The thick and lush jungles of Vietnam and the enemies it contained was the first time modern American forces engaged in asymmetric warfare. The enemy was cunning, intelligent, and experienced in guerilla warfare. If the United States wished to really fight this war they had to change their mindset and their tactics. One of the most effective types of soldier in Vietnam was the sniper.

Vietnam was the war that secured the place of American sniper’s for generations to come. The enemy quickly learned the capabilities of the American rifleman and exploited it. They learned how far an average rifleman could shoot, and stayed outside that range. When the Vietnam war started there wasn’t standardized Sniper training, Sniper platoons, or even Sniper rifles. It was the performance of these Snipers in Vietnam that secured the sniper concept as a permanent fixture in the United States military.

The rifles associated with American Snipers in Vietnam are the Winchester Model 70 and the M21. Both rifles proved to be accurate and capable in their role. The Vietnam war happened at an interesting period in weapon design and technology. The Vietnam War was the first large scale war the United States waged against guerilla forces. Weaponry and tactics had to adapt and evolve to fight in this new kind of war.

The Changing Face of War

A lot of the modern technology we use in war today was first brought into play in Vietnam. This includes portable and effective night vision, general purpose machine guns, and suppressors. The use of Starlight scopes and suppressed rifles made snipers a vicious threat to the Vietnamese communists who found themselves unfortunate enough to be in a sniper’s sights.

Solider With M14

Suppressed M21’s proved to be very effective, but were plagued by their supersonic ammunition. Even with a suppressor on the end of their rifle the supersonic crack of a .30 caliber round is enough to make your ears ring. The suppressors were effective at hiding the sniper’s position, but were still too loud to dispatch enemy forces without raising an alarm. The United States military needed a weapon that could dispatch enemy troops without a supersonic crack.

There was some limited use of subsonic ammunition in Vietnam according the Peter Senich’s book, “The Long Range War.” This 7.62 ammunition was subsonic when tested in the United States. However, the temperature and humidity of the Vietnamese jungle affected the round’s velocity. Reportedly 1 in 4 rounds would still create a supersonic crack.


The Origin Of Requirement

The Limited War Laboratory began in 1962 and oversaw the developing and contracting weaponry and equipment for the Vietnam War. The LWL acted as a quick reaction research group free from slow bureaucracy and normal R&D rules. The LWL produced a wide variety of modern concepts including under barrel grenade launchers and the implementation of bomb sniffing dogs.