TechModern Snipers: How Thermal Imaging Redefines Battlefield Tactics

Modern Snipers: How Thermal Imaging Redefines Battlefield Tactics

View from the thermal imaging scope of a Ukrainian sniper while hunting Russians.
View from the thermal imaging scope of a Ukrainian sniper while hunting Russians.
Images source: © X (formerly Twitter) | SPECIAL OPERATIONS FORCES OF UKRAINE
7:33 AM EDT, March 21, 2024, updated: 3:47 PM EDT, March 21, 2024
For over a century, snipers and sharpshooters have stood as formidable foes to infantry troops. Their lethal prowess has only intensified with the advent of modern technology, such as thermal imaging scopes equipped with ballistic computers. We delve into the workings of thermal imaging and the edge it offers.
Online, numerous videos showcase sharpshooters and snipers, often from elite units, dispatching enemies with unsettling precision and swiftness. One video features the 73rd Ukrainian Marine Corps special unit’s sharpshooters taking down six soldiers in just 40 seconds.
The marksmen in the video utilize sniper rounds, specifically the .338 Lapua Magnum, weighing about 8.1/8.8 ounces. This ammunition allows for effective shots at distances up to 0.93 miles, with the projectiles’ muzzle energy exceeding 6000 J—enough to penetrate even the most advanced ballistic protection.
These feats, paired with top-notch rifles like the Desert Tech SRS-A2 or the Polish MWS-38, expert shooters, and thermal imaging sights, compose a deadly mix. In the right conditions, even a handful of snipers or sharpshooters backed by artillery can fend off an assault.

Thermal Imaging: All is Visible

A couple of decades ago, thermal imaging sights were exclusive to military vehicles such as the Leopard 2 tanks or infantry fighting vehicles like the M2A2 Bradley or CV90. Today, however, thermal imaging technology is compact enough to compare with conventional optical sights and is even accessible to civilians.
The essence of thermal imaging lies in detecting heat emissions against the backdrop of the environment, with the effectiveness increasing with the temperature difference between the object and its surroundings. Thus, a warm object like a human stands out brightly in colder environments. The only means of escape is to either reduce heat emission or to place an object matching the environmental temperature in between the heat source and the thermal imager.
Achieving this is challenging, with only specialized and expensive materials such as INVISI-TEC IR or Relv Eclipse providing some level of protection. Moreover, many thermal imaging sights are now enhanced with ballistic computers and laser rangefinders for precise distance measurement.
For instance, the Pulsar Thermion 2 XP50 PRO, priced at around $6,250 and boasting a 640x480 pixel sensor with excellent thermal sensitivity (<25mK), enables the identification of human-sized targets from up to 1.12 miles away.
This advancement means that shooters can concentrate on spotting and neutralizing targets, while the onboard computer calculates variables like wind direction, air humidity, and even Earth’s rotational velocity.
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