Guided Smart Weapons for Riflemen
by John M. Buol Jr.
Project White Feather was a US Special Operations Command (SOCOM)-sponsored effort to improve sniper weapon fire control technology to help extend effective range and increase first round hit probability. As envisioned, the fire control improvements were to provide the shooter a real-time, ballistically corrected aim point with input from a laser crosswind detector, laser range finder, inertial sensors that measure weapon motion, as well as other sensors.
The Weapons & Materials Research Directorate of the Army Research Laboratory published a white paper entitled Sniper Weapon Fire Control Error Budget Analysis (ARL-TR-2065) about these tests. One interesting revelation was weapon pointing (aiming) error analysis, or the ability of a shooter to hold his or her aim on target. According to their tests, the standard deviation of aiming error for the best, formally-trained operational snipers was three times worse than tested High Power and Long Range competition shooters sufficiently skilled to compete successfully in national level match competition at Camp Perry and the like. In fact, the worst competition shooters tested were as good or better than the best snipers in basic holding and shooting fundamentals. This is simply raw marksmanship fundamentals, and doesn’t take into account shot error due to range, wind or environment estimations, all the things that can spoil an otherwise well pointed shot. Testing also revealed that on 1000 yard humanoid silhouette targets operational snipers have first shot success probability of only 3%.
These SOCOM sponsored tests were not intended to denigrate snipers, only to point out that hitting at long range is difficult and fraught with many variables. Better training reduces error, as the competitive shooters prove, but this requires time and effort. A sniper or other shooter not personally motivated to take up organized competition on a regular, on-going basis will remain the biggest source of error in any shot.
Read more in our March 2013 issue. Back issues are available.