Inside the Shot Heard 'Round the World

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We've got some details trickling in about the specifics of the SEAL sniper shots on the pirates holding the Maersk-Alabama's captain, Richard Phillips.

The Combat Operator's Jake Allen -- not a former SEAL, but a Marine infantry officer and private military contractor and security consultant with sourcing in the Teams -- had no detailed information on the actual shot, but described the overall techniques used by the SEAL team.

First of all, multiple sources indicate this was conducted by SEAL Team VI, aka Naval Special Warfare Development Group, aka "DevGru." This is the naval equivalent of Delta Force.

Allen says the team likely were on the intel of the incident very soon after news hit the wires about the capture and were already well in advance of developing a plan to rescue Phillips before they deployed to the USS Bainbridge.

It's unclear why the team decided to parachute onto the scene under cover of darkness from a C-17 with rafts. One possibility is that this was a far more covert entry than simply landing on the destroyer via helicopter, or Allen says it could have been due to range restrictions...did the DevGru guys travel straight from Little Creek, Va.? Probably.

There was no rest and relaxation or getting rid of the jetlag for the team, Allen estimates, they were planning and rehersing shortly after arriving aboard the Bainbridge. Delay is, however, in their favor, Allen said, since food was running out, sleep was short and the weather was worsening for the ill-trained pirates who probably were beginning to realize they bit off more than they could chew.

Whether it was luck or planning, clearly the idea to tow the life boat behind the Bainbridge and reel it into closer range made a sniper takedown much more of a reasonable possibility than any other tactic, sources say. A shot of 80-90 feet -- even at night and in rolling seas -- is a cakewalk for DevGru SEALs.

"These guys can put three rounds onto the head of a quarter at that range," Allen told me.

And let's not get carried away with the sea state, says DT contributor Joe Buff. A multi-thousand ton destroyer is a pretty stable platform in any but the most tumultuous sea states and makes dialing in a shot on an admittedly tossing life raft more doable -- a smart platform for the Team to operate from.

We also have some information -- unconfirmed, though we're working on it -- about how the shots were taken and what was used. Our firearms expert Eric Poole who writes for Tactical-Life posits that the snipers were using the MK-11 .308 sniper system manufactured by Knights Armament Co. This weapons is awesome, by the way (I've shot it a few times myself) and, if this is indeed what the shooters used, would mark a major, high-profile departure from legacy thinking about sniping which holds bolt-action rifles as the Gold Standard or marksmanship.

Poole figures the DevGru frogmen removed the "overpowered" standard-issue Leupold scopes and opted for the Aimpoint CCO augmented by the PVS-14 night vision monocular. Though the SEAL version of the MK-11 Mod 0 is issued with supressors, it's unclear whether the operators used them, but I'd bet a million bucks they did.

One other question (among many) remains open...were there three shots or four? Poole reasons, and Allen and I agree, that someone had to shoot through the lifeboat window first, then fire the kill shots. My limited knowledge of ballistics leads me to believe the snipers could not rely on the effectiveness of the one window shot to actually strike the target where it was aimed based in the potential deflection of hitting that probably plastic (glass) window.

Poole, Allen and Buff agree that this operation was meticulously planned and flawlessly executed. The DevGru SEALs developed the situation (with their interagency partners in the FBI and other OGAs), planned an attack and executed when the opportunity presented itself (and I don't buy this "the captain was in danger" line the Pentagon and White House is trying to sell here...you mean to tell me Phillips hadn't had a gun pointed at his back anytime before this?)...It was a kick butt operation carried out by one of the best counterterrorist units in the world and they deserve a huge HooYah from all of us...

-- Christian

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