When it comes to equipment setup for some reason precision rifles tend to receive nothing much beyond a cursory suggestions in the ‘How To” department. I suspect this lack of attention may be due to the fact that professionally the ratio between the numbers of Riflemen or Assaulters to Snipers ranges from maybe 1 to 10 on the high end within the Special Operations community to perhaps 1 to 100 in the infantry line companies or larger Law Enforcement Agencies. That said you’d think that we as such a small community would have a better handle on the matter…but the fact that we have dudes showing up to training while trying to feed their Sniper rifles out of the back pocket of their blue jeans, is an indicator that this topic needs addressing.
“Mission Drives Gear”
Yes, our tasks and our purpose are what drives our equipment selection and organization, but I literally get nauseated just having to writing that cliché. Along with other greats like “train how you fight”, these annoy the absolute ever-living-f*ck out of me. It’s not because they’re completely false, but because they are often cop outs taken in lieu of actually turning on our brain. I hear these tactical catch phrases parroted by students repeatedly but when I press them for farther meaning all to often there’s not much of deeper understanding beyond “well, I watched so-and-so’s YouTube video.”
The Direct-Action Sniper Loadout
In this segment we’re going to confine our look at the setup and load out for snipers working in support of the Direct-Action mission set. Direct Action operations are defined as "short duration strikes or other small-scale offensive actions conducted in hostile, denied, or politically sensitive environments.". These missions employ specialized capabilities to seize, destroy, capture, recover or damage designated targets. Operations like these afford unit commanders a unique, versatile and flexible option in pursuit of Strategic, Operational or Tactically critical objectives.
As one can see the Direct-Action mission is not uniquely useful to only military operations. In fact, it’s measured use of force ensures operational perseverance, legitimacy and restraint, making it a versatile adaptation across the Law Enforcement and OGA communities. To better understand, let’s take a peek at what the sniper is doctrinally tasked within a DA operation.
"Direct Acton (DA) Sniper Teams are organized, trained and equipped units that conduct specialty focused missions that are commonly outside the normal response capabilities of a Departments, Agency or Service. Universally their goal and purpose are to provide commanders with an on call kinetic resolutions to barricade/hostage episodes, initiate service of high-risk warrants and provide proactive, reactive response to crisis incidents and point target interdiction. DA Sniper operations differ from traditional Sniper activities in the degree of risk, advanced operational techniques employed, individual skill requirements, and a heightened level of public/political oversight at levels beyond local or regional influence." (1)
Here we can see that delivering precision fires within close proximity of the Assault team or hostages and overmatch response beyond the range of the hostile forces is the primary function of Snipers within the DA operation. Additionally, the traditional role of observing and reporting information in support of the operational context still applies as well.
With the basic tasking of the Sniper within the DA mission defined we in fact can go about organizing the load out much the same way the Assault or Entry teams do. For that I am fan of using the traditional line system for designating and prioritizing equipment. This system breaks down the equipment by it relation to the direct tasks, as well as some of those task that are unimplied.
Line By Line
At a basic level, everything we carry should directly support the tasking by way of adding in our ability to project lethality or secure survivability. This system prioritizes the equipment based of their relation to operational focus and is broken down into 3 different categories or "lines" of kit. These lines can in such case need, be added or dropped as the situation dictates.
1st Line - Items within this group are what might be listed as “Mission Critical”. These are technology or systems that are the absolute requirement to conduct operations in-extremis or to insure the survival of the Individual Operator. While traditionally this could include everything right down to the Operators base clothing, for the sake of simplicity we’ll forego that, and confine 1st Line Kit to cover only the things carried on the belt.
*Note that the front of the belt (from hip to hip) is left mostly clear. While it is currently in vogue to run mags etc. extremely far forward, placement of those items can have a negative effect when assuming shooting positions often found in the Urban Environment.
Often referred to as a battle or pistol belt, this line serves as the basic loadout an Operator should don. There are obvious situations that the 1st line is inadequate at properly addressing but at a minimum, the 1st line is really just there to give the Operator a fighting chance. What goes on the belt SHOULD (and I cannot stress this enough) be MINIMAL. In many cases 1st Line Kit is worn only as a necessity to maximize mobility in low-threat environments or in situations of extreme peril where speed is security. As a Sniper supporting Direct Action the 1st Line kit reads as follows:
Secondary Sidearm – Worn at the 3 o’clock, this is your reserve parachute for DA operations. Chances of us actually needing it are pretty low and in many cases it's just there to make you feel better. There have actually been times when I have made the calculated risk of forgoing the pistol while running a gas gun during operations in the mountains, but during urban operations or while running a bolt gun I’ll usually opt for being strapped. The Glock 19 with weapon mounted light (because its 2020) has been my go-to for years, its a compact, lightweight, no frills affair. The matter of holster selection arises, but quite honestly it warrants its own post so stand by...
Secondary Reload x1 – Worn at the 9-10 o’clock and yes only 1x because reality check: we won’t need 3x reloads for our pistol, so just stop already. With a Glock 19 that gives us 31 rounds (that's just with standard magazines), if you blow through that plus your primary, you might want to reconsider your life choices.
Primary Reload x1 – Worn just behind our secondary reload at the 9-8 o’clock, this should double the round count of what’s in the sniper rifle, which means we should be at least 20 rounds with a bolt gun or 40 with a gas gun. We can do God’s work with 20-40 rounds for a hot minute. Again to reiterate, the 1st Line load out is only about keeping you in the fight, not storming Omaha Beach.
Laser Range Finder – Worn at the 8-7 o’clock. Look, it’s 2020, if your job is to put metal on meat with a long gun and you don’t have an LRF, you’re wrong. Something small and light that will cover out to the maximum effective range of your Sniper system. I am a big fan of the Leica's as they’re simple and rugged. My old Leica 1200 reliably covers down on real world targets from 600-800 yards and is in the same category of indestructibility as the NOKIA 3310 cell phone - #Brick #Legendary.
Trauma Kit/IFAK – Worn at the 6 o’clock, so that we can get to it with either of our mangled little stumps that used to be called hands. This is for our “oh shit I’ve been shot/blown up moment!”. This is not Band-Aids for our booboos, we’re packing at least a tourniquet, chest seal, combat gauze, pressure dressings, 3.25-inch 14-gauge needles and nasal trumpet (I know you’re thinking there’s no way I’d ever needle D or have to give myself a nose hose, but I’ve seen dudes do it out of necessity). Tourniquets should also be placed where they can be reached by either hand, and remember two is one.
*Pro Tip: The beanie is the OG Gamechanger bag. Folded up and used to separate the gun from hard-hard contact, it excels at resting guns on things like fences and window sills.
Drop Pouch – Worn at the 7 or 5 o’clock. While this has a multiple purpose uses…Real Talk, bring some snacks or at the very least a water bottle, maybe a beanie and warm gloves. You’d be surprised at how long you can make a 12 oz water bottle stretch, and how comforting a beanie and gloves can be on a cold spring or fall night because realistically you don’t know how long this could end up going.
Compass/GPS – The one that I actually like to go wrist mounted with is the Garmin 401 (701's are hot as well with integrated Applied Ballistics). Its' necessity is kind of dependent on what capacity you're operating in. For example, on most Law Enforcement operations you could probably get away without it and work from your phone, but for MIL/OGA work I’d want one for sure.
(Little known fact, the plotting feature allows you to create a 10-digit polar plot from a saved waypoint. #talkonswiththequickness #alwaysmemorizetheGC'sinitials )
Knife – This one is needs to be simple and light. Much like your pistol, the chances of you using this Bad Larry for anything beyond opening MREs or hasty hidesite material prep are slim, so leave your Yarborough at home. The Colonel Blades NoVz G10 is my go-to, as it is a blade you can literally forget you're carrying until you need it.
Rear Bag - A small (3x6") rear bag clipped in on a carabiner like this TAB Gear V2 with light fill weighs ounces and has multiple uses, don't leave home without it. ("Repurposed" Crown Royal bags ARE authorized.)
Rappel Gloves and Monkey Tail - Gloves rated for rappel(ing)/fast roping are always handy to have if you're a higher speed operator and will come in to play with some stuff found in 3rd line kit. But honestly they are just super handy for dealing with things like broken glass or C-wire. The monkey tail like wise is handy clipping into things so you don't fall to your death, especial necessary if you're riding in helicopters often.
As we discussed earlier, 1st line load out is basic and it only is mean to allow the Direct-Action Sniper to project lethality and maintain survivability to a minimal degree. The temptation to load every MOLLE loop with extra pistol mags or accessory pouches containing “nice to haves” is real. However, once the belt crosses the threshold of 5-6 pounds, the ready convenience of the belt disappears and the chances of long-term hip and lower-back injury increase.
Stay tuned for Direct-Action Sniper Loadout Parts 2 and Part 3 where we’ll be covering down on Mission Essential and Mission Enhancing kit.
Understanding Cold Bore