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From Bagels to Bullets: The Incredible Story of the World’s Longest Sniper Shot
A closer look at the companies and technologies involved
It’s late Spring 2017 in Iraq, a calm day with no mirage. A Canadian sniper team is setup on a high-rise. They calculate the trajectory for a shot, the sniper pulls the trigger, and seconds later an enemy fighter dies.
How did little towns in the provinces of New Brunswick and Québec, the German state of Hesse, coxswains in New York, a Brazilian beverage maker, Motorola carbon nanotubes, artisanal bagels, and an English steel foundry famous for casting church bells all come together to help kill an ISIS fighter in Mosul in 2017 with the longest sniper shot ever recorded?
While we can’t cover everything, let’s track backwards from the kill shot to tell some of the wider story.
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In the Summer of 2017 it was widely reported1 that a Canadian JTF-2 sniper team in Iraq had recorded a successful sniper shot of an astounding 3540 meters (2.2 miles), killing an ISIS fighter. This broke the previous record by over 700 meters and - quite rightly - brought praise for the quality and tradition of Canadian marksmanship.
Here is a quick experiment to put that into a little perspective. Most people consider 20 minutes/mile an easy walking pace. Just for grins, go outside and walk in a straight line for 44 minutes away from your house. Turn around and see if you can make out your house, let alone something roughly the size of a soccer ball. It’s estimated the bullet flew between 7 and 10 seconds to go that distance. This doesn’t account for the height our sniper fired from, but it’s a start.
The SOFREP story lists the ammunition as a “match grade armor-piercing incendiary (API) round”. Based on searches for who and where Canada’s military gets its ammunition it was a .50 Caliber Sniper Elite® API cartridge2 from General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems (GD-OTS). They have a handy picture:
Among its features, the website lists “Non-toxic bullets eliminate environmental soil contamination” - I guess this is for California regulations banning lead ammunition. Good for condors, for ISIS not so much.
GD-OTS Canada is based in Repentigny3, a small town outside of Montreal. It employs 1200 people and from what I can tell actually builds the ammunition in question. It is a subsidiary of GD-OTS based in St. Petersburg, Florida, which in turn is a division of the 100,000 person strong General Dynamics (GD) based in the United States.
While a full history of the growth of General Dynamics4 5 deserves an essay of its own, we can wind the clock back a bit here to see some of it. GD has strong ties back to the UK and Canada. At the end of the 1800’s an Irish immigrant to the United States - John Phillip Holland - designed submarines destined to be used by the US Navy. His work turned into the Electric Boat Company which morphed into General Dynamics post World War II. Similarly, in Sheffield, England in the 1800’s Edward Vickers created a steel foundry which became a popular maker of church bells. He and his father-in-law began expanding other businesses, including ones for the military. They created Canadian Vickers to produce Canadian naval ships for World War I and then expanded into aerospace. Canadair was created by the Canadian government, absorbing Canadian Vickers, which was subsequently purchased by GD post World War II.
General Dynamics has continued to purchase defense companies and is now in the top 10 defense contractors worldwide in terms of revenue. It is traded as NYSE:GD with a market cap around 70B. General Dynamic’s top ten shareholders are all asset management companies - names like JP Morgan, Vanguard, Blackrock, and Bank of America - that in turn control 10’s of trillions of USD in assets and are themselves well on the way to owning, uh, everything. 6 7 8 9
OK, enough about the bullet, let’s move on.
Reporting indicates that our sniper used a McMillan TAC-50 10 11 which the Canadian military has helpfully renamed the “C15 long-range sniper weapon (LRSW)”. These are technically classed as ‘anti-materiel rifles’ that can be used to penetrate armored targets. It’s produced by McMillan Firearms Manufacturing in Phoenix, Arizona which employs about 60 people. They make top of the line rifles for competition shooting, law enforcement, and the military. In an interview the company’s original founder, Ryan McMillan12, gives some history about how his grandfather saw an opportunity to make better rifle stocks with ideas he saw while working at Motorola and how that turned into military contracts.
Wikipedia lists the TAC-50’s effective firing range (the greatest distance a projectile will travel with accuracy) as 1800m and an estimated maximum firing range (the maximum distance a projectile will travel) of 7700m. Clearly our JTF-2 operators didn’t feel constrained by mere specifications. Minimum safe distance might be 7701m.
McMillian Firearms was purchased by Strategic Armory Corps (SAC) which owns 6 different brands related to the firearms industry including the well-known ‘Armalite’ name. Searches show that SAC is wholly owned by the Brazilian investor Jose Augusto Schincariol. Further searching shows Jose Schincariol as part of the Schincariol family that owned the 2nd largest beverage manufacturer in Brazil before controlling interest was bought by Kirin13 14.
Our SOFREP story lists the sniper rifle scope as most likely made by Schmidt and Bender. There are other indications that the Canadian snipers also use separate optics from TacomHQ.15 Let’s take a look at that stuff.
Schmidt and Bender is a family-owned company located in Beibertal, Germany. They originally started in 1957 building hunting scopes. They employ about 140 people in Germany and Hungary and continue to build scopes by hand. Beibertal is small - only about 10000 people. It’s difficult to get a hard number on S&B’s revenue: it’s variously listed between 1M and 25M USD. 16 17 18
There’s a good quote on the TacomHQ website from a previous holder of the longest sniper kill title (also a Canadian) about how much of a game-changer the Charlie TARAC was for distance shooting. It’s a little periscope device that can be mounted on the scope itself or on the same rails as the scope. It allows the sniper to adjust for a larger amount of bullet drop: the distance the bullet falls as it travels. In the case of our JTF-2 team that was a lot (~380m | 15000in per the Kestrel post 19)! TacomHQ is a tiny company out of Fort Smith, Arkansas but were a crucial part of the shot. 20
The Spotter: Ballistics & Anemometer.
Sniper teams usually work in pairs. A big part of the spotter’s role is to do the ballistics calculations necessary so that the sniper can make adjustments to the scope and rifle and make the shot. Long distance shooting is a long way from plunking down a rifle and lining up the target in the sights. The team has to take into account all sorts of variables: a partial list includes bullet drop from gravity, the Coriolis effect, windage, altitude of the sniper and the target, muzzle velocity, distance to target, spin drift, and so on. 21 These days the team is able to use handheld ballistics calculators and anemometers to ease the cognitive load and take an accurate shot more rapidly.
In the case of our JTF-2 team it seems like they used Kestrel equipment made by Nielsen Kellerman. NK made their start making equipment to aid coxswains with voice amplification and stroke timing and then branched out into other durable outdoor electronics. Now NK has multiple brands and employs 150 people in the US with an annual revenue of 11M USD. NK is one of many companies owned by Clearview Capital LLC - a private investment firm based in Stamford, Connecticut - which oversees over 1.3B in assets. 22 23 24
Of course we don’t know what our JTF-2 operators had for a pre-shot snack, but for grins let’s assume they had some peanut butter as part of their meal. The Canadian military uses “Individual Meal Packs” (IMPs) - their version of the American “Meal, Ready to Eat” (MRE) - to feed their soldiers. These are setup to be portable and stable in the field, providing enough calories for an active person. The peanut butter for IMPs comes from Thermo Pac LLC out of Stone Mountain, Georgia, USA that specializes in shelf-stable food processing. They make foods like toppings, dressings, nut butters and spreads, sauces, etc. for the food industry, humanitarian relief, and military needs. 25
Thermo Pac is part of the AmeriQual group that makes a wider array of food goods, including complete MRE’s and relief aid, for the same sectors. In 2021 AmeriQual was purchased by Harlan Bakeries out of Avon, Indiana. AmeriQual employs around 750 people, Harlan another 1000. Harlan makes a variety of foods destined for restaurants and grocery stores. It is a privately owned by the Harlan brothers but the purchase of AmeriQual was financed by Turning Rock Partners, an investment firm with over 250M USD in assets under management. 26 27 28 29
I was unable to get information on exactly what fatigues our sniper team changed into when they got out of their tactical PJ’s: it’s not quite clear who fulfilled the clothing contract for the Canadian military in 2017. Given that, let’s take a look at the current state of things.
Here’s a tweet from the BBC (Getty images) giving us (hopefully) a feel for what they were wearing:
— BBC News (World) (@BBCWorld) June 22, 2017
In 2022 the Canadian goverment contracted with Logistik Unicorp, another company based just outside of Montreal. They provide “managed clothing services”. They have 100’s of employees and annual revenue in the $100M-$500M range. Logistik Unicorp was acquired by Wynnchurch Capital in 2018. Wynnchurch is a private equity firm out of the Chicago with over $5B in assets under management. 30 31 32 33
Boots are a different story! There are a number of different stories about the Canadian military never getting boots quite right, to the point where everyone just gets an allowance to buy their own boots: “you could wear anything as long as they were black and had 13 holes.” 34
Well, we dove down the rabbit hole of physical stuff our operators may have used for the shot. Now let’s step back and take a quick look at where they trained. CDSB Gagetown (these all used to be Canadian Forces Base, “CFB”) is nestled between little towns like Oromocto and Gagetown, just outside of Fredericton, New Brunswick. With an area over 400 square miles, it has almost 1000 miles of roads and is Canada’s 2nd largest base. It contains the Combat Training Centre where things like sniper training happen. It’s estimated that the base employs 6500 soldiers and 1000 civilians, and generates CAD $200M for the local economy and CAD $700M for the provincial economy annually. 35 36 37 38
As an aside there is some odd history here - the original area was populated by the First Nations Maliseet people who were displaced by the French (the Acadians), who were then forcibly removed by the British, and then in the 1950s when the base was created the residents of the area had their land expropriated by the Government of Canada. Apologies if words like ‘displaced’, ‘forcibly removed’, and ‘expropriated’ aren’t correct. These days it’s hard for the military to hold live fire exercises at CDSB Gagetown because of forest fire danger: maybe Mother Nature will have the last word.
A wider context: Defense spending and attitudes in Canada.
Between active and reserve personnel Canada maintains a military of around 90,000-100,000 people. The country spends less than 1.5% of its GDP on the military, falling under the 2% guideline agreed upon by NATO. Simulations show that Canadian defense spending leads to a 2X return of dollars back into the economy (I think I’m reading that right). There is research and a sense from government debates that it is a policy decision based on public feedback not to spend more: a government proposing more military spending and involvement might lead to it not being reelected. Obviously there are other geopolitical factors such as Canada’s sheer size, its relatively small population, and the size of its neighbor’s military. 39 40 41 42 43 44
As promised we worked backwards from the world’s longest sniper kill, showing a throughline of people, companies, histories, and countries involved in making that happen. There is so much more detail that can be added but I had to make a cutoff somewhere. I learned more about the technology, the economics, the places, and the people involved: I hope you did too. Here’s a map of the companies mentioned in this piece: expect to see some of these investment companies continue to show up in future essays.
Chasing down these facts is best-effort. The nature of much of military events and spending is that needs to be hush hush: it can be difficult to get the details right. Financial data, especially for private companies, is similarly hard to get. Yes, I happily use the Wikipedia for lots of information and then dig into their references. If I - or they - got something wrong please let me know the specifics and I’ll happily fix it. These essays touch on topics that are polarizing. Please go ahead and read the Sticks and Stones newsletter description to see why I’m talking about them.
Murphy, Jack. “SOFREP Exclusive: The Inside Story of Canada’s JTF2 Record-breaking Sniper Kill.” SOFREP, 22 June 2017, sofrep.com/news/sofrep-exclusive-inside-story-canadas-jtf2-record-breaking-sniper-kill.↩︎
“.50 Caliber Sniper Elite® - General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems.” General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems, www.gd-ots.com/munitions/small-caliber-ammunition/sniper-elite. Accessed 10 Dec. 2022.↩︎
“About - General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems - Canada.” General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems - Canada, www.gd-otscanada.com/about-us. Accessed 10 Dec. 2022.↩︎
“Our History | General Dynamics.” Our History | General Dynamics, www.gd.com/about-gd/our-history. Accessed 10 Dec. 2022.↩︎
“General Dynamics - Wikipedia.” General Dynamics - Wikipedia, 7 Feb. 1899, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Dynamics.↩︎
“GD - General Dynamics Corp Shareholders - CNNMoney.com.” GD - General Dynamics Corp Shareholders - CNNMoney.com, 30 Sept. 2022, money.cnn.com/quote/shareholders/shareholders.html?symb=GD&subView=institutional.↩︎
“Aerospace and Defense - Top 10 Global Defense Companies in 2021 by Revenue.” Aerospace and Defense - Top 10 Global Defense Companies in 2021 by Revenue - GlobalData, www.linkedin.com/company/globaldataplc. Accessed 10 Dec. 2022.↩︎
“McMillan TAC-50 - Wikipedia.” McMillan TAC-50 - Wikipedia, 14 Oct. 2017, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McMillan_TAC-50.↩︎
“McMillan TAC-50C.” McMillan TAC-50C, www.mcmillanfirearms.com/SACItem.aspx?Item=MCMTAC50C&ReturnURL=/f1ea4f3a-d532-4b21-bc09-9b074811e059&Category=f1ea4f3a-d532-4b21-bc09-9b074811e059. Accessed 10 Dec. 2022.↩︎
“Physics and Firearms: Ryan McMillan’s Improbable Path.” Coffee or Die, 30 Dec. 2021, www.coffeeordie.com/ryan-mcmillan-firearms.↩︎
“Fueding Brazilian Brewers Bitter Over Sale to Japan Beer Giant Kirin.” Worldcrunch, 24 Oct. 2011, worldcrunch.com/business-finance/fueding-brazilian-brewers-bitter-over-sale-to-japan-beer-giant-kirin.↩︎
“Brasil Kirin - Wikipedia.” Brasil Kirin - Wikipedia, 1 Feb. 2014, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brasil_Kirin.↩︎
“StackPath.” StackPath, kestrelballistics.com/blog/canadian-sniper-team-going-inside-the-record-breaking-long-distance-shot. Accessed 10 Dec. 2022.↩︎
“Schmidt and Bender - Wikipedia.” Schmidt & Bender - Wikipedia, 25 July 2022, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schmidt_%26_Bender.↩︎
Küster, Peter. “Riflescopes - Police and Military Forces - 5-25x56 PM II/LP/MTC/LT.” Riflescopes - Police and Military Forces - 5-25x56 PM II/LP/MTC/LT, schmidtundbender.de/en/products/police-military-forces/5-25x56-pm-iilpmtclt.html. Accessed 10 Dec. 2022.↩︎
“StackPath.” StackPath, kestrelballistics.com/blog/canadian-sniper-team-going-inside-the-record-breaking-long-distance-shot. Accessed 10 Dec. 2022.↩︎
“Charlie TARAC.” Charlie TARAC, tacomhq.com/charlie-tarac. Accessed 10 Dec. 2022.↩︎
McIntyre, Catherine. “How Long-range Snipers Do Their Job - Macleans.ca.” Macleans.ca, 23 June 2017, www.macleans.ca/news/world/how-long-range-snipers-do-their-job.↩︎
kestrelballistics.com/the-kestrel-ballistics-difference. Accessed 10 Dec. 2022.↩︎
nkhome.com. Accessed 10 Dec. 2022.↩︎
“Nielsen-Kellerman - Clearview Capital.” Nielsen-Kellerman - Clearview Capital, 12 Dec. 2019, www.clearviewcap.com/investment/nielsen-kellerman-co-nielsen-kellerman.↩︎
“Military - Thermo Pac.” Thermo Pac, www.thermopacllc.com/military. Accessed 10 Dec. 2022.↩︎
“About Us - AmeriQual Group.” AmeriQual Group, 1 Jan. 1987, www.ameriqualgroup.com/about-us.↩︎
harlanfoods.com. Accessed 10 Dec. 2022.↩︎
Partners, Turning Rock. “Turning Rock Partners Announces Financing to Support Harlan Bakeries’ Growth Acquisition of AmeriQual Group Holdings.” Turning Rock Partners Announces Financing to Support Harlan Bakeries’ Growth Acquisition of AmeriQual Group Holdings, www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/turning-rock-partners-announces-financing-to-support-harlan-bakeries-growth-acquisition-of-ameriqual-group-holdings-301356970.html. Accessed 10 Dec. 2022.↩︎
“Turning Rock Partners, L.P. (New York) | Adviser Rankings – wallmine.com.” Turning Rock Partners, L.P. (New York) | Adviser Rankings, wallmine.com/adviser/226151/turning-rock-partners-l-p. Accessed 10 Dec. 2022.↩︎
Defence, National. “Minister Anand Announces Investment of up to $3.7 Billion to Supply Operational Clothing and Footwear to the Canadian Armed Forces - Canada.ca.” Minister Anand Announces Investment of up to $3.7 Billion to Supply Operational Clothing and Footwear to the Canadian Armed Forces - Canada.ca, www.canada.ca/en/department-national-defence/news/2022/10/minister-anand-announces-investment-of-up-to-37-billion-to-supply-operational-clothing-and-footwear-to-the-canadian-armed-forces0.html. Accessed 10 Dec. 2022.↩︎
“Wynnchurch Capital Acquires Logistik Unicorp Inc.” Wynnchurch Capital Acquires Logistik Unicorp Inc. | Business Wire, 7 Aug. 2018, www.businesswire.com/news/home/20180807005096/en/Wynnchurch-Capital-Acquires-Logistik-Unicorp-Inc↩︎
Capital, Wynnchurch. “Approach.” Wynnchurch Capital, www.wynnchurch.com/approach. Accessed 10 Dec. 2022.↩︎
Thorne, Stephen J. “Military Orders New Boots; Soldiers Are Skeptical - Legion Magazine.” Legion Magazine, 11 Aug. 2021, legionmagazine.com/en/military-orders-new-boots-soldiers-are-skeptical.↩︎
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“City of Fredericton.” City of Fredericton, the Canadian Business Journal, 10 Dec. 2022, www.cbj.ca/city-of-fredericton-nb.↩︎
Army, National Defence, Canadian. “5th Canadian Division Support Base - Gagetown - Canada.ca.” 5th Canadian Division Support Base - Gagetown - Canada.ca, www.canada.ca/en/army/corporate/5-canadian-division/5-canadian-division-support-base-gagetown.html. Accessed 10 Dec. 2022.↩︎
“Canada’s Plan to Boost Military Spending ‘Falls Flat’ Amid High Hopes.” Canada’s 2022 Budget: Plan to Boost Military Spending “falls Flat” Amid High Hopes - POLITICO, 7 Apr. 2022, www.politico.com/news/2022/04/07/canada-federal-budget-2022-military-spending-00023951.↩︎
NATO. “Funding NATO.” NATO, 5 Sept. 2014, www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/topics_67655.htm.↩︎
“Economic Benefits of Defence Spending.” Canadian Global Affairs Institute, 24 Dec. 2021, www.cgai.ca/economic_benefits_of_defence_spending.↩︎
“Canada Still a Long Way From Hitting NATO’s Defence Spending Target, Budget Watchdog Says | CBC News.” CBC, www.cbc.ca/news/politics/nato-canada-defence-spending-pbo-1.6483054. Accessed 10 Dec. 2022.↩︎
Fitzsimmons, Scott, et al. “Canadian Public Opinion about the Military: Assessing the Influences on Attitudes toward Defence Spending and Participation in Overseas Combat Operations.” Canadian Journal of Political Science / Revue Canadienne de Science Politique, vol. 47, no. 3, 2014, pp. 503–18. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/43298285. Accessed 6 Dec. 2022.↩︎
Buchholz, Katharina. “Infographic: Where NATO Defense Expenditure Stands in 2022.” Statista Infographics, 21 July 2022, www.statista.com/chart/14636/defense-expenditures-of-nato-countries.↩︎