Marksman - not Designated Marksman, much less "DMR"

The employment of snipers is typically characterized as a guy with a scoped rifle aiming well and being able to hit small or distant targets - while enjoying superior camouflage.
It's actually much more; forward observer and scouting or overwatch missions bordering on long range recon watchpoints, teamwork with at least one other sniper-qualified buddy are important other aspects.

Yet there's also the low end case, the integration of the sniper into the small unit of manoeuvre, the platoon or squad/section/Gruppe. This was called "designated marksman since at least the 1990's and was typically about having one guy with a scoped semi-automatic rifle in the squad for the pinpoint accuracy shooting. The difference to the 'true' sniper is that the designated marksman is part of the squad, while a sniper is typically assigned to cooperate with a platoon or company or to simply harass in a certain area.

The utility of a magnifying scope for assisting the squad leader in identifying personnel was hardly ever mentioned, but was probably even more important than the pinpoint accuracy. The archetypical rifle for this designated marksman model was the SVD "Dragunov".

PSO-1 sight picture of a SVD (c) Chabster

To be honest, I think this concept was always suboptimal if not outright wrong. Nobody can tell during peacetime training which soldier of the squad will keep his head down during an entire firefight and which one will return fire. That's one of the reasons why many reserve NCOs are a necessity (to replace too 'timid' squad leaders) and why not only the biggest, strongest guy should be trained to carry and employ the squad machinegun (which had up to 80% of the squad's firepower), but everyone.
The problem went away without addressing it specifically, though: magnifying optics better than First World War sniper scopes have become commonplace. Almost every infantryman has one if he's got a rifle from the late 90's or newer. The German army has a poor magnifying 3.5x scope and a poor red dot sight in its G36 rifles, many other military forces enjoy the benefits of newer ACOG sights or similar and there are even some variable zoom (approx. 1x-4x) scopes on the market, albeit still too expensive for regular troops.
Now every squad member who's not leading or machinegunning, caring for the wounded, moving ammo, radioing, reloading, employing grenades, providing rear or flank security or ducking behind cover can use a scoped rifle for pinpoint single shots in a firefight.*
The platoon leader can muster the survivors of the first firefight, strip the expensive sights from the passive soldiers (except on G36, where it's fixed...) and turn them into de facto porters while everyone else is employed with leading, machinegun, scoped rifle and/or grenade launcher.

What didn't I mention much so far?
Oh yes, hardware.
The usual way to cover the "designated marksman" topic is to obsess about the choice of calibre, choice of rifle, the scope - maybe even about the fancy paintjob of the rifle. Nothing on this list is really important compared to what I wrote before in my opinion.
The right man with a Gewehr 98 produced in 1910 could be effective when the wrong man with a Gucci gun and 6x scope wouldn't.

I am under the impression that small wars experience or not, the hardware-centric and planning-centric view has won and become dominant since the early 90's at the latest. The last man-centric fashion in the German Heer was probably the "Kämpfer" buzzword of the early and mid-90's.
Politicians, bureaucrats, industry, authors - everybody seems to prioritize hardware.
 The Milblogosphere exaggerates the prominence of hardware even more than the bean-counting and budget-aware bureaucracies. Scroll up: Even I didn't find any good picture of relevant soft factors, but it was easy to find a suitable picture of hardware to break up the text and make it more easy on the eye!


*: Which means "rarely anybody", but that's another issue.



  1. "The platoon leader can muster the survivors of the first firefight, strip the expensive sights from the passive soldiers"

    Hilarious, but hilariously naive. Those survivors who added RCOs or Trijicons or Eotechs, in the field, would be firing unzeroed rifles...in combat.

    Write about what you know. This obviously isn't it.

    1. That's actually hilariously naive on your part.
      Only incompetent armies don't zero both optical AND iron sights.

      And proper text comprehension would have told you that I didn't write about adding optical sights within the unit, but about stripping them - and sending them back to depot because they're mere deadweight to soldiers who don't participate much in a firefight anyway.

    2. Your broad point about waste is correct, but I do not understand your position on optics (particularly those with simple range finders) are hugely effective, and comparatively inexpensive.

      An ACOG cost about $600 retail - surely the military acquires them cheaper - yet the average western infantry soldier is carrying about $12,000 worth of body armor, load bearing equipment etc..

      The more expensive weapons and communication gear are not included in this figure. And compared to the actual cost of training and equipping a soldier, the cost of an optic is miniscule.

      The only real reason for excluding optics is weight, but I have seen our SOF troops strip down to 10kg of gear (weapon, plate carrier, helmet, 3-4 magazines, grenade or two, etc) to hit a target. Very minimalist kit.

      Significantly, these guys would dump ammunition, but optics and a small "squad" radio were *not* left behind.


    3. GAB, you're kinda refusing to take into account that the 'stripping optics' part was about the men who were previously revealed to not substantially participate in the firefight anyway.
      Those few hundred grams are worth nothing if not used, and they could carry a cross-loaded pound of ammunition or batteries instead.

    4. SO,

      As you said, most issues are not solved by material - I find this to be a leadership issue.

      Unreliable men are a reality; but giving them the task of carrying crew served weapon ammunition, or other critical equipment just shifts the problem and may be even more detrimental!

      A guy who cannot be counted upon to shoot, also cannot be relied upon to deliver his munitions under fire.

      Of course the Russians historically solved problems like this by padlocking tank hatches shut, or putting machine guns behind their troops to shoot shirkers.


  2. Besides, even if what Anonymous says were true and this article were about transferring optics in between soldiers, it wouldn't be terribly hard to bang out an approximate "combat zero" in the field.

    1. The term is co-witness.

      A good soldier will already have properly adjusted sights, both iron and optics.

      Should the optic be damaged, shift to iron sights followed by re-installation of a new (identical) optic is trivial and can be done without firing a round.

      There is no "approximate" in the calculation - the weapon should shoot to a level of accuracy at battle ranges that is better than most people can achieve.


  3. Why not try a variable scope with a fairly large magnification (x-~20) on a standard rifle of squad?° It adds up to one kilo (~600 gr if it replaces an Aimpoint M4) but gives the a greater ability to detect and identify distant things.

    The classic designated marksman rifle twenty years ago was usually considerably heavier, used a heavier 'full-power' 7.62 round and had classic magnified optic from 4 to 10 power. In this case a light standard 5.56 (or 5.45) assault rifle will at most be slightly modified to obtain a 2 MOA precision out to 500 meters with issued 'sniper' (and ap?) ammunition fitting standard magazines. Ball can of course be used as well. The short lightish barrel (14.5-16 inch) will be moderatly sound suppressed and an light bipod made available.

    Weight and money will be invested into a large variable high-quality riflescope. This can't displace a good spotting scope but allows a soldier on the move to greatly magnify detail with the throw of switch. Perhaps a hole in a brickwall, the base of bush or the details of an enemy AFV*.

    Optical quality would actually be (far) more important then high quality internal mechanical adjustments. Out to 500m modern reticles allow for quick combat accurate holds, while longer ranges increasingly need more training, for example wind reading. The reticle etching also tends to be far cheaper to get right.

    Basically it's less about a designated shooter and more on a designated investigator. That focus on optical investigation and indentification obviously doesn't exclude the killing bit.


    P.S: Something like the Bushnell Elite Tactical 3.5-21x50 might fit well for a moderate price.

    °This was of course inspired by the increased hunting use of high magnification, high zoom (6x) scopes for light-weight stalking and an old small wars council thread.

    *The ability to indentify details indicating hard-kill defence systems could make all the difference.