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Shoot for Excellence: Sniper Team Objectives

Snipers can be so much more than mere crack shots.

May 01, 2000  |  by Tony L. Jones

8. Establish the most suitable areas for containment forces, tactical operation center (TOC) locations, and field command post (FCP) locations.

9. Identify utility locations.  There may be a request for snipers to disable a utility, for example, a transformer or a perimeter light (normally by using a suppressed weapon or pellet rifle).  Or other tactical operators may need to know the location of utilities for operational considerations.

10. Identify key terrain that has tactical value.  Examples include high ground, areas controlling the terrain, areas allowing good fields of fire or observation, etc.  These areas need to be controlled by snipers of tactical entities, other than the perpetrators.

11. Evaluate cover and concealment.  Does the tactical arena contain areas providing good cover and concealment for all entities involved?

12. Evaluate communications. Quite often, tactical arenas will contain dead spots (areas where radios will not transmit or receive).  When these areas are discovered, the information must be passed on to all units involved so that other types of communications can be developed.

13. Identify physical protection systems, such as alarm systems, closed circuit televisions, lighting, guard dogs, fences, and any hardened areas.  Ironically, physical protection systems designed to protect an area may actually assist perpetrators after a breach has occurred.  A perpetrator may use physical protection devices as early warning devices that SWAT operators are moving into the area.  Physical protection systems may require sniper neutralization or team circumvention.

14. Perform range estimations for priority features located in the target area.  For example, windows, doors, stairs, parked vehicles, observation points, high speed avenues of approach or escape, obstacles, etc.  These predetermined ranges allow tactical operations to establish "time hacks" used for the timing of the operation.

15. Perform other tactical team duties.  If the situation does not lend itself to the efficient use of snipers, they may be assigned to other tactical team duties.  There is no reason for supervisors to relegate snipers to rigid, narrowly defined duties.  Indeed, many departments do not have an unlimited source of manpower to expend in lock-step fashion.  Flexibility is the key to successful tactical operations and snipers may be the most flexible of all SWAT team members.

The exact way in which snipers are employed is governed by many factors, but if snipers are to be employed effectively, police supervision must have a sound grasp of the tactical situation and a total undertaking of the sniper units' capabilities.

A Job For a Team

Because of the number and intensity of tasks that snipers must perform, it is extremely difficult for one sniper to operate alone.  If a single sniper is deployed in a tactical crisis, he has to divide his attention among the tasks of observation, communication, and marksmanship.  This lone sniper must also be concerned with his own physical security.  The lone sniper may be able to perform all of these tasks to marginal standards for a short period of time, but the physical and mental strain will be tremendous.  Fatigue will have a detrimental effect on all assigned tasks during an extended operation.

To prevent fatigue, snipers are nest deployed in teams of two individuals, playing the roles of sniper and observer.  Both snipers should be equally equipped and trained.  One sniper will devote his attention to marksmanship duties, while the other sniper concentrates on observation, reporting, target identification, and position security duties.  Snipers should routinely alternate duties to further reduce fatigue.

A sniper's flexibility and ability to provide numerous operational functions should make police hierarchies take note, especially in this day and age of tight budgets.  Police supervision should avoid the mistake of relegating snipers to the precision-shot role through limited or inadequate training.  Supervisors should expand the sniper units to envelop and reap the myriad of tactical capabilities available.

Based in Piketon, Ohio, Tony Jones has more than 15 years of experience in SWAT operations and nuclear security.  Founder of Heightened Vigilance, a tactical/security consulting company, Jones is an occasional contributor to POLICE.

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