March 28, 2012: In the past year Russia has trained and deployed its first sniper companies. Within three years each combat brigade will have a company of snipers. These troops will not only be graduates of a sniper course but will all be volunteer (not conscript) troops. As part of their sniper training they will be taught to call in air and artillery strikes. For that purpose they will have special binoculars equipped with laser range finders and GPS. Each sniper company has about a hundred men (four platoons of 25 each). This comes out to 3-5 two-man sniper teams for each of the nine infantry companies in a brigade.
All this is part of the Russian effort to reform their Cold War era armed forces and adopt the best techniques used by the more successful Western nations. For the past year Russia has been selecting the most promising new recruits and sending them to a three month sniper course. Via this, and other recruiting methods, the Russians hope to obtain at least a thousand additional snipers in the next few years.
Ironically, the Russians were large scale and successful users of snipers during World War II and developed many training and operational techniques now used by Western armies. But during the Cold War everything in the Russian military got threadbare and shabby. Too many people were just going through the motions and Russia lost its edge in maintaining a large and capable force of snipers.
The United States has been the most successful user of snipers in the last decade. During that time sniper training in the U.S. Army and Marine Corps has undergone tremendous change. Mostly this is because so many snipers were getting lots of combat experience. That experience comes back to the sniper training schools. Another change has been increasing communication between the three primary centers of sniper training (army, marines, and Special Forces). Each of these schools has long tended to develop in isolation from the others. But now there are more competitions and gatherings that bring together snipers from all three and many valuable exchanges of tactics, techniques, and experience have taken place. Finally, the growth in the number of snipers led to many more new sniper weapons and equipment. This has been driven, in part, by the growth in the number of civilians taking up sniping as a sport. Some of these civilian snipers are former military but most are civilian shooters seeking an edge in their hunting, or simply to develop some new, and challenging, skills.
It was eight years ago that the U.S. Army yet again adopted a successful combat practice from the U.S. Marine Corps. In this case the army began training additional snipers so that army units would have more than three times as many. This was about the same number of snipers the marines have had for a long time.
To make this happen the army has tripled the output of its sniper schools. The army had a five week sniper course, while the marines had a ten week course that was considered one of the best in the world. These schools turn out professional snipers who know how to operate independently in two man teams.
Marine regiments (about the same size as army brigades) then had about three times as many snipers per battalion as did army units. Back then, the army only has six or eight snipers per infantry battalion. The additional sniper training sought to provide one sniper in each infantry squad. There are 27 squads in an infantry battalion.
But both the army and the marines were also taking advantage of the greater number of veteran troops in their combat units and the fact that just about every soldier has a rifle with a scope and has a lot of target practice behind them. In the past, infantry commanders were encouraged to find and designate about ten percent of their men as sharpshooters (sort of sniper lite) and make use of these guys to take out enemy troops at a distance, with single shots. This was a trend that had been growing for over a decade and was becoming a major feature of American infantry tactics. These sharpshooters, especially the ones with combat experience, were the prime candidates for sniper school. The trained snipers, however, also have the special skills required to find the best shooting position and how to stay hidden or get out of harm's way if discovered. Trained snipers have proved to be a powerful weapon in the kinds of battles encountered in Afghanistan and Iraq. The enemy fighters greatly fear the snipers, and the presence of snipers restricted the mobility of enemy gunmen.
Back during the Cold War the Russian army was supposed to have 25-30 snipers per infantry brigade. These men were equipped with specially built sniper rifles. There were also trained snipers in the growing Soviet commando forces and among the KGB (secret police) combat units. But in the last two decades of the Cold War (that ended in 1991) the quality of Russian snipers declined, as did most everything else in the Russian military.