Thoughts on the SEAL Snipers

DOD Buzz has some thoughts on the weapon platform used by the SEAL Snipers who took out the pirates:

And let’s not get carried away with the sea state, says DT contributor Joe Buff. A multi-thousand ton destroyer is a pretty stable platform in any but the most tumultuous sea states and makes dialing in a shot on an admittedly tossing life raft more doable — a smart platform for the Team to operate from.

Well sure a big ship is a more stable platform, but that does not make it any less of a feat of marksmanship. Missing could have meant the difference between the American captain surviving and being executed by the frightened pirates.

We also have some information — unconfirmed, though we’re working on it — about how the shots were taken and what was used. Our firearms expert Eric Poole who writes for Tactical-Life posits that the snipers were using the MK-11 .308 sniper system manufactured by Knights Armament Co. This weapon is awesome, by the way (I’ve shot it a few times myself) and, if this is indeed what the shooters used, would mark a major, high-profile departure from legacy thinking about sniping which holds bolt-action rifles as the Gold Standard or marksmanship.

I also said that I though the Mk 11 was the likely weapons system.

Bolt actions and semi-auto’s can both be made accurate enough. Bolt actions can be made more accurate cheaper, but semi-autos give a much better rate of fire. The Army is sticking with the M24 Sniper Weapons System, based on the Remington 700 bolt action, for now because of cost.

Poole figures the DevGru frogmen removed the “overpowered” standard-issue Leupold scopes and opted for the Aimpoint CCO augmented by the PVS-14 night vision monocular. Though the SEAL version of the MK-11 Mod 0 is issued with suppressors, it’s unclear whether the operators used them, but I’d bet a million bucks they did.

Good point about scopes. The range was relatively close, so I don’t think the sound suppression of a suppressor would make a huge difference to the situation, but the decrease in recoil would be advantageous when making followup shots at a moving target. I think it is safe to assume these guys know now their weapons performs when suppressed (unlike video games, in real life suppressors make no change to the external ballistics of the projectile, but it does change the weight balance of the firearm)

One other question (among many) remains open…were there three shots or four? Poole reasons, and Allen and I agree, that someone had to shoot through the lifeboat window first, then fire the kill shots. My limited knowledge of ballistics leads me to believe the snipers could not rely on the effectiveness of the one window shot to actually strike the target where it was aimed based in the potential deflection of hitting that probably plastic (glass) window.

There are a lot of things we do not know.

Thanks to Paul for the link.

Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


  • MrSatyre

    All I know is after looking at the lifeboat, I’ll be damned how the snipers could even SEE their targets through those tiny, high-mounted windows. Taking into consideration the much smaller size of the lifeboat would mean it was bouncing around a lot more than the destroyer… Jeezus. A lot of well-deserved self-congratulations all around, Sniper Team!

  • As an ex surface Navy guy who has sailed around the globe on destroyers I am here to tell you they (Destroyers) are anything but steady. They still sway and roll with the waves.

    • Heath, thanks for the comment. I have not sailed on military ships. My sea experience has only been on cargo ships, which roll about the sea.

  • Avtomat

    If the lifeboat was being pulled in the wake of the ship, then the waves–and bobbing–would have been minimized even more (assuming the waters were rough in the first place)

  • James

    “I think it is safe to assume these guys know now their weapons performs when suppressed (unlike video games, in real life suppressors make no change to the external ballistics of the projectile, but it does change the weight balance of the firearm)”

    I cant say I agree with the above statement. Hanging a 1.5 – 2.0 lb silencer off the end of the barrel does affect POI to some extent.

    At least in my limited experience it does. Rem 700 AAC 7.62-SD

    • James, do you reckon your suppressor is bending your barrel? How far is your POI off (from a cold barrel)?

  • jdun1911

    You can’t make a piston rifle as accurate as a bolt action rifle. You can get close but that’s as far as it goes. DI rifles on the other hand can suppress bolt action rifle in accuracies and at a low cost.

    I believe the M110 will replace the M24 in the US Army. It is made by Knight’s Armament Company.

    BTW it is now clear that the standard for DI 308 AR10 rifle is Knight’s Armament. So buy clone that has the same magwell as Knight Armament rifle.

  • Avtomat, have you ever seen the wake from an Arliegh Burke class destroyer? Considering what was going on I can almost guarantee the ship was at a modified General Quarters. That means both screws were a turning… they stir up a LOT of water even at slow speeds.

    I used to have a picture of myself along with the rest of the Engineering department standing under those monsters on USS Milius (DDG-69) while she was in dry dock. They’re HUGE.

  • Jamal

    I was surprised at the proposition that the snipers would have removed their scopes. The Leupold 3.5-10 doesn’t seem like overkill at 25 to 30 yards. Mine seems fine anyway.

    That said, it’s one thing for armchair shooters to make some small groups at the range. It’s completely another to do it with the world watching and some real hero’s life on the line. Kudos to the SEALs. If any are reading this, I wish that I could pick up a round of cold beverages for you guys.

  • Allow me to second Heath – I have never been aboard a DDG while she was underway, but I have seen many of them out on the ocean, and I have served on an FFG and an LPD. Short of full-blown carriers, there is no such thing as a “stable platform” when underway. 10 foot seas is about all it takes to get a good pitching situation going on, and if you are not steering into those seas, you are guaranteed rolls, and possibly good ones at that.

    Barring the platform, however, the lifeboat is certainly going to be bouncing around like the cork it is, especially if she was in the ship’s wake.

    No matter how it breaks down, that was an awesome shot, made by awesome individuals… who undoubtedly just consider it to be part of their jobs. Major bravo zulus to everyone involved.

  • chris

    I have yet to see anything saying three headshots. I have seen it stated three dead pirates. How do we know there weren’t two snipers per target? Thats how I would set it up if I had the resources.

    • Jim

      From what I heard it was a six man team, three snipers and three in the water being towed, which boarded the life boat immediately after the shots were taken.

  • jdun1911

    Multiple targets simultaneously hit by sniper teams isn’t new.

    Three SAS sniper teams with security protection killed three suicide bomber that left their safe house in Iraq. All three bomber was shot in the head simultaneously. It was reported a few years back in a magazine IIRC.

  • Suppressors don’t “bend” barrels (well, not to a relevant extent).
    The silencer’s effect on the point of impact is strong and stems from its ability to change the swinging of the barrel (it’s related to the reason for free-floated barrels). The change is consistent and zeroing helps to neutralize the suppressors’ effect.

    External ballistics of bullets can be influenced by suppressors in another way as well.
    The effect is associated with the gas turbulence close to the muzzle (it’s reduced). Suppressed weapons have therefore often less shot dispersion than without suppressor.

    Simultaneous police sniping can be achieved with electronic means – the snipers hold the trigger as long as they’re on target and the system makes their rifles fire (with that piezo-electric metal that bends due to electric current). The same can even be combined with video imagery of the scope field of view for the police officer in charge at the crime scene.

    • Sven, you are indeed right about the vibrations of the barrel will be changed due to the added weight.

      I personally do not buy into the gas turbulence theory with regards to suppressors. I have also heard it mentioned that muzzle breaks also reduce the gas turbulence. I don’t think the effect would have any noticeable impact on shot placement. But saying that, I am no expert on external ballistics, just my experience.

  • Shooting through windows, even windows at an angle to the bullet trajectory: with a low-powered handgun it changes POI by inches, tops. A rifle, probably single-digits of inches. The Box O’ Truth shot through a bunch of car windows and found the changes in trajectory to be fairly predictable. I don’t put it past our men to put one smack-on their target through a window, whether it had been shot out or not.

  • Paul_In_Houston

    Vote For David:

    In Eric Haney’s book, “Inside Delta Force”, the teams training for taking down airplane hijackers, in a plane that was on the ground, were worried about bullet deflection if a sniper had to shoot through a cockpit window.

    So, Delta Airlines gave them a bunch of cockpit (and other) windows to test for themselves (the President of Delta Airlines was a strong backer of Delta Force’s [PURE coincidence of names] work on this problem, for obvious reasons, and gave enormous cooperation [at great expense; making revenue-producing airliners available ain’t cheap]).

    Their tests showed that deflection, at the ranges from the window to the target (inside a cockpit that was probably larger than the interior of that lifeboat) was negligible.

    The book is a fascinating read; see what else it had to say about ways they tested for trying to disable an aircraft on the ground. He does NOT go into what works, but a lot on what DOESN’T (commercial aircraft are a lot tougher than yopu would imagine).

  • Someone totally needs to shoot some video on the subject of bullet deflection through glass and plastic and post it on YouTube.

  • Carl

    Wouldn´t the weight of a suppressor also change the way a rifle recoils, and consequently change the point of impact somewhat?

  • CAPT William Sims, USN (Ret)

    It is not true that a Navy destroyer is a stable platform–they are designed for battle and speed, not comfort. Destroyers will roll in even nearly “calm” waters when there is ocean swell. They are by nature top-heavy, and the hull shape does little to correct roll.

    Aircraft carriers and cruise ships are stable, destroyers are not!

    Take it from a Destroyerman.

    The snipers had to allow for pitch and roll. Period.

  • Ronnie Conrad

    Hey, that’s their job. Yes they must be good,,,NO Great. Look at what they do for a living? They train every day, for such. I would expect? NO LESS from the Best. That’s why the wash out rate is so high, there’s no room for for those who (think) it can’t be done. Remenber that little train when you were a kid???’s them! They don’t think…THEY KNOW!

  • subby

    And no doubt in these circumstances, with the time they had to prepare. These snipers were the best of the best of the best.

  • Core

    I don’t know the details but, I would guess they used M14 platforms with infra-red scopes; I used to use these in the Navy myself. The .308 BTHP rounds are accurate out to 800+ meters, and have minimal deflection when fired through standard glass windows. There are special purpose rounds designed for glass penetration, as well as techniques used to break the glass while firing a kill shot at the same time. But like I said I don’t know the specifics.

  • Lance

    I agree with Core on this. Most sea operations and operators use M-14 style sniper rifles.

  • prettypete

    Great job, SEAL Snipers!

  • Sloan

    Here’s the deal with poi shift. Suppressors can either negatively or positively affect the grouping of a weapon. On pistols, it usually just changes the location of the grouping. Look at DeGroat Tactical Armaments suppressors. They have 10 positions to set at the one closest to your unsuppressed shot grouping. Operators have stated that with the attachment of the KAC M4QD suppresor, their shot group may not be off at all but most have stated their shot groupings as being off by 30 inches at 50M. It all depends on the tolerances and how accurately concentric the baffles are. The gases can “push” the projectile either way if they “hit” the bullet at a different time or angle. Surefire suppressors are of excellent concentricity “wrapping” the bullet, squeezing like a banana out of its peel. The group is therefore tightened and a velocity of about 30fps is gained.

  • Falcon500

    Sound Suppressors reducing power of weapons in video games can be attributed to the use of subsonic ammo, which moves at a slower rate of speed, normally leading to lower damage.

  • Jason

    They used thermal scopes to see the pirates. 2 of the pirates were visable through the little glass window and 1 was sitting down. I saw this information on the military or discovery channel. Forget exactly which one. Point is they wouldn’t have been able to take the shot without thermal optics.

    • Jim

      It’s highly unlikely thermal optics were used since, contrary to movies and video games, they can’t see through glass let alone solid material. Think of thermal optics like a thermometer that tells the temperature of what ever it is pointed at and the only way to change the temperature of the glass would be to put heat against it.