Infantry: November 20, 2003


: The idea of infantry squads having a designated marksman is back. Currently several organizations within the United States Army and Marine Corps are using designated marksman. Specifically the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions, the new Stryker Brigade, and Army Special Forces as well as several Marine Expeditionary Units- Special operations Capable (MEU-SOC) and Marine Recon battalions. 

Origins of the idea can be seen as far back as the World War Two. Some Marine Corps units issued M1903 Springfield rifles (with telescopes) to their infantry battalions in the Pacific islands. Another example is the soldier in the movie Saving Private Ryan who is armed with such a M1903 Springfield rifle. The designated marksmen initially were Soldiers or Marines that were good shots and were given the rifles while not necessarily getting additional training. In more recent times organizations have developed their own doctrine and training. Designated marksmen have been and continue to be used in Afghanistan and Iraq (see: The designated marksman is a member of a rifle squad that has additional training in marksmanship and observation. He is not a sniper. Snipers normally hunt their targets; designated marksmans targets are more opportunity based. Designated marksmen are normally used in an over watch role. The designated marksman engages targets at ranges that are deemed inappropriate for rifleman with M16s and need precise rifle fire.

The weapon of choice is the M14, a weapon using the 7.62 x 51mm (7.62 NATO, aka .308 Winchester). This cartridge has an effective range of 1,000 meters. Variations depend on units. The Marine Corps built their rifles from stocks of M14s on hand. National Match barrels are mated with fiberglass stocks and scope rails to allow different optics to be used. They also have adjustable cheek pieces and spacer plates to adjust the length of the stock to the shooters preferences. The 101st Airborne got their rifles commercial off the shelf (COTS). They bought Springfield M1As, the civilian version of the M14. The Stryker Brigade were fielded their weapons thru the Rapid Fielding Initiative. Optics and accessories vary depending on the organization

Investing the time and money into the idea of designated riflemen will ensure that the programs will be around for a while. The future of the designated riflemen will likely expand through all infantry formations within the Army and the Marine Corps, with possible expansion into security formations such at military police and US Air Force security police. There may also be joint doctrinal publications to define the doctrine. It is unlikely that there will be a joint school for designated riflemen. For one thing, it's easier to do this training at the battalion or brigade level. Secondly because the designated riflemen is not a special Military Occupational Specialty (MOS), but just another skill. So there will be no special school. Finally the Army and Marine Corps havent merged their sniper schools, so it is unlike to see it happen at a lower level for designated rifleman. The current operational tempo (OPTEMPO) with units deployed world wide will likely help expand the designated marksman program more quickly then in the pre- Sept 11th environment. -- David Shannon


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