Musings over what current technology advances lend to an old problem
|Snipers are an ugly aspect of war however they are by no means the only troubling aspect. War is a state sanctioned license to kill at a level that is mind boggling and almost unimaginable. In WW2 there were aces in aviation who shot down over 200 aircraft, there were German tank aces who destroyed over 100 enemy tanks and at Stalingrad there were Soviet snipers who recorded kills that exceeded the one hundred mark. Nobody should ever be allowed to achieve that level of skill and proficiency. Long before this happens individuals with such skill and experience should be eliminated.
As long as American soldiers are willing to exchange bullet for bullet and bayonet for bayonet, snipers are a cost effective way for our enemies to inflict casualties and attrit our combat forces. In Vietnam, as a rifle platoon leader, I had VC and NVA shooting at me and my men. Fortunately they were no better aims than most of us were. As a result, attrition by rifle or machine gun fire was not the statistic we feared most. IEDs were the most effective means the enemy had for causing casualties. Surprisingly little seems to have changed, however, snipers have a great potential for reversing that statistic. We know that US snipers have been very effective in the middle east wars. Still, when I see footage of US operations in Iraq and Afganistan, what I see looks a like the old search and clear operations we used to run in Vietnam... operations where we were walking around with targets on our chests looking for an invisible enemy, trying to avoid stepping on a booby trap. Consider how our forces would fare if we found ourselves in urban warfare facing an enemy like the Soviets. In that scenario thousands of German soldiers were killed by snipers and while the Germans never quite figured out how to counter the dilemma, the results showed how serious the threat can be given a well trained and determined enemy. It seems to me that the techniques for countering a sniper threat would be different in a rural as opposed to an urban environment, however the principles would be the same; Locate, Engage, Verify.
Armies throughout the world who train snipers emphasis the following... conceal your location, do not remain too long in one spot, and have backup. The Russians at Stalingrad had an ideal location for sniping. Most of the large industrial factories had been razed by bombing and artillery fire and these blown out buildings and concrete rubble offered good cover, concealment and protection. Shots at ranges of under 500 yards were commonplace. At these ranges a trained sniper seldom misses. The Germans reacted by taking cover. Mortar and artillery fire, while not used very effectively, was a common response and engendered the most fear in the Soviets. One Russian sniper was so effective the Germans were said to be considering exceptional measures to end his streak. When the Russians got word they suspected it would be the use of armored vehicles and took measures accordingly. Exactly how that played is not a matter of public record.
It is well known that commanders are loath to fight in urban areas. However, if such is ever the case there needs to be a better idea of how to eliminate the sniper threat. The US Army has already made some progress. For a long time armies have been aware of the technology referred to as Counter Batter Fire. In this scenario a radar picks up the trajectory of an incoming artillery round and thereby knows the precise point from which it was fired. This technology has been expanded into small arms fire. It is currently being integrated with other means to take advantage of this vital information. While we have a remedial capability, it is not in an optimal state of development, nor is it integrated well enough into the counter fire capabilities of small units to be responsive. What is required is a "hands off "almost instantaneous integration with a company level, mortar fire direction center.
For example, a shot is fired at US forces in an Urban area. The location from where the shot came is fed electronically to the mortars. In less than five seconds a half a dozen rounds are fired at and around the enemy location. While there could be rules of engagement issues since the fires are blind, the munitions could be fuzed so they did not penetrate a building where civilians might be taking refuge. Integrating a drone with a surveillance camera would show the effectiveness of the fire and a better look at the target. If warranted, heavier artillery could be followed up. This is a capability the Germans lacked at Stalingrad and one that DARPA should be looking into.