Sniper Field Training Exercises

Train Like You Fight - Fight Like You Train

26 May 2000

By Kevin R. Mussack

    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:

The keys to a productive sniper FTX are:

    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.

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