Stupid Effing Lawyer vs. Snipers?!?

Inside the Ring: Sniper Rounds (Link may change…see Jan 20 2005 “Inside the Ring” entry, second story)

A reader tips me off to this. If true, it’s absolutely unbelievable. Since the story on the JAG/snipers issue is only part of the column, I’m taking the liberty of posting the entire section.

Washington Times:

An Army judge advocate general (JAG) temporarily banned Army and Marine Corps snipers from using a highly accurate open-tip bullet.

The JAG, we are told, mistakenly thought the open-tip round was the same as hollow-point ammunition, which is banned. The original open-tip was known as Sierra MatchKing and broke all records for accuracy in the past 30 years.

The difference between the open-tip and the hollow point is that the open tip is a design feature that improves accuracy while the hollow point is designed for increasing damage when it hits a target.

About 10 days ago, the Army JAG in Iraq ordered all snipers to stop using the open-tip 175-grain M118LR bullet, claiming, falsely, it was prohibited. Instead of the open-tip, snipers were forced to take M-60 machine gun rounds out of belts and use them instead.

The order upset quite a few people here and in Iraq who said the JAG ignored the basic principle of every military lawyer that there is a presumption of legality for all issued weapons or ammunition that are made at the military service level at the time they are acquired.

She forced snipers to use less accurate ammunition, thereby placing U.S. forces and Iraqi civilians at greater risk,” a Pentagon official said of the JAG, who was not identified by name. “And she incorrectly issued an order. JAGs may advise a commander, but they cannot issue orders.

After Army lawyers were finally alerted to the JAG’s action, the order was lifted and the JAG was notified that the open tip was perfectly legal for use by snipers. However, the reversal was followed by the Army officials’ taking retaliation against a sniper who blew the whistle on the bogus order. The sniper lost his job over a security infraction in reporting the JAG. [emphasis Murdoc’s]

Call me clueless, but why is it that the sniper “lost his job”? Shouldn’t people illegally issuing orders be subject to “lost his job”? (And let’s not even begin down the road starting with “but it was a woman…)

We don’t know exactly what “lost his job” means, so I guess I’m a bit hesitant to start calling for heads on poles. But I got an itchy trigger finger on this one.

Basically I’m hoping that the entire story, from beginning to end, is totally false.

UPDATE: Here’s a 1985 memorandum that addresses this very issue:


SUBJECT: Sniper Use of Open-Tip Ammunition

DATE: 23 September 1985

1. Summary.

This memorandum considers whether United States Army Snipers may employ match-grade, “open-tip” ammunition in combat or other special missions. It concludes that such ammunition does not violate the law of war obligations of the United States, and may be employed in peacetime or wartime missions of the Army.

The ‘Background’ includes

The M118 is a 173-grain match grade full metal jacket boat tail, ogival spitzer tip bullet, while the M852 is the Sierra MatchKing 168-grain match grade boat tail, ogival spitzer tip bullet with an open tip. Although the accuracy of the M118 has been reasonably good, though at times erratic, independent bullet comparisons by the Army, Marine Corps, and National Guard marksmanship training units have established unequivocally the superior accuracy of the M852. Army tests noted a 36% improvement in accuracy with the M852 at 300 meters, and a 32% improvement at 600 yds; Marine Corps figures were twenty-eight percent accuracy improvement at 300 m, and 20% at 600yds.

One-fifth to on-third better with the M852, depending on range. That’s astoundingly significant.

NOTE: Since the publication of this memorandum, the M852 has been supplanted (I think) by the M118LR. Unlike the M118 and like the M852, the M118LR is “open tipped”. Therefore, the legal arguments applying to the M852 also apply to the M118LR. So even though this memorandum deals with the M852, the precedence had been set for today’s M118LR.

The ‘Legal Factors’ section includes

Military necessity dictates that weapons of war lead to death, injury, and destruction; the act of combatants killing or wounding enemy combatants in combat is a legitimate act under the law of war. In this regard, there is an incongruity in the law of war in that while it is legally permissible to kill an enemy combatant, incapacitation must not result inevitably in unnecessary suffering. What is prohibited is the design (or modification) and employment of a weapon for the purpose of increasing or causing suffering beyond that required by military necessity.


In addition to the basic prohibition on unnecessary suffering contained in Art. 23e of the 1907 Hague IV, one other treaty is germane to this review. The Hague Declaration Concerning Expanding Bullets of 29 July 1899 prohibits the use in international armed conflict:

“. . . of bullets which expand or flatten easily in the human body, such as bullets with a hard envelope which does not entirely cover the core or is pierced with incisions.”

The U.S. is not a party to this treaty, but U.S. officials over the years have taken the position that the armed forces of the U.S. will adhere to its terms to the extent that its application is consistent with the object and purpose of Art. 23e of the Annex to the Hague Convention IV, quoted above.

And it then points out that it is in the light of this that the issue of the legality of “open tip” ammunition must be considered.

The ‘Law of War’ section includes

Weighing the increased performance of the pointed ogival spitzer tip bullet against the increased injury its breakup may bring, the nations of the world– through almost a century of practice–have concluded that the need for the former outweighs concern for the latter, and does not result in unnecessary suffering as prohibited by the 1899 Hague Declaration Concerning Expanding Bullets or article 23e of the 1907 Hague Convention IV. The 1899 Hague Declaration Concerning Expanding Bullets remains valid for expression of the principle that a nation may not employ a bullet that expands easily on impact for the purpose of unnecessarily aggravating the wound inflicted upon an enemy soldier. Such a bullet also would be prohibited by article 23e of the 1907 Hague IV, however.

And the conclusion is

The purpose of the 7.62mm “open-tip” MatchKing bullet is to provide maximum accuracy at very long range. Like most 5.56mm and 7.62mm military ball bullets, it may fragment upon striking its target, although the probability of its fragmentation is not as great as some military ball bullets currently in use by some nations. Bullet fragmentation is not a design characteristic, however, nor a purpose for use of the MatchKing by United State Army snipers. Wounds caused by MatchKing ammunition are similar to those caused by a fully jacketed military ball bullet, which is legal under the law of war, when compared at the same ranges and under the same conditions. The military necessity for its use– its ability to offer maximum accuracy at very long ranges–is complemented by the high degree of discriminate fire it offers in the hands of a trained sniper. It not only meets, but exceeds, the law of war obligations of the United States for use in combat.

Two things on all this: First, I quoted only a portion of the memorandum, and did not quote some fairly significant sections. I have not tried to misrepresent anything, but if you really want to know what it says you had better go read the whole thing.

Secondly, don’t lose sight of the fact that the JAG which illegally issued the orders to stop using the M118LR ammunition probably didn’t realize the distinction between “hollow point” (which we don’t use) and “open tip” (which we do). Although the info is so far very limited, it doesn’t appear that the JAG was trying to change US law. She just didn’t understand it. And then, um, issued orders. Errrr…illegally.

Here’s a pic of the Sierra MatchKing 168-grain HPBT (Hollow Point Boat Tail):
And here’s the Sierra MatchKing 175-grain HPBT

Here’s a drawing of the whole M852 cartridge:
(If you haven’t checked out 7.62mm (7.62 x 51 mm) Ammunition Ammunition in Gary’s U.S. Infantry Weapons Reference Guide, you really ought to. It’s the source of this image. Unfortunately, there is no info on the M118LR.)

Here’s a pic from the .308 Winchester Cartridge Guide at

RE: “Hollow Point Boat Tail”: Although Sierra calls it “hollow point”, the 1985 memorandum explains that it is legal. To further the confusion, I’ve also read that the M852 boxes are marked “Not Authorized for Combat Use”. This is possibly where the JAG’s misunderstanding began, though I haven’t heard that M118LR boxes are so marked. Unfortunately, the lawyer didn’t did deep enough.

Also, from what I gather, the M118LR round is even more accurate at long range than the M852. I’m sure that there are those with different opinions.

If we’ve got a real shooter out there with more info than ol’ Murdoc (just some civvie sitting at desk) has dug up, send it in.

UPDATE 2: More at Blackfive: Army JAG bans Effective legal sniper round. He writes

If anyone knows anything about this case, especially who the whistle-blower sniper is, please email me.

Something tells me it’s more than idle curiosity…

Also, some discussion at Free Republic. Enter if you dare.

UPDATE 3: I pulled UPDATE 1 for a few minutes while I clarified some of the M852/M118LR confusion.

Also, I found this slide at Global Security which shows test results demonstrating the M118LR’s performance advantage over the M852. It’s in what appears to be a Power Point slide, so it must be accurate.