Information Gathering For The Scout/Sniper

23 August 2001
By Jeff Waters


The mission of the Scout/Sniper is to shoot high value targets with his rifle or fire support assets and to gather and report timely and accurate information.

A sniper must be patient and may not always have a good target to shoot. A good sniper may decide not to engage a low value target that would give his position away so that he can wait for a better one, even if that takes a couple of days.

He always has the opportunity to gather and report information of high value to his unit.

The S/S is the eyes, ears, and trigger finger of the Commander; and a smart CDR doesn't show his hand until the crucial moment. Without good information, he can't determine when or where that crucial moment will be.

Intelligence Cycle

In order to understand your role in the information gathering process, it's helpful to start with an overview of the big picture and where you fit into it. The first part of understanding this is learning the "Intelligence Cycle."

The Intelligence Cycle consists of 4 parts (the civilians use 5, the military keeps it simple), which are explained below.

  1. Direction:
  2. The Commander directs his Intelligence Staff (S2) to establish Priority Information Requirements (PIR) so that he can effectively plan his tactics and strategy. Typical examples of PIR include:

  3. Collection:
  4. Once the PIR have been established, the Intel and Ops officers formulate their collection efforts. They will use several assets to obtain this information, but the S/S team will definitely be one of them.

    The team gathers and reports information to based on the PIR and reports in by radio or in person during debriefs. We will discuss the specifics a bit later in the document.

    Other common sources of battlefield information are POWs, Captured Documents, Electronic Intercepts, and Satellite or Aerial Photography.

  5. Analysis
  6. What the S/S team gives to the S2 is information. The information is then examined and matched against other pieces of information the Intel section has to corroborate it and tie it into the big picture.

    When this analysis is complete, the end product is called intelligence.

  7. Dissemination:
  8. Now that all this information has been gathered and analyzed, it has to be disseminated in a timely fashion in order to help people in planning and executing operations.

    A common example of this dissemination is when you receive or read the Situation Paragraph of the Operations Order. This information is the end product of the Intelligence Cycle, however the cycle is continuous and never stops. As everyone knows, the situation can change with little or no notice, and information must go through the cycle again.

Accuracy of Reporting

It is important to understand that tactical and strategic decisions will rest upon the information that is provided. In other words, report accurately as if lives depend on it-because they do.

There is a major difference between a marksman and a sniper. Shooting is about 15% of the sniper's job. This is why units are selective about who they take.

Standard PIR

The PIR are generally collected in the same manner with little variation. The S/S has special equipment available that is not common to all troops, and must be trained on observation and reporting skills as well as how to avoid detection. Communications skills are a must; otherwise the information cannot be passed on.

In order to guide you on how to go about collection, it is best to start by reviewing the standard NATO Debriefing Forms contained in the Ranger Handbook and countless other publications.

This is off the top of my head, but it goes something like this:

Another excellent format to study as a guide on what you can gather to help out your buddies is the S2 Update format. The Ranger Handbook has all this information in it, in a pocket-sized format, and is the best publication since the New Testament. If you are a grunt of any kind, you should get one.


The equipment the sniper will need and which is generally issued is:

Down and dirty that's all that's needed - and the camera is not common, but not uncommon.

Reporting Formats

Troop Sightings:

Terrain Analysis:

Track Report:

Note: Also See Tracking Article

Dissemination for the S/S
Training Tips
Immediate Use Information

Sometimes you will find information that is of immediate use. Reporting it any time after now will be too late. Some discretion comes into play here and the S/S must be able to make good calls on the value of the information based on his PIR and Mission of supported unit.

This is why Operations Orders include a paragraph called Commander's Intent. You have to be able to think on your feet if something renders portions of the plan ineffective while maintaining balance with the orders you are given.

For example, if he spots a company-sized element heading toward a crucial objective. The S2 and unit did not know that this unit was in the area and your mission was to observe a radio relay site for a possible raid. You can't make commo with the unit.

What should you do? There's no way to say that only one answer is correct, especially with a three sentence situation briefing, but for the most part you should get to a spot where you can report the unit. If you engage it prior to passing the information, you only hurt your chances of getting the message out. The information, in this case, may well be far more important that picking off a couple of people and slinking away.

Unit Integrity

Earlier we discussed the importance of keeping the same teams assigned to the same companies in the BN or supported unit. By doing this, they can get to know each other, how they work, and develop SOPs.

Unit Integrity allows the units to stay together and learn how each other work, but it does more than that. It fosters-over time and hard training-trust, morale, esprit de corp, and a genuine concern for the well-being of the other unit. This is one of those intangible combat multipliers that I believe have eroded over the last 10 years in light of political correctness. Unit Integrity makes a unit stick together in a bar fight and on the job.

Deviating from your assigned mission is a big decision, one that can easily get you into a lot of trouble.

By maintaining Unit Integrity the S/S will have a much better idea about what he is expected to do than a team who has never supported the unit at all. And, he can make the decision knowing that if it's consistent with the way they have trained with this unit, that the unit's Commander will be with him.

Knowing that your chain of command is behind you (as long as you are a good team) is another Combat Multiplier. With the pressures of live missions and the particular stresses associated with working forward of the friendly unit in a small team with a bolt rifle, the S/S doesn't need much more to worry about. If he does not enjoy this backing, his effectiveness and contribution to the unit will be reduced due to fear of exercising initiative-and initiative is a crucial trait to have in a S/S.

Sniper Traits & Values Essential for the Mission

Lots of people say they want to be snipers, but they have no idea what one really is or does. Even in the military, there were those who thought it was more about some kind of fashion show and posing than anything else. Thankfully, most of those guys didn't last long.

Being a sniper is not about a glorification of self. It is about what you can contribute to your unit in a risky job. To be good at it, you need to be the type that sincerely cares about your unit and your fellow soldiers. Ass kissers and posers need not apply.

Self-reliance is one of the biggest traits needed. Initiative and Coolness under Stress are the other big ones that come to mind. A sniper has to be of above-average intelligence and be a thinker. You can't just receive a plan and stick to it. You have to make your own and be flexible and able to understand and follow the CDR's Intent.

You must be able to have an extreme degree of trust in your sniper buddy in terms of ability, values, and reliability. There is only one guy to watch your back the way units are currently organized (a mistake in my opinion: I think there should be 3).


The secondary mission of the sniper is to gather and report timely and accurate information. This information is put into the Intelligence Cycle, where Tactical and Strategic decisions will be based upon it. Though you may not shoot on every mission, you will report information back to the supported unit.

Therefore, it is critical that the information be accurate and objective. The only room for speculation in your reports is under the heading of "Recommendations."

In order to effectively report information, you must know what is relevant and what is not. The reporting formats regarding Troop Sightings, Terrain Analysis, NATO Debriefs, etc. are the bare minimum a new sniper should know. They are nothing but a starting point.

In order to improve your knowledge beyond this, you should work with the S2 and study topics such as Order of Battle and Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield in order to become a bigger asset to your unit.

By maintaining a strong relationship with the S2 and supported units, SOP's and relationships based on professional trust and respect for competence will be created. These relationships multiply everybody's effectiveness many times and improve morale and esprit de corp.

The main point is that the value of the sniper section's information reporting; as with the entire program; depends on the snipers. They will frequently receive little support from the parent unit. This is not necessarily a negative thing. Among other things, snipers are selected for their initiative and flexibility-and this is an opportunity to exercise it and learn from it.

In time, after units have seen proven and continuous results, the support (at least in spirit, if not in material) will be there.

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