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The Marine Corps is getting rid of Scout Snipers

The Marine Corps has had Scout Snipers since World War II.
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Marine Corps Scout Snipers
U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Adam Hytrek, a scout sniper with Battalion Landing Team 1/4, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, provides overwatch for a visit, board, search, and seizure exercise on the USS Miguel Keith (ESB-5) in the Philippine Sea, Feb. 11, 2023. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Vincent Pham)

The Marine Corps is getting rid of its Scout Sniper Platoons as part of massive force structure changes, but Marine reconnaissance and special operations units will continue to have their own school-trained snipers, a Marine Corps spokesman said.

Scout Snipers, who operate in pairs of spotters and shooters, go through extensive training to learn how to move without being detected and either kill a target from a distance or report an enemy’s position to headquarters. They provide forward reconnaissance and observation for infantry battalions and, on occasion, also protect U.S. military installations and embassies abroad.

However, Marine Corps wargames found that the Corps’ newly-redesigned infantry battalions did not have enough all-weather capabilities to conduct intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions, spokesman Capt Ryan Bruce told Task & Purpose on Monday.

That is why Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger approved a plan to create Scout Platoons with 26 Marines to replace Scout Sniper Platoons in infantry battalions, Bruce said.

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Infantry battalions will continue to have sniper rifles in their armories because Marines in infantry military occupational specialties will receive enough training to know how to use them even without going through the Scout Sniper course, Bruce told Task & Purpose on Monday.

“Scout Snipers have served the Marine Corps since World War II,” Bruce said in a statement. “Due to the shift to a Scout Platoon, the 0317 MOS will no longer be awarded. The Marine Corps is establishing the Reconnaissance Sniper (0322) MOS, for designated 0321 MOS Reconnaissance Marines, which will be organic to reconnaissance battalions.”

Marine Scout Snipers
Marines Scout Snipers and sailors participate in several live-fire exercises July 21-22 at Camp Lejeune, N.C. (Lance Cpl. Ryan Young/ U.S. Marine Corps)

The Marine Corps’ decision to eliminate Scout Sniper Platoons was first announced in a message from Marine Lt. Gen. David J. Furness, deputy commandant for plans, policies, and operations, approved the message, which was sent on all major commands on Thursday. 

The message was then shared on Instagram before that post was taken down on Friday.

With the subject line “Scout Sniper Transition,” the message from Furness “directs immediate transition of Scout Sniper Platoons to Scout Platoons.” 

“The Commandant of the Marine Corps agreed to establish a scout platoon within the Infantry Battalion to provide the commander with relevant, reliable, accurate, and prompt information,” the message says. “The Scout Platoon consists of 26 Marines, four teams of six infantry Marines led by a First Lieutenant and infantry Gunnery Sergeant. Trained designated marksmen and precision rifles will remain within the Infantry Company.

The Marine Corps in the midst of Force Design 2030, a massive overhaul of its force structure that is intended to make the Corps leaner and more nimble to fight China.

Last may,  the Corps issued an update on Force Design 2030 that showed officials were looking at possibly replacing Scout Sniper platoons with “other options” which were not specified.

“Our initial re-organization of the infantry battalion disaggregated the sniper platoon and added one sniper team per company,” the update said. “Our force-on-force exercises have identified other options to organize this capability. Continue to evaluate the merits of each possible construct and provide a formal recommendation no later than 1 September 2022.”

Marine Scout Snipers
A Marine Scout Sniper fires a semi-automatic sniper system at a marksmanship training event near Camp Buehring. Kuwait. (Cpl. Timothy Childers/U.S. Marine Corps)

Retired Master Sgt. Tim Parkhurst, President and Chief Executive Officer of the USMC Scout Sniper Association, issued a statement on Friday saying his organization urged Berger to reconsider the decision to phase out the Scout Sniper community.

“As a secondary Military Occupational Specialty (MOS), Scout Snipers have never had an advocate, proponent or assignment monitor who had the best interest of building a Scout Sniper capability within the Corps at heart,” Pakhurst said in a statement. This announcement by the Deputy Commandant, Plans, Policy and Operations is the result.”

Parkhurst told Task & Purpose that getting rid of Scout Snipers would gut the ability of infantry battalions to provide precision fires and conduct surveillance and close reconnaissance missions.

“If we can’t hit a target with our rifle, we can sure as hell report on the target and send that information back to our unit commander,” Parkhurst said “Because most commanders don’t exercise the capability while they’re in training, they don’t see it. They don’t understand what a platoon or a squad or a team of Scout Snipers can provide.”

Parkhurst said his understanding of the Marine Corps’ plan is that Scout Sniper training would end on Oct. 1 and none of the Marines in the new Scout Platoons would be snipers.

While Reconnaissance Marines and U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Command would continue to train their own snipers, that does not necessarily mean that those snipers would be available to infantry battalion commanders whenever they are needed, Parkhurst said.

Recon Marines operate separately from infantry units, and MARSOC Raiders fall under U.S. Special Operations Command, so the Marine Corps cannot order them to augment infantry battalions or Marine Expeditionary Units, Parkhurst said.

“There’s no agreement between the Marine Corps and MARSOC to put MARSOC-trained snipers on a MEU,” Parkhurst said. “So, the idea that they’re somehow going to source the sniper capability from these other two places is ludicrous.”

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