The concept of police S.W.A.T. teams was brand new in the 1970s and was initially met with heavy resistance by many police administrators—that is, until the threats requiring S.W.A.T. teams’ use emerged time and time again. S.W.A.T. teams are now commonplace and are proven assets to law-enforcement agencies worldwide.
Sadly however, officers in some agencies still find themselves struggling to get past the “cop armed only with a six shooter” mentality. However, with the current global war on terror, it is only a matter of time before American law enforcement agencies face threats to the public requiring open minds and even more unconventional tactics and weaponry to deal with them.
The Special Application Rifle
Sniper teams are a necessary part of a S.W.A.T. team and their mission is one of the most specialized in law enforcement. These officers are specially trained to neutralize threats by precision rifle fire. However, the weapons currently available to most S.W.A.T. snipers are inadequate in a few, important cases. Enter the S.A.S.R. (“sasser”). A S.A.S.R. can be defined as a scoped rifle with multiple, specialized, utility applications. Typically, a .50-caliber rifle is chosen for this work.
S.A.S.R. system usage is currently a forward-thinking proposition for most law- enforcement agencies. But, if a tactical team already has a previously established sniper element, a special application scoped rifle program can be implemented with a relatively seamless transition. Such a program will truly enhance the capabilities of an already established police sniper team. Furthermore, an agency with a S.A.S.R. program is a multi-faceted force multiplier with the capability to aid other agencies in the region that may or may not have such a program.
Explaining to an agency why they need a S.A.S.R. capability can be a daunting task. Most professional snipers are well aware of the manner and ease with which a well-trained criminal or motivated terrorist may carry out his mission—but city management and even police administrators may not. Therefore, the education of all parties involved during the implementation of a S.A.S.R. program is crucial and is also the key to selling a S.A.S.R. program to administrators.
Implementing a S.A.S.R. program will require explaining such a program to people who may hold the purse strings but who have no idea of the need and expense associated with such a program. You need to have your facts in order before even suggesting that an American law-enforcement agency needs a .50-caliber firearm program.
Better Shooting Through Teamwork
The decision-making process has a better chance of success if approached by a TDMT (tactical decision making team.) TDMTs are normally comprised of the following: chief administrators, team command staff, team members with subject matter expertise and those who will ultimately be the end users (the team’s snipers). Implementing a S.A.S.R. program should be evaluated like any other operation.
The initial questions a team should address are: “What are the needs or possible applications for a S.A.S.R. program?” The team members will need to look at their own area’s requirements and circumstances and consider all possibilities. This will require them to think outside the traditional tactical “box.” There are several specific scenarios and applications that can best be addressed by a S.A.S.R. program. Below is a general listing of some threat applications a S.A.S.R. program would appropriately address that cannot be addressed by conventional small-arms fire:
1. hard-target engagements including: motor vehicles, water-based craft, aircraft, trains, offshore oil platforms, etc.
2. intermediate and heavy barriers such as concrete and also storm-resistant, anti-theft and heavy commercial glass,
3. extreme long-range engagements or need for extreme stand-off distance, and extreme long-range surveillance
Recent cases that would have been appropriate for a S.A.S.R. include incidents in San Diego and Colorado where subjects used a tank and an armored bulldozer respectively to threaten hundreds of people and destroy thousands of dollars in property. Law enforcement officers were virtually helpless during these incidents, as they were forced to use only conventional weaponry.
In the future, as modern law enforcement agencies evaluate past tactics of both domestic and international terrorists, we would have to assume that motor vehicles will be used as weapons. A S.A.S.R. system is a proven, viable solution for safely stopping a terrorist who is utilizing a motor vehicle as a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED).
Barriers to Bullets
One tactical issue not commonly appreciated by police administrators or public officials, but a reality for S.W.A.T. snipers, is the use of laminated, hurricane-rated, storm glass as required by some coastal building codes. While a protective benefit against flying lumber during a storm, this glass is often impervious to conventional rifle fire and poses a major threat to peace officers who must face criminals hiding behind it. Further compounding the problem is that some purely decorative glass commonly used in today’s homes is also heavy enough to defeat conventional sniper ammunition.
Most law-enforcement sniper deployments involve barricaded subjects who often have little to no tactical training. These situations often occur in residential neighborhoods. Because of their locations and the fact that a negotiated settlement is the preferred solution, those dealing with the situation are in relative close proximity to the suspect’s location.
However, a suicide bomber whose vehicle or body may be wired with explosives, or one who is a trained sniper himself is a different type of threat entirely. These subjects are sometimes well trained, often intensely motivated and totally prepared to die in order to carry out their mission. Conventional tactics used with common criminals simply will not work. A suicide bomber is not interested in negotiating and wishes only to kill as many people as he can. Facing a VBIED or terrorist threat will require the long-distance stand-off capability and hard-hitting energy capability of the S.A.S.R. to either disable the vehicle’s engine block or punch through any barrier the threat may be utilizing as cover (concrete, vehicles, etc.) and neutralize the terrorist himself.
With a general outline of possible scenarios, the TDMT could then evaluate what weapon system would meet local needs. Several considerations come into play here and it is not always a simple matter of choosing “the right tool for the job.” Securing funding is almost always the overriding issue that limits an agency’s sniper program.
However, as in all issues regarding the use of specialized equipment, policy will have to be written and the needs and deployment of a S.A.S.R. spelled out for the protection of all involved in the decision-making process. A written SOP is crucial for those actually deploying a S.A.S.R. system in the field.
The Right Weapons for the Job
In a perfect world, sniper teams would be equipped with four different weapon systems. One would be a primary .308 bolt-action rifle, which is absolutely necessary for the sort of precision, hostage-rescue shooting usually encountered by police snipers.
Also on hand would be a semi-automatic .223/5.56 or .308/7.62 (AR15-style) rifle to use as an observer’s weapon system. This is useful in case the dynamics of the situation change and the snipers must take an immediate, defensive posture (which may require slightly less precision but greater volume of immediate counter fire).
Snipers would also be issued a heavier-caliber, long-range system to use on intermediate barriers and or glass. A perfect fit for this application would be a precision rifle chambered in .338 Lapua. This caliber was specifically designed to engage human targets at extreme distance.
Lastly, a fourth weapon system—the S.A.S.R—is needed for hard-target interdiction. Hard-target interdiction in a law enforcement scenario is an extreme circumstance. But a terrorist or maniac using VBIEDs, explosives or hard cover to kill citizens may only be stopped by unconventional means.
A weapon of the size and caliber suitable for hard-target interdiction is normally at least of .408 or .50 caliber. Unfortunately, we live in a world of budgets and vicarious liability. Dealing with tower shooters, terrorists and car bombs is not an everyday event in America and some administrators worry more about the liability they might face from their agency having to neutralize a threat such as this, than the actual threat itself.
Use Enough Gun
Individual agencies will need to decide on a system that will address the threat they might expect (or have yet to consider). The additions of a .338 Lapua and a .50-caliber rifle may not be practical for their application. All too often, agencies hope and make decisions based on the premise that “nothing like that has ever happened here.” This is foolish “wisdom” as the events of 9-11 and myriad school shootings across small-town America have already demonstrated.
When it comes to actually purchasing a S.A.S.R. system, an agency may be able to save some expense by choosing a bolt-action S.A.S.R. over what is normally a more expensive, semi-automatic S.A.S.R. Both designs have their strengths and limitations. This is not to say that either rifle is better or worse; they are simply different. A bolt-action rifle has fewer moving parts, is less expensive to manufacture and may have less likelihood for malfunction due to its simpler design. A semi-automatic provides immediate, rapid, follow-up shot capability that the bolt action does not.
Another possible solution to a budgetary concern may be picking a single, larger-caliber or higher-power system, which could cover both the intermediate and higher end of the sniper threat matrix. The final decision for the author’s team was a semi-automatic .50-caliber rifle. The need for rapid follow up shots and energy on target (stopping power) was the overwhelming factor leading to this decision.
The key is to pick a rifle manufactured by a reputable company, with a proven track record and the ability to support its system. Avoid the practice of using a confiscated rifle with unknown history and reliability. Avoid off-brand, unproven equipment and cheap or second-hand equipment of unknown origin.
Choose the Right Ammunition
The ammunition choices currently available when mating match-grade ammunition to the weapon selected is a crucial step in the S.A.S.R. selection process. Taking into consideration the caliber and its limitations, a team should examine the following examples of commonly utilized sniper rifle ammunition and address both their shortcomings and virtues. What will one caliber do that the other will not? What are the pluses and minuses of each system?
• .308, 168 gr. BTHP. Approx. 2,520 ft. lbs. of energy
• .300 Win. Mag, 190 gr. ball match. Approx. 3,560 ft. lbs. of energy
• .338 Lapua, 250 gr. Match. Approx. 4,830 ft. lbs. of energy
• .408, 419 gr. CNC lathe-turned bullets of a copper/nickel alloy. 7,700 ft. lbs. of energy
• .50, 750 gr. Hornady Amax Match. 12,412 ft. lbs. of energy
It is important to purchase good-quality ammunition from a reputable company that will stand behind its products. It is crucial to know the capacity and limitations of your system and to recognize what your applications and needs are.
One of the most important considerations of starting a S.A.S.R. program is choosing the right operators. The TDMT will have to ensure that operators are sniper-trained and supported. The greatest challenge law enforcement has, is the administration of proper amounts of job-specific training for the people expected to perform a certain function. A commitment must be made to properly train and sustain the S.A.S.R. program. Funds for wear and tear on equipment, ammunition, further advanced training to learn new skills and job-specific training time to practice these newly learned skills must be factored into the equation. Of course, the need for realistic, documented training is crucial with or without a S.A.S.R. program in place.
If a S.A.S.R. program is implemented, the capabilities of an agency’s sniper teams are greatly enhanced. A sniper’s job is ultimately to save human lives, with a common sense approach. Tactical operators can develop a safe and effective program that administrators, city officials and citizens will support that will bear scrutiny and accomplish its mission.