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A ‘different level’ of military sniper

A former sniper and world record holder explains why Canadian snipers continue to excel on the battlefield


 
Canadian snipers, including Rob Furlong, in Afghanistan in 2002

Canadian snipers, including Rob Furlong, in Afghanistan in 2002 (Stephen Thorne/CP)

The distances are mind-boggling: in 2002, Master Cpl. Arron Perry from the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry took aim at an Afghan insurgent from a distance of 2,300 metres and hit his target, setting the world record for the longest confirmed kill shot in military history. Not long after, Cpl. Rob Furlong, in the same operation, bested his brother-in-arms with a confirmed kill at 2,430 metres. His record would stand longer, until 2009, when a British sniper, Craig Harrison, made a shot from 2,475 metres.

On June 21, Harrison’s record was shattered by another Canadian, an elite special forces sniper, who, according to the Canadian military, killed an ISIS fighter in Mosul from an incredible 3,540 metres.

READ MORE: How a record-breaking Canadian sniper kill shot was almost forgotten

Let’s put that in perspective: if you stacked six CN Towers end to end, you would still be more than 200 metres short. The bullet, according to military experts, would have travelled for nearly 10 seconds before hitting its target. The shooter not only would have had to take into consideration wind conditions, but at that distance, also the curvature of the earth.

More astonishing, perhaps, is the fact that over the last 15 years, the active-combat sniping record has been broken four times, and three of those have been by Canadians.

That’s no coincidence, says Furlong, who now runs a marksmanship academy in Edmonton.

“I’ve been saying this forever,” he tells Maclean’s by telephone. “Canadian snipers are the best in the world. The sniper training program has been around for a long time. It’s the foundation, and it’s been retooled from lessons learned in Afghanistan. We’ve built it to be the best.”

This latest record, Furlong adds, has taken sniping “to a different level.” Canadian snipers are considered some of the best in the world in part because they are not simply taught to hit their targets. Like much of the Canadian military, many are trained with skills above their existing rank, in the sniper’s case as Unit Master Snipers, meaning they have the skills to design and run complex operations if the need ever arises. That in itself may not make them better snipers but the gestalt of sniper-training and command-thinking combined could explain their skill.

The practice of equipping soldiers with more than the skills they will need on the battlefield has served the Canadian military well. In Afghanistan, the results were clear. Maclean’s witnessed firsthand how soldiers out on patrol, sometimes for days in enemy territory, operated as closely knit teams. Command decisions were made with input from different ranks, offering multiple perspectives to patrol commanders.

The level of training Canada provides its soldiers, particularly its elite JTF2 commandos, is the driving force behind Canada’s reputation for fielding a highly skilled and intellectually capable military.

“This is a very important point,” says Chris Kilford, a retired Canadian artillery officer and now a fellow at the Queen’s University Centre for International and Defence Policy. “I have been very impressed with the young people in our special forces that I have interacted with overseas. Corporals and master corporals: bright and articulate. I also think that in general our people are often capable of working at a higher level than the rank on their shoulder.”

Furlong agrees, adding that Canadian soldiers are more “cross-trained” than many other soldiers in the world, and Canada’s snipers specifically are given every opportunity to pursue leadership training that refines their mental capabilities, a key component to the psychologically demanding job they do.

Still, there are the naysayers. Warrant Officer Oliver Cromwell, an instructor at the infantry school at CFB Gagetown in New Brunswick* who has taught sniper courses, cautions that more information is needed before the 3,450 meter distance is confirmed.

“There is a difference between slant angle range and true range,” he says. “Slant angle range—if the shooter is at an elevated position relative to the target—may appear longer that the true range, sometimes twice the true distance. I don’t want to be a naysayer but those are just the facts.”

Some online message boards have have also questioned the validity of the new record. In one case a contributor to a military discussion suggested the sniper likely fired into a crowd of ISIS fighters and happened to hit one.

But Furlong points out that these types of distances, 3,000 metres and more, are regularly achieved on the shooting range.

“It’s not an impossible distance,” he says. “The difference is between a shooting range and a battlefield. They are two completely different environments. The pressure these guys are under is huge. So to the naysayers I would just say, this can be done.”

As for the men who accomplished it—snipers work in pairs, including a spotter—Furlong says they probably didn’t realize what they had done until later. “When we broke the record, we didn’t know until we got back to base,” he says. “To be honest, I didn’t really care, neither when I broke it or when mine was broken. Records are made to be broken.”

Still, unless there are major advances in equipment, Furlong adds, this one should stand for a long time.


CORRECTION, June 29, 2017: This story originally stated the location of CFB Gagetown. Maclean’s regrets the error.


 

A ‘different level’ of military sniper

  1. Absolutely fascinating how both sides take huge pride in the others death. Such a swelling of pride in killing a backwards religiously brainwashed human being in such a brave manner. Just drop me off on a planet where the locals have evolved.

    • I agree, how can one celebrate an event which results in death. Whether the killing of another in a foreign land was a necessary evil or not, observance should be enacted with due respect to life extinguished. What if the next sniper record holder is oriented with the Taliban, will we praise his ability to kill by way of training excellence? Yah know… if the solution for us citizens of the world is found in violence, our problems would of been solved when Uggg hit Ooog with a rock.

    • It is not so simplistic as taking pride in a death. It is a battle for hearts and minds…it is….propoganda. It seeks to instill fear in the enemy and provides morale for the allied troops. It gives those who think about joining the ISIS cause to reflect because they realize they are up against highly skilled professional soldiers. It makes taxpayers feel that something is being accomplished and that our men and women in uniform are valued. The recent narrative has been highjacked with terrorist attacks in Britain. This is way to change the channel and give citizens who have been under siege some confidence. It may be distasteful but it is war.

    • Well they don’t take a HUUGE pride – you won’t see any names mentioned. That serves to have the same effect as announcing you were ‘the fastest draw in town’. At last one famed ‘shooter’ was laid to his eternal rest by his ‘tool’ of choice, on the gun range, by another shooter.

      Besides, those sort of military ‘chops’ never play-out well with wives, kids and non-snipers (viz ‘targets’).

      “Did you actually kill a person (scumbag, rat, baghead, etc) from three kilometers away Daddy?” Begs the eventual supplementary question, ‘Why?’

  2. That’s some fine shooting…….can’t we get this guy in the Olympics?

    • Killing of a person should always remain as last and final solution. Killing of a person should never be celebrated in a joyous manner. In the report, the author claims it took the bullet ten seconds to reach the target. The bullet travelled at 850 m/s over a distant of 3450m. Time of flight would be just over 4s. The shooter does not need to take into account the curvature of the earth. Line of sight is straight and does not curve because the earth is curved. Hence, if the sniper sees the target through his optical instrument, it is a straight line to the target. What the shooter does need to take into consideration is the trajectory of the bullet, which in this case the height of approx. 20m. He adjusts his sight accordingly. Then there is cross wind and other meteorological data to consider. There are probably another dozen parameters I can discuss that the sniper team must calculate before releasing the shot. Bottom line, great work team! Training, knowledge, skill, patient and material all came together to deliver the perfect shot.

  3. Now if you’re all done ‘tut-tuting’……it was still a damn fine shot.

  4. DND is well known for spin and deception but let’s say a CF sniper actually fired a shot at ~ 2 miles and an IS member was hit. How many shots did it take before he got a hit? How many snipers were firing and trading data? How many days had they been shooting at the IS position from this spot? Did he actually hit the guy he was aiming at? Did the victim blunder into the path of the bullet? What range was the scope capable of being adjusted for- from that we can figure out how high he had to hold (the charts for this are on line. There is no “math” to do for range)? Best case is about 130 yards- which makes this sound less plausible.

    Something probably happened but I suspect the truth would show luck, volume of fire and persistence and not skill were the main factors. These were the determining factors in other CF “records” (assuming they actually occurred) as they were in the first “record” held by a USMC sniper in Vietnam.

  5. Take out the papers and the trash.

    Yakety yak, don’t talk back.

  6. Unless he’s a graduate of the ‘goat killer’ course at Ft. Detrick – able to ‘mind meld’ the flight of a bullet at infinite distances – he’s probably much like any other long range shooter – able to control the natural body shudder that would prevent him from hitting a ‘still’ target at distance. With the emphasis on ‘still’ target – for anything moving, at all, won’t be occupying the same space, as it was, when the bullet arrives – unless through the very worst of bad luck. Any good sniper knows that watching them ‘taking a shit’ is a window of opportunity to the 26 virgins. The rest is a learned skill.

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