Weapons: Not Made Here Not Wanted

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June 22, 2019: Getting the Russian designed and built T-5000 state-of-the-art sniper rifle into the hands of more Russian troops has been delayed, again, by at least a year. The latest problem was the Ministry of Defense demanding that all Russian made weapons use only components built in Russia. Most of the T5000 (or Tochnost) components are Russian but a few come from German and Austrian suppliers. Russian firms can fabricate those metal parts, but it will be more expensive and take at least a year to get production going and complete testing the Russian made parts in new or existing rifles. This “all Russian” policy is a reaction to what happened after Russia went to war with Ukraine in 2014 and then got hit by Western sanctions for that unprovoked attempt to seize and annex two three Ukrainian provinces (Crimea the two that comprise the east Ukrainian region of Donbas). That, plus a concurrent collapse of oil prices crippled Russian plans to replace older (mainly Cold War era) equipment and weapons. Getting cut off from Ukrainian manufacturers crippled a lot of Russian producers of warships, aircraft and all manner of military equipment. Russian defense industries still have not found Russian suppliers for all the components and finished goods Ukraine used to provide. Even China has not been able to replace some Ukrainian made items for Russia. In practice, this new “made in Russia” policy is not strictly enforced because Russia still gets (even smuggles in) key electronic components and then pretends they are Russian.

Small arms are another matter. Russia has been producing its own firearms for centuries and most of these weapons were considered as good, if not better in some cases, than anything made in “more advanced” nations. The T5000 first appeared in 2011, when Russia was less touchy about having a few foreign components. The T5000 was considered a major Russian achievement as it was on a par with the most advanced Western sniper rifle designs. The T5000 was meant to compete as an export item as well as become a standard in the Russian military.

At the end of 2017, based on extensive combat experience in Syria, the manufacturer made a few more modifications to the T5000. The exposure in Syria also produced a lot more orders. T5000 has been around since 2011, but in small numbers consisting of several generations of prototypes and pre-production models. It was tested in the Caucasus, where there are still hundreds of Islamic terrorists active. While most of the Caucasus Islamic terrorists had headed for Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, some remain active in southern Russia. These Chechen (and other Caucasus Moslems) are considered the most capable irregular fighters Russia, or anyone else, had to deal with and Russian special operations (army and police) snipers got priority in receiving new equipment, especially if they are headed for a combat zone. The T-5000 rifle was the sort of weapon Russian snipers had been asking for since this sort of high-tech design first showed up in the West during the 1980s. That was as the Cold War was ending.

Russia really could not compete with Western weapons manufacturers until they got legal access to Western technology and markets. That happened in the 1990s and Russian firms have been producing a growing number of world-class designs. This gave Russian manufacturers access to the large police and civilian shooter market in the West. For example, to get enough sales to be profitable, most T-5000 sales must go to non-military users.

Russian special operations troops sent to Syria after 2014 (before the larger “official” deployment in mid-2015) apparently had some T5000s and the stories of the range, accuracy and ease of use this new sniper rifle began to spread among the special operations community and demand increased. There were already some foreign customers (Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Vietnam, Syria and China). The problem was that the Russian manufacturer (Orsis) could not produce them fast enough. By the end of 2017 production had apparently been increased sufficiently to offer the latest version, the T-5000M, openly to a few key customers.

The T5000 shook things up in the West. Since 2014 there were increasing reports that Russia had developed a radical (for Russia) new sniper rifle, the T5000. When more people got a look at it they could see it was obviously a rifle based on successful recent Western designs. The current T5000M is a 6.5 kg (14.3 pound) bolt action rifle with a 66cm (26 inch) barrel, five (or ten) round magazine and Picatinny rail. Actually, there are slight variations (weight, length) based on caliber selected. The T5000 is available in versions for the standard NATO 7.62x51mm (.308 Winchester), .300 Winchester Magnum or .338 (8.6mm) Lapua Magnum. With the 8.6mm round, the T-5000 has achieved accurate shots at over 2,000 meters. The T-5000 looks and operates like Western designs and that was done on purpose, using quality components and expert construction. The Russian manufacturer sells most T5000s (at $6,000 each, without accessories) to export customers although many elite Russian sniper units are now scheduled to finally receive them and allow snipers who “tested” a T5000 in the Caucasus and Syria to use one regularly. Purchases by the Defense Ministry for Russian snipers was delayed after 2014 because of smaller defense budgets and then the components issue. Yet the T5000 was still on the to-do list. It was that popular with Russian troops who had seen or used the prototypes and pre-production models.

The T-5000 was part of the Russian effort to reform their Cold War era armed forces by adopting the best techniques and weapons used by the more successful Western troops. The T-5000 was also part of an effort to make more aggressive use of snipers. By 2010 Russia was selecting the most promising new recruits and sending them to a three month sniper course. Via this, and other recruiting methods, the Russians sought to obtain at least a thousand additional snipers by 2016. Apparently, they succeeded and thanks to the Internet these newly trained snipers were familiar with the rifles their Western counterparts were using in combat and wanted access to the same quality of equipment. Some Russian snipers quietly got to use the latest Western sniper designs, but Russia did not want to have their snipers equipped with a standard weapon that was not Russian made.

Ironically, the Russians were large scale and successful users of snipers during World War II and developed many training and operational techniques eventually adopted by Western armies. One thing the Russians learned was that it was not the quality of the rifle and accessories that mattered most, but the selection and training of the sniper. 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 and the ability to maintain a large and capable force of snipers. Then there was the fact that the most effective World War II Russian snipers were women. But that’s another story.

The United States has been the most successful user of snipers so far this century. Since 2001 sniper training in the U.S. Army and Marine Corps has undergone tremendous changes. Mostly this was 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 army Special Forces). Each of these schools has long tended to develop in isolation from the others. But after 2001 there were more competitions and gatherings that brought together snipers from all three and many valuable exchanges about tactics, techniques and combat experience took place. Finally, the growth in the number of snipers led to many more sniper weapons and items of equipment being developed and produced. 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.

In 2004 the U.S. Army, emulating the U.S. Marine Corps, 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 do 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. Originally 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 since the 1990s 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, and 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.

Russia does not have a large number of infantry with combat experience or even men who volunteered for infantry duty. But the Russians do have generations of experience screening young men for the military and quickly identifying those with potential for doing specialized (leadership, technical, special operations, sniper) tasks and offering them a better deal than the average conscript got. China is adopting a Western model since they have plenty of volunteers for the infantry and an affinity for Western methods.

 


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