Sniper FTX Summary

6 November 2000

By Jeff Waters

Introduction      Tasks Trained      Critique


    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:

  1. Gain a clear understanding of whether a team is ready for combat.
  2. Learn what strengths and weaknesses are present in team proficiency
  3. 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)
  4. Build confidence, pride and teamwork in both the snipers and chain of command.
  5. Document and record the teams' performance according to the FM, METL (Mission Essential Task List) etc.
  6. 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.
  7. Provide a real "Gut Check."

Tasks Trained:

Invariably, I used the following tasks to focus the scenario.

    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.

Conduct Insertion:

    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.

Move Tactically:

    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).

Perform Surveillance:

    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.

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