Stephen Hunter on the SEAL snipers who killed the pirates

This is a discussion on Stephen Hunter on the SEAL snipers who killed the pirates within the In the News: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly forums, part of the The Back Porch category; A Sniper's Precision View to A Kill By Stephen Hunter Special to The Washington Post Tuesday, April 14, 2009; C01 The three quick shots off ...

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Thread: Stephen Hunter on the SEAL snipers who killed the pirates

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    Senior Member Array bklynboy's Avatar
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    Stephen Hunter on the SEAL snipers who killed the pirates

    A Sniper's Precision View to A Kill

    By Stephen Hunter
    Special to The Washington Post
    Tuesday, April 14, 2009; C01

    The three quick shots off the fantail of the USS Bainbridge that terminated the piracy incident in the Indian Ocean early Sunday night made a number of points for various pointy-headed political pundits to chew on, cudlike, for a few weeks. But one they'll probably miss is the following: The three shots make clear to a wider public what has been clear to people who pay attention to such things -- we are in the golden age of the sniper.

    He has become a kind of chivalric hero. He is the state, speaking in thunder, restoring order to the moral universe. Or he is civilization, informing the barbarians of the fecklessness of their plight. He is the line in the sand, the point of the spear, the man with the rifle, one of the few, the proud. He is also the intellectual of combat, in some ways, bringing a cool logic to what is normally hot, messy and exhausting.

    We vest in him the right to kill in our name and it seems, at least to some extent, we no longer hold it against him that he does so from a long way out, usually in darkness and silence. Instead, we wish him godspeed. He's no longer Lee Harvey Oswald. He's Carlos Hatchcock, the legendary Marine Corps sniper, or Chuck Mawhinney, who holds the Marine Corps sniper kill record in Vietnam, or the two posthumous Battle of Mogadishu Medal of Honor recipients, the Delta snipers Randy Shughart and Gary Gordon. And now, he is the Navy SEALs who shot the Somali pirates and saved Capt. Richard Phillips.

    Technology and necessity have combined to make the sniper the go-to guy in military operations, even given him a kind of glamour.

    The business of felling a bad guy with one shot has never been more refined. Briefly -- this isn't Guns & Ammo, after all -- new optical hardware and ballistic innovations have made the sniper more effective than he's ever been. Since Vietnam, the military sniper weapon has been a bolt-action .30-caliber Remington rifle, effective to a thousand yards. In the past two decades, however, heavier-caliber weapons have been deployed to greatly further the shooter's range.

    Now, using .50-caliber weapons, snipers regularly hit beyond a mile, and there's a whole new lineup of weapons between .30 and .50 calibers -- the .338 Lapua, the .416 Barrett, the .408 CheyTac -- that commandeer the range between 1,000 and 2,000 yards. On top of that, laser range-finding and chip-driven portable software enable the shooter to solve heretofore impenetrable ballistic equations, and index their sights precisely for that one-shot kill way, way out there.

    Sunday's mission demanded the utmost in skill and concentration, this after an arduous trek inward (by parachute and small boat to the Bainbridge at near dark on Saturday). Details will emerge, but I'm guessing the three SEALs were each equipped with a rifle called the SR-25, said to be the choice of SEAL snipers. It's a semiautomatic, for fast follow-up shots, and looks like an M-16 on growth hormones.

    It almost certainly wears a tube at the muzzle, what you would call a silencer, what the community calls a suppressor. The point, for this kind of shooting, is that it's unlikely the three shooters would try to fire simultaneously; they probably shot over a few seconds, and the unthwarted report of the first rifle might have caused Targets 2 and 3 to withdraw. As it transpired, no pirate likely figured out what happened to his colleagues in the seconds before it happened to him.

    Perhaps the pirates didn't realize the SEALs would be equipped with the refined technology of night vision. They thought they were safe, crouching behind the cabin of their life boat, peering over it at the big dark bulk of the Bainbridge 50 feet or so ahead. Actually, they were quite obvious to the shooters eyeing them through a somewhat awkward device, like a telescopic lens, but bloated, more complex, more powerful, built around the ability to intensify the ambient light. To the snipers, the pirates were as green as the witch in "The Wizard of Oz," and their eyes glowed. Meanwhile, some kind of index point -- cross hairs, a chevron, a simple glowing dot -- marked the bullet's point of impact, having been adjusted to the proper range in advance.

    One thing that suggests the Navy may have had this ending in mind all along was the command decision to tow the lifeboat to calmer waters. Even at a relatively short range, shooting for blood from one vessel to another in high, rough seas would be a challenge difficult to meet, much less three times, more or less simultaneously.

    So what is going on in the sniper's mind as he waits -- I'm guessing he's prone, the most stable shooting position -- in the dark, on the overhang at the extreme rear of the ship? He's crucially aware of his breathing rhythm, because he wants to fire between breaths. He probably doesn't think much about trigger pull. He wouldn't be here if he didn't know how to pull a tri gger. He's not "pulling" it in the sense of exerting his muscle against it, so much as urging it to cooperate it, massaging it into doing his bidding. If he hurries, if his finger is misplaced on its curve or catches on the trigger guard beneath it, it can all go wrong.

    It can go wrong, too, if he neglects the follow-through, because like all athletic endeavors, shooting or pitching or throwing or tossing a crumple of paper into a wastebasket, the issue is the wholeness of motion, even long after the missile is dispatched.

    Oh, and he has to do all that on instant notice with someone's life on the line, and if he misses, the burden of shame will be crushing.

    What does he feel? The joke, much told, is that when asked what he felt when he took a man's life, the sniper answered, "Recoil." I suspect that's nonsense. But I also suspect these men are pure alphas, with unnatural levels of aggression and strength, which is magnified by their willingness to drive such larger questions down deeper and hold them far away from the duty mind. What they feel, then, is simple: None of your damn business.

    Hunter, a former chief film critic at The Washington Post, is the creator of a series of novels featuring the sniper Bob Lee Swagger. His next book, to be published in October, is "I, Sniper."

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    An interesting commentary, it sounds as if the author has at least a little knowledge on the subject.

    As a LE sharpshooter, I can say that a lot of the points made in the article rang true of my own thoughts as this unfolded. I'm not nor never was a military sniper, but most of the tactics I use in the civilian world and the training received are one in the same. I can't speak with any amount of authority on the subject of military protocol or modern sniper tactics, I can only make assumptions and educated guesses.

    One thing I found interesting was the mention of the sr25. Until recently, the bolt gun was the prefered choice of military and LE sharpshooters. I myself have moved to a modified AR-10 over the old standard PSS. I was one of the first to do so in my area. Many thought I was crazy for doing so. Its good to hear that my thinking and thought process on weapon selection is seemingly backed up by the SEALs. Who can argue with them?
    "Just blame Sixto"

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    VIP Member Array Janq's Avatar
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    Sixto,

    For reinforcement toward your view and what is now today becoming a much better understood point of function fact in regard to semi-automatic action accurized rifles being more overall purposeful than that of a bolt action, with same reliability, you should seek out and watch this _excellent_ recent feature by the Discovery/Military channel...

    'Top Sniper'
    Top Sniper :: Military Channel
    Top Sniper - AOL Video

    The latest version of this piece was broadcast this past March 24th and 25th cross four parts titled; "Science", "Long Range", "Urban Combat", and "Science".
    The feature is a training event as well as a competition including not just military operators new and seasoned too but a civilian law enforcement officer team as well as operators from three foreign government NATO partners.

    I've seen a fair amount of features on this subject but by far this specific piece is the best of the best and for a number of reasons which will become evident upon actually watching the series.
    All manner of hardware and action types are used in this peieceby the participants including not one but three different semi-automatic systems including the SR-25 and for the civilian LEOs an accurized with match grade barrel M4 (reason being they used what they would most likely have access to while on patrol and on short notice to a call out).
    You will per your profession find this piece to be useful and informative.

    Upon reading Hunter's piece the Discovery channel feature contradicts him in one one specific point and that is toward firing in unison as opposed to in series.
    There is and in the feature was specific reference and training to being able to do as much and ironically the scenario as described past period in the feature pretty much mirrors this real world situation.

    The Discovery/Military channel piece is excellent.
    So much so that I've kept in on my DVR and plan to archive them to DVD.

    - Janq

    P.S. - I started to not tell you this so as to not give away the ending but suffice it to say it becomes exceedingly clear just midway through to all of the participant teams and individual operators that possessing a _modern_ and accurized/match grade hardened and reliable semi-automatic action sniper rifle presents a distinct and irrefutable advantage against that of the bolt rifle, including a Remy 700 and most every other hardware flavor you can think of, in all areas of function and singular effectiveness. If the mission calls for or might have chance that more than three shots are required and to be done so over a relatively quick succession then it's today with modern arms clear that the semi-automatic beats the bolt gun hands down.
    Historically a heretical thought and statement as recent as even 10 years ago. Today though that statement as a matter of being fact is as I'd noted is proved in this series to be irrefutable, and the lesson is learned by all participant students in the series.
    "Killers who are not deterred by laws against murder are not going to be deterred by laws against guns. " - Robert A. Levy

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    A moment of tremendous insight into a world that most of us can't even begin to understand.
    Still, I'm glad the these well-trained and unique men performed flawlessly under the worst conditions...eliminating three more oxygen thieves from the face of the earth.
    The last Blood Moon Tetrad for this millennium starts in April 2014 and ends in September 2015...according to NASA.

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    VIP Member Array packinnova's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by retsupt99 View Post
    A moment of tremendous insight into a world that most of us can't even begin to understand.
    Still, I'm glad the these well-trained and unique men performed flawlessly under the worst conditions...eliminating three more oxygen thieves from the face of the earth.
    Hey! Does this make the SEALs "green" compliant? They did lower CO2 levels afterall
    "My God David, We're a Civilized society."

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    The Marine Snipers name is Gunnery Sergeant Carlos Hathcock not "Hatchcock"
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    Quote Originally Posted by SIXTO View Post
    An interesting commentary, it sounds as if the author has at least a little knowledge on the subject.
    Yup, he knows whereof he speaks. Stephen Hunter is the author of the Bob Lee Swagger novels. Great reads!

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    Quote Originally Posted by dukalmighty View Post
    The Marine Snipers name is Gunnery Sergeant Carlos Hathcock not "Hatchcock"
    And the possessive of "sniper" is "sniper's," not "snipers."




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    50 feet - I guess that dispels the myth that all military sniping missions involve extreme range.

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    I don't know how true this is, but! I was talking to a Ballistics expert and he told me the US military is getting away from the 50 cal and going almost exclusively with the 338.

    The reason is the 50cal, is causing to many detached retina's

    Like I said, I'm not to sure how accurate the info is. But it kind of makes sense
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    Excellent commentary by Hunter!

    It was cool to read. I have two friends, one ex-SEAL and one ex-Scout Sniper (USMC) and have had more than a few in-depth discussions on "commitment". I can say that their level of commitment is probably something which truly is a foreign concept to most people (and certainly most politicians). I also know a few Rangers and it applies to them as well.

    Those within the special operations community truly are the tip of the spear and we owe them a lot of gratitude! Of course it goes without saying the gratitude and thanks we owe all veterans and active duty personnel.

    Good read, thanks for posting it!

    I copied it and sent it to my ex-sniper buddy. Am looking forward to his comment on it.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jmac00 View Post
    I don't know how true this is, but! I was talking to a Ballistics expert and he told me the US military is getting away from the 50 cal and going almost exclusively with the 338.

    The reason is the 50cal, is causing to many detached retina's

    Like I said, I'm not to sure how accurate the info is. But it kind of makes sense
    I think if the detached retina issue is the case, they will probably use the .50 much less than they do now. Especially against human targets.

    However, I don't think it will completely leave their inventory. It has too much value in disabling hard targets like communication equipment, vehicles and targets like that.

    But that's just my opinion. Interesting none the less.
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    I've got several of above mentioned weapons and I shoot the .50 BMG rifles quite a bit. I did experience some eye trouble, a partial retinal separation that resulted in a bubble of fluid which caused the images to focus on something like a secondary lens, which totally hosed up the sight in my eye. I was seeing different shades of light with each eye and it was like I had a spot the size of a quarter out of focus on everything that I looked at.

    So I went to an Ophthalmologist and did some laser scan and pinpointed the cause. He asked me if I had had any head injuries or got any sharp blows to the head in which I replied negative. He is a hunter and collects guns and he asked me if I shot alot, which I do. We got to talking and he thinks the recoil of the BMG's is what done it. He said that he has had several cases of retinal separation due to high recoil rifles.

    Luckily it will heal by itself over a period of several months, barring further "jarring" of it.

    I said that to say that it is entirely possible that retina separation can be a factor, especially with extensive shooting. Most people wont shoot a .50 much, I would tend to shoot anywhere from 50 to 100 shots every time I went out.
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    Quote Originally Posted by HotGuns View Post
    I've got several of above mentioned weapons and I shoot the .50 BMG rifles quite a bit. I did experience some eye trouble, a partial retinal separation that resulted in a bubble of fluid which caused the images to focus on something like a secondary lens, which totally hosed up the sight in my eye. I was seeing different shades of light with each eye and it was like I had a spot the size of a quarter out of focus on everything that I looked at.

    So I went to an Ophthalmologist and did some laser scan and pinpointed the cause. He asked me if I had had any head injuries or got any sharp blows to the head in which I replied negative. He is a hunter and collects guns and he asked me if I shot alot, which I do. We got to talking and he thinks the recoil of the BMG's is what done it. He said that he has had several cases of retinal separation due to high recoil rifles.

    Luckily it will heal by itself over a period of several months, barring further "jarring" of it.

    I said that to say that it is entirely possible that retina separation can be a factor, especially with extensive shooting. Most people wont shoot a .50 much, I would tend to shoot anywhere from 50 to 100 shots every time I went out.
    that 338 ain't looking so bad now 'eh
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jmac00 View Post
    that 338 ain't looking so bad now 'eh
    You mean that 10/22 is looking real sweet LOL
    "Outside of the killings, Washington has one of the lowest crime rates in the country,"
    --Mayor Marion Barry, Washington , DC .

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    Thanks Janq, I normally don't watch those types of things, I find they are more full of entertainment that factual information, but I will seek this one out on your recommendation. Discovery often does a good job.
    "Just blame Sixto"

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