In most – but not always — good-natured world of interdepartmental rivalries, the sister services might have been inclined to scoff at the idea of the US Air Force having a counter-sniper program and a sniper rifle to go with it – at least before 9/11. Why are the kinder, gentler “zooms” of the “Chair Force,” aka the “Air Farce” (as the founding commander of SEAL Team 6 “Demo Dick” Marcinko preferred to call the branch) be interested in sniper rifles?
Shouldn’t we leave this precision killing stuff to the diehards ArmyMarine Sealsand Marine Corps? Well, 21 years after the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) kicked off, the USAF’s counter-sniper program is still going strong, and nobody’s laughing anymore.
Their weapon of choice? The M24 sniper weapon system.
One team, one fight, one gun
Even before the Air Force chose the M24, it was already a combat-proven weapon system, thanks to its adoption as the standard sniper rifle in 1988. 2015 information published by the public affairs office of AFB MinotNorth Dakota (where yours truly was stationed early in his Air Force career after completing boot camp and Security Forces Technical School):
“The United States Air Force most commonly uses the M24 sniper weapon system for its marksmanship needs. The M24 SWS is called a weapon system because it’s not just the rifle; the system includes the accessories and attachments that help the rifle be used more effectively, such as optics and a bipod… The rifle itself is a modified version of the venerable Remington 700, a common bolt-action shotgun that is ubiquitous in the United States since the 1960s. There are variations of the M24, but the most common configuration is chambered for the 7.62x51mm NATO round and has a 24-inch barrel. The M24 weighs approximately 16 pounds with all attachments on board… The effective range of the 7.62 NATO version is officially documented at 800 meters, but during the Iraq War, Army Staff Sgt. Jim Gilliland made a confirmed kill at 1,250 yards with an M24 chambered in the cartridge.”
The rifle has a capacity of 5 rounds; ammunition is M118 NATO 173 grain round, with a muzzle velocity of 2,600 feet per second (790 m/s) and a muzzle energy of 2,627 foot-pounds (3,562 Joules). Concerning the optics, the tool of choice is the Leopold M3A Scope.
Air highAim low, just aim for the bad guys
The USAF counter sniper program actually predates 9/11. I was a member of the USAF’s first officer training school after 9/11 (OTS) graduating class – class 01-08, graduation and commissioning date September 27, 2001 – and to complete the first of our three mandatory “death by PowerPoint” presentations which were used to assess our skills in of professional information, I chose to discuss the then fledgling program.
At the time, it was being considered for potential hotspots such as the Korean Peninsula, where, in the event of a resumption of full-scale hostilities, North Korean special forces would prioritize destroying or disabling USAF aircraft while still on the ground at Osan Air Base and Kunsan Air Base. As a former USAF Security Forces SSgt Larry Knoll said“Day or night, our job is to take out a target before they can shoot down one of our multimillion-dollar planes or kill someone.”
As a sign of how forward-thinking the program was, on April 14, 2001, it graduated its first female sniper, then Senior Airwoman Jennifer Donaldson, now Captain Jennifer Weitekamp of the Illinois Air National Guard. In Capt. Weitekamp’s own words“School wasn’t easy and there were days when I wanted to go home. I was the first woman to go through it, it was because of that and the opportunities it would open up for future women that helped me through the training and kept me motivated. Since the feat of SrA Donaldson, now Captain Weitkamp, who shattered the glass ceiling, at least eight other women have graduated from the program.
The USAF Police Alumni Association The page provides additional information about the path taken by the program:
“USAF Security Forces Counter Sniper Teams were first trained at the Air Force Counter Sniper School at Camp Joseph T. Robinson Army National Guard in Arkansas. In 2008 the school was moved to Ft Bliss outside of El Paso, TX. The course was renamed Close Precision Engagement Team with the move to Bliss. Beginning with Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, Air Force Security Force leaders recognized the need for a specialized team to assist with out-of-base reconnaissance and to support force personnel. security outside the base perimeter… The process for Airmen to become an Air Force Certified Marksman begins with the Advanced Designated Marksman Course, an 11-day training course that familiarizes the airman with the M24 weapon system. Following the ADM and through the recommendation of instructors, an Airman may return to Fort Bliss, Texas to attend the 19 Day Precision Engagement Course learn field techniques and tactics to use in conjunction with information learned during WMD.”
Ready to register?
However, before you can begin the described training courses, you must first successfully become a USAF Security Forces Troop. For more information on achieving this particular goal, visit the air force website. (And no, even though I was security forces – HOOAH!! – rest assured that I am not an official recruiter or a paid spokesperson.)
Christian D. Orr has 33 years of shooting experience, starting at the age of 14. His marksmanship achievements include: the Air Force Small Arms Ribbon with Device (for M16A2 Rifle and M9 Pistol); Expert pistol ratings from US Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP); several medals and trophies via the Glock Sport Shooting Foundation (GSSF) and the Nevada Police and Fire Games (NPAF). Chris has been an NRA Certified Basic Pistol Instructor since 2011.