Sniper Employment

Snipers play an important role in mechanized infantry units. They provide the commander with long-range small arms fires that are both accurate and discriminatory. These fires are best used against key targets that cannot be destroyed by other available weapon systems for a variety of reasons: range, size, location, visibility, security and stealth requirements, collateral damage restrictions, intensity of conflict, or applicable ROE.

Snipers also perform several important secondary roles. Unit and individual employment techniques enable them to gather detailed information about the enemy. Commanders know that snipers also affect enemy activities, morale, and decisions. Knowing snipers are present creates confusion and continuous personal fear among the enemyís soldiers. Effectively employed, snipers hinder the enemyís movement, disrupt his operations and preparations, and compel him to divert forces to deal with the threat.

See FM 23-10 for detailed discussion of sniper operations.


Section 1 Sniper Teams
Control and Employment
Commander's Role
Section 2 Offensive Employment
General Considerations
Movement to Contact
Section 3 Defensive Employment
Defensive Tasks
Employment Considerations
Section 4 Retrograde Employment
Section 5 MOUT Employment


Snipers are employed in two-man teams; each team consists of one sniper and one observer, normally cross-trained. The sniper uses the sniper weapon system, while the observer carries an M16-series rifle. Each has a side arm. A key operational concept is that sniper teams should avoid sustained battles. During long periods of observation, team members help each other with range estimation, round adjustment, and security.


Sniper teams should be centrally controlled by the commander or mechanized infantry platoon leader. Once they are deployed, however, snipers must be able to operate independently if necessary. This requires them to have a thorough understanding of the commanderís intent, his concept of the operation, and the purpose for their assigned tasks. It also allows them to exercise initiative within the framework of the commanderís intent and to support the commanderís concept and achievement of the unitís mission.

Sniper teams are effective only in areas that offer clear fields of observation and fire. To ensure these requirement are fulfilled, teams must be able to choose their own positions once they are on the ground. The number of sniper teams employed in a particular operation depends on availability, the expected duration of the mission, and enemy strength.


Sniper teams should move with a security element (squad or platoon) when possible. This allows the teams to reach their areas of operation faster and safer than if they operated alone. The security element also protects the teams during the operation. When moving with a security element, snipers follow these guidelines:

  • The leader of the security element leads the sniper team.
  • Snipers must appear to be an integral part of the security element. To do this, they use the following techniques:
  • - Each sniper carries his weapon system in line with and close to his body to hide the weaponís outline and barrel length. Sniper-unique equipment (optics, ghillie suit) is also concealed from view.

    - Snipersí uniforms must be the same as those of the security element members.

    - Proper intervals and positions in the element formation are maintained.


History has proven that commanders must be educated on the proper use of snipers. Commanders who understand the abilities and limitations of their snipers can employ them effectively in the fight. In developing their estimate of the situation, commanders should carefully consider all METT-TC factors as they relate to sniper employment. The following discussion covers these considerations.


The sniperís primary mission is to support combat operations by delivering precise rifle fires from concealed positions. The mission assigned to a sniper team for a particular operation consists of the tasks the commander wants the sniper team to accomplish and the reason (purpose) for these tasks. The commander must decide how he wants his sniper team to affect the battlefield. Then he must assign missions to achieve this effect. The commander should prioritize targets so snipers can avoid involvement in sustained engagements. Regardless of how missions and targets are designated, however, the sniper team must be free to change targets to support the commanderís intent. The following methods may apply:

  • The commander may describe the effect or result he expects and allow the sniper team to select key targets.
  • The commander may assign specific types of targets. For example, if he wants to disrupt the defensive preparations of the enemy, he may task snipers to accomplish one or more of the following tasks:
  • - Kill operators of bulldozers and other engineer equipment.

    - Disable enemy vehicles carrying supplies.

    - Engage enemy soldiers as they dig defensive positions.

  • The commander may also assign specific targets. These can include enemy leaders, command and control operators, ATGM gunners, armored vehicle commanders, or weapons crews. In cases where large crowds pose a threat to US forces, snipers can single out selected individuals. In populated areas where casualties should be kept low, the snipers can be assigned to kill enemy snipers.


The commander must consider the characteristics, capabilities, strengths, weaknesses, and disposition of the enemy. Is the enemy force heavy or light, rested or tired, disciplined or not? Is it motorized infantry or towed artillery? Is it well supplied or short of supplies? Is it patrolling aggressively, or is it lax in security? Is it positioned in assembly areas or dug in?

The answers to such questions help the commander determine the enemyís susceptibility and reaction to effective sniper operations. Naturally, a well-rested, well-led, well-supplied, and aggressive enemy with armored protection poses a greater threat to snipers than one whose forces are tired, poorly led, poorly supplied, lax in security, and unprotected. In addition, the commander needs to know if enemy snipers are present and if they are effective; they can pose a significant danger to his own snipers. The enemyís DEW capability should be considered as well. Snipers use optical devices, so they are particularly vulnerable to the directed-energy threat.


The commander must evaluate both the terrain in his snipersí area of operations and the terrain they must travel to reach it. He must consider the time and effort snipers will expend getting into position, as well as the effect of weather on the snipers (especially in terms of visibility). Snipers need good firing positions, with adequate fields of observation and fire. They prefer positions at least 300 meters from their target area. Operating at this distance allows them to avoid effective fire from enemy rifles and to take advantage of the effective range of the sniper rifle (800 to 1,000 meters).


The commander must decide how many sniper teams to use. This depends on their availability, on the duration of the operation, and on the expected opposition. Another key factor is the number and difficulty of tasks and/or targets assigned to the snipers. Commanders must always keep in mind the effects of the human dimension on sniper operations.

Time available

The commander must consider how long the snipers will have to achieve the results he expects. He must allocate time for snipers to plan, coordinate, prepare, rehearse, move, and establish positions. He must understand how the snipersí risk increases when they lack adequate time to plan or conduct such actions as moving to the area of operations.

Movement factors for snipers moving with a security element are the same as for any infantry force. When snipers are moving alone in the area of operations, however, they move slowly; their movement can be measured in feet and inches. The sniper team members themselves are best qualified to determine how much time is required for a particular movement.

The amount of time a sniper team can remain in a position without loss of effectiveness (due to eye fatigue, muscle strain, or cramps) depends mostly on the type of position the team is occupying. Generally, snipers can remain in an expedient position for six hours before they must be relieved. They can remain in belly positions or semipermanent hides up to 48 hours. Mission duration times average 24 hours. (NOTE: FM 23-10 provides guidance on sniper position considerations, construction, and preparation and occupation times.)


Offensive operations carry the fight to the enemy to destroy his capability and will to fight. By killing enemy targets that threaten the success of the attack, the sniper can play a major role in offensive operations.


During offensive operations, snipers can be employed to perform the following tasks:

  • Conduct countersniper operations.
  • Overwatch movement of friendly forces and suppress enemy targets that threaten the moving forces.
  • Place precision fires on enemy crew-served weapons teams and into exposed apertures of bunkers.
  • Place precision fires on key enemy personnel, including leaders, armored vehicle drivers or commanders, and FOs.
  • Place precision fires on small, isolated, and/or bypassed forces.
  • Place precision fires on targets that are threatening a counterattack or are fleeing.
  • Provide supplemental fires to assist in screening a flank.
  • Dominate key terrain, using precision fires to control access to the terrain.


The commander has several options in employing snipers to support a movement to contact. Sniper teams can move with the lead element. They can also be deployed 24 to 48 hours before the unitís movement to perform these tasks:

  • Select positions.
  • Gather information about the enemy.
  • Dominate key terrain, preventing enemy surprise attacks.


Although snipers can play only a limited role in a mounted attack, their firepower and mobility make them a valuable asset in a dismounted assault. The following employment considerations apply:

  • Snipers can be placed with lead elements, moving to positions that allow them to overwatch the dismounted maneuver of the infantry squads and to provide long-range small arms fires.
  • Snipers may also be placed with a mounted support element, with the assignment of suppressing, fixing, or isolating the enemy on the objective.
  • If time permits, snipers may be deployed as soon as the element reaches the dismount point.
  • Snipers may move with infantry squads approaching the objective. They can then occupy a close-in support by fire position from which they can help to suppress or destroy targets threatening the assault of the infantry squads.
  • To increase security and surprise, snipers may move covertly into position in an objective area well before the main attack and mounted forces arrive.
  • If their fires are masked, snipers must reposition as soon possible.
  • During consolidation, snipers may displace forward to new positions. These positions, which are not necessarily on the objective, allow the snipers to provide precision fires against bypassed enemy positions, enemy counterattack forces, or other enemy positions that could degrade the unitís ability to exploit the success of the attack.


Snipers can be effective in enhancing or augmenting any unitís defensive fire plan. They must be able to analyze the terrain that will be used in the defense and then recommend employment options to the commander.


The sniper team can perform the following tasks in support of the unitís defensive operations:

  • Cover obstacles, minefields, roadblocks, and demolition missions.
  • Perform counterreconnaissance tasks to kill enemy reconnaissance elements.
  • Engage enemy OPs, armored vehicle commanders (while they are exposed in their vehiclesí turrets), and ATGM teams.
  • Damage vehicle optics to degrade enemy movement capabilities.
  • Suppress enemy crew-served weapons.
  • Disrupt follow-on units with long-range small arms fires.


Sniper teams add considerable flexibility to the commanderís defensive scheme of maneuver. They can be employed in the following ways:

  • Snipers are generally positioned to observe or control one or more avenues of approach into the defensive position. Their stealth, mobility, and available weapon systems make them ideal for use against secondary avenues of approach. This enhances the unitís
    all-around security and allows the commander to concentrate his combat power against the most likely enemy avenue of approach.
  • Snipers can establish alternate and supplementary positions to further enhance all-around security.
  • Snipers can be positioned to overwatch key obstacles or terrain, such as river crossing sites, bridges, and minefields that canalize the enemy directly into engagement areas.
  • Snipers can play an integral part in the counterreconnaissance effort. They can help to acquire or destroy targets, or both.
  • Snipers should be tasked to support any unit that is defending a strongpoint. The characteristics of the sniper team enable it to perform independent harassment and observation tasks in support of the force in the strongpoint, either from within or outside of the strongpoint.


In supporting a retrograde operation, sniper teams must understand the commanderís concept, intent, and scheme of maneuver. They must also have a complete grasp of critical information for the operation, including withdrawal times, conditions, and/or priorities; routes; support positions; rally points; and locations of obstacles. The commander must thoroughly plan and coordinate engagement and disengagement criteria for the operation to ensure that snipers can achieve the desired effect without compromising their positions. (NOTE: Refer to Chapter 5 of this manual for a discussion of retrograde operations.)

The following considerations apply for sniper employment during retrograde operations:

  • Snipers may be assigned any of the following specific tasks during retrograde operations:
  • - Delay the enemy by inflicting casualties.

    - Observe avenues of approach.

    - Cover key obstacles with precision fire.

    - Direct artillery fires against large enemy formations.

  • Snipers can assist the delaying force in forcing the enemy to deploy prematurely during retrograde operations. They do this by inflicting casualties with accurate, long-range small arms fire.
  • Because delaying forces risk being bypassed or overtaken by attacking enemy forces during retrograde operations, commanders may have to provide transportation to move snipers to successive positions.
  • When snipers find themselves behind the enemyís front, they must be prepared to infiltrate back to friendly positions. Infiltration plans must be fully coordinated to prevent fratricide as sniper teams attempt to reenter the friendly position.


The value of sniper teams to a unit operating in an urban area depends on several factors, including the type of operation, the level of conflict, and the applicable ROE. Where ROE allow destruction of enemy elements, snipers may have an extremely limited role because other weapon systems available to the mechanized force have greater destructive effect. When the ROE prohibit collateral damage, however, snipers may be the most valuable tool the commander has.

The following considerations apply for sniper employment during MOUT:

  • Sniper effectiveness depends in part on the terrain; control is degraded by the characteristics of the urban area. To provide timely and effective support, snipers must have a clear picture of the scheme of maneuver and commanderís intent.
  • Snipers should be positioned in buildings of masonry construction. Positions should afford long-range fields of all-around observation and fire.
  • Snipers should operate throughout the area of operations, moving with and supporting company teams as necessary.
  • Specific sniper tasks in MOUT include the following:
  • - Conduct countersniper operations.

    - Kill targets of opportunity. Sniper teams prioritize these targets based on their understanding of the commanderís intent. For example, they may attack enemy snipers first, followed by (in order) leaders, vehicle commanders, radio operators, engineers, and machine gun crews.

    - Control key terrain by denying enemy access to certain areas or avenues of approach.

    - Provide supporting fires for barricades and other obstacles.

    - Maintain surveillance of flank and rear avenues of approach (screening operations).

    - Support local counterattacks with precision fires.

NOTE: Snipers can also be valuable to commanders in stability and support operations, in which the ROE normally restrict collateral damage and civilian casualties. A common task for snipers in such situations is to selectively kill or wound key individuals who pose a threat to friendly forces. This selective engagement allows the unit to avoid causing unacceptable casualties or damage.