The Concept of the Modern Battlefield

By Dave Reed

The concept of a "modern battlefield" has become a cliche term that has lost its meaning. There can be differences in the battlefield of today that were inconceivable to warriors from previous conflicts. Moreover, new concepts from previous wars, such as those conceived -- for example -- by Heinz Guderian and set forth in his work "Achtung! Panzer", would later become standard doctrine with modern, mobile, mechanized armies. This concept of a fast moving and flexible front was made possible by the introduction of a reliable tank, better communications, and the ability to sustain the required logistic support.

We cannot view this form of warfare as though it is the only one. Nor is it the only one that has seen change. Indeed, warfare throughout the world takes many forms, from very "cold" to extremely "hot." Change does not correspond to an abandonment of those methods which still have value on the battlefield. For example, there are those who consider sniping immoral and a useless relic of a bygone era. Time and time again, countries involved in conflict have recognized the need for marksmanship. With each new technology introduced, there are those who cry that the infantry is obsolete. No matter how devastating the weapons employed, it is still the job of the infantry to seize ground. Someone must physically pry the enemy soldiers from their holes and declare the territory secure. As long as there is need for riflemen, there is a need for snipers.

Sniping is no more immoral than any other form of warfare. Why it conjures up the image it does is hard for me to understand. People killed by a bomb or artillery shell have no warning that they are about to be killed. Shooting someone with a scoped rifle is no different. The war now being waged in Bosnia has brought the term "sniper" into our living rooms almost daily. We associate the term with pictures of innocent women and children dying. To me, the Serbian "snipers" are nothing more than terrorists who use rifles instead of bombs. Calling them snipers causes confusion. Professional soldiers do not shoot innocent non-combatants and livestock with rifles or anything else. Cruel, evil, hate-filled people do this. These actions are not sanctioned by the law of war and the appropriate category for these actions is "crimes against humanity."

Snipers are professional soldiers who use their special skills to deny the enemy access, kill key enemy personnel, and gather critical intelligence. Valid targets are officers, gunners of crew served weapons, and communications specialists, as well as the gear they serve. These soldiers require additional training and as such, are hard for the enemy to replace. Moreover, often the equipment which a sniper has disabled is very delicate and very expensive, making it difficult for the enemy to repair or replace.

With a growing awareness of political sensitivity, some military and law enforcement agencies have begun to refer to this role as "counter-sniping," and refer to shooters as such, or even the more lame title, "marksman." This is like calling a garbage man a sanitation engineer. Our culture has sanitized our language to the point that it no longer conveys any real meaning. Secretaries are called administrative assistants, maintenance men are building or maintenance engineers, etc. Sniping is, and will continue to be, an important skill and valuable asset for military commanders. Marksmanship is as important today as it was 400 years ago. Polluting the enemy's soil with lead may well cause some long-term damage, but hitting the target solves the more immediate problem: disabling the enemy's command and control structure so that he is unable to prosecute war effectively.

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