM-9 Stinger shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles went missing into unknown Islamic hands during the Benghazi Fiasco. Neither were they concerned in the least when as many as 20,000 older Soviet-made SA-7 Strela-2 man-portable heat-seeking SAMs, which already have a rather long and bloody history of actually shooting down civilian airliners when they find their way into terrorist hands, were openly stolen from former Libyan Army arsenals over a period of months. One would think that if these champions of airline safety were indeed truly and deeply concerned about the safety of passenger aircraft, the theft of several thousand man-portable and easily-hidden heat-seeking anti-aircraft missiles might at least register on the radar. Apparently, it does not.

In the past, terrorist organizations including Al Qaeda have unsuccessfully attempted to purchase American Barrett Model 82A1 .50-BMG caliber and South African Denel NWT 14.5mm/20mm anti material rifles via front organizations.

This, however, has only delayed the inevitable. Between our good friends the Saudis and the Afghan/Pakistan opium trade, Islamic terrorist organizations have more than enough money to purchase such weapons. Modern AMRs as well as plentiful 12.7mm and 14.5mm ammunition to feed them are being manufactured in places like Communist China, Serbia, Iran and Azerbaijan, nations whose governments may be downright supportive of insurgents and who tend not look too hard at the End User Certificates of the parties they sell weapons to. Chinese-made M-99 rifles in 12.7mm have been showing up in the wrong hand in Burma and Syria for months, but of course the Chi-Coms have no idea how they got there. 

Expect to see more of these types of weapons in insurgent hands in the future. The saving grace at the moment in that the hands they are currently in are mostly incompetent ones which cannot utilize these powerful weapons to their full potential.

The insurgent sniper has been seen before and will be seen again. Since the grunt with boots on the ground has no real say in the matter of conducting a counter-insurgency operations, perhaps even these few small bits of low-level tactical “when to duck” information might prove of more practical and immediate value than grand theories about ink spots, hearts & minds or Mao’s fishes.

Thursday, August 01, 2013


photo: Sodahead

Well, we thought the so-called Patriot Act and the formation of the Department of Homeland Security were really bad ideas when Bush Jr. and Company foisted them upon us in the holy name of “sacrificing freedom for security.”
The existing myriad of heavily-armed and semi-unaccountable alphabet soup agencies had all the pieces to the 9/11 puzzle beforehand but the various bloated bureaucracies were all too busy fighting each other over budgets, power and turf to put the pieces together. Well, that and the CIA’s employees were too busy sewing mandatory “Diversity Quilts” to be out gathering intelligence on terrorists.
Shrub’s obvious solution was to create yet another, even larger and more complex heavy-handed bureaucracy so that all the various intelligence agencies could gather under one big Police State umbrella while they squabbled over budgets, power and turf.
Then along came Mr. Socialism himself, Barack Hussein Obama, who did everything he could to make DHS larger, more powerful, less accountable and utterly inefficient. He appointed as Obergruppenfuhrer of the Homeland Security one Janet Incompetano. This choice apparently stemmed solely from her qualifications of (a) having a vagina and (b) being a Liberal.
Obergruppenfuhrer Janet jumped right on board the popular Obama "more-power/less-accountability" bandwagon; she worked hard from the beginning to make DHS virtually irrelevant against actual terrorists, but a huge threat to American citizens and their rights. She immediately made the use of the word “terrorism” verboten in her domain; we only had to worry about “man-caused disasters”. She even ruled out the use of the word “terrorist” until she herself needed to use the word to label American military veterans. Muslims terrorists were pretty much ignored so that Janet’s Gestapo could concentrate on the perilous threat of “Rightwing Extremists” which, under DHS guidelines, went from being just veterans to basically anyone who did not contribute directly to Barack Obama’s campaign. She was never worried about the open floodgates masquerading as our border with Mexico since illegally crossing the border is, again according this attorney's own words, “not a crime per se.” Janet did rake those pesky Canadians over the coals, though, for letting all those 9/11 hijackers into the US, the total number of whom actually came through Canada being...zero.
Even though she and her ever more powerful groping TSA minions slaved away, and again I quote directly, “24/7, 364 days a year” to keep us all safe, that 365th day when things were left wide open almost proved tragic. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, cleverly concealing his dangerous rightwing extremist tendencies under a cloak of radical Islamic hatred, was not on any no-fly list or security alert even though his own father, chairman of the First Bank of Nigeria, had personally warned the United States Embassy about his son’s terrorist radicalization. He was able to purchase a one-way ticket in Yemen, with cash, booking a seat specifically over the aircraft’s fuel tank, declaring no baggage, and casually referring to fellow travelers as, “Imperialist Yankee spawn-of-Satan Infidel pig-dogs!”, boarded Northwest Flight 253 unsearched and unflagged by security. Likewise, his transfer in Amsterdam set off no alarm bells. Umar got to the terrorist one-yard line, attempting to detonate the bomb he had concealed in his pants as the plane approached Detroit. Fortunately, his bomb misfired, burning instead of exploding, and civilian airline passengers had to wrestle him to the ground and detain him themselves.
As the story unfolded, Janet patted herself on the back and assured the American flying public they were still perfectly safe because, “The system worked." In fact, she later claimed it worked, "…like clockwork.” Perhaps she meant that it worked like the clockwork in the fizzled bomb in Umar’s underwear.
Her system “worked” just as well in Boston, perhaps not exactly like clockwork, but at least like a “$700 billion security failure.” Sure, maybe the CIA and Russian Intelligence agencies had warned about the terrorists in question, maybe they’d traveled freely back and forth from the US to hotbeds of Muslim terrorism where they disappeared for months at a time, maybe other members of the family were already on terrorist lists, and maybe they’d even posted their terrorist fantasies and intentions on facebook, to include home-made music videos such as I Will Dedicate My Life to Jihad!
But DHS had bigger fish to fry, keeping an eye on veterans and Catholics and the like, and just didn’t have time to look into the matter until after the terrorists actually set off their bombs. Then DHS was all over it like stink on shit, reacting almost instantaneously to close the barn door after the horse was gone, locking down the entire city of Boston in a Martial Law Police State with 9,000 armed agents. Despite flooding the streets with armored vehicles and heavily armed men, shutting down all work and transport in the city, conducting warrantless searches at will, and practicing safe gun handling techniques not seen since the Three Stooges movies, the younger terrorist managed to escape. It finally took the sleuthing skills of an ordinary citizen going out into his backyard to have a smoke (he was later fined by the EPA and the Health Nazis for that) to find the remaining terrorist for the jackboots. Once he was located, the well-trained, professional and calm government agents (who are the only people responsible enough to keep and bear arms) managed to engage in a two-hour gun battle with the terrorist and expend over 200 rounds before discovering that the no one was actually shooting back and that the 19-year-old jihadist was himself unarmed.  
That latest success being seen as a career-crowning achievement she could not hope to top, not even by being completely unable to account for more than a million foreigners who have entered the US, Janet decided recently to step down from her DHS Obergruppenfuhrer position to make room for some new blood in the administration.
Many breathed a sigh of relief. Surely, not even Barack Obama could come up with a new Obergruppenfuhrer worse than Janet. Think again. Being put forth by the Congressional Black Caucus as the top pick for Obergruppenfuhrer II is none other than Texas Congresscritter Sheila Jackson Lee. Oh Sheila is, to put a fine point on it, pretty much a complete moron. This is the woman who doesn’t know the difference between Korea and Vietnam, even when giving a lengthy speech on the subject, and who, perhaps more alarmingly, doesn’t know the difference between the Moon and Mars. Mixing up a country or two I can see, but entire planets?!?!
Oh Sheila is right in line with Janet when it comes to ferreting out the real Enemy of the State. That enemy was not Venezuelan Commie Dictator Hugo Chavez, whom she wanted our country to sell F-16s to. It was not rogue state terrorism-sponsor Syrian President Bashar Assad, whom the Congresscritter invited to come speak in Texas. It certainly wasn’t Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez when he ran the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division which, “...perversely abused the civil rights of Americans, abused the fiscal trust of the taxpayers and abused the rule of law.” Among his other accomplishments, Perez could find no wrong-doing in Black Panthers conducting voter intimidation at the polls, and was noted for fighting tooth and nail against individual states who sought voting law reform, to include seeking to purge the voter rolls of dead people. Not allowing the deceased to vote was a big violation of their civil rights, according to Perez. Especially in Chicago. It should come as no surprise that Oh Sheila led the charge to defend this Great American against the racist Republican slurs besmirching his integrity.
No sirree, Bawb. Sheila knows the real threat to this country is Whitey and his racism and, as a former slave herself, she knows about it personally and intimately. “I stand here as a freed slave because this congress came together!” Sheila’s only apparent strength as a black leader is her ability to…convincingly, mind you…accuse anyone or anything of being racist. She has railed against incipient racism (and I’m not making this up) found in hurricanes, Pepsi commercials, Secret Service agents, a balanced budget and of course those Tea Party bastards, who are obviously extensions of the KKK because they wear, “…uh, clothing with a name.” Sheila or Barry going on about “clothing with a name” strikes me as rather like the pot calling the kettle black. Ooops, using that old expression is now a racist Hate Crime. I supposed I can expect a DHS tank through my front wall very soon.
It’s bad enough that Oh Sheila is dumber than a box of rocks, but we must also add to the volatile mix arrogance, conceit and narcissism…hey, I guess I am starting to understand what Barry might see in her. Year after year, Lee has beaten her 534 Congressional colleagues hands down as “the Worst Boss in Washington” and also enjoys the highest turn-over rate in staffers of any Congress-critter. One former staffer said working for her was like serving a tour in Iraq and another said, “People don’t tell the worst of the stories, because they’re really unbelievable.” Oh Sheila’s favorite pet nickname for staffers, oft repeated and at the top of her lungs, is, “You stupid motherf*****!”
A few more direct quotes from the queen show that while no one else might think much of her, she has more than enough admiration for herself to go around.
“I’m Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee! Who do you think you are?”
“You don’t understand. I am a queen, and I demand to be treated like a queen!”
“Don’t you know who I am? I’m Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee! Where is my seafood meal! I know it was ordered!”
“What? What did you say to me? Who are you, the Congresswoman? You haven’t been elected! You don’t set up meetings with me! I tell you! You know what? You are the most unprofessional person I have ever met in my life!”
Whoa! Down, Sheila! That last quote kind of puts us back in the pot calling the kettle black territory again.
Yikes! An armored DHS MRAP carrying a heavily-armed SWAT team just crushed the front deck on my house. I gotta go! But I guess we can conclude from this that “the system” will still “work like clockwork” under a new Obergruppenfuhrer, even one as dumb as Oh Sheila.