Though it only takes one person to fire a sniper rifle, it really takes two soldiers to get the most out of the sniper-rifle weapon system. That's why snipers always work in at least pairs. In traditional military doctrine a sniper team will be comprised of two members, a sniper and a spotter. However, in recent years some military doctrines have begun advocating the use of a third team member, the ‘flanker’. Some advantages of usinga 3 man sniper team over a 2 man sniper team include;
1. It is easier to train a three man team and subtract a member when they are not needed than it is to train a two man team and add an untrained member when needed.
2. Each team member will train to operate in all three roles. This means that overall there will be more highly trained and versatile individuals in the squad, which provides an overall benefit (i.e. There will be three people capable of three different roles, rather than two people capable of two roles).
3. A three man sniper team allows for greater versatility and adaptability on the field, meaning that the three man team can accomplish a wider range of tasks more easily than a two man team could.
It is worth noting that within the team, roles may be exchanged at a moments notice, due to injuries, casualties, operational demands or numerous other reasons that may not be forseen in the mission planning stage. For this reason it is vital that all team members have a knowledge of how to operate in each team role, in order to achieve maximum effectiveness and adaptability.
The following page which outline the composition of the modern sniper team and the roles of each separate member.
The sniper is the primary shooter and team leader within the sniper team, responsible for the sniper rifle and its upkeep, as well as employing the sniper rifle when the time comes. In the field, they have the final word in determining the route, position, rendezvous point and escape route. Selection of routes and hide sites are particularly important responsibilities of the sniper. The sniper, along with the spotter, will be one of the team’s primary observers when operating in a reconnaissance role, taking it in turns to use the spotting scope to observe the enemy. This means that the sniper’s observational skills must be just as good as their marksmanship skills.
When it does come down to taking shots, the sniper must work together with the spotter, listening to the information that he/ she provides on range, wind, elevation and other variables to allow them to accurately place their shot on the target. Good communication and teamwork between the sniper and spotter are absolutely crucial for the sniper team to be able to operate effectively on the battlefield.
The sniper will also be responsible for selecting the appropriate tools for the job i.e. Selecting the rifle most suited to the operation in hand. This requires the sniper to research and plan a mission beforehand in order to achieve maximum effectiveness in the field. For example, if the mission requires the sniper team to engage an enemy vehicle at a range over 1500m then the sniper would select a rifle capable of reaching these ranges and inflicting sufficient damage., such as the M109. However, if the mission requires the sniper team to provide support to a squad of patrolling infantry in an urban environment then the sniper would select a less cumbersome rifle, capable of rapid engagements, such as the M110. It is worth remembering that when operating as the sniper YOU will have to carry whatever weapon and ammo you select, so it may be nice to have the 25mm stopping power of the M109 with you, however carrying this rifle and ammo a long way will mean that you spend most o f the mission passed out on your face, most likely resulting in failure. The sniper must decide on an appropriate compromise between weight, range and stopping power when selecting a rifle.
As well as their sniper rifle, the sniper may also carry a secondary assault rifle on their back with a small amount of ammunition, (load permitting) that may be equipped when moving through urban terrain or for engaging enemies at close to medium range. Alternatively the sniper’s backup weapon may be carried by another team member.
This is one reason why the sniper must possess the relevant knowledge on both the mission and the available equipment, as such knowledge can influence every aspect of a mission, from what gear is selected to what routes and positions are used. Overall the success or failure can come down to a single shot and the sniper’s ability to remain calm, collected and utilise all his/ her skills to accomplish the objective. This is a great responsibility but also provides a great reward for every successful operation.
The spotter is the second member of the team and is responsible for working with the sniper to both observe and engage the enemy. Equipped with enhanced optics in the form of a spotting scope, as well as a laser range finder, the spotter’s visibility will often extend beyond that of the sniper’s scope, enabling them to identify and track targets, as well as observe the effect of any shots by the sniper, better than any other team member.
In observation missions, the sniper and spotter can take turns using the spotter scope to spy on the enemy. This helps to avoid eye fatigue (looking at screen can become draining) and allow one team member to rest while the other watches. This is important, since in many cases they can be out there observing for long periods of time and vigilance must be kept constantly high. For this reason it is also important that the spotter (and the sniper team as a whole) do not grow complacent. When in an observation position the spotter may well be responsible for ‘ranging the kill zone’ a practice that will be covered later in the manual. This can involve writing down ranges to various points or even drawing diagrams and pictures of the kill zone in order to better judge the ranges to various targets at short notice.
When engaging the enemy using the sniper rifle it is the spotter’s responsibility to relay accurate information to the sniper on environmental variables using relevant equipment such as the Kestrel 4500 wind meter and the Vector 21B Laser Range Finder. The spotter will monitor variables such as ranges, elevation, wind speed and wind direction up until the shot is taken. Once the shot is taken, the spotter watches the flight and impact of the round to help the sniper readjust his aim or his position in the event that he/ she misses his target. The spotter must also observe and verbally report on the effect of the sniper’s shots on the target, such as whether the shot was a hot or a miss, by how much, and what correction is required to guide the sniper’s shots onto the target. This requires the spotter to be able to give quick, concise and accurate feedback to the shooter in order to get the next round down range as fast as possible. Once a shot has been successful the spotter must revert to monitoring general enemy activity whilst the sniper is busy refocusing. This involves seeking out the next target for the sniper (particularly looking for priority targets) as well as watching for escaping or flanking enemies that could compromise the team’s security.
Aside from his/ her spotting equipment, the spotter will be usually armed with an assault rifle and underslung grenade launcher, as well as other specialist equipment such as defensive mines, wire-cutters or light anti-tank weaponry. The spotter may also carry a spare assault rifle for the sniper if roles are rotated or a situation arises where the sniper requires an assault weapon of their own (for example if the team is compromised and the sniper rifle is abandoned to save weight during the escape). The spotter’s assault rifle enables him to operate much more effectively at close and medium range than the sniper can using their specialist rifle, therefore if the team’s position is compromised and comes under close attack, it the spotter and flanker’s responsibility to defend the team’s location or provide covering fire during the escape. As the spotter carries assault weaponry it is also their responsibility (along with the flanker) to assault and clear any positions before they are used as a hide sight/ firing position by the team. For example in an urban environment it is the spotter and flanker’s responsibility to clear any buildings that are to be occupied by the team and then establish security through the use of munitions such as the M18A1 Claymore. The spotter may also carry a second assault rifle that can be given to the sniper for close quarters engagements or for other eventualities such as the sniper running out of ammo or losing the rifle.
A further task that the spotter may be given is the control of fire support assets such as artillery or air support. This involves the use of equipment such as the GLTD II SOFLAM Laser Target Designator as well as the correct terminology to be used when controlling fire support and a knowledge of ammunition types and their uses. This will be covered in its own section later in the manual. (Note: The task of fire support control may be delegated to the Flanker when a three man team is in use in order to allow the spotter to focus on his/ her other tasks).
The spotter may also be responsible for the communications equipment in the team, such as long range radios used to communicate with the commander or support assets and relaying incoming transmissions to the other team members. This is directly linked to the spotter’s potential role fire support controller. The spotter must therefore have a knowledge of all frequencies, call signs and designations that are in use during the operation, as well as having a familiarity with the correct and efficient use of multiple types of radio and communications equipment. (Note: This task may also be delegated to the Flanker when a three man team is in use in order to allow the spotter to focus more on his/ her tasks.
The flanker is the third member of the team. This role may not always be filled in every operation as a sniper team can operate with only two members, however when used the flanker plays an important role. The flanker’s primary concern is the team’s security. He will position close to the team’s location when in a fixed position and observe areas that are outside the sniper and spotter’s view. For example the flanker may position behind the team and watch their rear for any approaching enemies. While the sniper and spotter are focused on the target area in front of them, the flanker must remain vigilant of any potential threats that may endanger the rest of the team.
The flanker will be equipped in a similar way to the spotter, generally carrying an assault rifle with underslung grenade launcher and possibly a light anti-tank weapon. However instead of observation equipment such as spotting scopes the flanker will carry more defensive equipment such as M18A1 Claymores as well as more grenades, ammunition and anti-tank weaponry. The flanker may also be used to carry spare equipment that cannot be carried by the spotter or sniper due to weight limitations, for example extra ammunition for the sniper rifle or a spare assault rifle for the sniper if the team must enter prolonged close quarter battle. Mission specific equipment may be carried by the flanker, such as demolition charges, wire-cutters or infrared strobes (for marking landing zones at night).
The flanker’s assault rifle enables him/her to operate much more effectively at close and medium range than the sniper can using their specialist rifle, therefore if the team’s position is compromised and comes under close attack, it is the flanker’s (as well as the spotter’s) responsibility to defend the team’s location or provide covering fire during the escape. As the flanker carries assault weaponry it is also their responsibility (along with the spotter) to assault and clear any positions before they are used as a hide sight/ firing position by the team. For example in an urban environment it is the flanker and spotter’s responsibility to clear any buildings that are to be occupied by the team and then establish security through the use of munitions such as the M18A1 Claymore.
The task of fire support control may be delegated to the Flanker when a three man team is in use in order to allow the spotter to focus on his/ her other tasks. This means that the flanker must be as proficient as the spotter in the use of equipment such as the GLTD II SOFLAM Laser Target Designator as well as the correct terminology to be used when controlling fire support and a knowledge of ammunition types and their uses. This will be covered in its own section later in the manual.
The role of radio operator may also be delegated to the flanker in order to free up the spotter for his/ her others tasks and help improve focus. The flanker must therefore have a knowledge of all frequencies, call signs and designations that are in use during the operation, as well as having a familiarity with the correct and efficient use of multiple types of radio and communications equipment.
Overall the use of a flanker in a sniper team should improve the team’s overall effectiveness by reducing the individual workload of the two other team members and also by improving the versatility of the team, as the use of a flanker means that much more equipment can be taken along during the mission. As well as these purely practical benefits, the flanker’s presence has a psychological benefit as well. The knowledge that a third team member is focused purely on the team’s security can give both the sniper and the spotter greater peace of mind, allowing them to focus more on their tasks own tasks, without having to worry about checking their surroundings every 2 minutes, again increasing overall team effectiveness.