Realistic, scenario-based training is the only way to ensure that a sniper team is properly prepared. How to prepare for the types of engagements that sniper teams may encounter can be difficult for both Military and Law Enforcement snipers. Snipers are in high demand in our conflicts overseas and in police work here at home. Realistic training must deal with the fact that battle lines are not clearly drawn and we are fighting in situations that force hesitation in justifiable engagements. No technology can replace the sound judgment of the individual behind the rifle. How he reacts to situations can decide mission success or failure. Nothing is clear-cut on deployment and it is important that snipers prepare for this.
The real-world scenarios that snipers have encountered during their tours should be the cornerstone on which all deployment training is based. It is very important to train the mind, along with the body. The sniper’s mindset is something that needs to be trained, then honed: Scenario-based training is the most practical way to do this.
One From The War Zone
Here is a first-hand account of a former sniper operating in the Haifa Street area in Baghdad, Iraq, December 25, 2005:
“Our mission was to over watch an advancing company whose mission was to retake a palace that had been taken over by insurgents, in an area that had little coalition presence. This made for an additional enemy presence in an already hostile environment. We were to insert into a location that provided proper coverage of the advancing squads in the area of operation. We chose high-rise buildings that were adjacent to the street that gave us multiple engagement corridors in the area. Our chance of contact was pretty high.
“Our position was not very far from the actual target area, maybe 500 meters at the most. The closest targets were roughly 200 meters away. The rules of engagement were pretty simple for this operation: anyone that had a weapon can be engaged. At first, the main targets were stationary because they didn’t realize that there were snipers in the area. They were set up to make a stand in that particular area and were openly carrying weapons with them. We had both 7.62 and .50 caliber sniper teams emplaced in the area and we had been in position only a short amount of time before we started firing.
“Again, at first, the targets were stationary and were not difficult to engage. But that all quickly changed. The targets began to take cover and move quickly from one point to another. As the squad was advancing towards their position, they were forced to move from point to point. This was our time to try and engage them asas they moved. This was difficult because of the speed they were moving at. I think of it as a moving snapshot. The target would be visible for only a short amount of time as they moved between the alley ways. We didn’t have the right leads right away and missed. But as the battle went on, we got more and more of where we needed to aim in order to hit such a fast moving target. There were also civilians mixed in at first, before we started engaging. Later, a few would wander in every once and a while, so we had to be very careful and make sure that we had positively identified our targets. Sometimes this was difficult because things were happening so quickly.
“After this particular mission was complete and we had taken back the palace that had been occupied by the insurgents, we continued to operate out of this area. We had a few engagements as a whole afterwards, but nothing like that initial push. Most of us had taken part in the invasion of Iraq and many of the snipers had seen a lot of action during that time. This helped everyone adjust to the types of targets that were apparent in the area with how fast they were moving and their exposure time. We knew how to set up our positions to have good sectors of fire, but it was still difficult. I would have rather trained for this type of scenario prior to this deployment…”
Making the Right Call
Urban fighting has been prevalent throughout the history of warfare. The fight will inevitably lead to the city, where you have combatants and non-combatants alike, creating a very difficult battlefield. This particular scenario had a lot of different aspects to it: It had well-defined rules of engagement (ROE), the targets were moving once they knew snipers were in the area, and there was a mix of non-combatants within combatants. This was also an area that had pretty heavy insurgent activity prior to these forces moving in. What would things have been like in an area that did not have such open insurgent activity?
It would have been difficult to determine between enemy combatants and non-combatants. The insurgency is everywhere: You do not have to be in a hot area to be attacked. This is where things get even more difficult. Timely and accurate decision making is very important on many different levels. This scenario played out well for the snipers. They were very effective in a physical aspect by either successfully engaging the enemy combatants or stopping their movement. They were also effective in a psychological aspect to both the enemy and friendly involved: The enemy combatants didn’t want to move for fear of being shot and the friendly felt more confident in their movements because the snipers were over watching their area.
These snipers had one very important thing going for them—experience. The sniper stated that their previous time in Iraq had helped them adjust faster to the types of targets and the speed at which they were moving. Because they had operated in such an environment prior to this, they had a better idea as to how to get into a position to maximize their capabilities. Having to differentiate between combatants and non-combatants can be difficult at first, if you haven’t operated in an environment like this before. Time is always of the essence and the faster you can positively identify and engage a target, the better. Overall, this particular unit was very effective during their time there. The battlefield is a fluid and constantly changing thing. They learned that some of the things that they had done on previous deployments no longer worked for the type of environment this area had become. They came home with a learning point of how to properly train to prepare for this type of sniper combat.
The Sniper’s Mindset
A proper mindset is important prior to and during missions. The total understanding of the entirety of the mission, the overview, cannot be stressed enough. Rules of engagement, threat level, non-combatant presence, etc. will determine the team’s posture prior to leaving for the mission, but the sniper’s mindset should be on what to look for, where to look, and what to look at first in order to determine whether or not the target can be engaged. Normally, a weapon means that the target can be engaged but that isn’t always the case. Some non-combatants are allowed to carry weapons and are normally identified by some sort of badge or uniform. So again, this goes back to the environment setting the posture but the sniper setting the mindset. The old saying is that the sniper’s greatest weapon is his mind is the utmost truth.
How do situations affect a sniper’s mindset? Another example: a mosque was performing a religious ceremony when a guard fired on friendly troops from the top of the building. A quick reaction force was called in as a backup and rolled up on a mosque filled with people in the middle of a service. These were people that were there for prayer, not to get into a firefight with the Americans. Snipers were deployed to a rooftop and the area was cordoned off. The people were not allowed to leave the mosque until the guard was detained, but there were people trying to leave through the backside of the mosque in an alley way. My shooter asked, “Can I shoot?” I told him no and to continue to scan the area while I radioed to the squad on the ground to intercept the people.
The rules of engagement were to fire when a weapon was present, but there were none visible. Americans had been fired upon by a guard from this mosque and it was cordoned off by order of the American military but people were still leaving. More than likely, they were leaving for a reason. But there were no weapons present, which was one of the main ROE criteria. It may have been justifiable to the soldiers who had just been fired upon, but it would not be justifiable to the chain of command over these snipers. The sniper team leader made the correct decision in a timely fashion in order to detain the people who were trying to get away. It is important to remain flexible and detached from each situation.
Prepare For Engagements
I have had the opportunity to train with snipers domestically that work to protect our high priority targets within the United States, snipers from foreign countries and our military and law enforcement snipers. I have seen firsthand how effective they are on the battlefield and I have worked with others who operate in different environments to see what works well for them. If used correctly, the sniper is above and around the direct action. They should be in position long before any offensive activity begins in an area, or will be in position to watch a certain area for enemy activity. This means that they will be in and around the non-combatants and will need to be able to decide what makes it OK to engage in a certain situation and not OK in another. There is no longer a black-and-white decision. It is necessary to train in scenarios that will help to hone the mind to see the things for what they are and be able to react to them in a timely manner. Since situations affect mindsets, you must prepare both physically and mentally.
Scenario-based training will change the way any sniper thinks. Qualification tables are good for gauging how proficient a shooter is with a firearm, but that is about it. Most moving target tables are not realistic. They are set up on a pass/fail, check the block form. Situations and targets are not what you will encounter on the battlefield. The speeds at which they move are not at the speed of a human being that is being shot at. This is not acceptable pre-deployment training. The training should encompass every aspect of the battlefield, from insertion to extraction and everything in between. There is so much to take into consideration that it can make you wonder how any mission is a success.
MOUT (Military Operations on Urban Terrain) environments are becoming more and more the prevalent battlefield. Our Law