Fighting a Superior Force: Picking the shot


Being Americans, in combat we generally have had one or more advantages. Be it numbers, better weapons, air superiority, etc. Unfortunately we can’t always rely on having such an advantage. There may be a day when we don’t have that advantage.

While I was in the Corps, I spend about half my enlistment playing the opfor bad guy. I got to practice fighting the Marines in training. That was a very fun and informative experience. Not so fun when I was in Iraq, on a patrol, and thinking about how if I were attacking what I would do and then releasing that we were extremely vulnerable.

Every strength the enemy has is also a weakness. If they work in groups that out number you, you can move faster and be more flexible than them. Etc, that is a discussion in it self.

Lets look at a tiny subset of fighting a superior force with small arms.

There is a major difference in tactics between fighting as an individual or fighting with a team. Either way there are various considerations for making that attack.

I recall getting a chuckle reading Rifleman Fred’s publications, full of good advise and training, when he would suggest riflemen taking out armored vehicles by shooting the view finders from 600 yards. I don’t think he realized that the thermal optics on those tanks could see those men in the woods at 2000 meters and that they could be hit by that computer stabilized tanks coax machine at that range.

So you gotta pick the right target and engage it appropriately. In the above example, tanks are taken out by mines, IEDs, Molotov cocktails, etc, not small arms fire.

So what can the rifleman do?

One example is harassment. I read constant stories of some lone Afghani taking pop shots at our guys from 1200+ meters with a Enfield .303 and our guys not being able to effectively respond. I’m not going to talk about what our guys did wrong, but this is a good example of harassment. This, while generally ineffective at causing casualties, can be demoralizing, annoying, etc. In Iraq, it was not uncommon for someone to fire a burst from an AK or belt fed from a few hundred meters away, then run away. Since they tended to fire from a window or corner, they could fire and immediately take cover and relocate. That minimized the chances of them getting hit by the responding fire, and gave them a chance to exfil or blend back into the crowd before the larger force could respond with a patrol or quick reaction force. This isn’t going to destroy the enemy, but it can make them expend their resources.

Ambush. The lone rifleman can still ambush and destroy a larger element. While people forget that Sgt. Alvin York had support, that is a classic example of a small element defeating a superior force. I heard of a less fun example where a squad of Marines were taken out by a single enemy marksman. The squad was moving though an alleyway when the enemy first shot their radio operator, then the squad leader, and then down the line. In the chaos they were unable to call for help, the chain of command was eliminated leading to more confusion, and that element was wiped out. A lone rifleman or a small team can inflict devastating ambushes. But this requires discipline, knowledge of the area, knowledge of the enemy, etc.

Striking higher value targets. I was going to say assassination, but that term doesn’t really fit what I want say. I’ve heard from a few sources that the USMC Sniper Schools used to teach only loading 3 rounds into the sniper rifles. That if the sniper fired all three that they should break contact and relocate. A lone rifleman becomes more vulnerable with each shot that they fire. Every gunshot makes it easier for them to be located, and accurate fired returned to their position. Therefore, the lone rifleman may wish to engage a single target that will cause more harm to the enemy, then quickly “get the hell out of Dodge”. An early Sharpshooter, Tim Murphy shot British General Frasier disrupting the British ability to rally. This helped us win that revolutionary war battle. Even if you are not taking out significant figures, taking out higher value targets reduces the enemies effectiveness. Another example would be the unit I deployed with. All our platoon level radio operators in my Company got shot. Needless to say, juniors Marines were not volunteering to be replacements for the position (probably more because it is a shit job where you get treated like shit), and replacements were often untrained. This reduced unit effectiveness.

Even in our modern world with aerial drones, thermal optics, directional gunshot detection systems, and the like, a long rifleman can still strike terror into the hearts of their enemy and reduce their ability to fight. But that rifleman has to work a good deal smarter.

Humpth. I was going to talk about specific tactics, but I guess I had to write about the generalizations more. I’ll come back to this subject.


  1. I think the well-trained, well-disciplined rifleman can still, in this modern age, strike terror into the hearts of their enemy. I think it would take some knowledge of group and individual psychology, discipline, patience and marksmanship – in that order, I should think.

    What the long range rifleman brings to the table is low observability, small logistics footprint, portability, etc. Modern rifles and optics are so repeatable, (for man-sized targets) that you could put together a package that would fit into a briefcase that would be, oh, 16 to 18″ barrel, a can, the action, a chassis-type stock that is collapsible and adjustable. There wouldn’t be any case or object he would be carrying that would scream “rifle” or “gun.” Add in a man who looks well, but not terribly unique in a business suit, and he could move through an urban area with little chance of being caught.

    Imagine the chaos a man like that could create as he moved through an urban environment. A shot here, pack up and leave the scene for somewhere across town. He waits a random interval, then pops some other target, packs up calmly, leaves for somewhere else. Think about the additional chaos that would happen if the second shot took out a target in the propaganda ministry or some target that has little reason to suspect that they are a target. Then the rifleman moves across the country, waits an interval, then strikes again. Moves somewhere else. The DC Sniper showed how clueless law enforcement can be when faced with such randomness – LEO’s were so blinded by their “profilers” that they could not get anything correct.

    Or let’s change it up a bit. Let’s say instead of the obvious (ie, shooting high value targets), the rifleman goes after hard-to-reach infrastructure. One example: transformers in a power substation. They’re hideously expensive, very hard to replace, and have a high impact on the infrastructure, taking down regional power systems for days on end. Another example: shoot out insulators on high-voltage transmission lines until the line falls. Do this in dry areas in California during the Santa Ana wind season, and we’ve seen what havoc it could create.

    There are lots of possibilities.

  2. Heh. I remember WeaponsMan talking about shooting transformers, and the impact that would have. I’m keeping that for future reference.

    Good to hear from you DG. I hope you’re doing well .

  3. This is valuable input from someone who knows what he’s talking about, Howard.

    I have long been of the opinion that the assault rifle or its civilian semi-auto equivalents are exactly the wrong weapon for an insurgency. I think we have a lot to learn from Haji on this front. When Haji engaged with .gov or .mil on their terms with their chosen weapons, it was like the American colonists lining up for battle in European ranks: playing the opponent’s game on the opponent’s turf.

    In my opinion—and full disclosure: I’m not someone with expertise per se—Haji’s most effective tactics were, in order: IEDs, long-range attacks like you mention here, and green-on-blue attacks. I’d also add very close-range work, like with a .22 revolver, to the list as a potential tactic. Two in the hat sends a very strong message. Haji’s equivalent of that was probably the suicide vest, which is ill-suited to a Western temperament, but accomplished the same goal, which is to force the opponent into hardening up against the civilian populace—think patrolling in MRAPs, body armor, helmets, etc. this forces the opponent into the posture of an occupying force rather than that of the friendly neighborhood beat cop.

    One thing to consider is the advance of the surveillance state. We are rapidly moving to a world where every urban area will be covered in a fabric of internetworked cameras that allow the powers that be—both government and our private corporate overlords—to track everyone’s movements in real time. We already see the police’s ability to do this post facto for high-profile crimes like Jussie Smollett.

    We are not so far from a world where TPTB can ask in real-time, “who was at 6th & Main between 3:10 and 3:45 yesterday?” Or “where did Richard Jones go yesterday?” Or “tell me where Chris Simmons’s last known whereabouts are.”

    • I don’t think it so so much the weapons but the tactics.
      Some years ago I knew a guy who wanted to get a scoped 700 for sentry elimination. He said how he wanted a rifle that could take out an invading blue helmet or Chinese soldier at 200 yards. I pointed out that any of his AR15s could easily make that shot.
      For a single freedom fighter or small team, a big question is how much do they want to survive the encounter? So very many targets can be destroyed by walking up and firing a single handgun round at contact distance. But escaping from that is a whole another story. Doing that in a mall the attacker might be able to walk away. Doing that to a member of a military squad would lead to almost certain death.
      In Iraq, an insurgent would often fire a shot or three at us, hide the rifle and blend back into the crowd. It was a great strength of theirs.

      • Good point on weapons vs tactics. The tactic is to take a shot and seamlessly blend back into the crowd or landscape. From that standpoint, even a 600 yd rifle shot like DG was talking about is the same tactic.

        Of course the .22 revolvers wouldn’t work on US forces in Iraq or Afghanistan. But it would have worked on Nazi forces in France or Holland. Pushing those guys back behind a green line and forcing them to only come out from behind it wearing body armor inside huge vehicles would have been a coup for La Résistance, as it was for Haji in Iraq. It also deprives the opposing forces of the tender care of the fairer sex, if you know what I mean, which is a huge win. Fewer heads to shave after the Nazis leave is win-win all around.

        • No, that would have not worked in Europe in WW2, that would only work on a force that was trying to win “hearts and minds”

          Had the french 22 popped a few SS officers in the back of the head they wouldn’t have went behind a green line and buttoned up in tigers, they would have lined the entire population up against the wall and shot them. Then moved in Germans to take over the city for living space.

          This is only feasible against an opponent who doesnt really want to slaughter dozens of civilians in reprisals.

          • That’s a great point, Shawn. Haji wouldn’t have given the Romans hardly any trouble at all if you’d grabbed a Roman emperor at random and made him US President in 2006 or so.

            Any opponent willing to go Roman Empire on an insurgency will likely prevail.

            But that’s not going to help the 600 yard shooter either, much.

  4. Max Velocity has a lot of good thoughts and info on this subject.

    He wrote a piece on using .308 rifles for a civilian rifle squad instead of .223 for that overmatch/standoff capability:

    It’s now behind a paywall which also provides access to his blog, but can be found for free on the internet archives. The main thing I’d change is .308 for 6.5 creedmoor, but that’s a separate discussion.

    Regarding harassment, I think that’s a bad call. If you’re putting your life on the line to engage, you should be able to accomplish some objective with at least some certainty. Look at booby traps, and other sabotage if you’re just looking to harass — more effective and generally less risk than direct engagement.

    Re John M’s thought: in a protracted conflict, I highly doubt that much infrastructure, including surveillance, will remain intact. There is some good dystopian fiction reading that does help to expand and open the mind beyond unconventional warfare manuals, etc, reading on this subject. But as mentioned, Max Velocity seems to have been doing a fair bit of critical thinking on this subject and ample discussion in his forums. No, I’m not a member there or anyways affiliated, but do respect his perspective.

    • I disagree with needing .30 cal. Insurgents have had no issue fucking with US combat troops with weapons far less powerful than .308. The whole idea of having to have greater range, penetration, etc is all bunk.
      Sure, I’d rather have a more powerful weapon. I’d rather be shelling the enemy with a 155 howitzer. Better yet Naval guns that can reach around the curvature of the earth.
      Success comes from taking one of your strong points poking it into an enemy’s weak point. But you don’t always get to pick your best strength or the enemies weakness, so we must be as flexible as possible in tactics and employment.


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