Thoughts on the SEAL Snipers

Steve Johnson
by Steve Johnson

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
Steve Johnson

I founded TFB in 2007 and over 10 years worked tirelessly, with the help of my team, to build it up into the largest gun blog online. I retired as Editor in Chief in 2017. During my decade at TFB I was fortunate to work with the most amazing talented writers and genuinely good people!

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  • Falcon500 Falcon500 on Oct 07, 2010

    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 Jason on Sep 16, 2011

    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 Jim on Apr 07, 2012

      @Jason 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.