Small Wars Journal

The Army Sniper

The Army Sniper

Christopher M. Rance

Fear is a clever, treacherous adversary. It shows no mercy. It goes for your weakest spot, which it finds with unnerving ease. Western militaries depend on extensive command-and-control infrastructure and near real-time tracking of troop positions. When units lose GPS signal on the battlefield or when Blue Force Trackers become inoperable, it hinders the common operational picture. Effects like these dissuade commanders from patrolling contested areas, which prevents proper target preparation, and increases the risk of civilian non-combatant casualties. 

In late 2018, the United States Army Sniper Course cadre took a hard look in the mirror and asked the all-important question, “what is the role of the sniper when it comes to large scale, ground combat warfare? How do we train the next generation of snipers to be effective force multipliers on the battlefield?”

Collectively, we concluded that Snipers need to focus on acting as sensors, communicators and human weapons systems, supporting enhanced multi-domain command and control from the ground in anti-access area denial environments. 

With our intent firmly set, we began to restructure our course to better suite what commanders needed from their snipers. The first step was an overhaul on our outdated lesson plans. We had to align ourselves with current doctrine. Doctrine is like a playbook. You study it, learn it, and practice it before the game. Because, when you step on the field, you better understand it to be able to call an audible at the line.

We reached out to leading industry professionals to make sure what we were teaching or employing was the latest and greatest from ballistic software, equipment and training. Industry leading companies such as Applied Ballistics, Leupold, and Accuracy 1st helped out greatly and progressed our course into a new age of lethality for the Army sniper.

We researched emerging threats and analyzed how our adversaries employ their snipers. In Ukraine for example, Russian forces have deployed platoon-sized sniper units in depth on narrow fronts, with Russian SF snipers deployed over a mile to the rear while local proxies’ man the front line. These sniper fronts pin down larger enemy formations with accurate fire — then call down artillery strikes on the immobilized enemy to inflict even greater casualties.

We traveled to Israel to gain insight on how snipers can support units in the subterranean fight. We learned that the enemy may defend the approaches to subterranean systems with mines, ambushes, or snipers. Israeli Defense Force Leadership uses snipers and reconnaissance teams for their keen observation skills to develop a clear understanding of any preparations and/or defenses the enemy may have established and to counter an enemy sniper threat.

We reached across the aisle to build interoperability with other schoolhouses, such as the Reconnaissance and Surveillance leadership Course, Small Unmanned Aerial System Master Trainer Course, and International Special Training Center to gather insight into new tactics and techniques to strengthen our “short” range reconnaissance and surveillance capability, particularly with our hand-off of battlefield information collected on an objective to the maneuver/assault element right before they assault a target. We also incorporated The One System Remote Video Terminal into our target acquisition cycle as we put it into practice during the course. We also brought back our call for fire (CFF) capability as a sniper team is a tier 3 CFF asset.

We replaced an outdated and archaic field training exercise with two complex engagement situational training exercises and a final culminating exercise as it gives us a better metric of how these snipers will perform on the battlefield. During these exercises, sniper teams of 4 to 6 men will plan, prepare and execute an operation.

In our Precision Fire Overwatch exercise, the sniper teams deploy in support of a maneuver unit’s assault on an objective. The sniper team conducts an active reconnaissance in order to locate enemy location, enemy positions, and avenues of approach for friendly forces to facilitate in their movement.  The snipers will then conduct active surveillance in order to obtain real time information for the Commander during the advance and assault of the objective.  During the assault of the objective the sniper team transitions into a precision support by fire (SBF) as a secondary mission in order to detect and eliminate threats that the local SBF can’t engage due to Fire Control restrictions, or the inability to locate these threats.

Lastly, we had to get back to what we do best. Killing. Precise and discriminate fires on targets. At the end of the day, we have to be good at our primary job. Snipers shoot around body armor and Kevlar helmets. They take aim under an armpit where there is no armor and a bullet can find lungs and a heart. Or the groin or a knee, wounding and disabling an enemy combatant for good, forcing four of his comrades to carry him, and shifting the mission from combat to medical evacuation. With all the buzz surrounding lethality, we had to up the ante. How do we hold these men accountable down to the last and final shot of the course? We incorporated a high percentage shot as their “Final Shot”. Coming off a 24-hour culmination exercise and an unknown distance road march to the range, the sniper will have to engage a hostile target within 1 milliradian (approx. 20 inches) off two non-hostiles at an unknown distance range within a set time. Hit the non-hostiles and you receive a failure to follow instructions and are dropped from the course.

The American sniper could be regarded as the greatest all-around rifleman the world has ever known. It makes sense to use them in all levels of conflicts yet the reason for lack of employment is centralization of command. Sniper teams consist of two to three snipers. These small independent teams are anathema to centralized command structures. In degraded environments, commanders need to have trust and confidence in their snipers. At the United States Army Sniper Course, we have modernized our training to foster adaptive and lethal snipers to make units more combat effective and ready to face whatever challenges may arise. Put them to good use gentlemen. Snipers have your six.

Categories: snipers - US Army

About the Author(s)

SSG Christopher M. Rance currently serves as a Team Sergeant at The United States Army Sniper Course at Fort Benning, GA. He is also the author of TC 3-22.10, Sniper and a recipient of the NCO Writing Excellence Program Award for his article, “Commander May I Engage.”