MK13 300 Win Mag

STTU is currently evaluating a MK13 Mod 7 clone built on a Stiller’s MK13 (TAC300) action. Where .308 Win gives the average sniper a 600-800 meter capability, .300 WinMag stretches that out to 1,200-1,500 meters

TeamWendy MK13

.300 WinMag built on a Stiller’s MK13 action with a Bartlein barrel in an AX-AICS chassis. Scope is the NighForce ATACR 5-25x56mm FFP with a Tremor 3 reticle 

20190621 AX-AICS

Initial testing with factory Federal 190 grain SMKs, Berger 185 Juggernauts, and Berger 215 Hybrids. The Kestrel 5700 Elite with Applied Ballistics utilized for firing solutions. 

Test and Evaluation to follow…..


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.338 Lapua Magnum

The .338 Lapua Magnum was the first cartridge and caliber to be developed specifically for military sniper applications. It was also a good bridge between 300 Winchester Magnum and 50 BMG.

STTU is currently involved in test and evaluation of a .338 Lapua Magnum built on a Stiller’s TAC338 action, Bartlein barrel, and McMillan A5 stock. Stiller’s Actions also won the USMC contract for the MK13 300 WinMag with their TAC300/MK13 action.

338 LapuaMagnum Kestrel

.338 Lapua Magnum  built on a Stiller’s TAC338 action, Bartlein barrel, Piercision brake, Badger Ordnance bottom metal, and a McMillan A5 stock. Scope is a NightForce ATACR 7-35 x56mm FFP with a Tremor 3 reticle.

Stillers Badger TAC338 7.31.19


.338 Lapua Magnum ammunition development utilizing Peterson brass, Vihtavuori N170 powder, 300 grain Sierra Matchkings, and Cutting Edge 275 grain Lazers 

More coming as the range testing continues…..


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 After 25 years for running STTU training programs and teaching instructor development at the university level, Operational Studies has garnered considerable experience in teaching and training methodology. However, what separates STTU and OS training development programs from conventional teaching is the experience that only comes from training soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and law enforcement officers and agents at the local, state and federal levels. This experience is further enhanced by international work with coalition forces in Europe and the Middle East, and law enforcement officers in Eastern Europe, Asia and the Pacific Rim.

Operational Studies Training Development programs for both military and law enforcement include:

1.  Principles of Adult Learning

2.  Teaching & Training Methodology

3.  Train-the-Trainer Development

4.  Courseware Development

5.  Training Program Development & Time Management

6.  Training Assessment & Minimum Operating Standards

7.  Mission-Specific Training Development

While staying true to the established principles of learning such as stimulus, response, reinforcement and motivation, OS stresses the importance of repetition in training to condition the trainees and achieve a positive change in behavior. This requires a constant process of teaching, trial, feedback, practice, reinforcement, re‑practice (as many times as necessary), constructive critique, and finally conditioning. OS also applies the principle of guided discovery where learning is a process of building on past experience, knowing that optimum learning occurs when students are able to apply past learning to a new learning situation.


After trainees have completed selected STTU programs, Operational Studies can take them to the next level as instructors and trainers. Apart from demonstration quality tactical skills, the Instructor has many obligations to meet when teaching, among which is the shaping of proper behaviors until conditioning and transfer of learning occurs.

Instructor candidates are taught to employ all phases of teaching, to stimulate students and reinforce responses, then to motivate and guide students through a learning process. They are also taught to take into consideration the individual and physical factors affecting learning, and to develop an effective course structure. In the tactical programs, efficient and effective use of training time is a must and safety must be built in as a formal component.

For additional information on Training Development, email the Director at

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Operational Studies is unique in that it is an academic research and assessment team with real-world operational and training capabilities. OS military studies are focused on conflict and post-conflict military and security operations, stabilization, counter insurgency, counterintelligence, force protection, security sector reform, contractor inter-operability in the battle space, and most aspects of special operations training. OS law enforcement studies are focused on homeland and maritime security, counter terrorism, hostage rescue, tactical operations, and modern LE teaching and training methodology. OS TextBW

Operational Studies is involved in a number of studies related to on-going operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and has supported STTU with lecture materials delivered to various audiences at the US Department of Defense, USMC, coalition military commands, and defense/aid contractor symposiums in Washington, DC.

Mark Lonsdale NoorMohammad Shilman 2008

Mark Lonsdale in Northeastern Afghanistan and border with Pakistan in 2008

Operational Studies Director, Mark Lonsdale, was cleared by CENTCOM and CJTF82 to conduct research in Afghanistan on COIN issues related to how insurgents and terrorists supported their operations through criminal activity. This research was also supported by the US Army War College, PKSOI, and formed the basis for a Masters thesis at the Department of Criminal Research.

Following on from this and several other trips to Afghanistan and Iraq, Mark was invited to present his findings to various military commands, intelligence personnel, and units spinning up for deployment.


The Specialized Tactical Training Unit is the training branch of Operational Studies. Founded in 1981, STTU has earned a reputation for progressive, effective, reality-based training. However, what separates STTU from the other training groups is an uncompromising drive to keep the in-house training materials current and on the cutting edge.


Mark Lonsdale doing counter insurgency (COIN) research with Afghan Border Police in 2008 


  • STABILITY & SECURITY / SASO – Security & Stabilization Operations
  • SECURITY SECTOR REFORM / SSR – Training of regional police, military, and border security forces
  • COUNTER INSURGENCY / COIN and the criminal components of insurgency
  • PSC / PSD OPERATIONS – Inter-operability of PMCs in the battle space and high risk environment security
  • IRAQ & AFGHANISTAN – Cultural engagement teams (CET); human terrain teams (HTT); female engagement teams (FET)
  • TRAINING DEVELOPMENT – Regional and mission specific training

2003 Mark-Lonsdale Afghanistan

Operational Studies and STTU Director, Mark Lonsdale, in Northern Afghanistan, 2003  

Operational Studies can be contracted to perform studies and assessments in conflict and post-conflict war zones, and to conduct security assessments for governmental and non-governmental organizations. Work hand in glove with Operational Studies, STTU can take OS findings and integrate them into real-world training programs for military, police and contractors. STTU also provides High Risk Environment Security Training (HEST) for personnel required to work in problematic areas of the globe.

For additional information, contact the STTU/OS director at

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OPERATIONAL READINESS – Will you be ready on Game Day?

By Mark V. Lonsdale

      Over the years I have worked and trained with numerous teams tasked with a variety of public safety needs ranging from SWAT and high risk warrants to search & rescue and underwater recovery. Many of these teams had specialized equipment, impressive vehicles, and numerous team members, all claiming to be “ready to respond” to the community’s needs. Unfortunately, on all too many occasions, when we ran actual or simulated call-outs, I witnessed disappointing results with both teams and individuals whose readiness was less than acceptable or professional.


Some of the problems that contributed to this lack of readiness have included:

  • An inability to contact team members in an expedient manner
  • Individuals not carrying or checking their pagers or cell phones (back when we all carried pagers)
  • Equipment that was not pre-packaged for rapid deployment
  • Vehicles that would not start, flat batteries, or they could not find the keys
  • Critical pieces of equipment that were down for maintenance with no redundancy (extras)
  • Equipment that was rusted and corroded because of no structured preventive maintenance program (PMP)
  • Radios and lights with dead batteries
  • Night Vision Equipment that was inoperable
  • Gas masks with no replacement filters
  • Weapons that were not zeroed
  • Team members not thoroughly trained for the type of mission
  • Individuals with substandard clothing for the weather conditions
  • Individuals who had forgotten critical pieces of personal kit
  • Individuals in a poor state of personal fitness
  • Drivers getting lost en route to an incident or target location
  • Helicopter pilots inserting teams into the wrong grid reference
  • Commanders lacking tactical training and the qualifications to run an incident command center (ICS)
  • A general inability to make an effective response plan
  • Teams and CP on different frequencies
  • Snipers completely missing the target because of poor ability, incorrect scope settings, or changes in ammunition without re-zeroing
  • A need to depend on personal cellular phones because agency radios did not work or batteries were flat

So what does it mean to be operationally ready?

When an individual becomes involved in public safety, whether it is fire, rescue, or tactical response, he or she is assuming a significant responsibility to the response team, the agency, and to the general public. The individual must be ready to respond in a professional and efficient manner which entails more than just a cool uniform and a bag of new equipment. Operational readiness requires a commitment to personal fitness, regular training, minimum skills standards, equipment maintenance, and a positive attitude towards being accessible and available for a call-out.

Similarly, a tactical team bears a significant responsibility to respond quickly and effectively to protect life. Team readiness encompasses several key areas beginning with the readiness of every individual on the team, then flowing down through administration, transportation, maintenance, operational procedures, communications, logistics, leadership, and command & control. To cover all these in detail would fill an entire book, but some of the more common problems that hinder a team’s ability to respond in a professional manner should be mentioned.


US SAR team on a mission in Taiwan searching for a missing American student

Individual Responsibilities

Even though the LE agency bears the responsibility to select only qualified members for the team, the individual member must also shoulder the responsibility of being an asset and not a liability on operations. This begins with maintaining a high level of personal health and fitness – including eating healthy, exercising regularly, getting adequate rest, and avoiding cigarettes and excessive alcohol. A team member who is in poor physical condition and/or a regular drinker cannot be depended upon to respond quickly, physically or mentally prepared to save lives.

Whether using pagers or cell phones the individual must make himself available and accessible, plus have a mechanism to be removed from the call-out roster when no available.

Upon joining a tactical team, each member is issued many thousands of dollars worth of mission-essential clothing and equipment that must be maintained. The clothing and equipment becomes the responsibility of the user but it does not end there. The individual must gain proficiency with every piece of equipment and then maintain it in a high state of readiness. On several occasions I have witnessed team members rooting around in their bags, packs, and cars looking for a piece of critical equipment that they had forgotten or misplaced. This can be avoided only through the use of mission-essential checklists and go-bags that are inventoried, packed, and ready to deploy. After each training session or operational deployment, all equipment must be cleaned, dried, checked for function and packed ready for the next call-out. Damaged equipment must be repaired and missing or broken items must be immediately replaced.

Personal readiness and equipment readiness is both a state-of-mind and a state-of-being. Every piece of equipment should be considered “life support” and be treated accordingly. Taking pride in one’s fitness, training, equipment and its readiness is the mark of a true professional.

Team Responsibilities

When an agency or group identifies the need for a special response team they must first ensure that they have the budget and personnel to support such a capability. For an agency to form a SWAT team when they do not have a pool of fit and motivated officers or the budget to equip them would be foolish. To attempt to maintain this team without adequate training would be frustrating; and to launch this team lacking the necessary safety equipment and training would be negligent.

The agency has the responsibility to provide teams with the best personal safety equipment and mission-essential tools and weapons to do their job in a safe and professional manner. However, equipment is of little use without professional training to a nationally recognized standard.

MP5 Training

The two individuals who bear the greatest practical responsibility on a team are the Team Leader and the Training Officer, since it is their job to ensure all members are proficient in every aspect of the team’s tasking. Unlike good equipment, which is a non-recurring cost, good training is the single biggest recurring cost for rescue and tactical teams. This cost may be compounded by the fact that many teams, such as New York’s ESU, are multi-mission tasked requiring additional training in everything from tactical operations to diving to high angle rescue.

Multi-mission teams incur a significant expense and commitment to both training and equipment. Every officer or deputy may be a SWAT trained officer cross-trained in Tac-Med, mountain rescue, helicopter rescue, and diving recovery operations. Similarly, even a basic mountain rescue team must be trained and equipped for emergency medicine, technical rope rescue, wilderness search, swift water rescue, snow and ice techniques, avalanche rescue, glacier travel, and crevasse rescue.

Even with Department of Homeland Security (DHS) funding, tactical teams frequently find themselves strapped for time and funds for professional training, often taking two years just to cycle through all the necessary training modules. Each operator must be trained in handgun, shotgun, submachine gun, patrol rifle, close quarter shooting, breaching, entry tactics, room clearing, distraction/stun munitions, gas deployment, baton and defensive tactics, operational scouting and planning, sniper and counter sniper, tactical communications, emergency medicine, rappelling, helicopter deployment, Immediate Action drills, officer down rescue drills, hostage rescue, IED/booby-trap identification, camouflage and concealment, vehicle ambush, bus and train assault, aircraft take-down, rural operations, maritime operations, witness and dignitary protection, and the list goes on.

Shield tactics 2

Active shooter response has added an additional element of speed and response time, requiring a high level of individual and team readiness

    Another area that is all too often neglected in both rescue and tactical response is vehicle maintenance. This begins with personally owned vehicles (POV) that cannot be relied upon to make it to the headquarters when called upon. Personal transportation should be late model vehicles that are reliable, well maintained, and kept gassed above half a tank. Tires should also be in good shape, correctly inflated and all fluid levels routinely checked and maintained. If local conditions include dirt roads or snow in winter then team members should seriously consider opting for personal four-wheel drive vehicles.

Team trucks and vehicles are even more of a problem since they are often not driven on a regular basis. When needed, batteries are found to be dead, tire pressures are low, trailer hitches are rusted and seized, spare tires are missing, and there is a general deterioration of condition. In reality, a vehicle that is driven regularly and maintained is often in better shape mechanically than the response vehicle that is used infrequently.

To get passed this problem, team members must be assigned to maintain the vehicles, start and drive them on a regular basis to keep the fluids circulating, and to keep the vehicles gassed and serviced. The same is true for all other equipment such as compressors, generators, lighting systems, navigational equipment, radios, special weapons, diving equipment, boats and any equipment that comes in contacts with salt water in particular.

To wrap this up, no one wants to be the chump who is a liability to the team, and nobody wants to be on a team that comes off looking unprofessional when the call comes down. Special response teams are often the elite of an agency eating up a significant portion of the agency’s training and equipment budget. To earn that status and budget, the team only has to do one thing – to come through as the professionals they are expected to be.

We all live for that call, and we all want to be there on game-day, so it is important to ensure that you are the professional that you aspire to be. The best way to do that is to maintain a professional level of readiness, including a high degree of personal fitness; quality, well-maintained weapons and equipment; above average skills through frequent and realistic training; and being available and accessible on short notice. Now go check your gear, pack your go-bags, carry your cell phone, hit the gym, and wait for the call.


STTU Books4

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Concealed Carry Training

By Mark V. Lonsdale, Director, STTU

With all these psycho mass shooters and active shooting events in public places, more and more people are opting to carry concealed, or are looking into the process. This paper will look at the responsibilities that come with carrying a concealed weapon (CCW).

First, learn the local laws and the laws of any states you plan on visiting. Some states have reciprocity and some do not. Some states allow open carry or concealed carry, but only for residents. Others allow open carry but only for individuals holding a concealed weapons permit. Some require that you tell a law enforcement officer immediately if pulled over for a traffic violation. Then, states like CA do not allow open carry, even if you have a state CCW. Conclusion – do your homework.

These would be considered concealed carry fails. 

Next, get training, and more than just the 8 to 16 hours required by the state. Get basic, intermediate, and advanced reality-based handgun training from a professional. Not from some retail assistant who has never trained professionally; and even prior military does not make someone a competent weapons instructor (he may have been an admin type who shot once every few years, and only when he had to). I have worked with Army officers who had not shot their M9 Berettas in 4 years. Even an NRA instructor certificate means the individual has had only 5 days training but probably no real world skills or experience. If he or she is an NRA instructor and former law enforcement, that carries more credibility. Certificates are close to meaningless but real-world experience and years of teaching are what you are looking for. Solution – do your homework, talk to people who know, and check the instructor’s credentials – your life may depend on it.

The few public State CCW classes that I have attended in various States were seriously lacking and only designed to make sure the participants don’t shoot themselves, the person standing to their right and left, and to hit a man-sized target at 3 to 5 yards. These programs usually shoot one box of ammo, are not designed to improve your shooting, definitely do not address tactics in the home, workplace or parking lot, and not one taught drawing from concealed carry. In fact, most did not utilize holsters and had participants beginning with the gun on the bench or in the hand. In two classes there were individuals who needed assistance loading and unloading their pistols, but no one ever failed the course. Scary!! You still need the State approved certificate, but this is why you need to look elsewhere for professional training including how to carry concealed and shooting from concealed carry under stress.

More on Concealed Carry:

If you can legally carry concealed in a State that does not have an open carry provision, you need to keep that handgun concealed. This can be a challenge for people who have never had professional training and have not perfected concealed carry through years of practice.

The problem arises when a member of the public sees your handgun because your shirt rode up or hooked on the grips getting out of the car. And this doesn’t even address all the times permitted guns have been dropped in public because of poor holster design, or left in public bathrooms because of inexperience. If someone reports seeing your gun, you could be arrested for anything up to an including brandishing a firearm. (A CCW does not cover you for open carry in some States).

As an example of how serious this is – a guy working at a local gun shop wanted to see one of my heavy competition rifles so I invited him to walk out to my truck to see it. He was carrying openly in the gun shop but told me he could not walk out to the parking lot, even though my truck was only 7 yards from the front door. So I suggested he untuck his shirt to cover his Glock. He said he couldn’t do that either since he didn’t have a CCW. The lesson learned is that he knew the law and was sticking to it.  He was only able to legally carry on private property.

Also be sure that anti-gun liberals would like nothing better than to cause a scene and ruin your day. So be sure to invest in quality concealment (IWB) holsters specifically molded for your handgun, and then adjust your clothing choices when carrying concealed. For example, if you wear an XL shirt, purchase XXL or even XXXL to ensure no “printing” of the gun.

Outside the waist band holsters can be more comfortable to carry, but they require a loose jacket or shirt for successful concealment. Left is a SIG 228/229 in a Safariland paddle holster; right is a Wilson CQB .45 in a leather pancake holster. 

For women, there are lots of purses and handbags designed specifically for concealed carry, but that same purse or handbag is also the target of purse snatches. If they grab the bag, they have not only disarmed you, they have also armed themselves.


Inside the belt or waistband holsters offer better concealment since they mold closer to the body. Left is a Wilson CQB .45 in a Blackhawk holster; right is a SIG 228 in a Galco holster. Both guns have rust proof finishes to protect them from sweat. 

Glock 19 with a light mount in a Kydex holster set up for outside the belt. This holster can be worn outside the belt or inside the belt by unscrewing the belt loops and switching them to the other side. 


More important than having a CCW and going strapped, is getting training, practicing regularly (monthly), and constantly practicing situational awareness for potential threats. All too many CCW permit holders have little to no training apart from the minimal State requirements. They not only have no law enforcement or military training, but they may have never been in a stressful situation, survived a mugging, or taken full-contact martial arts training. This leaves them prone to freezing in a deadly encounter.

There are four parts to defensive firearms training:

  1. Basic safety and manipulation which usually takes at least 1-2 days of training. The more repetitions of safely loading, unloading, shooting, and drawing from a holster, the better the participant will retain what they learn. Most training should be on man-sized targets, IPSC/IDPA type targets, but “dot drills” are also useful when working on accuracy and trigger control. Remember, the goal is not to turn out a combat shooter but a safe gun owner who is not a hazard to himself or the community. The participants should leave the class confident in their safe gun handling and not afraid of the pistol. If a participant is so stressed that he or she is struggling to follow even simple instructions after 2 days, then they should be recycled for more training and individual attention. (Round count: at least 300 to 400 for the 2 days)
  2. Basic tactical handgun training with a big focus on trigger finger and muzzle control while moving, drawing, engaging multiple targets, reloading, and reholstering. This is still low speed training following the crawl, walk, run principals – with the running being more of a quick, balanced walk. But stress can be added through time limits, ball and dummy drills, shoot / no shoot targets, verbal commands, and targets hidden behind barricades. The ideal for this type of training is 4 days, shooting 400 – 600 rounds. As the drills become more advanced, the shooters usually shoot less and focus more on tactics and use of cover. They will also be running shooting drills one at a time, as opposed to all on a line of 10 to 20 shooters. This gives them the opportunity to learn from watch other individuals run the drills.
  3. Reality-based training is tailored to the participants, law enforcement, military, security, or the general public. It can also be modified to suit the work environment of the participants, for example, at home, at work, retail sales, working at night, backpacking and rural encounters, boat owners and maritime, etc. The key thing is that the participants recognize situations that they could be in and learn to negotiate the situational challenges. These could include recognizing the threat, creating space, reacting to a lunge, blocking, drawing, firing at close quarters; or it may involve being carjacked, robbed at knife or gunpoint, being in a store or bank when it is being robbed, or reacting to a mass shooter in a school, workplace, or supermarket.
  4. Periodic refresher training is usually a one or two day program designed to maintain and reinforce perishable skills. Graduates could also attend one or two days of the previous programs so that they can cherry pick what they want to work on.


  • Learn the State CCW laws
  • Get the required State training certificate
  • Get professional defensive handgun training
  • Train periodically to maintain perishable skills
  • Support the 2nd Amendment and Right to Carry


The author carrying openly (left) and concealed (right) in Iraq in 2004. A loose fitting shirt worked well to conceal a full sized handgun and two extra magazines.  

Posted in CCW, Concealed carry, Contractor Security, Defensive pistol, Firearms, Handgun training, STTU, STTU Training | Leave a comment

Sniper Overwatch & Gaming the Wind

By Mark V. Lonsdale, STTU

This paper came out of a discussion at an Applied Ballistics Seminar concerning the challenges of shooting in mountain environments and dealing with variable winds.

Drawing on considerable experience in mountain terrain and in Afghanistan, and having lectured on the effects of terrain and weather on military operations, this discussion will focus on how military snipers can minimize the effects of wind to improve their first round hit probability.

Mark Lonsdale Northern Alliance

Mark Lonsdale (center) in Northern Afghanistan – early 2003 

First, let’s look at the basic requirements for a sniper hide or final firing position (FFP):

  1. There needs to be a suitable, unobserved infiltration route to the hide
  2. The hide site needs to offer good concealment 360 degrees, but primarily from the target location
  3. There needs to be suitable security positions and minimal potential for compromise from locals or goat herders
  4. The shooting position should provide a suitable field of observation
  5. There should be a suitable field of fire that encompasses the target location and surrounding alleys and structures
  6. If the mission is overwatch, then the sniper position should also have a clear view of the assault teams’ approach lanes
  7. The shooting position should be as comfortable as practicable, and allow the team to communicate without compromising their position
  8. On multi-day operations, the snipers should work to continually improve the concealment and comfort of the hide site
  9. There should be unobserved exfiltration routes to the RV or extraction point; or allow for the snipers to move down to link up with the assault force for extraction

There are more, and hasty overwatch shooting positions are a different animal, but these are enough for this discussion.

The Long Shot:

In environments such as Afghanistan and Iraq, there is not only the opportunity for long shots, there is also the necessity. Where, traditionally, sniper were able to dominate out to 800 meters with their 7.62mm/.308 Win rifles, as soon as they entered the Afghan theater of operations in 2001/2002, it became evident that the harder hitting .300 Win Mag and .338 Lapua Mag were superior weapons systems for long range shooting (1,000+m). These heavier high BC bullets not only extended the effective range of the snipers, they also bucked the wind and had a fraction of the wind deflection.

20190621 AX-AICS

Mk13 Mod7 clone built on a Stiller’s MK13 300 WinMag action but with a Bartlein Heavy Palma profile barrel

This longer range shooting, from 800 out to 1,600+ meters, also required better ballistics, ballistic solvers such as Applied Ballistics, and wind/weather meters such as the Kestrel 5700 Elite. Without these advanced technologies, the probability of a first round hit was very low.

First Round Hit Probability:

Long range shooting draws on all of the skills of the sniper team while pushing the limits of their equipment. A high probability first round hit requires the following:

  1. An accurate rifle with rugged, high quality, high magnification optics
  2. Consistent match-grade ammunition with heavy, high BC bullets
  3. The ability to accurately range the distance to the target
  4. The tools and experience to adjust the firing solution for changing environmental conditions
  5. The ability and experience to accurately read the wind and calculate the appropriate adjustment or hold-off
  6. ….and just a little bit of luck in erratic windy conditions

The two most common causes of misses at longer ranges are mis-reading the range and mis-reading the wind. With the introduction of compact, accurate laser rangefinders, and the move away from milling targets, the problems related to ranging the target have all but been eliminated. This leaves just wind to contend with.


Compact Terrapin X Laser Rangefinder 

No military sniper would expect a first round hit at over 1,000 meters, in unfamiliar terrain, and in cross winds gusting 15 to 25 mph. In fact, many would not risk the shot and opt to wait for better conditions – thus the need for patience and not just wishful thinking (pray and spray). Any of you who have trained or hunted in the desert or mountains will know that this usually necessitates going for the shot in the early morning or last light when winds tend to drop off to near zero.

Advanced Planning:

So this is where planning the overwatch position or sniper hide site comes into play. Again, using Afghanistan as our case study, the entire sniper element needs to become amateur meteorologists and serious students of the local weather, weather patterns, prevailing winds, and the daily changes in wind direction and strength. Just as all snipers keep data log books on their rifles and dope, they also need to begin a separate log book to track daily weather, temperature, humidity, density altitude, and winds in their area of operation (AO).

Note: Even for extreme long range shooting competitions, I begin collecting local wind and weather data days before a major match. Using Raton, NM, as an example, the temperature can swing as much as 30-40 degrees F from morning to early afternoon, and the density altitude can change as much as 3,500 feet in the same period. Apart from the effects on exterior ballistics, the temperature swings also affect ammunition as much as 30+/- feet per second.  

While still State-side and before deploying to an AO, the sniper team can begin compiling data from open sources on the internet. These can include access to weather sites, tourism guides, and topographical maps. Websites used by mountain climbers, global trekkers, and pilots are particularly useful since weather has a significant impact on their travels.

Immediately following the tragic events of 9-11-2001, I was invited to give a presentation on Afghanistan to Force Recon Marines at Camp Pendleton. Even though most of the material presented on terrain and weather was open source information, the Recon Marines commented that it was better than what they were receiving from in-house military sources. But an interesting side-bar, immediately following 9-11, I had visited several major bookshops in Los Angeles to check out any new books or maps on Afghanistan, but the sellers said that FBI agents had come in and bought up everything on Afghanistan and Pakistan. The lesson here is don’t neglect open source research.

Author at USMC MWTC with Force Recon platoon the night before 9-11-2001

At the military level, the sniper team should study reports not only from the teams currently deployed in that AO, but from teams that were deployed at the same time, and in the same location, the previous year. The goal is to identify the daily wind and weather changes which can be dramatic in arid and mountainous environments such as Afghanistan.  Flying into Bagram (north of Kabul), the team will already be at 4,895’ MSL, and the surrounding mountains go up to 15,000 feet. So on any given day, a sniper team could be operating in a large town in a valley or hunting bad guys in the mountains at much higher elevations.

One of the more useful tools for advanced planning, to better understanding prevailing winds, is aeronautical charts. Anyone who has had any pilot training will know that airfields and air strips are laid out into the prevailing winds, so aeronautical charts actually diagram these airfields. If an airfield or air strip is designated 270, this means that planes will approach from the east and land with a compass heading of 270 (west) since the prevailing wind will be out of the west (270). If the wind switches 180 degrees later in the day, then the landing runway will be designated 90.

Aeronautical charts showing the airfield directions at Jalalabad and Kabul Afghanistan, plus the height of the surrounding peaks in thousands of feet. 

In mountainous areas where airfields are usually in a valley, such as Jalalabad (1,840’ MSL), the wind is invariably channeled down the valley, so the airfield will also follow the direction of the valley. In the case of Jalalabad, the valley and the airfield run NW to SE (309 / 129 degrees). So once the sniper team knows the prevailing wind in the entire valley, they can plan for a shooting position that puts the wind behind them (6 o’clock) or ahead (12 o’clock). By doing this they will not be dealing with a challenging crosswind.

The disadvantage of having the wind behind the sniper is that noise and smell travels on the wind. If the range is 800m+ then this is probably not a concern, but animals downwind may pick up the scent. The advantage of being up wind for the snipers is that when the enemy is looking towards the snipers’ hide, they would be looking into the wind which could cause their eyes to water or blow dust in their eyes. Most people, including local guards, will generally turn their backs to the wind.

In addition to the wind, the location of the sun is also a concern. If a sniper sets up before dawn facing east, he will have the sun in his eyes at sunrise. Similarly, if he sets up facing west for an evening shot when the wind drops off, he may be facing into the setting sun when it comes time to take the shot. Anyone who has shot on a range that faces into the sun when it is low in the sky knows just how difficult it can be to see the target clearly. The flare in the scope can completely obscure the target.

Wind Indicators:

Part of daily life in a farming village community, which includes most of Afghanistan, is that cooking is done on open fires, even inside the house. So just before first light the sniper team will see smoke coming from the mud hut chimneys. An excellent wind indicator.

Images illustrate smoke and dust in Afghanistan on overwatch. 

Even though much of Afghanistan is dry and barren, and all the trees have been cut down for firewood, if the village is near a river there will be standing crops or poppy fields that will be sensitive to even light winds. In the mountain communities, perched on the sides of hills, it is a safe assumption that the wind will be channeled through the valleys and ravines.

Next to a village there will often be a cemetery marked by green and colored flags and banners on tall poles. Another excellent wind indicator.

Strong winds and dust storms kept the helicopters ground in Kandahar so we couldn’t leave the wire in Spin Boldak. 

One of the benefits to snipers in Afghanistan and Iraq is the ubiquitous dust. Even though dust is the curse of the infantryman and detrimental to a lot of sensitive equipment, for snipers it offers a great wind indicator. The indicators of wind direction and strength from dust include vehicles going down a road or highway. The dust kicked up by the tires provides a very clear indication of wind direction and can be seen from considerable distance. But even villagers walk, children playing, or goats being herded kick up enough dust to call the wind direction.

One major problem with dust, and the not infrequent dust storms, is the restricted visibility generally grounds all helicopters. When MEDEVAC and C-SAR helicopters can’t fly, troops are usually not permitted to go outside the wire since there may be no option for medical evacuation in remote areas.

Shooting in the Wind:

Scenario #1: The sniper is looking at the side of a ridgeline with the wind coming from his 6 o’clock position (tail wind). If he is scoping targets up on the face of the ridgeline, he needs to know that the tail wind will turn into an up-draft when it hits the mountains, therefore he can expect that his shots could go high. Similarly, when the wind is coming from the opposite side of the ridgeline (12 o’clock), it will come over the ridge and then run down slope causing a down-draft.

FCSA Targets

FCSA 1.5 mile ELR match in Raton, NM, is excellent practice at shooting from a 1,000 yards out to 2,650 yards while dealing with mountain wind conditions. On this day we had a 6 o’clock wind at the shooting position that was hitting the base of the ridge line and causing a noticeable updraft.

Scenario #2: The sniper team has been asked to set up overwatch on a small village for a direct action (DA) or cordon & search operation scheduled for first light. Looking at the terrain the sniper team notes that there are rocky outcrops to the south and east of the village. The village sits in a valley that runs almost north-south. From this, there is a high probability that the prevailing wind will be up the valley as the day heats up, and down valley in the cooling evening. So since the wind will either be out of the north or out of the south, it is logical to set up overwatch on the rock outcrop to the south so as to avoid dealing with a changeable crosswind.

Scenario #3: The sniper element is tasked with taking out a specific high value target (HVT) and given considerable latitude in their mission planning. This is the ideal opportunity to select a position that avoids potentially high crosswinds even if the selected shooting position increases the range. Adding 200-300 meters to the shot is much easier to adjust for than shooting in gusting 10-15 mph crosswinds.  It is preferable to take a 1,200m shot with a tail wind than a 900m shot with a gusting crosswind.


The study of wind and mastering shooting in wind is a lifelong endeavor – especially crosswind shooting. So anything the shooter can do to minimize the effect of the wind will improve first round hit probability.

While sniper teams will not always have the option of adjusting their overwatch position to offset the effects of the wind, it should still be considered when working to improve first round hit probability. In some locations, the mission requirements may take precedence, in that it may be more important that the snipers can see the assault team approach lanes, or spot squirters coming out the back of the building or village. In these cases, it pays to be as close to the target location as possible to offset any potential wind deflection.

For the hunter, there are advantages to swinging wide around a hunting area so that he or she can hunt into the wind (up wind). The mistake of hunting down wind is that the hunter’s scent noise of movement is carried on the breeze and will alert any animals in the area. Walking into an area with the wind coming from the left or right almost guarantees that a shot may have to be taken in a crosswind. So the value of hunting with the wind in your face should be obvious, especially in open terrain where a long shot may be the only shot.

Alpine Operations Mark V Lonsdale

ALPINE OPERATIONS was picked up by 10th Special Forces Group, out of Ft. Carson, CO, as a textbook in 2001. Contains considerable information on mountain weather and sniper operations. 


Having worked with US and coalition forces in support of OEF and OIF and being a ranked extreme long shooter, the author is available for long range rifle training or wind & terrain briefs on Afghanistan.  


Mark Lonsdale in Spin Boldak, Afg – 2008

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Jumping with US Marine Force Recon

Photo essay by Mark V. Lonsdale

With U.S. Marines of Force Recon platoon at the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center (MWTC), Bridgeport, CA

5thPlatoon-1stForce Mark Lonsdale

Marines preparing for a night static line jump into MWTC

Pre-jump inspections. Main parachute on the back; reserve in front; and rucksack slung below

ReconJump Mark Lonsdale

Force Recon Marine rigged for night static line jump (photo by Mark V. Lonsdale)

MV Recon150 Mark Lonsdale

This night exercise was planned for 10 Sept 2001, the night before the tragic events of 9-11. Little did we know how much our lives would be changed for the next 10 years with  deployments into Afghanistan within weeks.

9.10.01 Mark Lonsdale


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Jumping Freefall Camera to Evaluate Jumpers

JumpingCamera KeithWollard-Mark-Lonsdale

Mark Lonsdale in black, jumping camera with a former Navy SEAL and Leap Frog team member over Perris Valley, CA

JumpingCamera Mark-Lonsdale

Mark Lonsdale jumping a 35mm Nikon and a 6mm digital Sony video camera  (1993)

JumpingCamera Mark-V-Lonsdale

Freefall cameraman, Mark Lonsdale, flying a 35mm Nikon SLR and a Sony 6mm digital cam-corder

Keith-Woulard Tracking

Tracking for the pin, and then tracking for target


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Testing High Altitude HALO/HAHO Military Parachute Rigs

Prior to high altitude jumps, all pilots and jumpers must go through training and assessment by an aero-medical high altitude physiology unit, plus make successful chamber runs to altitude


Mark Lonsdale pre-jump from 30,000 feet. Jumpers will pre-breathe oxygen prior to climbing to altitude and then go on oxygen for the freefall from 30,000 feet to a breathable altitude


Jumps from 12,500′ without oxygen, and then 24,000 and 30,000 feet on oxygen (Mark Lonsdale)


Mark Lonsdale jumping the Mach III Alpha from 24,000 and 30,000 feet; oxygen pack on the left hip


Mark Lonsdale under canopy testing the Mach III Alpha military freefall (MFF) rig


Mark Lonsdale landing the Mach III Alpha on target

Mark-Lonsdale Mach-III-Alpha

Mark Lonsdale post jump with the Mach III Alpha


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