As a professional shooter, it is important never to overestimate your skills, and even more unforgivable to misrepresent your skill level to commanding officers who will probably take those perceptions into account during mission planning. This is especially true of snipers preparing to conduct specialized tasks, like providing target interdiction from a helicopter based platform.
While I once had a SOTIC graduate tell me that Aerial Platform shooting is completely useless, I think it is a valid technique, but one that needs to be balanced with a solid dose of reality. Shooting from a moving, vibrating platform, such as a helicopter, is exceedingly difficult. While I don’t have any statistical evidence to offer, there is some readily available anecdotal evidence.
A while back, The Military Channel did a special on the International Sniper Competition at Ft. Benning, Georgia, which brought together some of the worlds most highly skilled long distance marksmen. One event in the competition was an Aerial Platform shoot from a Black Hawk helicopter. Some of these snipers could make legitimate claims to being the best shooters in the world; they have the awards and combat background to prove it, and yet, the performance during this event was abysmal to say the least.
Part of the issue derives from the absurdity of looking down a 10x scope (or even a 3x scope) while flying through the air, something I quickly learned as a sniper buzzing over Afghanistan in a Marine Huey for the first time. I have to agree with the advice given by John Plaster in the Maritime Sniper Manual by Fredrik Jonsson. Remove the long distance glass and roll with a red-dot sight on your rifle. The primary challenge in this situation will be target acquisition.
Ballistic solutions are possible, but in my opinion highly unlikely due to the number of variables involved in calculating for distance, wind speed, rotor blast from the helicopter, target movement, the helicopter’s movement, and whatever else the environment throws at you on a platform that is constantly moving. Using a red-dot sight, applying the fundamentals of marksmanship, and being prepared for a follow up shot is a far more realistic scenario.
For this reason, the choice of rifle should always be semi-automatic. In the picture above, I carried the SR-25, which I found plenty effective at distances and heights which I will leave undisclosed in this space. In this instance, nighttime, I simply laid the rifle in my lap, turned on the PEQ-2 infrared laser and squeezed the trigger once I got the laser on target. Remember to use a snap link to secure your rifle to your person when in the air!
While Aerial Platform shooting certainly has its limitations, it is important not to throw the baby out with the bath water. A mobile shooters platform simply offers too many advantages when the sniper and the pilots work together as a team to discard the technique all together.
Originally published 2.10.2012
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