Fire Support Planning In Support Of Scout/Sniper Operations

14 December 2000

By Jeff Waters

Sniper Mission:

    The Sniper's mission is to "Engage targets with long range precision fire and/or fire support assets and to gather and report timely and accurate information".

Fire Support Results:

    During WWII, 45% of all casualties resulted from indirect fire (taken from the US Army NCO Academy Instructor's Guide).  Think about that figure for a second.  Almost half.  And that was with WWII technology.  Today's artillery reaches farther, faster, with a much higher degree of explosive power.  Not to mention the development of rounds like FASCAM (Family, Scatterable, Mines) that can plant a minefield between you and an enemy force in minutes, or the Copperhead anti-tank round.

    Fire support is used when, due to wind or distance, it is not realistic to rely on a rifle shot, or to help a sniper team that has struck a target and is being pursued by a large force.  Since fire support is generally the only form of friendly help nearby, it is crucial for the team to thoroughly understand how to plan for its use, and how to call it in when the time comes.

Planning & Coordinating Fire Support for a Sniper Mission:

    In general terms, you want to have Target Reference Points (TRPs) established to cover your patrol during insertion, movement to the objective, at the objective, withdrawal route, extraction point, and any patrol bases you might have.

    After establishing the TRPs and determining what type of rounds you want on each target, you can begin to coordinate with the unit's Fire Support Officer, or FSO.  TRPs should be established to coincide with as many natural checkpoints along the route of movement as possible.  The idea is that as you reach each checkpoint, you can call it in by codeword and have the FSO adjust the guns to the next TRP on that leg.

  1. Insertion.
    For example, let's say that the team's insertion is to depart the base camp with a friendly patrol.  A TRP is established to screen the patrol if it makes contact during departure.  By using smoke, they not only immediately gain protection from enemy observation, but they have protected themselves and the Friendly Forward Unit (FFU) from any chance of friendly fire.

    Since the smoke can be used to verify impact points, they still have the option to adjust fire onto the enemy location and switch to high explosive.  Since the smoke will probably reduce the patrol's ability to observe the enemy location and the impact of rounds, the fire may have to be adjusted by a member of the FFU.  This contingency should be part of the coordinated plans made prior to departure.

  1. Movement to the OBJ.
    Insertion is complete when the patrol has reached the first rally point away from the insertion point and has completed a SLLS halt (stop, look, listen, smell).   When they are ready to move, they call in a code word that lets their HQ know that they have completed their insertion, lets them know the patrol's general location, and signals that it is time for the guns to shift to the next TRP.

    During the movement, TRPs should cover known/suspected enemy locations, rally points, danger areas, and patrol bases.  Again, by planning TRPs to cover each leg of the movement between checkpoints, the simple act of calling in a code word keeps higher up advised of your location and fire support readily on call.  Sending a single-word code does not violate COMSEC, either, and the team's location cannot be compromised by such a short transmission.  It also serves as a radio check, and it should be noted during the map reconnaissance whether the terrain near the checkpoint is in dead space where commo will be difficult.  If so, call it in on the last bit of the leg where you have line-of-sight with the unit or plan a jump-off point where you can make commo.  If you don't think you can make commo at a danger area based on terrain, you should consider changing you route since you won't be able to use fire support if needed.

    Patrol bases and Rally Points are covered also, and can use the "Polar" method of control rather than the "Shift from a Known Point" method.

  1. At the Objective.
    This is obviously a critical time.  One thing our stalking exercises don't teach is that after you take your shot, you will probably have some very pissed off people coming after you immediately.  If you are dressed in a heavy ghille suit, good luck getting away in a hurry without leaving a giant trail.

    If you take a shot or two at a platoon-size element and they begin to pursue you, then it's nice to have a TRP between you and them where you can simply call in something like, "Immediate Suppression on AA10," as you run for your life.  If it's between you and the enemy, they are more likely to move away from the impact zone rather than through it to pursue you.  This buys you valuable time for your getaway.

    Another idea, based on the organization and doctrine of the enemy is to have the guns standing by for counter-battery fire if the enemy decides to guess at your position and blast away with an artillery strike of their own.

    Additionally, the team can use fire support assets to keep a unit pinned while it picks off a person or two and moves to an alternate location.  For example, a sniper team engaging enemy LP/Ops or patrols departing the enemy's perimeter can use fire support to suppress the main camp, which might be sending out a reaction force.


    As usual, the U.S. Army has some highly sophisticated and expensive training aids for use in fire support training.  And not surprisingly, they don't work well, are hard to schedule, and are not that realistic.

    The best way to train at the squad level is to start by reviewing the different types of missions, the communications procedures, and how to adjust, along with the basics of danger close distances.

    Instead of wasting a lot of time at the lecture board, you can take the troops to a sandtable marked with numbered strings for gridlines and give them a radio.  You act as the FSO and they radio in their request (for some reason, using real radios works much better than without).  An assistant instructor uses a pointer with a cotton ball taped on it to designate the impact point of the round and the sniper adjusts accordingly.  The rest of the class is allowed to stand by to watch and learn.  The first few soldiers invariably screw it up and are sent to the back of the line to do it again.

    But, after watching a few people do it correctly, almost everyone catches on and can pick up a radio and do the job.   The sandtable should be used after teaching each mission, beginning with a grid mission, then a shift, and finally a polar if time permits.

    The next step is to get them onto a live fire range and FO for the BN Mortars at least quarterly.  The mortar platoons generally enjoy having FO support.

    After they have a sound foundation in the basics, training should take place on different methods of control, fire support overlays, and the fire support coordination.

    Air Support should also be trained on.


    Employing fire support is an integral part of the sniper mission, both for his safety and his combat effectiveness.  FS training should be part of a sniper section's Mission Essential Task List (METL) and require mandatory training on at least a quarterly basis.

    Teams should make every effort to establish a good working relationship with the BN's FSO and mortar sections.  The sandtable is an excellent tool, which should be used to evaluate EVERY member of the section on Call for and Adjust Indirect Fire, regardless of rank.  All snipers must know these tasks by heart.

    Further, understanding the MIL Relation Formula used in determining shift, increasing the snipers understanding of range estimation, and the mil dot scale in his scope is excellent, excellent training for a sniper.

    And as with any training - for anyone, not just snipers - practice does not make perfect.

Perfect practice makes perfect!

Finally, it's your ass out there and the unit is counting on you.

What more needs to be said?

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