File photo of a heavily-camouflaged sniper (U.S. Army)
More than 3,000 US military snipers will soon become even more deadly to the enemy thanks to new camouflage.
This month, the Army is starting work on creating a new camouflage for snipers.
Worn over the uniform, the ghillie suit is a fundamental camouflage tool that helps the sniper blend into the terrain. Even the design of the suit itself helps to prevent the sniper’s body shape from being detected.
Since snipers are often dispatched in pairs, or alone, isolated from the force, these brave marksmen rely on this ghillie camouflage to stay safe.
Whether in overwatch or reconnaissance observing and reporting, snipers do not have the advantages of safety in numbers or weapons and artillery support that a larger force would have. They also lack the protection provided by, say a forward operating base.
Often behind enemy lines, the snipers must rely on their stealthy skills and the art of concealment to avoid detection.
File photo of a heavily camouflaged sniper (U.S. Army)
The ghillie camouflage suit is a vital tool to help keep them safe while they do their job. By staying concealed, snipers are able to play an incredibly important role protecting the ground forces in a wide range of ways.
Snipers do master shooting, target detection, range estimation and use stalking-type skills. But mastering the art of camouflage and concealment is also crucial.
The current version of the ghillie suit Soldiers use is called the FRGS (Flame Resistant Ghillie System). The FRGS made its debut back in 2012, making appearances at Army Sniper School at Fort Benning, the U.S. Marine Corps Scout Sniper School and the Special Operations Target Interdiction Course.
The new version has been dubbed “Improved Ghillie System”, or “IGS.” IGS will replace the FRGS. Soldiers will wear the IGS over their field uniform. It will include sleeves, cape, veil, leggings and more.
The IGS modular approach gives soldiers flexibility and lets them easily adapt the suit to their needs. It is important for snipers to tailor their ghillies to match the local environment. They even harvest their location to attach leaves and other items to help blend in.
File photo of two snipers (U.S. Army)
The ghillie suit will usually not cover the face, neck and hands. Snipers use camouflage makeup to conceal these exposed areas.
How will it be enhanced?
Snipers will find the new ghillie is lighter weight and hopefully more comfortable and less cumbersome. Right now, ghillies are heavy and hot. When you combine that with the regions troops deploy in – such as jungle and desert – it can get extremely toasty inside the ghillie for the sniper.
As a result, the new IGS fabric will be more breathable.
IGS will still incorporate some flame-resistance. The Combat Uniform underneath the ghillie delivers the primary protection from fire.
Overall, it is expected that soldiers will find the IGS more effective.
The FRGS accessory kit is getting the heave-ho. In practice, Soldiers were not utilizing many of them.
Advances benefit snipers and all ground troops
Ensuring military snipers have access to the best tools for concealment is important for their safety – and for the protection of the wider force. Here are just four examples of how snipers protect U.S. forces.
In addition to the expert marksmanship that stops threats to soldiers from thousands of feet away, snipers also perform other key missions like reconnaissance.
Snipers often infiltrate enemy territory and gather crucial data on enemy location, force size, the weapons they are carrying and more. This sort of data can be vital to protect the force and end up saving lives.
In an urban terrain, a sniper may set up on a roof. In a mountainous region, they may perch high up on the edge of a cliff. These are overwatch positions that give the snipers a view of the battlespace. Snipers regularly save the lives of U.S. ground forces by spotting a threat and stopping it before their teammates on the ground are hurt by the enemy combatant.
For example, one horrible method of attack in Afghanistan and Iraq has been someone approaching an access point to a base pleading for water or medical assistance. Exploiting the kindness of the soldiers, they get close and then detonate a hidden bomb. Snipers in overwatch can spot the bomb, warn the ground force and if the attacker refuses to stop and charge the gate, then the snipers can save those on the ground by stopping the bomber before detonation.
U.S. military snipers are so good that they can remain concealed and in some scenarios suddenly stop an enemy strike team’s ability to function with some well-placed shots.
By targeting their water supply containers and eliminating hydration in the hot desert, for example, they can force them to retreat. By shooting their spare fuel tanks, they can render an enemy unable to move anywhere except slowly on foot. Shooting their radios can stop the enemy force from communicating and disable a coordinated attack on U.S. forces.
The potential for expert U.S. military marksmanship to terrify enemy forces should never be underestimated. The sniper can seem invisible and adversaries can’t fight a threat they cannot see. By delivering deadly pinpointed shots at any moment, the impact on an enemy's morale and commitment to attacking U.S. forces is significant.
This month, lab and field testing begins. IGS will be tested in labs, but also in field environments.
Sniper-qualified soldiers at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida will help test how effective the ghillie is at providing visual camouflage during daytime conditions.
Army Research Laboratory will put the new ghillie up against intensive nighttime testing with night vision goggles. This will help evaluate how the camouflage keeps soldiers concealed in the dark.
ARL will put the new ghillie fabric through its paces against fire to assess protection. The robustness of the fabric will be tested to see how much more protection it can offer against tears.
Acoustic testing will also be important. Sound is another tell that an enemy can use to locate snipers. It can expose a sniper’s movements and location. The new IGS will be tested to ensure it will be quiet and assess how much noise it will produce in various field conditions.
When will the new camouflage ghillies be available?
As soon as next spring, Sniper School instructors at Fort Benning may get their hands on them.
More than 3,000 military snipers will be receiving the new, enhanced sniper ghillies.
There are about 3,300 snipers in the Army. Once the new IGS is approved, it will be rolled out to all those snipers as well as to the Army snipers at Special Operations Command.