The designated marksman (DM), squad advanced marksman (AD), or squad designated marksman (SDM) is a military marksman role in an infantry squad. The term sniper was used in Soviet doctrine although the soldiers using the Dragunov SVD were the first to use a specifically designed designated marksman's rifle. The analogous role in the Israeli army is sharpshooter.
The DM's role is to supply rapid accurate fire on enemy targets at ranges up to a maximum of 600 metres (660 yd) with a rifle capable of semi-automatic fire called a designated marksman rifle equipped with a telescopic sight. Like snipers, DMs are trained in quick and precise shooting, but unlike the more specialized "true" sniper, they are an intrinsic part of an infantry fireteam and intended to lay down accurate rapid fire at valuable targets as needed, thus extending the reach of the fireteam.
The growth of the DM rifle can be attributed to two main influences; the near-universal adoption of intermediate cartridges, such as 5.56×45mm, 5.45x39mm, and 7.62x39mm for standard service rifles, and the increasing specialization over the last 15 years of Western sniper rifles and their employment of more powerful rounds, such as .300 Winchester Magnum and .338 Lapua Magnum. These two influences have left a gap in the firepower of the rifle platoon that a more accurate optic-equipped service rifle derivative can usefully fulfill, especially in theaters such as Afghanistan where the shortcomings of standard 5.56mm service rifles at ranges over 300 meters became apparent.
DM / sniper differences
The DM role differs significantly from that of a specially trained sniper. A sniper is a specialist highly trained in fieldcraft, who carries out a range of ISTAR-specific missions independent of others, and more specialized than standard infantry tasks. In contrast, a DM is a soldier who has received additional marksmanship training. Within a fireteam, the DM's role is to provide an additional capability to the infantry platoon, which is the ability to engage targets at greater ranges than the other members of the squad or section.
The DM operates as an integral member of the infantry platoon, providing a niche capability contributing to the overall firepower of the platoon in the same way as a grenadier with a rifle-mounted grenade launcher, allowing the team to engage more numerous targets and vehicles; or the automatic rifleman who employs the squad/section machine gun to lay down suppressing fire for area denial to the enemy. The DM weapon provides a capability to the infantry platoon in the shape of increased precision at a greater range than that provided by the standard infantry rifle, by virtue of its sighting system and/or larger caliber. By comparison, the sniper role is much more specialized, with very comprehensive selection, training and equipment.
Snipers are ordinarily equipped with specialized, purpose-built bolt-action or semi-automatic sniper rifles or anti-materiel rifles; while DMs are often equipped with accurized battle rifles or assault rifles fitted with optical sights and heavy barrels.
Snipers are mainly employed for targets at ranges from 600 metres (660 yd) up to more than 2,000 metres (2,190 yd). In the UK, US, and other Western countries over the last 15 years, sniper rifles chambered for standard military calibers, such as 7.62×51mm, have been replaced with those that employ larger, more specialized rounds, such as .300 Winchester Magnum or .338 Lapua Magnum, which give better accuracy at longer ranges than the standard military rifle calibers. An example of this is the British Army's replacement of the Accuracy International L96A1 in 7.62×51mm with the similar but larger and more powerful Accuracy International L115A3 rifle chambered in .338 Lapua Magnum.
DMs are utilized for targets at ranges between approximately 300–600 metres (330–660 yd) using a rifle chambered with standard-issue rifle ammunition, usually either 5.56×45mm or 7.62×51mm. While snipers often take a fixed strategic position and camouflage themselves (e.g. with a Ghillie suit), a DM will tactically move with his unit and is otherwise equipped in the same way as other members of the infantry platoon.
"Sniper" vs. "SDM/DM"
A "Squad Designated Marksman" (SDM) or a "Designated Marksman" (DM) should not be confused with a regular sniper. United States marksmen rarely operate individually. Snipers are often deployed for specific objectives in teams consisting of snipers and observers. The marksman, however, operates as a regular member within a unit where his skills are called upon whenever the need for accurate shooting arises in the normal course of operations. While snipers are intensively trained to master fieldcraft and camouflage, these skills are not required for marksmen. There are differences in role and training that affect doctrines and equipment. Snipers rely almost exclusively on more accurate but slower-firing bolt-action rifles, such as the M24, while a marksman can effectively use a faster-firing, but less accurate semi-automatic rifle, such as the M14. A sniper's intensive training, forward placement and surveillance duties make their role more strategic than that of a squad-level marksman. Thus, marksmen are often attached at the squad level while snipers are often attached at higher levels such as battalion. In short, an "SDM" or "DM" operates with a combat squad, while a regular sniper is deployed to gather information and eliminate specific targets.
The designated marksman is intended to fill the gap between the typical infantry rifle and longer-range sniper rifles. The typical service rifle is intended for use at ranges up to a maximum of 300 meters, while sniper rifles are generally optimized for ranges of 600 meters and greater. Designated marksman rifles are designed to fill this gap, typically being employed at ranges of 300–600 metres (330–660 yd).
In some cases, the designated marksman rifle is simply an accurized version of the standard service rifle, such as the Mk 12 SPR (which is built on an M16 platform), while in other cases the rifle is a larger caliber rifle design, such as the British L129A1 rifle or US DM rifles based on the M14, AR-10, or HK417 rifles.
Whether a modified existing service rifle or a specific design, the DM rifle will be chambered for a round already used in the infantry battalion, such as 5.56×45mm or 7.62×51mm, and it will retain semi-automatic firing capability with a magazine capacity of 10, 20, or 30 rounds, depending on the firearm in question.
A typical Australian Army fireteam of four soldiers will include a scout employing an F88S Austeyr (5.56 NATO) fitted with an enhanced optic device, usually either an ACOG or ELCAN C79. Additionally, 7.62 mm marksman rifles (SR-25s) are employed by the maneuver support teams in the platoon. However, HK417 rifles have been procured by the Army as a substitute for the F88S during operations in Afghanistan and possibly thereafter. The SASR also uses the Mk 14 EBR amongst its four-man infantry sections.
Recently, the L86A2 Light Support Weapon was used in the designated marksman role due to its longer barrel compared to the standard L85A2 service rifle, which gives an increased range of up to 1000m while also capable of giving accurate automatic fire; the automatic fire role is now usually delivered by the Minimi. The Royal Marines and United Kingdom Special Forces also use the HK417 rifle in the designated marksman role.
On 28 December 2009, the UK Ministry of Defence announced the adoption of the L129A1 Sharpshooter rifle made by Lewis Machine & Tool of the US for use as a semi-automatic DM rifle, firing the 7.62×51mm NATO round, providing accurate fire of up to 1000m as an urgent operational requirement (UOR) in Afghanistan.
The Indian Army uses a locally manufactured licensed variant of the SVD Dragunov in the Designated Marksman role. The Dragunov is used in conjunction with the INSAS family of weapons to give flexibility and striking power, in short to mid range firefights, to Indian Army infantry units engaged with opposing forces.
Israel Defense Forces (IDF)
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) implemented significant changes to sharpshooting doctrine in the 1990s. Doctrine, training program, and courseware were completely rewritten and snipers were issued the bolt-action M24 SWS instead of the M14 rifle. A major change was the introduction of a new battle profession – the designated marksman (קלע סער, "kala sa'ar" in Hebrew) – intended to improve the accuracy and firepower of an infantry platoon and compromise between the role of a sniper and an assault rifleman. These soldiers were generally called "squad snipers" to describe their role. They are armed with SR-25 rifle and sharpshooter variations of the IMI Tavor TAR-21 (STAR-21), M16A2E3 and M4 carbine.
United States Armed Forces
United States Marine Corps
The U.S. Marines use M14s that have been rebuilt at Marine Corps Base Quantico and designated as Designated Marksman Rifles, which are being replaced by M39 Enhanced Marksman Rifle. The Corps also utilizes two different adaptations of the M16 assault rifle: the Squad Advanced Marksman Rifle (SAM-R), and the Mk 12 Mod 1 SPR. They also utilize the M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle.
United States Army
The 101st ABN (Air Assault) Division recognized the need for a Squad Designated Marksman when they encountered fires beyond the 300-600m range. In 2004, they began issuing M14s to specially trained soldiers for Designated Marksman work. The 82nd ABN DIV deployed with designated marksmen, trained on the M-4 using ACOG's with great success out to 600m, some 82nd ABN units were issued M14s. The U.S. Army 3rd Infantry Division saw limited use of a modified M16, which was accurized in a manner similar to the SAM-R, unofficially designated the AMU Squad Designated Marksman Rifle (SDM-R). This rifle was designed for engagements up to 1000m.
The U.S. Army DM also uses the predecessor of the M16 rifle, the M14, in certain infantry line units. These are commonly equipped with Leupold optics, a Sage stock and are designated the M14SE Crazy Horse.
United States Navy
The United States Navy SEAL Teams employs SDM rifles in roughly the same manner as the Marine Corps and Army, although there is no specific "Designated Marksman" role in a SEAL platoon. Known used weapons include, but are not limited to, the Mk 14 Mod 0 Enhanced Battle Rifle, M110 Semi-Automatic Sniper System, MK11/SR-25, the MK12 Mod X, the much elusive "SEAL Recon Rifle" and in some cases even regular M14 Rifles fitted with optical scopes.
Although referred to as "snipers", the Soviet Union and its allies have since World War II employed specially-equipped and trained "sharpshooting" soldiers at a section ("squad") and platoon level to increase the range of their section to 1,000 meters (1,100 yd). This is commonly accepted as the first example of what came to be known as a designated marksman as opposed to a true sniper.
Since 1963, these soldiers have been equipped with the Dragunov SVD rifle that shares all the characteristics typical of a designated marksman rifle (Semi-automatic fire, telescopic sight, chambered for standard military rifle cartridge).
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