Schneier on Security
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December 16, 2008
Really interesting article on snipers:
It might be because there's another side to snipers and sniping after all. In particular, even though a sniper will often be personally responsible for huge numbers of deaths -- body counts in the hundreds for an individual shooter are far from unheard of -- as a class snipers kill relatively few people compared to the effects they achieve. Furthermore, when a sniper kills someone, it is almost always a person they meant to kill, not just someone standing around in the wrong place and time. These are not things that most branches of the military can say.
But, for a well-trained military sniper at least, "collateral damage" -- the accidental killing and injuring of bystanders and unintended targets -- is almost nonexistent. Mistakes do occur, but compared to a platoon of regular soldiers armed with automatic weapons, rockets, grenades etc a sniper is delicacy itself. Compared to crew-served and vehicle weapons, artillery, tanks, air support or missile strikes, a sniper is not just surgically precise but almost magically so. Yet he (or sometimes she) is reviled as the next thing to a murderer, while the mainstream mass slaughter people are seen as relatively normal.
Consider the team who put a strike jet into the air: a couple of aircrew, technicians, armourers, planners, their supporting cooks and medics and security and supply people. Perhaps fifty or sixty people, then, who together send up a plane which can deliver a huge load of bombs at least twice a day. Almost every week in Afghanistan and Iraq right now, such bombs are dropped. The nature of heavy ordnance being what it is, these bombs kill and maim not just their targets (assuming there is a correctly-located target) but everyone else around. Civilian deaths in air strikes are becoming a massive issue for NATO and coalition troops in Afghanistan.
Those sixty people, in a busy week, could easily put hundreds of tons of munitions into a battlefield -- an amount of destructive power approaching that of a small nuclear weapon. This kind of firepower can and will kill many times more people than sixty snipers could in the same time span - and many of the dead will typically be innocent bystanders, often including children and the elderly. Such things are happening, on longer timescales, as this article is written. Furthermore, all these bomber people -- even the aircrew -- run significantly less personal risk than snipers do.
But nobody thinks of a bomb armourer, or a "fighter" pilot", or a base cook as a cowardly assassin. Their efforts are at least as deadly per capita, they run less personal risks, but they're just doing their jobs. And let's not forget everyone else: artillerymen, tank crews, machine gunners. Nobody particularly loathes them, or considers them cowardly assassins.
Posted on December 16, 2008 at 6:25 AM
• 64 Comments
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Wasn't the push by the US military to create more accurate and targetable bombs in part to prevent collateral damage?
For an engrossing study of snipers in the battle for Stalingrad watch the DVD of "Enemy At The Gates"
As non-military person I have to agree with the article, this is exactly the image that is given to snipers. I've heard sometimes that snipers are called "bacl-stabbing and sneaky" compared to the glorified foot-soldier or pilot.
Well, if you ask me I see not why a sniper is worse than a platoon sneaking into a village at midnight, he probably only is better in staying unseen. And I would never understand why a sniper should be more back-stabbing than a bomber high up in the air.
If I wouldn't despise war as a means of solving problems, I would wish for more snipers and less of the conventional forces. (Although, remember Yugoslavia, snipers firing upon civilians are definitely morally even worse than the aforementioned platoon, because at least the sniper has absolutely different means than shooting bystanders.)
Between soldiers, snipers are unfair.
I think this is related to killology. The military tries to remove the responsibility for killing from a soldier to their commander or the military unit to make the soldiers more effective in killing. So an individual soldier becomes less responsible. A sniper on the other hand, has to make a decision about death and life all by himself which probably leads to this perception.
Out of sight, out of mind.
The formost prerequisite for mass murder by ordinary people is to de-humanify the targets.
Either by not seeing them at all (airstrike crew) or declaring them non-human (all genocides of the last 200 years).
Seen that way a sniper is much more honest...
Everyone who just "does their job" in a war is morally equal. The ultimate guilt goes to the leaders and other politicians (not forgetting press and general public) who create the situation in the first place.
Of course there are those who go beyond their orders and kill gratiuitously - and maybe snipers have more opportunities to do this than a cook at an airbase.
On the other hand there are those who put themselves at great personal risk to avoid collateral damage (for example Leonard Cheshire diving an unarmed plane into the flak over a factory to warn the workers to get out before the bombing started in WW2). Such people are rightly regarded as heroes - and maybe a sniper is in a better position to do this than the average soldier.
I have no military connections and have always had the highest regard for military snipers.
So I must be an oddball relative to the rest of the population. And just to position things properly, I am neither pro nor anti gun.
Mistakes do indeed happen. Here's just one - which no one would ever have heard about if the victim had not just happened to be a well-respected journalist employed by Western media companies. (You may have to stick it out through various advertisements and splash screens to get to the article, but it is well worth reading).
'But nobody thinks of a bomb armourer, or a "fighter" pilot", or a base cook as a cowardly assassin'.
That turns out to be an unjustified generalisation. As it happens, I do regard such people as cowardly assassins - if they help to perpetrate cowardly assassination. More and more today, we face the ethical problem of people who set out to serve the public (through the government) and end up doing abominable things. We are supposed to suspend moral judgment because they are "our brave boys", or "just police doing their job, protecting us".
It's tough for someone who wants to enlist or join the police. There is only one Army and one police force - you can't hunt around for a more ethical one.
But I can't help wondering how many German civilians in 1942 thought, "Maybe we shouldn't have invaded Russia after all. But now we have to support our brave boys, who are facing unspeakable privations out there to protect us from the Bolshevik monsters".
Were they right about that? And why were they not allowed to plead, in mitigation, that they were "only obeying orders" when our soldiers can and regularly do?
If you read any standard textbook about snipers, you will learn that they were loathed by ordinary soldiers as long ago as the American Civil War. Both Union and Confederate sides routinely shot captured snipers, or killed them in less humane ways.
I am wondering what Sniper means to information security practice. Two of its "KPI" or metric are similar to that of IPS/IDS, false positive/negative - the sniper should shoot the target while avoid shooting non-target. What others?
Good article, but it is a bit too much on the "cool" side; for example, it says in the end about the 7.62x54R that:"The R on the Russian sniper round signified "rimfire" rather than the more common centre-fire round with the cap in the middle of the case base."
The R stands for rimmed (and centerfire), not rimfire. Rimfire cartridges are a totally different thing and very weak, like the .22lr. There are other similar parts in the article.
Apart from the "ignorant guy trying to write about a cool subject using words he doesn't know", it was a fairly good article. And it is kinda sad that artillerymen are not regarded in media as evil as snipers when their munitions fall on someone 15 miles away, nor death by shrapnel is regarded as bad/cruel as "execution style" close range.
I think that the distaste from snipers is two-fold. The good ones are generally loners who have to do specific things that separate them from their compatriots; they thus get cut off from the general social environment of the armed forces - and that makes them 'weird'. They're perceived as cowardly because they hide in shadows, and take every safety precaution in order to stay alive.
On the other side, a good sniper is nearly impossible to defend against. A lone gunman with excellent aim and a skill for hiding in shadows is extremely hard to find, and harder to catch.
In short, their alienated from their own side, and reviled by the enemy.
They're nevertheless about as good as one gets in bang-for-buck. I'd much rather be trying to hide from a platoon that's riding around in a tank than from a lone sniper bent on taking me out.
Reminds me of the uproar at Israeli targeted killings of top terrorists, even though the alternative is to attempt an arrest with ground troops ...
I work with soldiers daily and have worked with some snipers and former snipers. It has been my observation that enemy snipers are reviled, feared and loathed. Our snipers are generally held in high regard by their brothers in arms. Anytime you are pinned down, in danger of your position being over run you want a couple of things, Accurate Artillery and a Sniper with lots of ammo and good vantage point.
Dislike of our snipers comes is that they have a lot of autonomy on the battlefield and often seem to come and go at will. Frequently they get less of the details and other dirty work that normal infantrymen put up with. They also get better training, cooler "stuff" etc.
Nobody loves a sniper until they are covering your withdrawal.
Good article, and I agree with some of the above comments about the impersonal nature of random killing being acceptable while the precise nature of sniper's killing being related to murder. Like the firing squad where ONE of the squad doesn't have a bullet, so everyone can assuage their conscience.
Militarily, this reminds me of the Vietnam War speculation: The war was so expensive for the US that it would have been cheaper to hire Mafia hitmen. Less Agent Orange, too.
Oh, and as we know from Vietnam and are seeing in Iraq, military kill stats are overcounted (perhaps 10-1) and civilian casualties are undercounted.
the stephen hunter books on bob lee swagger as a sniper -- timeles classics...
they are far from cowards.
This reminds me of something a a military history re-enactor told me. Soldiers of the colonial era considered it murder to aim their gun, and some would even pull the trigger while looking away from the enemy. That way, no individual would determine who died; only God would. I thought it quaint and anachronistic, but clearly the sentiment lives on.
> But nobody thinks of a bomb armourer, or a fighter pilot", or a base cook as a cowardly assassin.
Well I think the reason is pretty clear - snipers are perceived to lack 'honour' because their victims have basically no chance of survival. It's not a fair challenge. It is the equivalent of stabbing someone in the back.
Fighter pilots are different because they don't directly control who lives and dies. Therefore it isn't a direct challenge on someone's life.
The difference between a sledge hammer and a scalpel.
Sniper versus sniper is considered a fair fight. Soldier versus a sniper is not considered a fair fight: the sniper is well-hidden, presumably well-trained and talented, and already in position to kill. Calling them cowardly assassins is just the way people perceive "fairness" in battle. Ironic, sure, and ultimately stupid, since all's fair in love and war.
Simple: the main task of a foot soldier is to prevent violence by patrolling; simply being there. The rol of a pilot is also to observe. In both cases, killing is *not* the main task, and in fact often seen as a last resort. On the other hand, the only task of a sniper it to kill, not to prevent. That makes a hughe difference in perception.
To be fair, one jet with with a support crew of 60 is not the same thing as 60 snipers. Snipers need a lot of support in the form of good intelligence and information about their intended target. If they are reduced to deciding who the non-combatants and the combatants are just by how they look in the scope, I would surmise their "collateral damage" would be a lot higher.
Personally, I think the military has allowed the negative perceptions of snipers to expand in order to increase the exclusivity and elitism of the sniper units.
It's not just military sniping. Fear of the homicidal sniper in Washington, D.C., five years ago, far exceeded the actual threat.
Snipers kill without warning. They can strike at any time, even in a rear area. That's where the fear and hatred comes from.
It's the same fear that inspires the historical loathing of partisans and commandos; the same fear behind the contemporary obsession with shoe bombers and liquid explosives.
I don't think that the premise behind the article is actually true... if you look at how captured soldiers are treated... especially looking at Vietnam.
Pilots who were shot down and snipers were actually treated almost identically, and both those two classes of soldier were generally treated differently then the run of the mill infantry man.
The only difference between a sniper and a pilot in Vietnam is that a pilot had a chance of surviving and being sent to a POW camp. A sniper is almost always killed on sight, but many pilots were as well... or were beaten so badly as to not survive long.
"But nobody thinks of a bomb armourer, or a "fighter" pilot", or a base cook as a cowardly assassin."
Most people don't, maybe, but to say that nobody does is quite wrong. Every soldier and every member of the military is a cowardly assassin, bar none.
To take my previous comment a little further... the reason is not because snipers are so accurate. As I said, I believe pilots and snipers are actually thought of the same way by the enemy. The reason they are treated the same way is because there is a power differential.
When a sniper pins down a platoon, they generate an incredible amount of fear, and the platoon feels powerless to stop the sniper. In fact, it generally takes an inordinate amount of time/effort/ammunition to take down one sniper.
The same is true of a pilot that bombs soliders. The soldiers are generally powerless to stop the bomb, or the pilot.
In both cases, when they do get a chance to get their hands on the soldier in question (capturing the sniper or shooting down the pilot), they exact revenge on him.
While not related directly to the military, when I played military first person shooter games, I'd often play the sniper. It would torque my opponents more to be killed by someone crawling around in the bushes hundreds of yards away than someone who ran up behind them with a fully-auto and cut them in half before they could turn around. I can't explain why.
Let's not leave out the collateral damage inflicted by depleted uranium munitions on both the civilian population and our own troops. Far too many people don't view the contractors, heavy brass or the administration of the Commander in Thief as cowards and mass murderers for consciously facilitating the use of such weapons of mass destruction.
@Freek and Kelly
Actually, a substantial secondary job for snipers has been as scouts, **gathering** information on the battlefield. After all, they often have the best overwatch position they can get, which lets them get a better view of what is going on than most. And they have often passed an area several times on their trips in and out and are a valuable source for terrain intelligence.
"[T]he main task of a foot soldier is to prevent violence by patrolling; simply being there. The rol[e] of a pilot is also to observe. In both cases, killing is *not* the main task, and in fact often seen as a last resort."
Perhaps this is true in "peacekeeping" operations (where soldiers are used as cops), but the role of combat infantry in war is to kill or capture enemy soldiers. Likewise in war a fighter pilot's primary job is to destroy enemy aircraft.
The scout-sniper's job is to selectively kill key enemy personnel, destroy critical equipment, and collect battlefield intelligence. As the article described, this they do with great precision, with low to no collateral damage, and at relatively low cost.
For a detailed analysis of the topic of who kills in war and why and how they feel about it I strongly recommend _On Killing_ by David Grossman (insist on the original, not his newer and much less satisfying _On Combat_).
billswift - Thanks for point that out I was about to make the exact same point. The first issue I take with the article is that it purely focusses on one aspect of a snipers role. A modern sniper does far more than just killing people at range. The second is that some of the 'facts' quoted are somewhat inaccurate, are the author having a guess or just plain wrong.
Of course I ignored the preview button and mashed the keyboard for the first sentence! :(
Curious that the author doesn't use the word "assassin" until the last paragraph.
The original Assassins got their inflated reputation by not bothering to fight armies, but kill specific generals and princes instead. From an infantryman's point of view, this is arguably the most humane strategy ever, even if no one has ever been more reviled by princes and generals.
"fair"ness in war? Is there crying in baseball?
Reminds me of the derogatory view knights and men at arms had for archers.
Likely to do with the invisbile risk snipers are under "not as easy to get killed as we are" mentality as well as the certainty that they are killing people.
A solider in a firesquad is given a blank to create the doubt that any individual may have shot the executee.
And as far as fighter jets "observing" killing as a last resort ... what about low-level ground attacks to support the marine units
I think the writer completely misses the social and cultural factors at heart of this issue.
"Consider the team who put a strike jet into the air"
Right, and think about the stereotype or profile of a pilot.
Now consider the profile of a sniper according to the US Army: patient, disciplined and used to working alone. According to the Army Sniper School, 80 percent of sniper success comes from honing a "loner" profile, only 20 percent comes from actual marksmanship.
Thus, I'd say distaste for snipers is as much a function of distaste among populations for individualists as anything else.
It is common for snipers get criticized for the usual behavior issues: coming and going as they please, not being part of a team, acting independently, being aloof, etc.
Note, this also feeds the tendency of captors to execute them on the spot. Fear of someone captured who is known to act independently and to have mastered killing (minimum of 90 percent first-round hits at 600 meters) is totally different than fear of someone who knows how to fly a jet and push buttons, or someone who follows orders.
So, the country with the lowest morals (the ones willing to use the most arbitrary destructive force) will rule the world. Not the outcome I'd like to see...
"Every soldier and every member of the military is a cowardly assassin, bar none." -Muffin
Every keyboard jockey who brings down the men and women of the military in the safe shelter of their lodgings are the cowards and the outsourcers of war.
It's curious that infantry would find snipers cowardly, lying in wait for a target which has no chance, while the same infantry setting up an ambush giving the enemy no chance would see themselves as brave warriors.
I think its more about human nature.. sort of why we are more worried about airplanes crashing than cars crashing on the freeway. One is something that gathers a lot of fear around it because our brains say "It could happen to me.. and I have no control over that.. I can't see it and it will kill me." the cars have the opposite problem where the brain will say "There is nothing to worry about.. I am in complete control and nothing can kill me."
So the sniper has been reviled from greek times because everyone feels they could be a potential victim and have no power to stop it...
@Alan: "So, the country with the lowest morals (the ones willing to use the most arbitrary destructive force) will rule the world. Not the outcome I'd like to see..."
That's my thoughts on the matter. Trying to optimize timing on when to use what kind of force is enough to drive a good person insane. We can look on history and see how many lives could have been saved it Hitler was stopped sooner; but had that happened, we'd rather be looking back on the lives sacrificed to stop him.
Quite a dilemma. When you do the wrong thing, there are consequences that can be measured. Yet, had you done the right thing, those consequences wouldn't exist to be measured against.
The sniper piece is a good read. In the context of war, they have their place.
Fusion, all I'll say is that's a very debatable statement. But it is almost impossible to debate that specific topic without people bringing their political beliefs (or, more specificially, their like or dislike of specific leaders) into the discussion. So, I'll leave it at that.
That said, the sniper piece does make for an interesting ethics discussion. On one hand, they are despised. On the other hand, they are often far more accurate than other tactics.
Surprisingly most posters here missed the the connection between how personal the killing becomes. For the sniper its one shot; one kill. Thats as personal as it gets. For the fighter/bomber pilot its less personal. Generally the shear distance and speed of the aircraft negates seeing any real aftermath. Thus less personal.
The sniper not only "plays God" with the individual but has to record success yea or nay. Meaning they have to prove or disprove the kill to be effective. That means still looking down the scope to confirm the kill. Fighter pilots - not so much. Did the ordinance hit the target area? If so good. If not do I have the ordinance to make another attempt? If so then given the mission priority they probably will but never really see the end of the handiwork up close.
Killing someone at 600 meters or less is a great deal different than two miles or 30 miles with MLRS (Multiple Launch Rocket System). The effect is the same - dead enemy combatants.
Its dealing with the immediate affects that most people have the most difficulty absorbing and processing. How many fighter/bomber pilots end up in psychiatric wards after wars compared to the number of infantrymen and snipers? Its all a matter of how personal and up close it is for the individual.
At least thats been my experience both on and off the battlefield.
Oh! And for the die hard pacifists out there. Stuff it. Though this war was created by less than honorable intent (my opinion). We have fought any number of wars that have kept your freedoms "free" for you to expose your opinions. Good or bad. I fought so that others could insult me.
@beads: "We have fought any number of wars that have kept your freedoms "free" for you to expose your opinions. Good or bad. I fought so that others could insult me."
God bless you for your service. Merry Christmas.
There was some chatter at my work today about the man who hurled the shoe at the POTUS. Some people thought it was disgraceful, others wished it would have connected. My opinion is, regardless of ones preferences, I'm just glad the man who threw the shoe is still alive, because had he done that 6 years ago he'd have probably been executed that day.
@beads: "Surprisingly most posters here missed the the connection between how personal the killing becomes. For the sniper its one shot; one kill. Thats as personal as it gets."
Good good point. My father used to employ a former police officer who had resigned after he shot and killed someone. Though completely justified (he really had no choice), it was tough for him to even draw his gun afterwards.
Arbalests caused the same kind of controversy in Middle Ages:
"Arbalests were sometimes considered inhumane or unfair weapons, since an inexperienced arbalestier could use one to kill a knight who had a lifetime of training. This led to their ban by Pope Innocent II..."
There are a few misconceptions about snipers in the postings.
First off snipers are infrequently "lone gunmen" they usualy work as part of a team. In the "observer role" usually as a two man team, in the support role as part of a squad. Occasionaly they do work effectivly alone as an advanced lead or scout role.
Even when sent to get a specific target they are usually part of a two man team one to look for the target the other to keep a general look out for roving patroles or other unexpected hazards.
Snipers also serve several other roles where their skills are in demand one of which is dealing with IEDs at a distance.
The role for which they best serve is behind enemy lines. Imagine if you will troops being rotated out to the rear for a little rest and recoup. Imagine how they feel when the cook whilst taking a sh1t in the slit lats suddenly starts to scream in great pain and thrash around in the mire as a sniper puts one through his lower regions. The demoralising effect is two fold first off as it's a cook everybody gets to know about it, the second is every squadie will be to scared to take a dump and the resulting phisiological effects compleatly counter the effect of rotating troops. Due to this a sniper can easily hold down sixteen or more square miles of enemy behind the lines and are in effect equivalent to a batalion of ordinary grunts.
Never underestimate the crippling effect of "long gun syndrome" where people start to "feel" the cross hairs on them and will at best crawl slowly on their belly through cover rather than move across open ground, and at worst lie catatonic with fear in some hollow or behind some cover.
Yes snipers do tend to be loners in outlook as they usually are extreamly self reliant and patiant people and not usually ones to sing their own praises.
They also need a moral courage of conviction that few people have which enables them to effectivly "play god" and select their target without it effecting their abilities longterm.
Yes they are a breed apart but then they need to be, and I frequently wish their field commanders would not spend their coin cheaply by using them inappropriatly (as often they do).
You also need to bare in mind what makes their skills different. First off there are three basic types of combat shooting,
1, Shoot to scare (covering fire, lots of lead in the air to keep oposition heads down whilst your guys close in)
2, Shoot to wound (basic infantry aim for the belt buckle stuff, it takes a couple of squadies with a couple of shovles 20mins to bury a corpse, compare that to the number of personel and the time to deal with a live casualty, therefor the more injured enemy the better. As was once pointed out to me a corpse is nothing but a bump in the ground).
3, shoot to kill (what it is assumed snipers do exclusivly, this is putting a round into an eight inch circle at 400yards or better 995 times in a thousand, it is something that you can be trained to do but needs a considerable investment in time, training and equipment).
In warfare targeted kills of individuals are very rare and usually reserved for the likes of squad commanders and radio ops, other snipers and sentries etc. It is because of this rarety that snipers get used inapropriatly by field commanders.
Another ability is to be able to remain hidden from the enemies view, paramount amongst requirments for this is to remain motionless for hours at a time without losing concentration.
Then there are the abilities of judging range and other effects that effect the accuracy of the shot
And the range the sniper works out too is currently held by a Canadian sniper at well over 8000ft with a 1/2in "ball" round. There are other more specialised rounds (flachet etc) that either increase the range or effectivness at a given range.
i honor you for your service to this country and the freedom i have to insult you... however, i would choose not to. :)
both sides of my family have a long history of military service. while i chose not to serve, i have a great deal of admiration and respect for those who do serve. a friend of mine, who is a pacifist, at least fully acknowledges the fact he has the ability to be a pacifist as a direct result of those who have defended our freedoms, both here and abroad.
from a security standpoint, one of the things i have not really seen discussed here is this - would it not be better to have the capabilities for a highly trained, select few "neutralize" key targets, thereby preventing an escalation and potential for "collateral damage" and unnecessary conflict?
"So, the country with the lowest morals (the ones willing to use the most arbitrary destructive force) will rule the world. Not the outcome I'd like to see..."
gee, I wonder which self-righteous North American based superpower is doing that today???
@BF Skinner: "Reminds me of the derogatory view knights and men at arms had for archers."
An SCA song (to Ode to Joy):
Archers make ignoble foeman,
Shoot at you and run away.
Goddamned mother [-]king bowmen,
They're the ones I love to slay.
Hunt them, chase them, catch them and mace them.
Mash them and spread them like pate.
God put archers here to bug me-
How I wish they'd go away.
(Of course, it is the SCA, so both the weapons and antagonism are fake.) (Or should be.)
"Sniper Alley" is the informal name for the main boulevard in Sarajevo which during the Bosnian War was lined with snipers' posts... According to data gathered in 1995, the snipers wounded 1,030 people and killed 225, 60 of whom were children.
Just "do your job". And discuss war as you were talking about your work. And praise snipers for their skill.... It is very sad to read the postings here - of people used to war nd killing
"Sarajevo which during the Bosnian War was lined with snipers' posts... According to data gathered in 1995, the snipers wounded 1,030 people and killed 225, 60 of whom were children."
First off these where not Soldiers that most people would know or understand. Nor was it either a conventional war or civil war.
Their simple aim was to use whatever tactic worked to terorise the population of what they viewed as "their country", even though they where not from the region.
Most had never worn a uniform they, had no rules of engagment or felt constrained by accepted conventions of war.
As several journolists found whilst covering their actions they used the excuse of being on a "crusade" and did not even view those they shot with the respect you or I would show for farm animals.
Just like most racists they did not even regard the people they preyed upon as humans. We dress what they did in the polite words of "Ethnic clensing" where as it was tribal barberisum which was much like that used by early American settelers to clear the indigenous population off of the land they coverted.
This is why one by one they are being hunted down and tried as either war criminals or murders depending on if they where properly enlisted or not.
Hopefully they will all eventually, unlike their mainly helpless victims meet the fate they deserve, with life sentances of hard labour or it's equivalent. As has once deen noted "death is to good for them" and those that used them for political advantage and those that still support and protect them.
I know of no soldier that has any respect for them, their actions or those that unleasehed them on an inocent population.
Snipers do have a bad rap. That may not ever change, although I'm not sure they want it to.
But this article fails to address the tactical need for a sniper over an air strike, and vice versa.
When you have actionable intelligence on the location of one or more targets, who are high priority and known to be constantly on the move (which is the case a lot of the time), it isn't sound to just send in a sniper, or have some team of 60 snipers waiting in hiding in a town just in case. An air strike can be called underway in no time. You cant always wait four hours for johnny the sniper to get to his needed location.
Plus if you have one than more target needed to be taken out, a single sniper might not be the most efficient means to do this. You take out one guy, everyone else is now alerted, its not like in a video game or a movie where everyone just plays dumb. The chance that the rest of the targets will escape, especially in an urban environment, just went up.
But what if you just happen to know the future location of your target of interest well in advance (because of intelligence), and the terrain is more open or more suitable for long range cover and a wider field of view? That would be a better time to apply a sniper. The sniper could be in place well in advance and administer a surgical strike.
Also, as mentioned in previous comments, the sniper isn't just around to kill. They weaken enemy morale, slow troop advancement, and are a great source of HUMINT.
We have fought any number of wars that have kept your freedoms "free" for you to expose your opinions. Good or bad. I fought so that others could insult me.
No, you didn't. Assuming you're an American, and not extremely old, that is. None of the wars fought by the US in the last 50 years were fought in order to protect the right of Americans to express their opinions. Defeat in any of them would not have endangered freedom of speech.
So - respectfully - get off your high horse.
"But, for a well-trained military sniper at least, "collateral damage" -- the accidental killing and injuring of bystanders and unintended targets -- is almost nonexistent."
Except for Lon Horiuchi. And only if you believe that it was an unintended target.
While I have full faith that there in any conflict is something positive hidden in the resolution. The resolution is never pushed for reasons of "the greater good".
Strange. I've always found snipers to be awesome.
A person who slips in, does his or her job, and slips out with minimal collateral damage. Perfect.
A single bullet can demoralize a platoon with a minimum of bloodshed.
Wow, I love all this give and take by people that have probably never heard the crack of a missed round (WAY too late to duck), or seen a team meber go down without you hearing a sound. See, the bullet goes a lot faster than the sound. Demoralizing? You bet? Effective? You can't imagine. Cowardly? Don't think old Muffin would last 10 sec in a back alley at night when someone yelled "boo". But that's ok. the poor old grunt on the ground swore to preserve and protect ALL - they don't get the choice to pick and chose their protected ones.
I'm thinking all posters should be required to go play a game where the other side has NO RULES, and then see how well you take getting your butts whipped, all the while crying "no fair, no fair". War has RULES only for us - the other side - Taliban, Sunni, Shiite, Druze, Hezbollah, Al Queda - they have NO RULES!!! So you can't go moralizing an arguement when only side has morals. Just the sad way it is - get over it.
"Let's not leave out the collateral damage inflicted by depleted uranium munitions on both the civilian population and our own troops. Far too many people don't view the contractors, heavy brass or the administration of the Commander in Thief as cowards and mass murderers for consciously facilitating the use of such weapons of mass destruction."
Would that be the same depleted Uranium that sits in the tailfin of every 747 to correct the cg?
Depleted uranium would be better described as "safe (r) " uranium - the depletion process is designed to remove most of the unstable (and hence radioactive) material.
The purpose of using it is just to provide a very heavy weight in a small space.
Remember that the traditional material for that purpose (lead) is also extemely poisonous...
All these people are murderers and personally responsible before God and mankind for their actions, regardless if they are snipers or just helpers of other killing methods.
The role of the Sniper is not just precision killing. Snipers collect and transmit intelligence, disable material targets, erode morale on the other side, act as a powerful deterrent, can neutralize a whole range of threats (material and human) from potentially thousands of yards away. They can also designate targets for precision bombs or missiles.
I believe that the role and toolkit of a sniper are morally neutral. Moral and ethical judgments on snipers, and verily all soldiers, must be conducted on a per-person basis and take into account the context of their mission.
I know for sure that if I were an infantryman, medic, PSD operator, or VIP in hostile territory; that I would want a sniper on overwatch duty above me.
Unfortunately, snipers are so professional. A New York Times reporter quoted a sergeant as saying he shot an Iraqi woman because "the chick got in the way."
On the grave of my father, and the men that fought with him against the Reich, I take umbrage at your remark.
@me & Ajay
On behalf of my inlaws (including my father-in-law, formerly in the Strategic Air Command) I take umbrage at yours.
Freedoms are seldom lost all-at-once anymore, but incrementally. Yet if we had not fought and won these battles we would have either had our freedoms chipped away, or possibly an all-at-once occurance removes them all.
To keep our freedoms and rights requires eternal vigilance (shop-worn, but true nonetheless). A tyrant will win if no one opposes him; it takes good men and women to oppose the tyrant , by force of arms if necessary, to prevent him from winning.
And sometimes that sheds more blood than we care to see.
And yes, we sometimes fight the wrong foes, or for the wrong reasons. The great tragedy is we are all human.
Sorry, that was off-topic.
Read Audie Murphy's biography, and follow it with Bill Mauldin's "Up Front", if you can find it. I dare you.
This late after the fact I doubt this will be noticed anyway.
Schneier.com is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of BT.