Importance of the Sniper's Spotter/Observer
note from Vern about
"It isn't often that I find something about
rifles and shooting really worth quoting. When I do
I want to share it for the benefit of the entire community.
This article is a valuable piece of information. Many
novice marksmen believe they understand what it takes
to become a sniper. They view the occupation as a
"one man show" in which their skills and
talents are called upon exclusively. The reality is
that there was never an effective sniper without an
equally (or perhaps even more so) effective and talented
This article is a start at describing this important
relationship, and the life and death decisions that
sniper TEAMS face in any day's work.
This article is reprinted with permission by the author;
CVT thanks him for sharing this material with our
students and visitors.
importance of the sniper's spotter/observer in the role
of military and law enforcement sniping is underestimated.
Most know what the sniper does; he puts the cross hairs
where they should be and pulls the trigger, but many
do not understand the role of the spotter/observer.
Snipers generally go out in teams. One member of the
team is the shooter; the other is the spotter. It is
a team effort to put that shot in the right place down
range. The spotter is an integral part of that team.
He is also a trained sniper.
The spotter has a variety of responsibilities. He locates
and talks the shooter into the target. He does the calculations
for the elevations, windage and holds for moving targets.
He makes sketches; range cards and identifies targets.
He prioritizes selected targets. He estimates the range
to each target and confirms it with the shooter. He
The spotter determines the temperature, humidity and
angle of the shot before giving the proper scope adjustments
to the shooter. After the shooter makes the shot, he
calls it, telling the sniper the impact of the round.
The spotter must know how to look through a scope and
read mirage. He must know how to determine the angle
of the mirage and the wind speed. He must be able to
follow the trace of a bullet through the air to determine
If the shooter misses, the spotter will give the adjustment
to the scope or tell the shooter where to hold to deliver
a second shot. The spotter is responsible for the
The spotter shoulders an automatic weapon adding firepower.
During movement, he will lead the team and fire in defense
of the team. He is in control of communications and
the radio. If needed, he will call in artillery or air
strikes on selected targets. The spotter defends the
FFP (final firing position). He must understand map
coordinates and how to use a GPS (global positioning
If needed, both the shooter and the spotter participate
in the building of a hide. Once in the hide, the spotter
will observe sectors with binoculars or a spotting scope.
Sometimes both sniper and spotter will observe depending
on the mission or AO (area of operation). Usually, only
the spotter will observe.
The sniper and the spotter will reverse roles on an
average of every half-hour. This gives each a chance
to rest, because constantly observing through binoculars
causes eye fatigue.
The spotter may also be required to set and operate
a diversionary device to draw the attention of the enemy
away from the team's position.
Police sniper teams operate much like military sniper
teams, and the police spotter performs similar tasks
to the military spotter. Most police sniper situations
involve a hostage and/or providing security for an entry
team. In both these situations, the spotter is critical.
Both members of the team should have their own sniper
weapon, as there is liability if they both use the same
The spotter/observer will take notes and give real time
information to the CP (command post). Both spotter and
sniper may also be required to shoot simultaneously.
Because of budget restraints, many police departments
have only one sniper for each location. It is better
to have two snipers in the same location with one acting
as a spotter, because police snipers are the first on
the scene and the last to go home. They may be there,
looking at a hostage situation, for extremely long periods
Below is a summary the responsibilities of the spotter/observer:
- Assists sniper with equipment
- Leads in march and fires defensively
- Follows while stalking
- Observes sector with binoculars or spotting scope;
detects targets indicators
- Estimates range; collaborates with sniper
- Vectors and coordinates other teams
- Does the calculation to make the shot
- Sketches and makes range cards
- Talks sniper into target
- Identifies target priorities
- Operates diversionary devices
- Estimates wind
- Times wind and tells sniper when to fire
- Observes and reports bullet impact
- Handles communication and operates radio
- Records information
- Helps build hide
- Supplies security for sniper
- Adds fire power
A sniper can become extremely tired when he is
alone in such a situation. This could lead to
a bad shot and liability. As with military teams, each
member will switch off to give the other a rest.
Officers that are in charge of snipers should
never underestimate the value of having two man teams,
or the role of the sniper's spotter/observer.
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