Taming The Beast

As the boundaries of global war on terror mutate, SpecOps…

As the boundaries of global war on terror mutate, SpecOps must transform as well. Sniper teams within the special operations community are improving their ability to protect the citizenry by equipping with .50 caliber systems, which requires they set in place basic and continuing training.

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When starting a basic foundational program of training, an understanding of the capabilities and limitations of the weapon systems is crucial. The underlying theme always should be to employ these assets in a safe and effective manner. Training for this includes, but is not limited to, basic firearms safety, deadly force and case law, cleaning and maintenance, inspection of weapons and ammunition, types of ammunition, selection of personnel, marksmanship, use of scope, range estimation, hold-over and hold-offs, deployment methods and options, communications, team/crew-served concepts, best training practices, and minimum standards.

Law enforcement traditionally has been forced to tighten its belt and train these tasks in a compacted method or weeklong class, on a much tighter schedule than military units. Training can continue over a period of time, even after returning to their agency. In many cases this training may be the only outside training they receive during or in the beginning of their shooting career. Keeping this scenario in mind, the basic .50-caliber training course should be at least 40 to 60 hours, or four to five days. Therefore, time management is critical.

Many times, law enforcement snipers will show up for training with weapon systems that have never been taken out of the original packing. So—we start right from the beginning. Because the snipers need to have all of their preconceptions eliminated, the first hands-on experience they will have starts with breakdown and assembly of the system. From the onset, safety and common sense are emphasized to students, as “there are no small train wrecks!”

It is critical that this type of weapon system be an augmentation of an already established sniper program. To ensure the successful addition of a .50-caliber/big bore/Special Applications Program, there should already be an established and documented sniper training curriculum and program in place.

Weapons Check
The weapon systems employed are bolt action or semi-auto style rifles, from many varying manufacturers. These rifles are apt to have been fitted with scopes from varying manufacturers as well. The rifle, rings, scope, and ancillary equipment must be dependable and durable.

One mission of the instructor is to prevent foreseeable problems or “train wrecks” even before going to the range. The setting up of the weapon system is taught to each sniper as a skill set. Each shooter should be able to break down and reassemble a weapon system, including setting up the scope in the rings, disassembling the bolt and bolt carrier group, removing the barreled action from the stock if applicable, and checking the torque setting on all of the screws and action, and inspecting the entire weapon system.

A Team Effort
The .50 weapon systems will be crew-served or deployed by more then one shooter. One of the many skills snipers are taught is how to operate as a team. Due to the size of these rifles and many of the unique applications, the ability to operate as a two-or three-man team is essential.

The application of this system includes hard target engagement, heavy barriers, long-range stand off, and mobile platform. During these operations it is essential for the team to know who is responsible for what, when, and how during the operation. Job descriptions and responsibilities are laid out for the shooter, observer, and security. During a mobile operation there may be the need for four or five team members. Therefore, the members of the element must be trained to perform any of the jobs required to complete the mission.

During .50 caliber training and actual operations, safety equipment is necessary for the sniper team. For example, due to the signature or blast from the weapon system the team will have to use eye protection, ear protection, long sleeves, and gloves. The author has found electronic hearing protection to be a vital piece of equipment for both protection and communications. Equipment such as the Liberator II from Tactical Command Industries allows ambient sound and radio communications to be heard concurrently. If this equipment is used from the first day, being able to give range commands to the sniper teams over the radio will build sound and safe practices. Teaching both verbal and non-verbal communications is critically important. Proper communication, such as action language between team members, is a vital skill during the deployment of big-bore systems.

The use of full-finger gloves has become mandatory in the author’s training, since the ability to fix a malfunction on a .50 caliber is crucial, and, unfortunately, the brass or the action will be extremely hot. The goal of great training is to equip students with the information they need, hands-on.

Feeding The Beast
For the general purposes of law enforcement, armor piercing or AP ammunition will provide for many if not most of the applications. The use of de-linked ammunition for duty use is discouraged for many reasons. Machine gun or standard ball ammunition is designed to be inconsistent in flight and has a steel core that will shatter or break up on impact, and, most importantly, has a tendency to ricochet. Quality manufactured armor-piercing ammunition, on the other hand, tends to penetrate and have a more predictable trajectory. It is wise to have a manufacturer that will stand behind its product, as with any duty ammunition. The key is: Ammunition must be manufactured by a reputable company.

Down And Dirty
The first day on the range is normally the hardest. Many students have come to expect sub-minute of angle or less, then 1 inch when confirming zero on their .308 sniper rifles. With .50 calibers this is the first paradigm we have to break. Many rifles can perform well, but shooting a big gun on day one will reveal any shortcomings a shooter may have. The author advises students that a 2- to 3-inch group will be fine for confirming zero on the weapons. The preference is to zero these systems at 200 yards or meters depending on the facility. Because many students are frustrated by both their performance and the weapon system, a good bit of time is usually spent working through the smoke.

We explain to students that with a big bore they just need the proper methods to make the animal perform for them.

Having the right facility can make or break a good .50 caliber school. Therefore, the author is relentless about having reactive targets. It is possible to confirm zero on paper at 100, 200, or even 300, but beyond that range, students will spend more time trying to figure out where they hit instead of whether the target dropped.

Many military bases have what is called an, MPMG (Multiple Purpose Machine Gun) range, which is a known-distance range with pop-up or reactive targets. These targets are about 24 inches by 48 inches. They will fall when hit and re-set or pop-up, which gives quick recognition of a hit or miss.

These ranges will extend out to 800, 900, or even 1,500 meters and allow for students to establish proper scope adjustment on their weapon systems. The students will take their time as teams and establish scope adjustment from the closest target to the farthest. The author provides as much ballistic information as possible and most times will have several ballistic computers and software available. Because of the unique applications of these types of weapon systems, the author encourages teams to have several methods of range and ballistic estimation. Ultimately, scope adjustment on the range is the most dependable and will build confidence in the shooter’s ability.

Pacing For The Race
Once a solid scope adjustment card is established with the teams and their weapon systems, students are then shown how to use their scope reticles. Most law enforcement and military teams have either Mil-Dots or Mil reticules, such as the TMR manufactured by Leupold & Stevens or Horus Vision reticles. In short, these types of reticles provide precision measurements that the shooter can use both to estimate range or, in this case, what we call “hold over.”

Briefly to explain “hold over,” if a rifle is zeroed at 100 or 200 yards, as the shooter engages targets farther out, the bullet will drop as the range extends. The student will either need to adjust the scope elevation up or use the markings below the center of the cross hairs to “hold over.” With today’s quality scopes this method is very accurate.

As a rule the author will transition students to their .308 rifles because in most cases they will be worn out from shooting the big guns all day. Since many will not have access to ranges longer than 100 to 300 yards, they are then encouraged to shoot their .308’s and establish scope adjustment cards. The access to extended range facilities is normally the exception and taking full advantage is critical.

The author has seen that in all his big bore rifle classes this area is where students come to realize their true abilities and skills. Most, if not all, are then taking long shots, out to several hundred meters, from standing, kneeling, or sitting. They leave the range standing strong and feeling confident.

Whip Cracking
Each day begins with a paper zero confirmation for each weapon system. Once zero confirmation is established, we hit the ground running on range day two, three and four. The students are taught to engage multiple targets at multiple ranges, from farthest to closest.

They are taught immediate-action and reaction drills. This training prepares the shooter to have the weapon in a safe condition and then to drop down and react to a set of targets, ranges, and situations. Students will be given the option to adjust their scopes or use hold over. They will train in what is called “command fire.” Drills of this type train the element to communicate with both the team members, and command or controllers.

Students become very aware of the job responsibilities of the shooter, observer, and security positions and quickly discover that the advice they received on day one was practical and functional. They should also find improved methods that will enable them to succeed.

Caging The Beast
All of the skills are put to the test on the final day at the range to discover if the team can function safely and effectively. The drills are set to time frames and include some type of physical stress, either running to position, moving into position, or transitioning from targets not in a line. Students will perform an assembly and disassembly. They will give an account of what they are seeing and why they react as they do. They will explain what they are looking for as they load ammunition into their magazines: For example, is the projectile-seated straight? Are there any cracks or bulges or imperfections in the bullet case? The student has to explain who, what, and why, because when they leave and go home, that is exactly what they will have to do.

The goal is to have students leave the training feeling confident in their skills and abilities with this weapon system and, more importantly, to know that their personal and team skills as a sniper have improved. They are sent home with knowledge that will enable them to build a training program in their area of responsibility. They will be confident to take these newfound skills back to their agencies and instruct others. The author’s job is completed when he has equipped students with the knowledge and abilities to succeed at this mission.

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