Ian Ruins the Elbonian Sniper Corps

Today’s Q&A is from Tim on Patreon:
“The great nation of Elbonia is looking to spin up a sniper program. But they know better than to adopt ZF41 scopes. What rifles do you attempt to sell them?”

After some consideration, I would try to sabotage the Elbonian Sniper Corps by supplying them with equipment that would allow their training to take as many shortcuts as possible. True long range shooting proficiency requires a lot of experience and deep understanding of lots of variables. By using mechanical shortcuts, I could persuade the Elbonian Army that they were saving money, and in simple training circumstances the snipers’ performance would look pretty good. Once they got into real combat, though, they would fold like the Russian defense of Izyum.

To this end, I would equip them with a scope which linked magnification to its BDC cam – something like the Vietnam-era US ART or the Russian 1P21. This seems like a clever hack, and works pretty well for basic shots. But when you factor in some extra variables, like a target that doesn’t fit the range finding box or the need for short range high magnification, a lack of shooter skill will become immediately apparent.

To go one step further, I would couple this with a multi-caliber rifle and interchangeable BDC cams for the scope. This would ensure that shooters periodically have the wrong scope settings for their rifle, and are ill-equipped to handle it.


  1. Great example and discussion. This is applicable to many aspects of our daily lives. E.g., Smart phones make us look smart…

  2. I suggest using cartridge with high pressure and big case capacity in relation to caliber, akin to .26 Nosler http://chuckhawks.com/26Nosler.htm under guise flat shooting = good for sniping and then hope that either:
    – users were trained on size or less equal (415 yards) and thus not stimulated to learn proper range estimate
    – without ability to ease get new/regenerated barrel users will use it past life expectancy, which to my understanding should be pretty low on cartridge of such caliber and case capacity

  3. Awesome. How about two or three different “standard” rounds too, that look the same or similar but use various components and weights?

    Honestly curious though, as some sources promote the ART’s real world effectiveness. I mean regarding the ART did the bdc/mag thing matter if the smallest width target it was intended for was the human being? Was it setup that way on purpose or did Lt Leatherwood just use that measurement because it was simple?

  4. as a true sniper rifle, it must be benchrest-style accurate, and thus it must have a huge barrel diameter, super heavy stock and it must be a single shot bolt action system with very tight tolerances. Add some kind of wobbly adjustable scope mount that doesn’t hold zero when you look at it firmly. Go cheap on the fixed folding bipod, its long legs can be made from wobbly steel.

  5. Why not just send Elbonia a crate of “Snider-converted” Whitworth rifles with brass-cased black powder cartridges specially made to accommodate hexagonal-section bullets? Those would be a pain in the rear-end to reload and if we issue the rifles with side-mounted scopes, zeroing them would be a headache in the making! Good thing nobody named Sedgwick is commanding an army invading Elbonia.

    Did I mess up?

    • No. The same problem cropped up with early recoilless rifles with pre-engraved driving bands on the shell. They had to be loaded just so or sometimes the breechblock wouldn’t close.

      An offset scope seems like a marvelous idea for down-through-the-top stripper clip loading, and/or self-loading rifles that eject upward. Until you try shooting at ranges much over 400 meters, and the problem of parallax rears its ugly head. Simply put, if the optical sight is not right over the bore centerline, you’ve introduced a two-axis problem; elevation and windage.

      Elevation is easy to compensate for, even without a BDC. It just takes practice.

      Windage comes in two forms. Actual crosswind (that may be very different from where you are compared to where the target is), and the necessity of allowing for that lateral difference between barrel and sight with the offset scope.

      This is why, contrary to popular belief, the M1C, M1D, and “accurized” M14 with ART were not all that accurate as “sniper rifles”. Even with modern optical sights and etc., the M21 DMR showed up poorly in The Long War compared to either bolt actions or the Knight M110 7.62 NATO sniper rifle. The latter types all having the scope firmly attached directly over the boreline.

      If you want to hit something using optical sights at any range, that optical sight had better be exactly over the bore.



  6. The ultimate irony would be if Ian managed to equip Elbonia with a weapon that’s effectively damaging to their sniper program, yet ideal for some other, totally unforeseen use-case.

    Because that’s pretty much how these things tend to go, historically speaking. Ordnance actively sabotaged the M16 program; it wound up supplanting the OICW, morphing from a derisively-bad interim solution into the longest-serving primary individual weapon in US history…

      • SPIW and OICW had pretty much the same objective. Fire bursts of rifle-caliber projectiles for self-defense, but the primary offensive weapon was some form of repeating grenade launcher.

        All OICW really did was add the concept of “smart” or maybe “brilliant” rounds on the “blooper” side.

        Both overlooked the small but important detail that unless all your grunts are named Ah-Nold and have shoulders in two different time zone, plus an optional Austrian accent, they probably aren’t going to be able to run, jump, i.e. move for any length of time while humping an “Individual Weapon” heavier than most LMGS. To say nothing of a decent amount of reloads for the blooper part.

        SPIW and OICW might have made decent crew-served weapons. With a proper bipod, plus a decently designed tripod.

        Of course, if you go that route, you realize the thing needs both quick-change barrels and belt feed. Meaning you end up with the OCSW, which was really where the “auto-blooper” concept belonged in the first place, with or without projectiles with advanced degrees in IFF and target-seeking.

        The “ideal” smart “blooper”? Something like the old M72 LAWS. A one-shot, throwaway launcher for a munition with a durable and relatively accurate guidance system. Basically a fire-and-forget AT4 round in a disposable launch tube delivered as a certified round.

        One obvious advantage is that you don’t have to worry about fitting guidance, warhead, etc., into a 25mm to 40mm projectile for ergonomics reasons. Make it a shoulder-fired launcher with something like the RPG-7 or Armbrust propulsion system; recoilless launch and then a sustainer rocket kicks in. Caliber of the warhead can be increased without a mass penalty and you can actually fit a decently-designed seeker into it.

        Yes, I’m thinking more of a scaled-down Javelin-type system rather than a scaled-up 25mm “smart grenade”. It just makes more sense.

        Which probably explains why Ordnance has never come up with anything along those lines.



        • If it were me… I’d put them to work designing a unitary sight/launch control unit you could clip onto a variety of useful weapons. Same interface, multi-mission.

          I’m a big believer in polyvalent weapons systems. The Euro-style grenades that consist of a bursting charge you can use as a flash bang or offensive grenade, coupled with a frag sleeve that you can put a tail boom on… Good idea, that. Take it further.

          I’m also a fan of multi-functional fire-control devices. They need to issue something like a militarized trail cam that you could hard-wire so that you’ve got a view of where you’ve put out your Claymores. Also, make it capable of running other things, like off-route anti-vehicle mines and the like.

          One of the things you learn the hard way as a Combat Engineer is that the traditional size of most explosives aren’t really all that well thought-out. They need to do the containers for things like C-4 a lot more like the European paper sizes, so that when you need to put together a breaching charge or something else, instead of breaking out ten-fifteen rolls of hundred-MPH tape, you just clip the sealed plastic containers together to form your properly-proportioned charges…

          There’s a lot of things out there in the logistics system that just drive me nuts. Why do you waste all that shipping on dunnage that’s essentially useless once you’ve taken it off the pallets? You then have to worry about disposing of it… So, why don’t you make your pallets and shipping boxes out of things that can be filled with earth or concrete and then used as building blocks for shelters and buildings in-theater? Pallets, for example, ought to be easily re-purposed as structural components for things like revetments and duckboards in trenches…

          A lot of what we do isn’t at all optimized.

          • I’ve always thought that an offensive (blast no frag) grenade with a slip-on frag sleeve (just a coil of notched wire or a plastic sleeve full of BB’s) is such an obvious money-saver on the military budget side that we should have adopted one like the old West German DM51 a long time ago. And theirs was just a more sophisticated version of one of their “Nipolit” grenade designs from 1944-45.

            My uncle (LtCol Engineers 1940-46) said that the packing crates they got everything smaller than a Jeep in plus the pallets made decent building material for shelters etc. Or would have anyplace you didn’t have to deal with Moroccan/Algerian/Tunisian coastal weather (s#!tty) or, later, Italian winter weather (double s#!tty). North Africa isn’t all desert and Italy isn’t all sunshine, especially once you get north of Rome.

            Regarding demo, you’d think at least LESCA would be simpler to daisy-chain.

            Every LT (or better yet MSGT) should have the equivalent of a IPhone with apps for everything from selecting and triggering ORMs to calling in arty or even CAS. As in “Select, right-click, scroll down to target type, left-click, then click ‘Send Fire Here’.”

            The Air Force and Navy are so proud of their brand-spanking-new UCAVs, let’s see them actually use them effectively in support of the troops on the ground.

            Or better yet, give the Army its own. I don’t recall the legendary Key West agreement having said anything about the Army not being “allowed” to have unmanned armed fixed-wing air vehicles.



          • The number of things we do just because “We’ve always done it that way…” is probably close to infinite. Despite all the blather about “Centers of Excellence” and the rest of the Buzzword Bingo™ suite of terms, the military rarely really innovates or seeks out ways to optimize the things it does. The sunk cost fallacy plays a huge role, plus “perceptions”.

            It is my contention that they should be doing a lot of our procurements, especially for small arms, with the idea that it’s a rolling, ongoing process. You should not have the mindset that they demonstrate with nearly everything, that “This is the last time we’ll ever buy this, so we need the absolute besty-best-bestest evah…” Instead, what you ought to be doing is saying “OK, this is the best that we can do at the moment, affordability-wise and based on current state of the art… We’re going to go with the (for example…) the M16, and we’ll just keep rolling minor improvements in as time goes on, modifying the TDP so that the next time we need to recapitalize the fleet, we’ll just take the latest and greatest off the shelf…” In other words, there should always be “the next thing” ready to go, as soon as the condition of the weapons fleet out in the units justifies replacing it. You should not set thing up such that you have to run a whole new procurement competition at the last possible minute; the replacement for what you’re fielding right now ought to be in the pipeline, tested, validated, and ready to go into production the minute you need it. If you’re doing one of those “Blue Sky” paradigm-shattering game-changer deals like they keep trying to do for the individual weapon, where they say that the goal is to have something ridiculous like “100% improvement in lethality (which they carefully never define…) over the current issued weapon…”, well… They’re going to keep failing.

            Things should have progressed in natural, incremental steps from the M16A1 to a mid-length carbine version of the weapon, with better night sights and a collapsible buttstock. It should have been ballistically validated, and the whole thing should have been put into mass production and issue once the M16A1 fleet reached the point of diminishing returns for maintenance. Same-same with the M60; the fact that they had to backdoor the M240 from coax to ground-mount is patently ridiculous. Some casual reading and a little validation testing would have told us that, yes, the M240 is a great vehicle-mounted gun, but for light infantry? It sucks; too heavy, too hard to maneuver with.

            The fact that the system keeps throwing up these idiocies like SPIW, OICW, and the XM-25 while basic tools like the HEDP 40mm grenade languish without real development improving them? Absolutely criminal.

          • Oh, one thing I meant to get into with that last post… I think that a part of this whole problem is that we’ve gotten used to the idea of “rapid change and improvement in technology”, but the reality is we’ve entered a state wherein things aren’t shifting rapidly. There are no more “low-hanging fruits” out there like smokeless powder or the machine gun. It’s all slow, incremental evolutionary change, from here on out into the foreseeable middle-term future for small arms tech. We have a pretty good handle on all the major things regarding this technology; all that’s really left are the minor details. Nothing major is likely to come along for a long time, and we need to adapt our thinking to that fact.

            Until we have a major breakthrough in materials science or energetics, this is it for the medium-term. There’s nothing on the foreseeable horizon like smokeless powder. The only thing I see coming is improvements in sighting and Command, Control, Communication, and Intelligence–Which are all things that don’t relate to the basic small arms technologies we’re talking about on here. The sights, the comms, the supporting networks and systems, to include cultural things? All that’s where the foreseeable improvements are going to come from, not the basic bits and bobs that are only going to slowly evolve underneath them.

            I guarantee you that the 22nd Century soldier is likely to still be carrying something identifiable as a cased-cartridge projectile weapon, buried under layers of sighting and communications tools that will make what we have now look sick. I fully expect that you’re going to see a situation where the weapons themselves are basically afterthoughts, and the really important war-winning bits are going to be in the sights, the networks, and the rest of all that. I wouldn’t doubt but that they’ll have everything set up so as to clip on to damn near anything, weapons-agnostic such that you have something like the ACOG that you can just slap on top of any rifle and put it onto the squad/platoon network with a synthetic reality overlay that you can use to share targets, fire control, and everything else with. It’ll probably get down to the point where they’re doing permissive action links on specific targets such that if the guy you’ve got in the sight isn’t in the database as a legit target, it won’t let you take the shot unless the scope also sees a weapon or other sign it’s an enemy combatant. And, likely, that stupid bastard will then be marked for death the next time anyone on your side spots him, anywhere…

            The IT guys are gonna be more important than the most elite SF or SEAL team member…

  7. Odds are there will be no “22nd century” soldiers. The push now seems to be towards robotics. You sit at home and play VR war games. meantime, robots are out in the real battlefield saving your butt. They call this progress: intelligent machines babysitting bipedal larvae in coccoons.

    • In one story, Arthur C. Clarke predicted that future wars would be fought by aerial “battle platforms” the size of Zeppelins, propelled by anti-gravity and carrying enough weapons to level entire states. I suspect he was thinking of the Han “airships” in Armageddon 2419 A.D. by Philip Francis Nowlan.

      Keith Laumer’s Bolos were the same concept except built as an AFV. The most common of which were nearly the size of a San Antonio Class LPD.


      What Clarke and Laumer both overlooked is what game designer Steve Jackson pointed out re his SF tactical armor game Ogre. Namely, that if you put all that throw-weight on one platform, you have made it a high-enough value asset (i.e. target) for the enemy to conclude that it’s worth expending at least a tactical nuke to take it out.

      Everybody who talks about the “Remote Battlefield” fails to consider ECM, plus the chances of irritating the enemy enough for them to localize the control center and drop a KE Rod From God or the equivalent on all your expert Clark Bar-munching, Mt. Dew guzzling Gameboys running the battle from Baltimore MD or etc.

      War will never be neat and tidy. The trick is to keep the mess as far from your home turf as possible.

      clear ether


    • I mean, that’s what the voters prefer. The voters never were antiwar, they were only against having to pay a toll for killing the people they don’t like.

      However, I have written a novel about a near-future civil war where, to overcome the overwhelming advantage of right-wing militias/death squads in gun ownership and paramilitary training, the leftist resistance has to take drones further as a force multiplier. The teenage narrator calls himself a Forward Air Controller, but it actually means that he pedals around on a bicycle looking for targets with goggles that connect him to a constellation of drones overhead, some of which are bombs. He also commands swarms of little self-propelled land mines, and he can call in ordinary-looking Ford trucks disguised as commercial work vehicles under remote control to hurl themselves at barriers or launch rockets. He’s got to survive long enough to write the training manual for hundreds of thousands of future Forward Air Controllers. This evolves into each soldier having what amounts to a drone body extending his own body, with helium-filled recon drones as the eyes, quadcopters with claws as the hands, etc. connected by jam-proof laser relays.

      But what he never forgets is the need to be there in person to understand what’s really happening.

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