The Emerging Caliber Threat

Despite a U.S. protest ¡n 2005 the Austrian Interior Ministry issued an export license to famed gun maker Steyr to sell 800 .50-caliber sniper rifles to Iran. These high-quality, single-shot, bolt-action Model 50 HS rifles have an effective range of 2,500 meters, comparable to quality American .50-caliber bolt guns.

"We asked the Iranians to give us a certificate stating that the end user of the weapons would be the Iranian In 2005, Iran received some 800 high-quality Steyr police," an Austrian government 50 HS rifles, despite the country's history of arming spokesman explained, adding that the terrorist groups. Iranians "would use it to protect the country's borders and to combat drug trafficking." That's not exactly how Iranian Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani saw it, telling reporters, "Now our snipers can target the enemy in their armored personnel carriers and concrete bunkers."

Iran, which has long supported such major terrorist organizations as Hezbollah and recently was caught smuggling an entire shipload of weapons to terrorists, insisted that the .50-caliber rifles were not intended for use in Iraq, despite its lengthy border with the neighboring country.

even conduct schools for allied combatants such as the Iraqi insurgents.

It was the Chechens who first organized hunter-killer teams ("fighting groups") by combining snipers with RPG rocketeers and machine gunners for roving hit-and-run attacks—a tactic mimicked by Iraq's insurgents and quite likely inspired or instructed by Chechen veterans. Some Iraqi terrorist videos have featured an SVD-armed sniper alongside insurgents with RPGs and AKs—similar to a Chechen hunter-killer team—and such squads have been encountered in Iraq's more rebellious neighborhoods.

Although not seen in Iraq, five-man teams— with one sniper and four AK- or machine gun-armed gunmen—have been fielded by the rebels in Chechnya's rural areas. The sniper would stalk forward perhaps 500 meters—or lie in ambush that far forward—and fire one well-aimed shot. Hearing this, his comrades would open fire to divert attention and provide

Chechen influence is suggested by this Iraqi terrorist video, which shows an SVD-armed sniper teamed up with RPG and AKs as a fighting group.

the January 2000 sniper killing of Maj. Gen. Mikhail Malofeyev5 the commander of Russian forces in northern Chechnya.

Chechen snipers affiliated with al Qaeda have become respected as subject experts and readily share their experiences, and perhaps ball rounds intended for firing in PK machine guns, which lack consistency and, thus, accuracy.

However, a sniper has such a low expenditure rate that it doesn't require much ammunition to keep him supplied. An Iraqi urban sniper could operate for an entire year with the contents of a single ammo can. As is well known, before the 2003 invasion, Saddam had his elite units and internal security forces—the nucleus of the insurgency—cache ammo and weapons specifically for continued fighting. This fact, along with the availability of quality ammunition in neighboring countries, suggests that ammunition supply is not a significant problem for snipers. When snipers eventually are found to be firing chiefly ordinary ball ammo—and one-shot kills decline—it will be a strong intelligence indicator that the larger counterinsurgency effort is achieving success.


At some time, probably every American combat unit in Iraq must contend with an enemy sniper, but too often their counteraction does not eliminate their attacker.

Montana National Guardsmen assigned to

Collapsed on the pavement after being hit by sniper fire, USMC GySgt Ryan P. Shane (L) and an unidentified Marine were shot while attempting to rescue a third Marine in Fallujah. (Photo credit: USMC photo by Cpl. Joel A. Chaverri)

A Russian sniper in Chechnya, alert for possible Chechen gunmen.

covering fire for the sniper to escape from responding Russian forces.

Given their expertise, it's possible that some of Iraq's best insurgent snipers—the one-shot, one-kill types—have been trained or advised by Chechens. Or some may actually be Chechens.


The availability of quality ammunition could be a limiting factor for insurgent snipers. The most abundant 7.62x54R ammo is low-grade

killed. On several occasions in or near Fallujah, such to-thc-deaih snipers have held up U.S. forces for extended periods untile finally, antitank weapons or tank main guns blasted them from their barricaded FFPs.

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