Marine sharpshooters on target in the Mediterranean

Topic: Fighting armsFleet Air Arm

Elite Royal Marine snipers honed their marksmanship in the Mediterranean, shooting small targets from the back of a helicopter.

A team of sharpshooters from 42 Commando has accompanied the Navy’s main autumn deployment, the Littoral Response Group (Experimentation), using a Wildcat helicopter from 847 Naval Air Squadron as their ride into battle.

The snipers are intended to provide ‘top cover’ for commandos below – keeping a sharp eye on the battlefield for anything which may threaten their comrades: jet skis and fast-attack craft at sea, enemy snipers/troops and vehicles on land.

They are most likely to hit the headlines for their skill in shooting out the engines of go-fast boats racing across the Caribbean carrying illegal narcotics.

On numerous occasions, a superbly-aimed bullet fired by a commando sniper has brought the speedboat to a halt by wrecking the engine.

In the Med, the teams rolled out the large ‘killer tomato’ – a big, red inflatable which rolls on the surface.

It’s big and unmissable – up close. But pull away at a distance – and at altitude as much as 400 metres (over 1,300ft), with the ‘tomato’ pitching and rolling and wind, temperature and humidity all affecting the flight of a bullet, and a helicopter which never stops vibrating and it becomes a different prospect.

The snipers are equipped with the 7.62mm Sharpshooter rifle which fires a single shot. Or they can turn to the .5 calibre heavy machine-gun which can lay down some seriously lead but without the pinpoint accuracy and precision of the sniper rifle.

“As we are held on very high readiness, it has been great to practise our marksmanship and aerial firing skills out here on deployment,” said sniper Marine ‘Smudge’ Smith.

“The Wildcat helicopter is a very stable platform to deliver accurate and effective rounds on target.”

Using amphibious support ship RFA Lyme Bay as their base, Smudge and his comrades got in a four-hour shoot – including more than 3,000 machine-gun rounds fired – which tested not just the marksman in the rear of the Wildcat, but the pilot and observer, ship and air traffic controller, all in a different environment from the English Channel.

“While we routinely conduct aerial gunnery back home in the UK, operating from a ship in a very warm climate brings with it challenges and realism more difficult to replicate back home,” explained Wildcat pilot Captain Tom Arkell RM.

Lyme Bay and UK flagship HMS Albion, which comprise the core of Britain’s Littoral Strike Group, are now in Cyprus to take part in the international crisis-management Exercise Nemesis.

The Wildcat helicopter is a very stable platform to deliver accurate and effective rounds on target

Mne 'Smudge' Smith, 42 Commando