Airborne sniper squad targets Iraqi militia


running up that hill
Jan 3, 2007
in Wonderland, with my Alice

In the skies over Basra, a crack squad of highly trained RAF Regiment snipers have been hard at work supporting ground troops and Immediate Response Teams (IRT) under fire from Iraqi militia. Report by Simon Williams.


RAF sniper SAC Gambling sets his sights on a potential target from an RAF Lynx helicopter over Basra
[Picture: RAF]

Flying with RAF Merlin and Lynx crews, the heavily armed heli-snipers can be mobilised at short notice to locate and eliminate enemy positions, reducing the threat to Army ground troops and medical units on the ground.

So far the heli-snipers have been deployed to give force protection for Lynx immediate response teams, scrambled to evacuate casualties, fire support for deliberate operations, rapid route clearance for convoys, and to counter the threat from militia preparing crude explosive devices.

Using IRT for the role gives the heli-snipers the ability to respond quickly. Travelling by air also gives them an improved field of vision, allowing them to relay vital surveillance to commanders on the ground.

Cpl Sean McKinnel of the RAF Regiment's 2 Squadron explained the heli-sniper's role:

"We act as top cover to provide protection during many tasks. The tasks since deploying to Op TELIC have included covering US BLACKHAWKS as they evacuate casualties from Basra Palace, covering UK MERLIN helicopters inserting troops. We have also been employed in covering urban areas likely to be used to launch rockets against the COB."

"Operating from the helicopters offers us great observation and a different perspective to that on the ground. We are able to assist in securing areas rapidly and are able to engage targets at greater ranges."​

Fellow 2 Sqn sniper SAC Gambling said:

"The great thing about the heli-sniping tasks are that you never know what you are going to get on your next shout.
Every call-out is different."​

Tasks such as fence-line checks which can take ground patrols hours to complete can be accomplished in minutes. Armed with advanced rifles, equipped with laser-marking capability, the RAF sniper teams have already proved effective in combat.

As well as a range of cutting edge thermal imagers, the teams have been issued with laser target designators, range finders and a suite of VHF radios for maintaining air to ground communications, allowing them to counter the threat from vehicle borne suicide attacks by calling in air strikes.

Each field squadron within the RAF Regiment has a section of sniper-qualified riflemen who provide the surveillance and target acquisition capability for the squadron.


2 Squadron RAF Regiment's Sniper Section with an RAF Lynx helicopter in Basra
[Picture: RAF]

The section has a heli-sniper team on standby around the clock to respond to specific incidents. The team work on a rotational basis, with the heli-snipers carrying out ground sniping and surveillance duties when not on standby.

In order to operate the cutting edge battlefield technology, heli-snipers are put through a tough nine-week training course at Honington, covering all the essential elements of sniping and surveillance, including specialist marksmanship skills such as angular shooting and advanced correction for wind. 2 Sqn RAF Regiment sniper Cpl Ian McClive said:

"As this is a new skill to all the lads, we had to conduct a number of range sessions aboard the helicopters to see the effects on our shooting. Now after a little practise all of the lads are confident at engaging targets on the move from a helicopter."​

Once qualified as snipers, specialists can go on to command a sniper section, but continual training is required for Service personnel to hone their shooting skills to deal with continually changing combat environments.
I think this might be the same group of snipers who's two man team won the fire from helo section of the Top Sniper competition I watched recently. If so, these guys do some great shootin' (yeah I was envious)

I could swear I've seen this article before on here but I can't find it in the search.
I think this might be the same group of snipers who's two man team won the fire from helo section of the Top Sniper competition I watched recently. If so, these guys do some great shootin' (yeah I was envious)

I could swear I've seen this article before on here but I can't find it in the search.

I thought the Irish Team won that Section?
Yeah, the Irish team won that round. I watched it.

It was perhaps the most difficult phase of the competition, because trajectory of the round changes at elevation, when shooting down at a target- as opposed to firing on a flat field. You snipers faced the same thing in Afghanistan, no doubt.

Add to that dramatic, layered changes in wind. From what I understand, wind can be blowing 20 mph left-to-right at one altitude, and then shift to 20mph in the other direction as the round descends into a lower altitude. Cross, head, and tail winds are more pronounced at altitude. Best of all, you have the motion and vibration of the helo, and the constant challenge of getting -and keeping- a good, stable firing position.
It's not so much the long angled shots they can take as the CAS they can call in while on platform.

The view a trained observer has from that altitude AGL is unmatched by the naked eye.

Good call..... ;)

Great story.

History of 'eyes in the skies':

Desert Storm was a war which placed some of the very latest military technology alongside some of the oldest. Fighters as new as the F-117 Stealth Fighter fought alongside aircraft as old as the 1954-vintage B-52 Stratofortress. For some aircraft, Desert Storm marked the final combat hoorah, at least in American service. The venerable A-7 Corsair II, the F-4G "Wild Weasel" Phantom, and lo and behold, our beloved OV-10 Bronco had their last US combat engagements in Desert Storm. (Each of these aircraft are still in active combat service with other countries, however.)

UAV's observing the battlefield are great tools, but shooters nearby the battle who can respond and react are more important.....IMO...