As a service to its readers and for instructional purposes only, Sniper Country provides on-line adjuncts to sniper/countersniper training. This information is based upon the U.S. Army’s sniper training programs at Ft. Benning’s Sniper School and Ft. Bragg’s Special Operations Target Interdiction Course. The primary authors are a current duty-slotted sniper with his own web page, Sniper’s Paradise, Dave Reed, Sniper Country’s founder and a former Army Ranger sniper, and a retired Army instructor.
What is a sniper, what are his tasks?
By David Reed
A sniper is an expert rifleman trained in the techniques of the individual soldier and assigned the mission of sniping. A sniper needs many skills. He must be physically and mentally hard, a crack shot, and must be able to —
- Estimate ranges.
- Search areas.
- Locate and identify sounds.
- Use cover, concealment, and camouflage.
- Use maps, sketches, aerial photos, and the compass.
- Recognize enemy personnel quickly.
- Move without detection.
- Endure long periods of waiting.
Your Mission as a Sniper
Your mission as a sniper is to shoot key enemy personnel — leaders, gunners of crew served or automatic weapons, communications specialists and radio operators, observers, and enemy snipers. In the absence of these priority targets, fire on any targets of opportunity. You must also collect information for your intelligence officer.
Employment of Snipers
Plans must be made to properly locate sniper teams. Other troops in the area must avoid these areas. The use of snipers must be incorporated into the tactical plans of the unit commander.
You should carry only mission essential equipment. Besides your weapon, you may need binoculars or spotting scope, watch, map, compass, and camouflage clothing.
Much has been written about sniper weapon systems. The best caliber is not necessarily the flattest shooting, longest-range cartridge. You have limits in the amount of ammunition that you can carry, because of space and weight considerations. Re-supply is an issue to consider. Field reloading equipment will allow you to make your own ammunition when you need it. But reloading has its disadvantages. It takes time, and the extra equipment is heavy. Equipment used by sport shooters is out of the question. Such equipment is designed for use on a bench. You must be able to load using a volume, not weight, of powder. You must use tools designed to be portable and accurate. You must also practice until you are sure you can make reliable, consistent ammunition. Other sources of resupply are cartridges in standard use by other weapon systems, including the enemies own.
Every rifle has a distinctive sound. If you choose a rifle that sounds different than those used by others in your area of operations, you will call attention to yourself. If you choose a system that your enemy uses, you must be careful to let others in your unit know the area in which you will be. Failure to do so could result in friendly fire, and “friendly fire” never is when you are on the receiving end.
Your mission will dictate the equipment you carry. Most sniper teams employ rifles that are designed for the types of missions that they will be assigned. If resupply is not an issue, and you will not be in the area long, a .300 Winchester Magnum makes a very good choice. It is expensive to shoot and load and heavy in bulk. .308 Winchester (7.62x51mm NATO) is a popular choice because the ammunition is plentiful, recoil is light, and more ammunition can be carried. Other systems are employed in special circumstances.
A good spotting scope is essential. Yes, there are laser range finders that are very good for long range shooting. But one must never take them for granted; good range estimation is something you must be able to do without mechanical or optical aids.
Finally, you will need tools for the observation and scouting aspects of sniping. You should carry the following: camera, tape recorder, pencil, and notebook for recording intelligence, a map of the area, compass, camouflage paint, and weapon cleaning supplies.
What It Takes to Be a Good Sniper
By David Reed
Basically, it takes three things to be a good sniper, and a wicked shot is the least of them. Discipline and cunning are the important qualities. Snipers do not (usually) roam around looking for people to shoot. They do not shoot non-combatants, i.e. women and children, other unarmed persons, livestock, windshields, and houses, etc. The sniper is either alone, or with one to three other people, depending on the mission requirements. Taking shots at targets not worth shooting only increases the risks of being discovered, captured or killed. Discipline and patience are essential qualities to have when faced with a shoot or not to shoot decision.
Ask yourself this — Do you have a hot temper? Do you anger quickly? Anger causes the pulse to quicken, which we will discuss later, and may cause careless or irrational behavior, all of which are bad. Do you like to hunt? Do you like to hunt alone? Have you ever spent an entire week alone? No television, no phone, no friends, no family, no nothing? Have you ever gone camping alone? In a remote area where you saw no one? How did it make you feel, what did you think about? What did you do while you were there? How many times did you masturbate? How often did you eat? Was there a difference in your mental state on the first day and the last? Snipers are not necessarily “loners.” In fact, someone who has problems relating to other people may not make a good choice.
Why is all of this important? A sniper may stalk a target for days to get a shot. He may never get it. Could you abandon the mission without shooting anything? The window of opportunity for a shot may last only 3 seconds. If you are daydreaming, fooling around, eating, or anything else you will not be successful. You should be studying the kill zone and waiting for your shot. This is why a spotter or second shooter is so desirable. It is very hard on the eyes to use binoculars or a spotting scope for more than 20 minutes at a time. You and your partner can take turns. You can’t change positions while in your hide. You must remain still at all times to avoid detection. This sounds easy but it’s not. Think of a small child who is just learning to fish. It’s impossible for them to leave their line in the water for more than a minute or two without pulling it out to check it. If you have hunted deer you know how hard it is to hold still in a deer blind. It might be easier if you knew that your prey would shoot you if it saw you first. But it is very easy to relax when you think that no one can see you.
What does the word “cunning” mean to you? To a sniper it is everything, and it affects everything he does. Cunning alone can make a sniper successful. A sniper must decide where to position himself, how to get there, how to leave, what to take with him, how to camouflage the hide, where to place alternate hides, and what to do if something bad happens. A sniper must be able think an entire shoot through from beginning to end and set it up in a manner which will produce results. Anyone who has watched enough television has seen a million wrong ways to do this. Snipers do not shoot from rooftops, open windows, or a prominent terrain feature. These are the places that will immediately draw attention and return fire. A rooftop can be a hard place to escape from too, as would a climbing stand used by deer hunters.
Marksmanship is the final element. A sniper must be able to engage targets at as long a range as is possible under any circumstance. Distance equals escape time. Surprisingly, people who have never before fired a rifle can become excellent shots with proper training. Old habits are hard to break, and this applies to shooting methods as well. In order to develop adequate shooting skills an individual should be prepared to fire between 5,000 to 10,000 rounds of ammunition during long and arduous practice sessions. A good coach is essential. If you don’t know how to read shot strings you will not know what you are doing wrong.
Sniper Field Training Exercises
Whether in a military or police context, successful sniper operations require the delivery of people, equipment and skills to the right place at the right time. This delivery can only occur successfully if all the people involved are adequately trained.
Often, training in the sniper community focuses on those individual tasks critical to the mission such as sniper marksmanship while neglecting some critical collective tasks. Once the snipers have achieved the necessary proficiency in their individual tasks, sniper operations training must be conducted. Field Training Exercises (FTXs) that closely simulate actual sniper missions should occupy at least as much training time as that dedicated to sustaining individual skills.
Sniper operations FTXs benefit an organization in a number of ways:
Leaders have the opportunity to exercising their skills and accumulate experience. Lessons learned can be applied in subsequent FTXs and integrated into the unit’s Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) thereby enhancing the operational readiness of the unit. Focusing on individual training neglects the need to train the leaders. Additionally, leaders who have experience with sniper FTXs develop an appreciation for the capabilities and limitations of the snipers they command and will be more likely to utilize them properly in combat.
FTXs, which closely simulate combat operations by allowing the fewest administrative exceptions, harden the participants to the realities associated with sniper operations. Over time the participants will become accustomed to the miseries common to life in the field. Once the participant takes exhaustion, discomfort and stress for granted he would be better able to focus on the mission.
During FTXs, equipment is continuously tested and evaluated. An item of equipment, which seems to make sense in garrison or on the firing range, sometimes loses its utility after a few days in the field. Individuals familiar with the rigors of the field generally distill their individual kits to the bare essentials with few if any “nice to have” items included. This distillation process gave rise to the phrase, “Travel light, freeze at night.” The equipment configuration and packing list must be documented in the units’ SOP and made uniform.
When FTXs last several days and nights the participants are afforded the opportunity to practice a logistical routine. How the team conducts their sleep cycles, water replenishment activities, eating and field hygiene should be practiced to the point of habit. These practices must be standardized and documented in the unit’s SOP so that members of different teams can be rotated with minimum adaptation required.
Maintaining communications during FTXs provides ample opportunity to practice with the equipment, encrypt and decrypt messages, construct and use field expedient antennae, use proper radio procedure and to act as part of a radio net. The transportation of the radio and secure equipment along with spare batteries influences the selection of load bearing equipment and the prioritization of essential items. The requirement that the sniper team maintain radio contact will present opportunities to solve problems related to radio communications not found in the classroom.
While afield the sniper team must perform seamlessly many of the techniques taught separately in the classroom. Practicing the integration of numerous individual tasks into a larger combined task is the principle benefit of an FTX.
The keys to a productive sniper FTX are:
- Detailed Planning
- Complete Preparation
- Uncompromising Execution
- Detailed After Action Review (AAR)
An FTX should simulate an actual sniper mission, supported with a notional enemy situation and a detailed operations order. The FTX should be conducted as much like a combat operation as possible. The purpose of an FTX is to train the participants in the right way to conduct an operation. Do not compromise or shortcut the process. Train to standard. Ensure everyone involved knows what the standard is.
As an aid in the planning and conduct of sniper FTXs, the most current versions of the following references may be useful:
- FM23-10, Sniper Training
- ST 21-75-2, Ranger Handbook
- FM 31-20, Special Forces Operational Techniques
- ST31-180, Special Forces Handbook
- ISBN 0-87364-704-1, The Ultimate Sniper, by Maj. John L. Plaster
Evaluators are a critical element in the success of a sniper FTX. Due to the nature of sniper operations the activity is hard to observe and measure. Competent evaluators should be attached to each sniper team for at least part of the entire duration of the exercise so that the team’s performance can be observed and evaluated. During an FTX the evaluator keeps a physical distance from the team except as required for evaluation purposes. He quietly observes and records the actions of the sniper team throughout the exercise so that the technical and tactical proficiency of the team can be assessed. The evaluator is not a spy. His role is to observe and record the team’s actions during the exercise. Additionally, the evaluator acts as a coordinator for administrative and safety issues related to the exercise. The evaluator may, as his judgement directs, act as a coach or advisor to the sniper team when an opportunity to instruct presents itself. Those activities corrected on the spot that do not reoccur are not recorded as negative observations by the evaluator during an FTX. However during periods of testing the evaluator will not coach or advise.
Each FTX should focus on developing some particular collective task. In the beginning the exercises should be kept simple and straightforward with a minimum number of distractions. As the proficiency of the teams improve the complexity of the missions should be increased so to always present a challenge. Eventually groups of sniper teams should be able to conduct complex sniper missions such as “Wolfpacking” and Mutually Supported Retrogrades.
Whenever possible integrate live fire into the FTX. Particularly with snipers, live fire is considered a treat and will help to motivate and reward the troops. These live fire portions of each exercise should present realistic challenges to the snipers. Exploit every opportunity to create interesting but plausible live fire adjuncts to the exercise. Sometimes coordinating with units in nearby training areas can pay off in this respect. Coordination with an artillery unit firing illumination missions might allow for night sniper firing under that same illumination thereby reducing training costs while adding a new dimension to the sniper FTX.
FTXs for sniper operations are not fun. These exercises are mostly hard, unglamorous infantry work with very little “high speed” activity. Properly planned and executed these exercises will test the men, the equipment, the leaders and the SOP. Every FTX offers a lesson to be learned. The amount of training value drawn from any FTX will be proportional to the amount of planning and preparation done beforehand and the enthusiasm with which it is executed.
Sniper FTX Summary
The following is a summary of a standard FTX scenario I used for internal and external evaluations. Of course you should use varying missions, but I found that when you get a few scenarios drawn up, you can re-use them a lot, simply by changing the terrain on which they are executed, or by changing the Situation briefing.
My goals in planning an FTX were as follows:
- Gain a clear understanding of whether a team is ready for combat.
- Learn what strengths and weaknesses are present in team proficiency
- Covertly train the officer core and chain of command on sniper employment (they were never receptive to receiving formal training from an NCO, but when they “oversaw” the FTX, e.g., sat back and watched; they came out with a much better understanding of sniper employment and capabilities)
- Build confidence, pride and teamwork in both the snipers and chain of command.
- Document and record the teams’ performance according to the FM, METL (Mission Essential Task List) etc.
- Allow the teams an opportunity to run a mission from beginning to end with no interruptions so they get a clear idea of the big picture.
- Provide a real “Gut Check.”
Invariably, I used the following tasks to focus the scenario.
- Conduct Troop Leading Procedures
- Conduct Insertion
- Move Tactically
- Occupy an FFP (final firing position)
- Perform Surveillance
- Gather/Report Intelligence
- Engage a Target
- Evade and Escape
- Conduct Extraction
That’s the plan in a nutshell, obviously there are several sub-tasks that are evaluated under each heading. In the planning phase, all team members were evaluated regardless of rank, since in such a small unit, everyone must be able to plan missions.
The beginning part was conducted at the squad level, with the individual teams breaking off either before or just after insertion.
In more detail, it went something like this:
Based on current events, the team was given a thorough Situation and Mission briefing after being placed in isolation (a secure environment). Every effort was made to produce an excellent briefing based on a realistic future threat.
Conduct Troop Leading Procedures:
The squad leader, or acting squad leader, would give a Warning Order and Operations Order. Every man in the squad would be heavily involved in the planning, either writing paragraphs 4 and 5 (service and support and command and signal), making the sand tables or prepping gear. The leader must do the execution paragraph himself.
I would act as the unit’s FSO (Fire support officer), CESO (Commo officer) and S-2 (Intel officer) for the leader’s coordinations. Coordinating with the above was graded. The Ranger Handbook has a good coordination checklist for this task.
OPSEC was a graded task here as well as throughout as well as Pre-Combat checks; particularly those unique to the sniper’s equipment. Examples are did they put black electrical tape over the muzzle of the rifle, did they check their data books and note taking material, and did they check their optics and so on.
Additional attention was given to the Fire Support Plan, since it is part of the Sniper’s Mission and generally the only form of friend help nearby. The MEDEVAC and COMMO plans were also closely scrutinized due to the nature of the mission.
I always tried to use a wide variety of techniques. Helicopters are NOT a great way for a team to go in due to OPSEC, and the principal was to use whatever method was common to the area and would not arouse attention.
Although helicopters are sometimes the only practical way, we used long foot movements, cliff assaults or rappels, waterborne techniques, civilian vehicles such as vans or a military blazer which was painted dull black with tinted windows (this was an authorized vehicle, I am not suggesting you paint your units vehicle like that for the obvious reasons), skis, and whatever else seemed reasonable.
A good sniper works his mind and doesn’t restrict his thinking to solely what’s in the manual. Neither does he march off into fantasyland.
Using Departure of the FFU (Friendly Forward Unit) is an excellent task to incorporate here. I again would act as the FFU CDR for the purposes of coordinating the departure, which was graded.
This never just started with a stalk. It always included a long movement at night to get everyone sleep deprived and physically tired. Remember what I said about covertly training the officers or other leadership? I always found that lots of staff pogues would leap at the chance to “evaluate the snipers.” It was always a moral boost for the men to watch them suffer through the nastiest, longest, hardest route we could find. In this manner, we scared off a lot of strap-hanging wannabe pogues.
On the more positive side, we liked to have the S-2 come along, since the snipers should have a strong relationship with him due to their mission.
Navigation, stealth, noise, light, litter and camo discipline, counter-tracking SOP’s and route selection were all evaluated here, in addition to the basic movement techniques. Uniform for this should generally NOT be a ghillie suit.
They would always be expected to avoid patrols and danger areas.
They should also use OPSKEDS (code words) to report their progress and to alert the FSO and chain of command as to their location at pre-designated checkpoints. A good FSO will have his guns shift to the next TRP covering the current portion of the team’s route upon receiving the code word (that’s easy to plan, since you call in a code word at designated check points during your route anyway) as long as this was planned and coordinated. This is crucial upon approaching/occupying the FFP. At this point, the mortar maggots need to be on their toes.
Normally, they would occupy a Patrol Base and be evaluated on this also. They should obviously stay off of key terrain and natural lines of drift.
The final part of the movement would be a stalk into their FFP. This would be on a live fire range that had OPFOR (opposing force) personal watching for them. Prior to the stalk, the evaluator would move away from the snipers and onto the objective, which was located on the firing range.
This was a learning point for a lot of snipers who have the ‘abominable snow man’ type ghillie. By that, I mean a huge suit with burlap a foot thick. That type of suit is not practical for a number of reasons. It takes up too much space in a rucksack, is too hot, snags on everything leaving a trail if you have to run away and slowing you down. Neither does it leave much space to garnish the suit with natural camo. A light suit with a well done boonie cap and veil is much more important. The cap is light, small and covers the most important parts of the sniper, his head and shoulders. That is the part of your body, which is normally exposed.
Occupying the FFP:
A lot of this evaluation is simply whether they are observed or not by the OPFOR. However, the FFP’s should be walked by the evaluators AFTER the contact is completed and the OPFOR are pursuing the teams and examined for the standard stuff; natural cover and concealment, field of fire and ESCAPE ROUTES!
One of the most often overlooked training points in fieldcraft is that after you complete a stalk and take your shot, you better have a damn good way to get the hell out of there via multiple routes. Its easy to throw a rock at a beehive, but remember, they are going to be pissed and chase you (Remember what I said about the “Abominable’ ghillie suit here).
First, let me explain what I had on the objective. There was a mock signal, missile or other enemy site with the OPFOR bearing foreign uniforms and weapons. They were given optics to attempt to locate the snipers but were never given the times or locations where they would be on the objective.
Scatted around the mock site is one Iron Maiden per sniper team at ranges varying from 600-900 meters. I put old DX’d uniforms over the targets and the effect is very good particularly in the morning/evening. (Or BMNT and EENT for the really devoted).
The priority information requirements are SALUTE and OACOK (observation and fields of fire, avenues of approach, cover/concealment, obstacles and key terrain) as well as any other specifics tasked such as good support and assault positions for a follow on assault etc.
After a few hours of observation, and 15 minutes prior to hit time, I would call off the OPFOR. After gaining 100% accountability, I would give a code word to the teams and they would chamber a live round.
The mission leader would then conduct a simultaneous fire mission on all the targets and begin withdrawing. All teams will call in a code word confirming their weapons are clear and the OPFOR will pursue. Due to safety factors, and the mission, the teams will not fire on the OPFOR.
Evade and Escape:
This reinforces the crucial event of getting out of the objective area, which is so often not covered at all. It concerns me greatly that our doctrine does not incorporate this as an integral part of each stalk.
It is also fair play for the teams to employ booby traps near their FFP’s or along their escape routes to slow down their pursuers. In real life, a claymore mine with time fuse is an excellent tool to break contact or simply disorient them from your actual position and add to the confusion. You can remove the fuses from grenades and insert a cap with time fuse and tape a coat hanger hook around them to leave them hanging in trees behind you also. White phosphorous will always screen your withdrawal if you are under pressure and slow people down. Don’t try these at home unless you’re qualified to do it.
The leader should be evaluated as to his plan for breaking contact after initiating. He should anticipate the enemy’s moves according to their tactics and doctrine and have
countermeasures ready. There should also be a target reference point with indirect fire on standby at the objective.
Basic concepts like never withdrawing straight towards your actual objective should be observed, as well as counter-tracking and ambush techniques such as doubling back on your path and overwatching your trail once the teams are reasonably clear of the objective.
This is also an overlooked part of training. The danger here is that people hit the target successfully and think its all over. We often mistakenly reinforce this by stopping the evaluation right after actions on the objective and doing the AAR right there.
The fact is that after showing his hand, the sniper is in a dangerous situation, and we should really focus on ensuring that they are trained well in dealing with this time. Reaction forces from the OPFOR should pursue and a plan for dealing with the team as a POW included if they are captured. If they are captured, they do not pass the evaluation, regardless of the shooting. This is for their own good.
Extraction is like insertion, in that as many different ways that can be used should be incorporated. There are good tools for a sniper team like the STABO rig or SPIES that are ideally suited to them.
It should not be a cakewalk. They should come to expect the worst and prepare for problems in every evaluation/stx. It’s not to screw with them, just to prepare them. Having the helicopters fly away as they come running out to load them is a good check on the leadership and discipline of the teams. Does the leader immediately resort to an alternate plan? Or does the discipline of the team erode and bad attitudes flare. Remember that sleep/chow deprivation should be factored into the evaluation.
On the other hand, they can also be evaluated on how they deal with the helicopters, i.e., did they issue an inbound advisory and so on. Did they maintain good security, stealth etc., or did it erode.
Immediately upon return, the teams are given a short amount of time to prepare for a debriefing. There should be a room or site in the field set up with a map for them to use and they should conduct the debriefing according to the standard NATO format. The S-2 and commander or his representative should be present and ask questions after the presentation is finished.
The evaluators should focus on the accuracy of the information and quality. The teams should never speculate or state anything but the facts, until they are asked their opinions.
The best way to conduct the debriefing is with the team leader talking through the mission from insertion to extraction according to the format, detailing information on the terrain, map corrections etc. on the way in to the objective as well as the information gathered at the objective. The sketches, logs etc., will be turned in at the beginning to the S-2.
This should take place right after the debrief, unless the teams are too tired to stay awake. If that’s the case, they should stand down so they can be alert for the evaluation.
There is an entire list of tasks listed in the ARTEP manual for Scout/Snipers by the way.
It is best for the evaluators to meet before the critique in order to avoid contradicting opinions in front of the men and the unit commander should be briefed on the results as soon as possible.
The underlying principal of the evaluation and closing comment should be based on the question “Is this team ready for combat?”
It never hurts to have a couple of cold beers waiting on them after a job well done and a pat on the back by the evaluation team and unit commander.