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.


  1. I guess JAGs don’t know how to use Google. I googled for ‘open tip’ bullet and (after I scrolled past the links to Braziers!) found a very good description (from 1985!) of what they are and why they’re acceptable to use for the military.

  2. Nicholas: That same report comes up Google #1 for ‘matchking ammunition’ and I wrote an update based largely around it. Upon re-reading I realized that the update was pretty confusing, so I pulled it temporarily and edited it a bit to clarify.

  3. silly- yes. a big deal- no. There is other ammo out there. Not quite as accurate, well who said a system of checks and balances didnt come without a cost, even if it was rather silly in this case. Last I heard, they didnt do anything in the white phosphorous broo ha ha..

  4. Aaron: Please clarify. It sounded like you said that orders issued illegally that took the most-accurate ammo out of US snipers’ rifles is no ‘big deal’. I know that can’t be what you meant.

  5. Calling them ‘hollow point’ and saying they’re ‘Not Authorized for Combat Use’ is really confusing. Technically, an ‘open tip’ bullet does have a hollow point, but the opening is much, much smaller than a true ‘hollow point’ round. Check out these photos of hollow point rounds compared to the almost imperceptible hole in the open tip rounds, which is an artefact of the construction method rather than an intentional design to increase the damage. They should change the bullet designation and remove that warning since they seem to be misleading/invalid and cause confusion like this… the JAG did bad but I can sympathise with a mistake like that, given the confusion surrounding the issue.

  6. Aaron is the guy who thinks that a good sniper should be able to hit anything, even with an insurgent (neglected, worn out barrel, etc.) Dragunov he should be able to hit a person between his armour plates.

  7. Why are hollow points not legal? It can’t be because of the increased damage they cause, right? I mean, the goal of sniping someone is to kill them, not damage them…

  8. Do JAG’s even receive weapons training? How can they not understand the open tip of these sniper rounds is for aerodynamic purposes? They are not any more destructive than a .308 FMJ – which is still pretty damn destructive with a well-placed shot. I believe the idea of banning true hollow point and / or expanding ammo for small arms by the Hague Convention is to increase the likelihood of wounded soldiers surviving a wound. And, maybe not being permanently disabled from that wound. I have no problem with this for two reasons. 1. We may be on the receiving end of this stuff. 2. In many ways, inflicting a serious wound to an enemy combatant is more deliberating than an instant kill. Distraction of other soldiers to help a comrade, transport to hospitals, medical personnel, etc– At this point it’s not worth debating. Normal expanding ammo is much easier for good body armor to stop than the regular old FMJ’s that us non-snipers are issued.

  9. Why don’t they just scrap all those dinky 30 cal. peashooters and go 100% with the 50 cal. Barrett M82A3 or the modified short barrel 25mm M82A1 designed to fire low-velocity high explosive shells. That oughta piss the ACLU type lawyer weenies off!

  10. Something like this report is completely rediculous. If it’s true, someone needs to get a big pink slip. To ToeJam… don’t be in such a hurry to rush away the M24’s and M40’s… You won’t see many snipers willing to hump around a 40lb gun and another 30lbs of ammo.

  11. I am not a sniper, and will not claim to be a great shot, but I do O.K. at the range. I can tell you that the open tip spitzer ogive bullets are made that way for a reason. Two, actually. One, it causes the bullet to leave a very nice, uniform, even hole in the paper. Two, it helps with the accuracy and ballistics of the round, and leads to more accurate shots over long distances. The tip of the bullet is even less likely to cause ‘excessive damage’ than a soft nose bullet. I think the real issue is this, a soldier ( a fighter, not a remf) blew the whistle on this, and got re-assigned. The REMF issued an order (she was not in the chain of command, and therefore it was invalid anyway), that could’ve put these snipers in jeopardy. I’ll bet she gets a very nice little slap on the wrist, and a very stern talking to.

  12. Toejam – Sounds good but try carrying a .50 Cal and 100 rounds of the gigantic ammo a few miles (While carrying a bunch of other crap). I love lots of firepower but not breaking my back. Sneaking around with that anvil of a weapon makes it tough to be quiet before the shot. Also – the .50 Cal makes it impossible to be stealthy after the shot. Huge noise and giant flume of flame out the barrel gives away the sniper’s position. The big recoil makes follow-up shots difficult. Inside 1000 meters, it’s not worth it. Bottom line – dead is dead whether the hole is 1/3 inch or 1/2 inch.

  13. Toejam: In addition to the weight/usability factor of the .50 cal rifles, we are doing a lot of our sniping in urban areas these days. We can’t just go blowing away with cannons at everything…

  14. The hollow point / jacketed / open tip projectile issue is widely misunderstood . The prohibition dates back to an expolsive projectile developed in Czarist Russia when cats lead bullets were universal . The metal jacket over the lead core was added in the 1890s after smokeless powder increased velocities with lead fouling becoming an undesirable side effect . The jacket was only thick enough to prevent lead fouling and was never intended to make a rigid / non-deforming bullet . The Brits began experimenting with an expanding bullet for their .303 Rifles at the Dumdum arsenal in India around the turn of the last century but discontinued same w/ the re adaptation of the convention against projectlies that casuse superflous injury . The bullet or projectile in question is not designed to cause superflous injury .

  15. Out of the vast and growing list of things that have gone wrong in this war and continue to go wrong, this is just microscopic. As for the ‘illegality’ issue- that Jag issues an illegal order- since when has the military been free of SNAFU’s?

  16. And if you want something to get excited about- check this out: Short form- Halliburton supplied water contaminated with sewage to our troops. and lied about it.

  17. Aaron: Thanks for clearing up your position on the topic. Everyone: Be sure to check with Aaron before deciding if something matters or not. He seems to know. RE the water: Since when has the military supply system been free of SNAFU’s?

  18. The sniper in question was a fellow using the name TxSWATCop on the Lightfighter forums. After posting his grievances, folks like LCDR Gary Roberts (USNR) and USAMU commander LTC Dave Liwanag raised a posse and rode to the rescue. After enough cages were rattled, the ammo got issued. However, the folks at the top didn’t appreciate the attention, and went after the sniper. It is my understanding that the sniper was read his rights. They are reportedly taking the position that he violated OPSEC by IDing his unit.

  19. I’m still very confused about why hollow points are illegal in the first place. If, as Bram says, it’s ‘…to increase the likelihood of wounded soldiers surviving a wound’, then it makes no sense. I don’t doubt his accuracy, but why is high explosive legal in artillery? The bad guys would be much more likely to survive a near miss if we didn’t use the explosives…

  20. Kevin – It’s been too long time since I’ve had the misfortune of sitting through a ‘Laws of War’ lecture for me to give you a decent answer. Maybe a JAG or a more informed Sea Lawyer is reading these posts. Probably something to do with area weapons versus small arms.

  21. I believe that part of the conventions is about individual weapons, not artillery, or crew served weapons. The thing reads like it was written by lawyers, or (gasp) politicians. If the sniper broke OpSec, then my bad, he needs to be re-assigned, or face UCMJ head on. He shouldn’t have I.D’d his unit. The order should have been issued through the chain of command, not under a JAG authority.

  22. Kinda funny how the claims are unable to be substantiated by medical records. Gee, I told them the water was bad, The Evil Bushitlerumsfeldian Haliburton AXIS is responsible for every complaint anybody has made for the last 20 years. Down with capitalism! Where’s my tinfoil hat?!

  23. Oh, Im sorry, I didnt realize that without the super special 7.62 ammo, they had to use rocks instead. Well if thats the case it must really be serious. Just so I know, which is worse: 1) snipers must use a slightly less accurate type of ammo for a month 2) or halliburton serving contaminated water to an entire military base in a Iraq? (where they used it to make the coffee)

  24. ‘Oh, Im sorry, I didnt realize that without the super special 7.62 ammo, they had to use rocks instead. Well if thats the case it must really be serious.’ Nice one. I seem to recall that you were a critic of the lack of side inserts for our troops’ body armor. How’s this for a well-reasoned response to that issue, using your comment here as a template: ‘Side inserts? I’m sorry. I didn’t know that without the magically protective side plates that our troops had to use paper bags for armor. Since they do, I guess that makes the armor problem the most important in the world.’ Doesn’t really make a lot of sense, does it? You’re welcome to try again, though. Comments are free. As for your M118LR vs. Contaminated Water cage match, I guess I didn’t realize that one being serious meant that the other was less so. If you’d like to try to change topics, I won’t try to stop you other than pointing out that you’re wandering. For the record, I would think that the distribution of contaminated water is a very serious problem and if it, in fact, happened, I will be expecting consequences. Unlike you, however, I don’t simply assume that the ‘decepticons’ are just lying again. I don’t 100% believe reports that innocent civilians were killed in a US airstrike and 100% deny that reports stating some of the dead were terrorists contains any truth. A headline of ‘Halliburton, once run by Dick Cheney, screwed up again and lied again’ doesn’t immediately convince me. I’d like to see at least a little corroborating evidence, first, I guess. Maybe that’s just me, Regardless, the M852 is one-fifth to one-third more accurate than standard non-open-tipped sniper ammo, and the M118LR is even more accurate than the M852. And, according to the story, the snipers didn’t then use standard non-open-tipped sniper ammo, but M60 machine gun ammunition, which is even less-accurate than standard sniper ammo (M118). So, off the top of my head, we’re looking at an overall accuracy loss of at least one-third and even more at some ranges. And you think this is a ‘microscopic’ difference. But go ahead, don’t let me stop you from playing your ‘super special 7.62 ammo’ games.

  25. For the record I am no longer paying attention to any of Aaron’s posts. I feel he is simply trying to wind me and others up. I doubt he has no interest in actually discussing matters properly. While I would like to rant and rave at moments, I never started posting here for that reason and do not wish to. It does not help me with gathering information, opinions and interesting links. I really don’t see Aaron as having an opinion other than the opposite of whatever we have (not being stupid allows me to quickly work out what that opinion is, hence I dont need Aaron to tell me).

  26. Switching to standard 149 grain 7.62 FMJ ammo is not just a matter of having slightly less accurate bullets. When you swith bullet weights and types, you have to re-zero the weapon if you want to hit anything at long distance. That may not be possible in a combat zone.

  27. the 20th century is replete with examples of procurment issues that put americans lives at risk becouse of the seriousness of the problem. The adoption of the french ‘le chuchat’ machinegun in wwI (litterally riped cartridges in half, leaving it in the bolt) The American submarine’s torpedos as we entered into ww2. (90% failure rate- they were never tested due to cost) The adoption of the m16 without a chromed barel or a cleaning kit or that extractor thingamajiggy in vietnam. (severe jaming issues). and now the body armor issue…. Is this ammo issue one of those? Is the contaminated water one of those? before answering consider that historically disease was the largest killer of soldiers. So this special ammo is 20% more accurate at range- does this mean that the CEP for regular bullets is 5′ and the special bullets is 4′? And how long did this tragedy in the making go on? sounds to me like 2 weeks. Again, Im not saying that this ammo isnt a worthy subject for a militaria oriented blog. Im saying that we are at defcon1- actual war, and there are so many larger more important issues that should be addressed, that make this ammo issue seem uterly insignificant.

  28. Aaron, you are an insuffrable pest whos only point in life is to look like a complete and total moron. I 100% agree with Vstress, you need to be ignored

  29. The big deal about using machine gun ammunition versus actual M118LR is as follows: machine gun ammunition is delibertly slop loaded in order to affect a ‘beaten zone’; match grade or special ball ammunition is loaded to a higher quality standard, where each cartridge casing is weighed, each bullet is weighed, etc… By firing machine gun ammo through a sniper, you in effect have a bolt action machine gun. I have fired delinked 7.62mm through an M-24 with less than desireable results out to 500meters. It shot at about 1.5moa.