For snipers, every war is different. Recognizing the differences between conditions
in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army is now selecting a contractor to upgrade the 22-
year-old Remington bolt-action rifle to become a more effective killing machine. The
Army will pour about $5.6 million into upgrades to the M24, with the new gear expected
to be delivered to troops by this fall. The M24's barrel is being modified to shoot heavier
.300 Winchester Magnum rounds, instead of the 7.62mm NATO ammunition, which
should extend the rifle's maximum effective range by hundreds of yards to a maximum
of about 1400 yards. The suppressor will reduce the noise and flash of the gun so
snipers can stay in their hiding positions much longer after they fire.
The Army is also adopting a new chassis that allows for more "real estate" on the rifle—meaning the ability to attach accessories, especially much-needed night-vision devices
that clip on directly to the rail in front of the scope. The scope itself will be improved,
adding a variable power system that can reach 16.5x to 25x magnification. The Army
will also fit the rifles with a rangefinder so troops will no longer have to perform
calculations on distance. "The engagement is a lot farther [in Afghanistan] than in
Iraq," says Milo Afong, a former Marine Corps sniper who researched the experience
of snipers in Afghanistan for his new book, Hunters: U.S. Snipers in the War on Terror.
"You are looking at higher altitudes and less populated areas."
In Afghanistan, U.S. snipers have encountered a tougher enemy than in Iraq—one
that is willing to stay and fight and generally has the advantage because they know
the hiding places. "They know tactics, they know how to shoot, move and communicate.
They know how to set up ambushes," Afong says. "You just have to be on your toes
at all times, and you have to put yourself one step or two ahead of the enemy."
Afong says that for snipers engaged in urban combat in Iraq, the traditional training and mantra of waiting for 'one shot and one kill' fell by the wayside. Sniper teams in Iraq often selected, observed and reported on the targets without actually taking the shot, acting
instead as the eyes for raiding teams that would capture or eliminate the enemy. When
caught in the speed of battle, snipers have to turn to snap shooting, says Afong. "The
window of opportunity is very, very small," says Afong. "You just have to pick your shots."