Shooters and Thinkers: the Special Forces Sniper Course


running up that hill
Jan 3, 2007
in Wonderland, with my Alice
“One shot, one kill” has long been the sniper’s creed, but with the changing nature of warfare, that skill is not always enough. In the ongoing war on terror, Army special-operations units often need small teams of snipers who can infiltrate an area undetected, collect and transmit relevant and prioritized real-time information, deliver precision fires and train host-nation snipers. Soldiers who possess those critical skills are much in demand, and training ARSOF snipers in relevant skills and in sufficient numbers to meet the mission requirements of ARSOF units is the responsibility of the JFK Special Warfare Center and School, or SWCS, which teaches the Special Forces Sniper Course, or SFSC.


The 35-day SFSC is designed to produce ARSOF snipers who can infiltrate a rural or urban area undetected, account for the ballistic effects of various weapons and ammunition, understand and adjust for the effects of weather on their operations, and employ their weapons systems ef- ficiently at ranges out to 800 meters. Tasked with the mission of training these capabilities and coaching and mentoring students, the cadre of the SFSC, from Company D, 2nd Battalion, 1st Special Warfare Training Group, conducts the SFSC five times each year. In March 2007, SWCS renamed the course, adopting its current name in favor of the previous one, the Special Operations Target Interdiction Course, or SOTIC. With the name change came a redesign of the course curriculum, and students’ contact hours increased from 1,900 to more than 3,300. Some of the curriculum changes included extending the course length by five days in order to integrate assault-operations training with that of the Special Forces Advanced Reconnaissance, Target Analysis and Exploitation Techniques Course, or SFARTAETC. With the course redesign, Company D increased the course capacity from 24 to 32 students in each SFSC class. Improvements to the training facilities also gave the students additional training time. In the past, for two weeks during each class, students spent half days working targets in the rifle pits. The automation of the primary field-fire range meant that students no longer needed to work targets, giving them seven more training days.

Course structure
On today’s battlefield, ARSOF snipers require not only tactical proficiency in their duties but also technological savvy in the use of collection methods and hardware, optics and communications equipment. To keep pace with emerging requirements and to expose students to the challenges that snipers face on the battlefield, SFSC used the additional training time gained from the course redesign to incorporate critical tasks that the SOTIC curriculum lacked. The SFSC curriculum now includes these additional tasks designed to keep ARSOF snipers relevant and make them more lethal:

- Employ gas-operated snipersystems (SR-25/M-110 SASS), both day and night and in rural and urban environments, while engaging stationary targets, moving targets and targets with limited exposure times. (Note: the M-24 Sniper Weapon System is still the primary weapon system employed during SFSC.)

- Employ the Barrett M-107 sniper weapon, both day and night.

- Conduct technical-surveillance familiarization.

- Familiarize students with current tactical reconnaissance kit.

- Employ the tactical reconnaissance kit and equipment.

- Select urban surveillance/firing positions and construct urban hide sites.

- Conduct urban stalking.

- Learn building-climbing techniques (ascending and descending).

- Collect and manage information.

- Operate a tactical information center.

- Learn collection methods and techniques.

- Conduct close-target reconnaissance.

- Conduct long-range, stand-off observation.

- Learn vehicle-reconnaissance tactics, techniques and procedures, or TTP.

- Learn walk-by TTP.

- Learn to operate manned and unmanned remote sites.

- Demonstrate planning considerations for sniper operations.

- Plan urban and rural operations.

- Conduct time-sensitive planning.

- Develop target stand-alone products for near- and long-term use.

- Develop RECCE concept of operation.

- Learn to shoot from aerial platforms (familiarization only).

- Spend two additional days of sniper and field-shoot marksmanship events in preparation for must-pass exams.

During the final four days of SFSC training, students are integrated with students from SFARTAETC for a collective live-fire exercise. When they complete the course, graduates are qualified as SOF level-I snipers and are awarded the additional skill identifier W3.

The two major reasons for SFSC attrition are the sniper-marksmanship exam and the field-shoot exam, both of which assess fundamental sniper skills. Cumulative course scores lower than 70 percent are another major reason for attrition. Typically, shooters who do not attain a 70-percent cumulative score have barely met the course standards in a number of events, and they drop out late in the course. Historically, SOTIC had a pass rate of 80 percent. Since the new SFSC program of instruction, or POI, was adopted in 2007, the course has maintained a pass rate of 63 percent. The difference in the pass rate makes it appear that SFSC has higher standards, but that is not true. SFSC uses the same shooting standards and task progressions that SOTIC did, with one exception: Students now get two more days of shooting in preparation for the must-pass exams, which should actually help to increase pass rates. Furthermore, SFSC does not teach new tasks until after the two major must-pass events, in order not to interfere with the progressive nature of the training. Higher attrition rates could be attributed to the new student demographic. The average Soldier attending SFSC during the last two years typically lacks core competency skills because of repeated combat rotations and limited resources down range for sustaining basic skills. Many students excel at shooting, but during the stress of an exam, they cannot apply the skills they have already learned and demonstrated. To meet the standard, students must be able to perform advanced tasks on demand, not at their leisure. Soldiers who attend SFSC need to possess the core competencies, as they are the building blocks for advanced shooting skills. Students must have fundamental skills in combat marksmanship, chiefly the ability to fire expert on a 300-meter qualification range using an M-4 rifle with standard iron sights. SFSC historical data shows that Soldiers who can achieve this standard have a greater likelihood of meeting the course shooting requirements and graduating.
Age, military occupational specialty and years of service are not discriminating factors in the SFSC — even a combat veteran does not automatically possess competencies in weapons-handling skills, as has been evidenced in nearly every SFSC and SFARTAETC class. Team sergeants and company sergeants major need to closely scrutinize Soldiers selected to attend SFSC, to ensure that they possess and demonstrate marksmanship skills and core Soldier competencies. In October 2007, in an effort to select candidates who have a greater chance of achieving the requirements for being a Level-I ARSOF sniper, SWCS implemented a diagnostic shoot as a prerequisite for SFSC attendance. Students arrive for training with a letter from their commander stating that they have achieved expert standards. The prerequisite shoot simply ensures that they can indeed meet that standard. The shoot requires candidates to fire five five-round shot groups from 25 meters, using an M-4 rifle with iron sights. Three of the five-round groups must be equal to or less than 1 Ľ inches in diameter. A 1 Ľ-inch- diameter group at 25 meters subtends to a target hit on an E-type target at 300 meters. During the first SFSC class in which the diagnostic shoot was implemented, only eight of the 32 candidates met the standard. Of those eight, seven graduated, and all passed the shooting evaluations. The one student who did not complete the course failed to meet the 70-percent cumulativescore requirement. Because only eight candidates achieved the standard, the remaining 24 course slots in that class were filled with Soldiers who were able to shoot 1 ˝-inch groups. Only 12 of those 24 — 50 percent — passed the SFSC course requirements. A Soldier enrolled through the Army Training Requirements and Resources System is not guaranteed attendance to SFSC. He must pass the diagnostic shooting exam on day one, or he will be returned to his home station on day one with his target. To prepare for attendance, at a minimum, Soldiers should practice grouping and should consistently shoot expert on a 300- meter qualification range using iron sights. Although a level-II sniper quali- fication is not a prerequisite for SFSC, Soldiers who have that level of competency will learn exponentially more from the course than a Soldier will who does not possess that level of skill. No student need bring his own weapon systems. SFSC provides all weapon systems and optics that students need for completing the course. It is highly recommended that students not attempt to complete the course using their unit’s assigned systems, simply to avoid the wear and tear on unit equipment. All SFSC systems easily meet or exceed the requirements for meeting course standards.

The 2nd Battalion has also built new sniper training facilities and upgraded many of the existing facilities in order to provide an optimal training environment. Improvements include the automation of Range 66E, the establishment of an automated 400-meter range at Range 37 and the renovation of a classroom to support training students on the use of technical- surveillance equipment, or TSE. Unfortunately, the 400-meter range at Range 37 cannot support unit-specific sniper training or train-ups.
The range overlaps other facilities that must be closed when it is being used. For that reason, use of the 400-meter range is
limited to students in SFSC and SFARTAETC, and when they are not using the range, it is closed. Working with the Range Branch of the United States Army Special Operations Command, SWCS has developed a four-story sniper tower and a twostory mobile urban targetry façade that are scheduled to begin construction this year. By allowing students to train more thoroughly for the urban battlefield, the facility upgrades mean two things: more relevant training and an ARSOF sniper who is better quali- fied to infiltrate a target, obtain timely and accurate information and provide lethal fires.

Off-site training
Operational detachments in the SF groups are encouraged to contact the SFSC cadre for specific information on curriculum changes and ways that they can be applied to level-II sniper training programs at the SF-group level. With larger SFSC class sizes, a longer course length and a greater number of instructor-student contact hours, there is a greater requirement for instructor manpower in SFSC. Because of the demand, the cadre cannot currently send mobile sniper training teams to the Special Forces groups. Special Forces groups. SF groups that want to conduct sniper-training programs using mobile training teams, or MTTs, need to be aware that the SFSC POI has changed. To meet the requirements of the new POI, groups would need to provide either an automated 800-meter range similar to the one on Fort Bragg or a trained pit team of 10 Soldiers dedicated to running the target-line pit for all shooting events. The four-day live- fire exercise at the end of the course demands at least an SF-detachmentsized element of Soldiers who are either training in Special Forces Advanced Urban Combat or SFAUC-qualified. Because the new POI includes TSE familiarization, the MTT would need to have TSE expertise, as the SFSC cadrem is committed to teaching SFSC classes. The cadre plans to address the means and requirement for off-site training in the future.

As Army Special Forces Soldiers and Rangers continue to operate at the tip of the spear, there will be an ongoing need for highly trained ARSOF snipers who can think through problems and bring the right tools to bear to win the day and never default to any
single technique. Sniper technology and battlefield locations will change with time, and as they do, the SFSC cadre will adjust training to meet the new challenges while continuing to produce the most highly trained and lethal sniper — one who is capable of collecting and relaying vital information while simultaneously making “one shot, one kill.”


An SF Soldier practices stalking in the Special Forces Sniper Course at Fort Bragg, N.C.

About the author:
Sergeant Major Peter A. Gould is the sergeant major for Company D, 2nd Battalion, 1st Special Warfare Training Group, the sniper proponent for the U.S. Army. During 25 years in Special Forces, he has conducted a variety of SF missions and combat tours spanning three continents. Sergeant Major Gould graduated from the Special Operations Target Interdiction Course in 1990 as the distinguished honor graduate and was subsequently assigned as a SOTIC instructor. He has spent the last two years ensuring that sniper tactics, techniques and procedures taught in the SFSC are up-to-date and relevant to current and future operations in the war on terrorism.

The article (from issue May08) is part of an on-line SOF mag Special Warfare.
very good post

I want to make the same with our SF in Spain but face a frontal attack by the MADOC ( Doctrine Command). They dont want to forget the " tireur de elite attached to a battallion" attitude, and go into the actual SF sniper operating in small groups and with a high level of operational freedom from CP.
Lets see how all this ends.
You had the same problems many years ago in the US and you ended up with the SOTIC and now SFSC. Why dont we ever learn from others.....
SOTIC was a great school, and it looks like the new changes will make it even better. It is good to see the school adapting to the needs of special-op snipers.