SKILLED Irish Army snipers -- who protected US President Barack Obama and Queen Elizabeth during their visits here -- are to get a world-beating rifle which has become the scourge of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
The highly trained snipers, who operate in a shooter and spotter pair, are being equipped with the powerful new weapon after a review of their equipment and training.
The British-made Accuracy International .338 rifle, which is used by the British army, has gained near legendary status after a British sniper used it to kill two Taliban machine gunners at a record distance of one-and-a-half miles (2.4km).
The rifle is designed to be effective at nearly a mile and capable of "harassing" fire beyond that range.
However, Corporal Craig Harrison of the Household Cavalry used the weapon in 2009, setting new world records by killing two Taliban members with two shots, while a third shot disabled their machine gun.
The weapon, which the Irish Defence Forces have adopted, comes from British firm Accuracy International, set up by two-time British Olympic gold medallist, the late Malcolm Cooper, an international target shooter.
A previous sniper rifle produced by the same company, the A1 92, firing a smaller 7.62mm bullet, has been the Irish Army's standard sniper rifle since 1992.
The new .338 rifle, costing about €8,000 each, has already been used for some time by the Army Ranger Wing (ARW). It has a five-round magazine and is used with a telescopic sight.
As part of the upgrade of the snipers' equipment, a version of the famous FN FAL rifle -- which served as the Irish Army's main rifle from the Sixties to the Eighties before being retired -- is being reintroduced as a rifle for the spotter who accompanies the sniper.
Army snipers operate in the support company of an infantry battalion and are also used for intelligence gathering. They were in evidence during the VIP visits earlier this year, and serve on missions abroad, including providing cover for Irish troops who battled rioters in Kosovo in 2004.
The ARW uses a variety of sniper rifles, including the huge Accuracy International AW 50, firing a massive .5 calibre bullet, which can destroy vehicles and helicopters.