This was mentioned in comments some time ago – military expert help needed

So, a sniper rifle that’s fully silenced. In he comments a story was mentioned about an SAS (?) bloke who’d used one in Iraq (?) to explode the head of a bomb making trainer. His recruits rather melted away.

Near entirely silent, subsonic bullet, sound of the action itself only apparently.

So, what’s the rifle called?

To elaborate a bit. In the story, as I recall it, range was only 400 metres. That fits i with what I want my character to have to do….

41 comments on “This was mentioned in comments some time ago – military expert help needed

  1. I’m curious on this as well. A subsonic round wouldn’t exactly be accurate at long range. Which implies getting close. Which implies it’s not really sniping. Puzzled.

  2. Sounds like a contradiction in terms. A sniper rifle requires a high velocity projectile to achieve accuracy at range. But that’s going to produce a supersonic crack, irrespective of what rifle it’s fired out of. Someone producing bullets with terminal guidance?

  3. I’d call it “mythical.”

    A rifle with a silencer and subsonic ammunition, like a 300 Blackout, produces 125 db.

    A ‘fully silenced’ rifle, whatever that means, simply doesn’t exist.

    ‘Explode the head’ implies hydrostatic shock. You won’t ‘explode’ nothing without it. Subsonic bullets do NOT produce hydrostatic shock.

  4. Sorry, I realize now you only wanted comments from military experts.

    I apologize for all commenters.

  5. There was a ww2 vintage silenced subsonic rifle, the de lisle carbine. Doubt it’s still in use though. A modern sniper rifle may be suppressed to make the firing location harder to identify, the bullet would still be supersonic though.

  6. @rhoda klapp
    Nice bit of eye candy he’s got there, but you could do exactly the same with any bolt action with a decent suppressor fitted. He’s shooting at 100m? That’s virtually pistol range.

  7. From Donggaun John’s link

    Instead, the first bullet – designed to tumble as it travels, in order to maim – struck him in the back of the head.

    I thought this was contrary to the Hague / Geneva convention.

  8. I’d call it “mythical.”

    Agreed. Subsonic ammo in a sniper rifle? I don’t think so. And in the real world, there is no such thing as a ‘silencer’… irrespective of what you call them. There are suppressors. They suppress. That’s as far as the technology goes.

  9. From Donggaun John’s link

    Instead, the first bullet – designed to tumble as it travels, in order to maim – struck him in the back of the head.

    I thought this was contrary to the Hague / Geneva convention.

    You really think a “journalist” at the Daily Mail has got it completely right? The Daily Mail has an in-house firearms expert? I don’t think so.

  10. Semi-Auto, moqifen. Therefore action noise. What’s trying to be avoided.
    One suspects a certain amount of ordinance auto-enoticism (gun nut wankery) is being displayed somewhere. Very prevalent with the military. Big boy’s toys syndrome, A Lee Enfield with a suppressor & a low velocity round would work just as well. But they’re a pony from an army surplus store not $5k.

  11. “Instead, the first bullet – designed to tumble as it travels, in order to maim – struck him in the back of the head. ”
    They’re using muskets now? Christ, I knew defence spending had been hit but… They’ll be putting sails on frigates next.

  12. BWTM. If I were a military expert, instead of just a firearms expert, I’d also point out that hydrostatic shock results from the rapid transfer of energy from the bullet to the surrounding tissue. You won’t get rapid transfer of energy without an expanding bullet. Banned for military use, ibid Gunker.

    BWTMM. As noted above, a subsonic round like a 220gr 300 Blackout has pistol like ballistics. IOW, it is more of a howitzer than a gun. It has 130″ of drop at 300 yards. It would have enough retained energy to hurt someone (but not splode a head). The problem is ranging must be precise. At 300 yards, a ranging error of only 25 yards would result in 15″ change in point of impact. It’s possible, but unlikely. I suspect a bona fide sniper wouldn’t try such a shot.

  13. Given everything that has happened in Christchurch, isn’t this post a little tasteless? or at the very least, poorly timed and inconsiderate?

  14. @JohnGalt; why? He used a semi-auto shotgun, not a sniper rifle. I fail to see the connection.

    Unless it’s ‘ugh, guns, icky’. Because that’s so nonsensical I’m surprised you brought it up.

  15. A truly silent rifle only exists in the realm of fiction.
    As people have said elsewhere, your rifle is likely to be a bolt action, so no noise from the cycling of the action.
    It will also have to be using subsonic ammunition which will drastically reduce the range and massively increase bullet drop. ‘Keyholing’ is where the bullet tumbles in flight as it doesn’t have enough spin to stabilise it due to the lower velocity.
    It will also have to be a very heavy bullet as otherwise it’s terminal ballistics will be very poor.
    You can tailor any weapon to fire quietly.
    You start first with the calibre and mass of bullet then alter the weapon to suit the characteristics of your round. Most ammunition manufacturers have extensive charts on the ballistic performance of their wares.
    Changing the barrel length , rifling and fitting of a bloody great suppressor usually help. It’s not enough just to fit a suppressor and expect silent operation.

  16. I’ve only just found out about the shootings in Christchurch. About the same time as I found out about the shooting in Brum round the corner from my house. Wondered about all the police vans this morning!
    Shotguns can be very potent close quarter weapons, I believe the Americans used them in WWI in the trenches. They even had a model with a bayonet attachment. They can be configured to use a wide variety of ammunition, including shot, solid rounds and discarding sabots as well as a variety of exotics.
    Would deffo not want to be of the wrong end of something like that.

  17. Almost certainly an Accuracy international AWM/L115A1.

    With supressor they are nearly silent – it’s a dull thud rather than a bang.

  18. Hiram Maxim, who invented the silencer, called it a . . . silencer. Other names are intrigue.

  19. “Almost certainly an Accuracy international AWM/L115A1.

    With supressor they are nearly silent – it’s a dull thud rather than a bang.”

    And the supersonic crack from the bullet?

    Hands up who’s actually fired a suppressed semiauto firearm in the last week? EVERYONE OTHER THAN ABACAB PUT YOUR HAND DOWN NOW! 😀

    Right. Unless you’ve actually fired, or been around when someone has fired, a suppressed firearm, you have no idea. Really. Hollywood gets it completely and utterly wrong, as you’d imagine.

    So the first time I was on a range and someone was firing a suppressed .223 Rem firearm, it was a strange experience – there was practically no muzzle report other than a thud, and you hear the supersonic crack (which overpowered the thud), but it sounds delocalised. Still very loud though. You can only vaguely here where it’s coming from due to the way the shockwave propagates. Imagine you’re sitting in a rubber ring in the lake snoozing and a boat goes past some way away, planing. The V-wave from the boat is equivalent to the shockwave from a supersonic bullet. You can only vaguely tell, if at all, from your bobbing in your rubber ring where the boat that caused it was.

    Now move back to subsonic calibres, and you don’t get the crack. Just the thud, whose volume depends on how good the moderator is.

    With a semiauto there’s some action noise in the mix too, but that’s overblown (unless you’re talking subsonic .22lr in a semiauto, when the thud is so tiny that the action noise is proportionally louder).

    Last weekend a friend brought his 9x19mm B&T carbine to the range, and we fired some 115gn Winchester as well as some 158gn Fiocchi subsonics through it. The subsonics gave the aforementioned “thud” alone (plus some action noise which was quieter than the thud), the 115gn ones a bit of a crack too (they’re only just supersonic, after all).

    As for the other comments like “designed to tumble before it hits its target”, err, no. Just no. That’s pure journo cockwomblery there. And no, you don’t need to be supersonic for hydrostatic shock, but it helps, particularly with non-expanding ammo.

    So there you go 🙂

  20. ‘Hands up who’s actually fired a suppressed semiauto firearm in the last week?

    ‘Right. Unless you’ve actually fired, or been around when someone has fired, a suppressed firearm, you have no idea.’

    I reject your assertion. What part of 125 dB do you not understand? And what’s this “last week” shit?

  21. Oh, I understand 125dB. But unless you’ve actually *heard* it, how loud it is and the wierd, non-directionality of it, you can’t know – it does not come across on a recording at all.

    And “last week” was just me showing off :p We had fun last Saturday – the owner of the moderated B&T had fun with my semi-auto-blocked STEN Mk.II (with a blob of weld on the selector). A great way to turn money into noise and holes in paper!

  22. All right, gentleman. Just flop them out and we’ll find a non- squeamish gal with a tape measure.

  23. It wouldn’t be any particular rifle.

    Its a series of techniques applied to a rifle.

    Integral silencer on the barrel, subsonic ammunition – this is done with .22lr and up to about 9mm.

    Its still not ‘silent’. It will never be silent. But it will be quiet enough at range to make telling where the shot came from more difficult.

    The ‘completely silent’ and ‘exploded head’ thing are exaggeration from multiple people passing on the story and embellishing it through their ignorance.

  24. It’ll have to be a heavier than normal round to maintain energy at those slower velocities. And the barrel will have a different twist rate than for higher velocity rounds – so high velocity rounds fired out of it could disintegrate during flight.

    Look at integrally silenced .22LR and Aquila subsonic ammunition for an idea of the techniques used there.

  25. From the Mail story, the likely weapon is a L115 sniper rifle: bolt action, chambered for .338 Lapua, able to use either ‘ordinary’ ball ammo (solid jacketed metal) or Raufoss multipurpose (a lovely piece of kit: tungsten penetrator, incendiary tip and explosive filling)

    The suppressor / silencer / moderator hides the shooter’s location as abacab ably describes; you get a loud directionless ‘crack’ as the bullet passes you, but someone’s head coming apart from a big high-velocity bullet and them falling over spraying blood and brains is a pretty good indicator that you’re under “effective enemy fire” – just that you’ve no idea where from.

    And no bullets “tumble end over end in flight” – that’s a long-debunked claim about early M16 rifles, when the complaint was that they were horrifically lethal and far too good at killing people. Sounds like our sniper was using Raufoss ammo and the fact that it’s “extra special lethal” plus a lazy Wikipedia search turned up “tumbling bullets” from 1970.

    For a “fully silenced” sniper rifle, the only one I can think of is the WW2 De Lisle Carbine, which was a bolt-action firing .45ACP (subsonic) through a full-length silencer; apparently it’s about 85dB when fired, which is about as loud as someone coughing.

    Mind you, hitting a target with a subsonic bullet at 400m is an achievement: not impossible but you’d want very accurate ranging and a target who’s either standing still, or moving in a very predictable way.

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I just checked my kit book: apparently I’m diffy something called “a life” that I was meant to have been issued at some point…

  26. I’ve fired a repro DeLisle, although it had a 12″ unported barrel under the full-length can rather than a 7″ ported one. So it snapped a bit – like a 12 ftlb spring-powered air rifle, more or less.

  27. I’m not a firearms expert like some of the commenters so can’t comment of that side but here’s a few thoughts on that DM article:

    The role of the sniper is as much to terrorise the enemy as kill individuals. Taking out one commander/key person in even a poorly organised and trained formation isn’t that big a deal, they are soon replaced – if they can find someone willing when they know there’s snipers about 🙂

    Talking about “SAS sniper” is just adding to the propaganda/terrorism value of the incident. Any qualified sniper could make the shot, passing SAS selection makes no difference other than getting to/from the area, and the SAS could get a trained sniper who wasn’t SAS in and out if they needed to. Oh, and the SAS/SBS are always on secret missions, that’s the point of them.

    The range was said to be 4,000′. Even if someone had the presence of mind after seeing a head “explode” to start listening out for the report, the attenuation and dispersion of the sound would be such that at best they’d be able to guess one of the compass cardinal points ie wavy arm “over there”.

    Unless the the sniper(s) were stupid enough to fire a number of rounds muzzle flash wouldn’t be picked up, even at night. Again, anyone looking in the general direction would have a vague idea, but nothing beyond wavy arms. The way the body fell and blood spattered would tell them that anyway.

    I’ve had rounds passing overhead in a training situation as part of a well controlled live firing section attack. There’s no way that you can use that sound to tell you where the round was coming from. Its done because because soldiers are trained to ignore gun fire until they hear a crack, then they know its coming their way and take action. As part of that training we had rounds from our own machine gunner landing 10m in front of us, again you could hardly tell where they were coming from.

    And on a pendantic technical point, talking about dBs is meaningless without a reference level.

  28. ‘Near entirely silent, subsonic bullet, sound of the action itself only apparently.’

    “The range was said to be 4,000′. Even if someone had the presence of mind after seeing a head “explode” to start listening out for the report, the attenuation and dispersion of the sound would be such that at best they’d be able to guess one of the compass cardinal points ie wavy arm “over there”.”

    You do realize that subsonic means the sound gets there before the bullet.

    “The range was said to be 4,000′.”

    NFW.

    My ballistics calculator shows a drop of 85 yards at 4,000 feet. 85 YARDS! You would have to hold over equivalent of a 25 story building!

  29. Gamecock,

    400m is just about credible for a subsonic bullet. 4,000′ is .338 Lapua territory (by then, 7.62mm NATO, even unsuppressed, has gone subsonic and lost a lot of energy and accuracy – happens around 1,100m, which is why that’s where the tracer for that calibre burns out there – so something heftier ends up needed) and it would be supersonic, so loud directionless ‘crack’ as the bullet arrives, the target falls over, then four seconds later you may or may not hear the ‘thump’ of muzzle blast.

    On a quiet night on STANTA you could hear 7.62mm blank for a couple of miles; in daytime with traffic and birdsong it was drowned unless it was your fight. Live rounds, my experience is limited, but once you’re committed to a live-fire section attack in training you barely even register your own rifle firing, you’re so focussed on “not fµcking up”.

    At 4,000′ (1,200 metres or three-quarters of a mile) a suppressor will probably take the muzzle noise down to “hard to hear against background” for even a .338 at that distance – and the lag will further confuse. (‘Crack-thump ranging’ isn’t intuitive and I only really know it from theory… )

  30. Who expresses range in feet anyway? Yards or meters (and military only use meters any more.)

    I have seen black powder cartridge firearms shot at 1000m in the past – the bullets are coming out supersonic (about 1400-1600 fps, compared to about 2700 for a 7.62 NATO) but drop subsonic pretty quickly. The amount of elevation they need is truly astounding.

    But in any case, the shot in question will likely have been taken with a 338 Lapua Magnum, and have been properly supersonic.

  31. Who expresses range in feet anyway?

    Journalists and propagandists who think big numbers are scarier.

  32. @BiND

    big numbers are scarier

    Yep: BP Horizon leaked x million barrels of oil into Gulf of Mexico equivalent to 1/5tsp (1ml) in an Olympic swimming pool

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