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.