The Marine Corps is dismantling its iconic Scout Sniper platoons – a facet of each infantry battalion for generations – and is doing away with the coveted 0317 Military Occupational Specialty.
The product of a grueling training pipeline that yields field-ready precision marksmen qualified on the M40, M110, and M107 series rifles, the Marine Scout Sniper program is facing permanent disbandment as a result of a shifting focus in the country's amphibious warfare service.
A leaked Feb. 21 unclassified message from Lt. Gen. D. J. Furness, the deputy commandant for plans, policies, and operations, detailed that the current 18-member Scout Sniper Platoons assigned to the Corps’ infantry battalions will quickly transition to 26-member Scout platoons – in other words, cutting the snipers in favor of a unit that would provide more "continuous all-weather information gathering."
Spots in the Scout Sniper Basic Course will be zeroed out in the coming fiscal year while a nascent sniper capability will be continued in the Corps’ Reconnaissance and Marine Special Operations units under a new Military Occupational Specialty – 0322 MOS (Reconnaissance Sniper) – via a revamped, shorter training program.
The problem with that is, as these groups typically operate detached from standard infantry units, the highly specialized skill will in effect vanish at the battalion level, which will be left to get by with the current designated marksmen already at the company level. Under current doctrine, DMs typically only have a three-week course under their belt and train to engage targets out to 500 meters, rather than the much longer ranges that Scout Snipers train to achieve.
The USMC Scout Sniper Association is urging the Commandant of the Marine Corps to reconsider what the group terms an "ill-advised" policy decision that will gut the program that has been tweaked and perfected over the past 80 years.
"This announcement by the Deputy Commandant, Plans, Policy, and Operations on Tuesday is the result of misguided assumptions and decades of neglect of the community of men who are Scout Snipers," said the Association.
"It's unlikely that any officer who commanded and employed Scout Snipers in combat agrees that removing a sniper capability from the infantry battalion makes sense. Replacing an 18-man Scout Sniper Platoon with a 26-man Scout Platoon will not solve the 'all weather information gathering' problem. Retaining the skill set and the combat capability of Scout Snipers by offering a viable career path to Scout Snipers and providing them with more engaged leadership might."
The shift away from having dedicated sniper platoons in each infantry battalion comes as the number of battalions themselves is dwindling.
The Corps’ three active-duty divisions would field a total of 27 infantry battalions between them if they were at full strength, but that hasn't been the case for a long time. Long reduced to just 24 battalions all told, in 2020 the current commandant unveiled a plan to case the colors of three additional infantry battalions and the 8th Marine Regiment to make room to form a new Marine Littoral Regiment, the latter optimized to leapfrog rapidly across islands and coastal spaces with a smaller footprint when compared to the current force.
The result is a Corps with just 21 active-duty infantry battalions, shortly, in addition to cuts in tiltrotor, attack, and heavy-lift aviation squadrons and disbanding of all of the branch's tank battalions.
Banner image: A U.S. Marine with Battalion Landing Team 1/5, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, reloads his M40A5 sniper rifle during long-range live-fire training at Combined Arms Training Center Camp Fuji, Japan, March. 17, 2022. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Manuel Alvarado)