5-25 x 56 Schmidt and Bender telescopic-sight

Above: A British Army sniper using a L115A3 large-calibre bolt-action rifle fitted with the German 5-25 x 56 Schmidt and Bender (S&B) telescopic-sight. This sight gives a sniper the ability to achieve a precision shot at up to four-hundred metres and achieve a first-round-hit of a man-size-target at nine-hundred metres. Credit: Ministry of Defence/Crown Copyright.

British Army sniper in camouflage

Above: A British Army sniper-marksman in full battle camouflage. Credit: Ministry of Defence/Crown Copyright.

British Army sniper

Above: A British Army sniper fires a L115A3 long-range rifle. Credit: Ministry of Defence/Crown Copyright.

British Army sniper at night

Above: A British Army sniper armed with a L115A3, fitted with an image-intensifier, fires on a distant target at night. The bolt-action L115A3 sniper system comes with several sight options including laser range-finder. Credit: Ministry of Defence/Crown Copyright.


The army sniper, marksman-assassin, is the modern soldier par excellence. The sniper's enemy sees nothing, hears nothing, understands nothing--until the moment of death. The sniper-as-enemy is spectral, even supernatural, "many fighters admit to never having seen those they fight at a distance, fear arising most often from the invisible presence of the enemy (NH: 80)." In terms of the dominant modern military ethos of the "aesthetics of disappearance," the sniper is an absolute embodiment: silent, invisible, always lethal. In former times the warrior identified himself with lions, eagles, tigers and such-like. The modern warrior-soldier is, by contrast, "a phantom," a figure who cannot be identified with any actual physical beast at all, he is "deanimalized," in an era in which "every soldier is an unknown soldier (NH: 81)."

The sniper's rifle is qualitatively distinguishable from the conventional offensive infantry soldier's rifle: a machine replete with repetitive-and-approximate lethal force (usually applied to an enemy up-ahead), is replaced by a machine designed for exact and personalized violence. The sniper's view through his optical sight represents "the obscenity of the enemy's gaze (NH: 75)," that is, an obscence exterminating gaze--a look which has the power of life-or-death. The velocity of the sniper's projectile is beyond parry, it easily pierces steel helmets and other armor; the notion of shielding oneself from the sniper's lethal force with actual physical material is replaced by the shield of ingenuity, of artifice, disguise, deception, trickery (NH: 82). The sniper's target must use subterfuge, camouflage, etc., in order to evade the obscene gaze, "all that evades the enemy's intelligence, or simply what no longer appears, constitutes a weapon ... [he] who reveals himself demobilizes himself (NH: 76)."

The sniper's view through his telescopic-sight is subject to a certain distortion which causes the flattening-out of depth, the distant view can be observed in supreme detail, but the physical gaps between objects are often confusing and hard-to-judge. The sniper must be aware of, and correct for, the telephoto lens compression effect, or crushing effect. This lens-based effect is of interest to Virilio in that it is a form of visual-optical distortion that is becoming generally pervasive. Increasingly, when we witness an event or a scene brought close to us by optical technology--such as the telephoto lens of the news camera--we tend to normalize this flattening distortion and become accepting of it; in this way news events are seen literally with a distorted perspective.