ABOVE: Although ghillie suits have been seen in training settings, the majority of ISOF snipers operating in urban battlefields appear to forgo the camouflage outfits in favor of increased mobility.
ISOF Arms & Equipment Part 2, Precision Rifles
By Miles Vining
While the threat to Iraqi forces from suicide vehicle borne improvised explosive devices (SVBIEDs) remains at an all-time high, the marksmen of the so-called Islamic State are another leading cause of casualties. These marksmen are carrying out deadly attacks against Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF) within the dense urban centers that have characterized much of the fighting. To both combat this threat and to provide a longer-range small arms support capability, ISOF has been integrating various precision rifles and appropriate tactics into their overall force structure. This has primarily taken place at the platoon or company level of operations. Due to the nature of the engagements in Ramadi, Fallujah and Mosul, ISOF routinely find themselves conducting military operations in urban terrain (sometimes known as MOUT) or fighting in a built-up area (FIBUA). Unlike more traditional military sniper operations that exploit relatively open or mountainous terrain with very long target engagement ranges, ISOF snipers or marksmen are working in limited-range urban environments, quickly moving with the flow of battle in support of infantry operations.
The organization and training of snipers in ISOF comprises a series of formal sniper courses that certain experienced ISOF soldiers attend, some of which have been taught by U.S. Army Special Operations personnel (U.S. Army SF Groups have been instrumental in the development of ISOF Tactics, Techniques and Procedures since the CTS creation in the mid-2000s). Courses focus on precision shooting ability, mainly using U.S. surplus Remington M24 and Russian Orsis T-5000 bolt-action sniper rifles that are currently in service. After a shooting package, it appears that there is some instruction on concealment and camouflage, including classes on producing and customizing ghillie suits and the practical application of these. When actually used in combat, ISOF snipers tend to forgo the ghillie suit to maintain tactical agility. Several ISOF ‘snipers’ on the battlefield may not have undertaken these courses, however. This may include personnel replacing wounded or killed snipers under operational conditions.
While on operations, ISOF snipers either support their platoons as organic assets (considered a role for ‘sharpshooters’ or ‘designated marksmen’ in many western militaries) or operate in shooter-spotter teams as per traditional sniper teams in many other armed forces. These teams employ a spotting scope, with the spotter in close proximity to the shooter with the long gun, most of the time concealing themselves in a room or behind a wall. Often existing damage to walls is utilized or modified to serve as shooting ports, or ‘loopholes.’ Some 25–50 percent of precision rifles currently in inventory appear to be painted to blend in with their urban surroundings. Another popular technique among ISOF snipers is to wrap the front portion of their rifles with a tan-colored fabric or twine that helps the handguard and barrel to blend in with the outside of a building or wall that is being used for cover. Although many of the precision rifles in use by ISOF were designed for the accurate engagement of point targets out to 800 meters and beyond, the MOUT fight that ISOF is entrenched in is commonly presenting targets of opportunity no further than 400–500 meters distant.
The secondary mission set of ISOF snipers and spotters is that of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) for the total ISOF force. The vast majority of snipers are equipped with commercial hand-held radios as well as U.S.-supplied AN/PRC-152A (Harris Falcon III) hand-held radios. Communication systems facilitate the coordination of movements and orders between supported units. When these devices are coupled with the rifle scopes, spotting scopes and issued binoculars, they enable ISOF snipers to conduct ISR missions whilst monitoring the enemy.
In addition to a precision rifle, ISOF snipers are usually armed with a secondary weapon system. Sometimes this is the standard-issue Rock River Arms LAR-15 or Sig Sauer M400, both chambered for the 5.56x45mm cartridge. This weapon is frequently slung on a sniper’s body when engaging or otherwise operating the precision rifle. If the primary shooter doesn’t have a carbine on hand, usually his spotter will be armed with one. The shooter may also be armed with a Croatian 9x19mm HS Produkt HS2000 handgun, either in a hip-mounted or thigh-mounted BLACKHAWK! SERPA holster or a counterfeit copy thereof. In addition, long rifle ‘drag bags’ have been worn by snipers on their backs like a backpack or carry bag. These have been important in keeping the snipers inconspicuous while on operations and allowing them a greater opportunity to ‘blend in’ with a typical ISOF platoon.
The ISOF precision rifle inventory consists primarily of the Remington Arms 7.62x51mm NATO M24 Sniper Weapon System, as adopted by the U.S. Army. The U.S. Army had over 15,000 such rifles in use from 1988 to 2010. The M24 SWS underwent a major upgrade in 2010, being replaced by the M2010 Enhanced Sniper Rifle. Surplus M24 SWS models have since been sold or gifted through Foreign Military Sales and similar programs to U.S. allies such as Iraq and Afghanistan. The current M24 SWS in use by ISOF snipers is U.S. Army surplus. Most of the examples seen in Iraq appear to originate with the original M24 SWS contract issued in the 1980s and not the upgraded M24A2 or M24A3 versions that were later acquired by the U.S. Army. The majority of the important M24 SWS accessories and parts are still intact. This includes the folding 1A2-BRM Harris bipods, M1907 leather sling and what appears to be the 3.5-10x40mm Leupold Mark 4 scope with a Mil-Dot reticle. Limited numbers of rifles are instead fitted with fixed-power 10x40mm Leupold Mark 4 models, as the original 1988 U.S. Army contract stipulated. Although many of the Harris bipods are still in working and operational order, some of the M1907 leather slings have been replaced by locally-imported tactical slings from China. Within ISOF, the M24 SWS is colloquially known as the “Remington” and is very well liked.
Two other scopes have been seen in use on the ISOF M24 SWS rifles. The first and more prevalent one is the VARCO, INC (later Litton) AN/PVS-10 8.5x magnification day/night sight. This is 1990s-era, third-generation infrared technology, no longer in U.S. military service. The AN/PVS-10 can be configured to be used during daylight settings or with the infrared option configured using a simple switch, allowing ISOF snipers to use a single scope during both the day and the night. It is powered by two AA batteries, which are plentiful in Iraq. The AN/PVS-10 is readily identifiable by its bulbous main tube, battery pack and adjustment turrets, with a short ocular lens.
The other scope in use with the M24 SWS is the ATN 4-12×80 DNS-CGT day/night optic. Made by American Technologies Network Corp. (ATN), the product was an unsuccessful attempt to combine infrared technology with a traditional rifle scope by way of an ocular assembly that can be easily switched out. It was sold commercially and on military markets in the early 2000s but has since been discontinued from the current ATN catalogue. It appears that ISOF snipers either did not receive or have lost/not used the infrared eyepiece, as the author has not seen a single unit in use on ISOF precision rifles. The infrared attachment uses a single CR123 battery, but it must be perused with the scope to function as intended. This scope is easily identified by the substantial size of the 80mm objective lens, a bulbous ocular lens and a 40mm main tube body with corresponding scope rings.
After the M24 SWS, the M14 EBR is the second most common precision rifle used by ISOF snipers. The Enhanced Battle Rifle was a product improvement program based on existing select-fire 7.62x51mm NATO M14 rifles held in stores by the U.S. military. By switching out the wooden stock for a ‘chassis’ system with a telescoping stock with an adjustable cheek piece, as well as making the body from aluminum and fitting MIL-STD-1913 (Picatinny) rail capabilities, the M14 EBR was repurposed as a designated marksman rifle (DMR). It was adopted by the U.S. Navy as the Mk 14, the U.S. Army as the M14 EBR and the U.S. Marine Corps as the M39 EMR (Enhanced Marksman Rifle). Over 6,000 M14 EBRs were produced at Rock Island Arsenal for Army infantry troops in Afghanistan and Iraq in the early 2000s. Current ISOF M14 EBRs most likely come from this production lot of 6,000 Rock Island Arsenal reconfigurations, designated the ‘M14 EBR-RI.’ Although reliable, some ISOF soldiers have observed that these are less accurate than either the M24 SWS or the Russian Orsis T-5000. This is no doubt true, however, the semi-automatic M14 EBR was designed to fill a different tactical role (DMR versus sniper role). Additionally, it seems that most ISOF snipers are using standard 7.62x51mm ball cartridges instead of M118LR match-grade ammunition. These M14 EBR rifles are mostly issued with the variable power Leupold optics that are also seen on the M24 SWS, in addition to some ATN 4-12×80 DNS-CGT day/night scopes. It is also issued with a standard forward grip mounted on the Picatinny rail and uses a variety of slings. The M14 EBR is currently the only semi-automatic precision rifle system that is in use by ISOF forces.
ISOF snipers are also armed with the Russian Orsis T-5000. Manufactured in Moscow at Promtechnologies group’s ORSIS1 rifle factory, the T-5000 is produced in three different calibers: 7.62x51mm (.308 Winchester), .300 Winchester Magnum and .338 Lapua Magnum. All examples of the rifle seen in ISOF service are chambered for the 7.62x51mm cartridge. The T-5000 is a bolt-action, magazine-fed precision rifle featuring a skeletonized chassis with an adjustable folding stock. The rifle takes a 5- or 10-round magazine and is equipped with a Harris bipod or an imitation of one. The T-5000 initially started appearing in Iraq around March 2014 after a sizeable arms deal between the Iraqi and Russian governments took place. According to unconfirmed reports, there were 1,000 or more T-5000 rifles in the initial order, among numerous other Russian small arms.
Although the Orsis T-5000 can be fitted with a sound suppressor, there are scant photographs that show an ISOF sniper with a suppressor mounted. From the photos that do exist, it appears that the suppressors in use are not those typically associated with Orsis rifles; some details suggest that they may have been produced in Iraq. Scopes currently fitted to the ISOF T-5000 rifles are Dedal-Night Vision DH 5-20×56 models with a monolithic Picatinny mounting system. These scopes have 34mm main body tubes and have the illuminated TMR reticle in the second focal plane. Traditionally, the second focal plane has been favored by hunters, because the range estimation capabilities of first focal plane scopes are not deemed so necessary in the civilian hunting world. Dedal-NV appears to focus more on the civilian hunting night vision market and produces their products accordingly.
The largest problem that ISOF snipers face appears to be logistical in nature. Many of the rifles that snipers are using are surplus weapons, and many may be worn beyond their original specifications, impeding accuracy and reliability. Parts that should be easily replaceable, such as trigger mechanism components, scopes, barrels or bipods, are difficult—if not impossible—to replace, because the force lacks an efficient supply chain management system. Complicating these issues, other items such as spotting scopes, tripods, laser range finders and spare magazines are in short supply.
It also appears that the ammunition in use by ISOF snipers is almost entirely 7.62x51mm ball rounds that are primarily intended for use in M240 GPMGs rather than precision rifles. Access to precision ammunition, such as the U.S. Army’s M118LR cartridge, would greatly aid accuracy and effectiveness. The M118LR is a 175-grain hollow point ‘boat tail’ bullet, specifically selected by the U.S. Military for use with issue precision rifles and made to much higher tolerances than standard ball ammunition.
Originally published by Armament Reseach Services April 22, 2017
‘Ak-22’ Submachine Guns Used in Dhaka Attack
On July 1, 2016, five gunmen attacked Holey Artisan Bakery in Gulshan Thana, Bangladesh, resulting in 29 deaths (20 patrons, two staff members, two police officers and all five of the attackers). Alongside clubs, knives and crude improvised hand grenades, the five gunmen were armed with local, craft-produced submachine guns (SMGs) known to both criminal groups and security agencies as ‘AK-22’ SMGs. This designation is typically stamped on the upper receivers of these guns. In recent months, these types of weapons have been more frequently seized; the earliest examples are believed to have been recovered in Chittagong in 2008. On February 21, 2016, RAB-7 (Rapid Action Battalion, Chittagong unit) seized three AK-22 SMGs from a militant training camp in the remote Banshkhali hills during an anti-terror operation. On April 23, RAB-7 seized five AK-22 rifles after raiding another training camp run by the militant outfit Shaheed Hamja Brigade. According to security officials, the weapons are becoming increasingly popular with criminals and militant groups alike due to their low cost (around Tk300,000 and Tk400,000) and the .22 LR ammunition it uses being cheap and widely available for civilian uses, such as hunting and target shooting.
The weapons cosmetically resemble the Kalashnikov rifles, and they appear somewhat similar in size to the compact AKS-74U. Variants featuring both side-folding and telescoping wire and sheet metal stocks have been identified. Despite their superficial likeness to AK-type rifles, the weapons are mechanically much more similar to simple submachine gun designs such as the British STEN, firing from an open bolt with a simple lever sear trigger mechanism and having relatively few moving parts. The weapons are capable of automatic fire and use high-capacity magazines of various sizes, which may also be craft produced. Variations in quality and finish can be observed, with some examples being clearly hand painted and assembled with cheap Phillips head screws, while others appear to be glued and assembled with rivets or Allen head bolts. This likely suggests that designs are improvised from materials at hand, and it may indicate the work of multiple gunsmiths or groups.
India’s National Investigation Agency have reportedly learned through police interviews with a suspected operative of Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) that Pakistani gunsmiths had visited the district of Malda to train local gunsmiths in the production of AK-22 submachine guns. The gunsmiths who received assistance were from Munger in Bihar, a region notorious for the widespread production of locally made single-shot ‘katta’ pistols, supplemented by relatively sophisticated self-loading handguns in more recent years. Officials suspect that the Pakistani gunsmiths who visited were from Darra Adam Khel in the Northwest Frontier Province, famed for its production of high-quality copies of military small arms.
During the attack on Holey Artisan Bakery and O’ Kitchen restaurant, two police officials were killed by improvised grenades. Twenty hostages, including 18 foreigners, were found dead in the cafe after Special Forces finally entered. A video released following the attack shows the perpetrators in front of an Islamic State flag, each armed with an AK-22.