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Sniping is one of the most cost-effective tactics in an insurgency, both for security forces as well as terrorists.

Over the last one month, there have been a number of reports of our security forces suffering casualties from sniper fire in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). While sniping has been an ongoing feature of fighting on the Line of Control (LoC), alleged terrorist snipers have struck for the first time in the Valley and seem to have caught the security forces by surprise.

Intelligence reports indicate that two sniper pairs of Jaish-e-Mohammed have infiltrated into the Valley. Since September 2018, three kills in Kashmir’s interior have been attributed to terrorist snipers.

This has generated a lot of public interest, particularly in light of earlier reports about our troops suffering casualties from sniper fire on the LoC.

Also read: The new danger in Kashmir: Cold, calculating snipers who are wary of close contact

Making every shot count

Sniping is one of the most cost-effective tactics in an insurgency, both for the security forces as well as the terrorists.

Based on intelligence, reconnaissance and observation, kills can be achieved at very long range. The world record is held by a Canadian sniper, who achieved an astounding 3,540-metre ‘kill’ in Iraq last year. Snipers are also used to shoot terrorists mingling with crowds in hostage situations, and during a firefight where the sniper is in an over-watch position.

Since snipers are highly skilled, they make every shot count. In Jammu and Kashmir, approximately 5,000 rounds are used to kill one terrorist. Snipers, on the other hand, take only 1.3 rounds to achieve a kill.

A sniper has to be physically fit, mentally robust, skilled at field-craft, and an exceptional marksman. He must be a master of camouflage, have the guile to bait the enemy and develop infinite patience to get the “sure shot”. The sniping duel in Stalingrad between Vasily Zaytsev (Russian Army) and Major Erwin König (German Army), immortalised in the movie Enemy at the Gates, is a classic example of the stuff snipers are made of.

A sniper must have the scientific temper to understand the external ballistics of the bullet at long range, which is influenced by a host of factors that include gravity, wind speed and direction, altitude, temperature, humidity, barometric pressure and centrifugal force. At long range, even a mild crosswind requires a significant “off set” of the aiming point away from the target, which has to be accurately calculated.

The prolonged specialised training and the relatively high cost of equipment deters terrorist organisations from training and using snipers. Short training capsules in field-craft, and skills to effectively use a weapon like the AK-47 at short range meet the requirements of terrorist outfits.

Also read: Militant snipers add grisly new chapter to Kashmir insurgency with three kills

New dimension

The reason for the likely change of tactics by the terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir is due to their diminishing numbers and inability to counter the effective security grid.

In my view, they are unlikely to use high-end sniper rifles with long range. What is more likely is the induction of “sharpshooters” who use a modern standard rifle like the US Army M4 rifle fitted with day and night vision telescopic sights to engage targets up to 500 metres. This would be a cost-effective alternative as, till now, terrorist attacks that involve the use of AK-47 are restricted to ranges of 20-50 metres. A few personnel of the Special Service Group of the Pakistan Army, with sophisticated sniper rifles, could also be inducted. The use of “sharpshooters” and some snipers can be a game changer in the ongoing proxy war. The security forces would have to take additional preventive security measures for the “off set” threat.

This new dimension is a wake-up call for the Indian Army to field its own snipers, which are the best countermeasure against the enemy “sharpshooters”/ snipers, in a more effective manner. To the best of my knowledge, we have never killed a terrorist using a sniper. The situation at the LoC is no different.

We have nearly 5,000 Dragunov sniper rifles with an effective range of 1300 metres inour inventory at the scale of 10 per Infantry/ Special Forces/Assam Rifles/ Rashtriya Rifles Battalion. Reports have surfaced recently about the Indian Army starting the process of importing 5,000-6,000 modern sniper rifles for Rs 982 crore to replace the Dragunov sniper rifle. It is surprising that there seems to be no plan to induct specialist sniper rifles for ranges beyond 1500 metres.

Yawning gap

Where then are our snipers? Why are we not effectively using them? The answer lies in the proverbial statement – it is not the gun but the man behind the gun that makes the difference. We have not been able to develop the requisite skills in our snipers. They are no more than “sharpshooters”, a little better than the average soldier but certainly not skilled snipers.

There is no specialist trade of “sniper”, but any above-average soldier after limited training wields the sniper rifle. Snipers lack specialised clothing and gear. Simulators are not available and training ammunition is inadequate. The sniper course conducted at the Infantry School lacks quality. Very few of our snipers can pass the universal test of a sniper, which is to score a first round “head shot” at 600 metres and a first round “body shot” at 1,000 metres. If a sniper cannot pass this test, he cannot be called a sniper and remains a marksman or a sharpshooter.

Also read: More killings, greater alienation: How the situation in Kashmir is slipping out of hand

What is the solution? In my view, radical changes need to be made in our approach towards training of snipers. A specialised trade of “sniper” must be created. A core group of 100 snipers, after a selection based on international standards, must be trained in the sniper schools of western armies to create a pool of sniper instructors. A sniper training school must be established and all snipers must be trained there. Refresher training must be organised at Corps Battle schools under sniper instructors. In addition to the standard sniper rifles, we must import specialised long-range sniper rifles for “super snipers”. We must also kit our snipers up with gear of international standards.

Unless these reforms are carried out, no matter what rifles are imported, we will continue to produce only “sharpshooters” and not snipers, and remain at the receiving end in the changed scenario in Jammu and Kashmir.

Lt Gen H.S. Panag PVSM, AVSM (R) served in the Indian Army for 40 years. He was GOC in C Northern Command and Central Command. Post retirement, he was Member of Armed Forces Tribunal. 

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  1. There used to be a sniper section in each inf bn till 1965. After cease fire as an IO also in charge of this section I had deployed it. Our troops were itching for a kill as we had lost our CO Col NK Gupta on 16th of Sept 65 and the 2 IC 15 Dogra was killed at ichchogil while he walked flanked by the UN observers at Dograi at Ichchogil Canal on the main GT road to Lahore. 16 was deployed near Bhasin Village off GT Road then. Two of our snipers had attended the six weeks snipers course then run by the Inf School. The Balochis against used to abuse us daily. By the way we were really face to face with mines n wires in between us just 100 meters. That particular fateful day I accompanied the CO to bde HQ and as the CO thought that the conf is going to be a lengthy one asked to go back to the unit and be back by around lunch time. U all wont believe, we had 2nd WW 303 sniper rifles with that rounded back sight. Punjab cold at around 0830 I returned to the unit. My snipers stop trees signaled me that around 7 Balochis are sitting enjoying morning Sun and giving Galirs to us as usual. Now a IInd liteut in command was supposed to be the most dangerous man those day and I.just had few 10 months service. Not knowing the cease fire rules with 2IC 15th example and loss of our wonderful CO some days back made me to alert the sniper men. I just informed the CO sitting in conf and without getting his orders gave a go ahead to snipers. The Dogru sniper sec cdr a very very experienced person (to cut it short) ordered simultaneous fire with six snipers just a bullet each and to leave posns immediately as Pakies will immediately open up. Bullet each killed nine Balochies as 303 sniper at just 125 yards would go through 3 men with 2400 ft per sec per sec. I was observing from the front most foxhole bunker and counted 9 being carried in Jeeps n ambulances. Again while CO was away directly over the sets informed the Div HQ got the biggest billowcking of my life from GI int. Within mins the Pakies opened their guns of all caliber but we were safe in the bunkers. Well the NEW GOC 15 DIV asked the Div Arty to open up along with some of the Corps Arty at our disposal. The news was Pakies had lost nearly more than 100 that day by arty as were caught off guard. MOST UNFORTUNATELY THE INF BN LOST THE SNIPER SEC DURING THE RE ORG OF INF UNIT. BUT 16 HAD TAKEN ITS REVANGE.

  2. What use is specialist sniper in this scenario where the battle shifts to a new location each day. This is not Stalingrad or Iraq (with vast sanitised areas with coalition ). Here each step is in hostile territory and its difficult to identify friend from foe.How will this specialist pair be inserted or extricated without loss of surprise, will they be positioned on rooftops or a vantage hill point for hours alone?
    How will they identify the target as their location shifts each day unless the terrorist displays his weapons openly as he walks around in the target area…more often than not it will be hidden and he will be mingling in the crowd like an ordinary guy.
    Even if they successfully engage , how will this pair be successfully extricated…will a large body of troops be ready at hand to enter a town or village ….can they themselves stay undetected…
    Today , on contact, the officer on ground must be sending his Dragunov pair to vantage point to increase their chances of eliminating the threat…
    Sniping …from ANEs existed always…specially when approaching or when inside a large village or a town or on routes where the movements are on near fixed regular timings like the administrative movements.

  3. I am very very sorry to hear that, till now there is no proper sniper training facility in Indian Army. It is very sad to hear that till Dragunov sniper rifle is in service in Indian armed forces. There are lot of variety of sniper rifle are being uses world wide but till India is back ward in the same. How Sniper rifle is essential in battle fields has been proved in Iraq and Afghanistan. immediately India should take forward step to manufacture Sniper rifles because India did not manufacture any sniper rifle till now. If it’s not possible then India should import sniper rifles from foreign country. And should arrange sniper training with the presence of international sniper specialist instructors.
    Again. There are lot of good sniper rifles are being used in British Army and US Army like: Barret M107, Barret M82 those are anti material sniper rifles .50 cal. Besides L115, Remington M200 are also world class sniper rifles. It’s not possible to stand against such kind of proxy war without proper battle gears.

  4. This fact is known for years
    ….The author himself was aware while in service. God knows who needs to wake up…
    The feeling is awful.
    Just a few 100 crores is not much in perspective…
    But we are a country of pricrasi ators of critical issues.

    And thus destined to suffer more…
    And a few hundred lives aren’t …
    No one cares when the organisation it self is so careless and incompetent in mattars of procurement.

    What about appropriate bulletproofs, shoes, and
    So many essentials.

  5. Sir, I take offence to your statement that the Infantry School does not provide quality training to snipers. As an officer who has always held the adherence to the the truth as the Highest Principal, this statement is “ way off the mark”. We have good snipers, we provide quality training but do agree that there is more to do in a few aspects. Please do not make Irresponsible, Unsubstantiated and Wild Statements. That is disservice! Regards from the Commandant Infantry School

  6. Basically higher ranking people don’t want well trained people because they can’t be used for daily cores, more the people you churn out be it untrained more hands to work with.

  7. All retired personel suggest N number of suggestions but dont insist when they belong to a system.Snipers or Marksmen were effectively used in Suvarn Mandir 2 nd time debacle.Lt.Gen.Panag is principally right in telling about Training.
    Who &When?

  8. He is right. We do not have snipers. Got to train abroad. Give them the best rifle. But , Alas ! Who will buy weapons for them ? Govt does not want to give Army a penny for modernisation. But for Rafele nothing else is going to come. Bif question on Rafele too. So …… keep getting killed … Cannon Fodder soldiers …. still enough volunteers to get into Army because of unemployment ….. and this being the only job with pension …

  9. Defense planers and strategists must
    see Hollywood movies like Jem’s bond
    Spy moves or like that of Mission Impossible may be hit man and all
    Other war movies in order to keep them up to date regarding the trends
    of latest and also futuristic techniques
    of Warcrafts.

  10. Kudos to the General…….he has invoked a very important yet basic need of any fighting army anywhere in the world. Every section, platoon, or patrol unit of the Indian army must include a highly trained sniper team, which always has the advantage of not only nuetralising distant targets but also keeps the enemy pinned down and lets the rest of the unit advance in on the threat for further action. Another soldier with a M249 SAW or better yet the new LSAT light machine gun would be a added bonus. The LMG’s and other machine guns used by the Indian army foot units are very heavy and should be out phased, giving way to drum fed magazines.

  11. Now people will call for patience, restraint, need to sit and discuss and not rush into counter measures, humanity, excessive force by armed forces and what not. These people, typical bureaucrats should serve at the line of Control and then allowed to open their mouths, better still, their children have to be inducted into the service to ensure that they understand the pain. Wakey wakey Indian politicians, learn to deal with a firm hand and ensure safety of our personnel.

  12. Let me say that I know better about guns because dragunov is equal to vss which is a bad rifle and has a high bullet drop not for long combat and hence it was already used in 1963 meaning it is a antique piece which is I’ll give u an example u can’t compare a Maruti 800 with a Lamborghini the bad guys have good ammunition why can’t the government have.

  13. Little knowledge is really dangerous dude … Dragunov is listed as a sniper rifle in the WE of the Infantry Battalions. Grant the Gen his due … he has commanded troops right from a platoon till an Army (to include 1971 war and numerous counter insurgency ops)

  14. Mr Panag, as a former officer, should be aware that the SVD Dragunov is not a sniper rifle and never was intended to be one. It’s a designated marksman rifle and is intended to provide a standard infantry unit with a weapon that can shoot further than the usual soldier’s infantry rifle.


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