Snipers: Invisible, precise, dangerous (Part 1)

Snipers: Invisible, precise, dangerous (Part 1)

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It is a military strategy. Once you are in a sniper’s sights, you are at his mercy. The sniper and his target are often separated by hundreds of meters. When the shot is fired, it comes from out of nowhere. The shooter remains undetected. But still everybody knows who it was: a sniper.

A soldier lies behind his weapon and fires.

Army snipers are specially trained and skilled soldiers who fulfil their mission by the selective and effective use of their rifles.

Bundeswehr/Maximilian Schulz

“Sniper” is a term familiar to many people. But only a few people know about the tough training and the long and difficult path these soldiers have taken before they can call themselves snipers. One sniper who has been doing this job for more than a decade explains how they are trained, when and how they are employed, and what weapons they use.

Then and now

A rifle mounted on a bipod. A weapons case lies next to it.

The G22 A2 is the Bundeswehr’s new standard sniper rifle.

Bundeswehr/Maximilian Schulz

For almost 15 years, Lance Corporal André L.* has been a sniper in 371 Armoured Infantry Battalion. Together with his comrades from Marienberg in Saxony, he has been on several missions abroad, such as in Afghanistan and Lithuania. The snipers are currently at Klietz training area to get to know their new sniper rifle, the G22 A2. The battalion has had this improved sniper rifle for some weeks. André L was trained on the predecessor model, the G22 A0, at the beginning of his career. He still remembers how he started in the Bundeswehr and why he became a sniper.

“I underwent basic training in 2005, in the former 371 Light Infantry Battalion in Marienberg. As young private first class, I was asked whether I would be interested in taking part in the battalion’s selection process for future snipers. To do so, I first had to pass the recruitment test.” To this day, the test requirements have not changed, he says. For example, applicants have to complete a 7,000-metre run with a 20-kilogram field pack in less than 52 minutes.

Not enough sleep, not enough food

A soldier squats on the ground and reloads the magazine. Another soldier stands next to him.

At Klietz training area, snipers of 371 Armoured Infantry Battalion get to know their new rifle, the G22 A2.

Bundeswehr/Maximilian Schulz

Once the soldiers have passed the recruitment test, the battalions finally prepare them in six weeks of pretraining for the official sniper training course. This course lasts four weeks and is conducted at the Infantry School of the Army in Hammelburg for all prospective snipers. The soldiers are prepared for this course in their parent units, for example by land navigation and observation exercises and by weapon and marksmanship training. “Our goal is to train and prepare our men so that they are fit for Hammelburg”, L. says.

The exertion and strain that the prospective snipers have to endure during this course are immense. Extreme physical challenges, a lack of sleep, not enough food, and mental pressure mean that many of them will not see it through. The demands placed on the prospective snipers are great, but the job calls for absolute top performance in all areas. The reasons for this are clear if you consider the tasks and missions of these specialised infantrymen.

The team

Two soldiers lie in staggered formation and watch what is in front of them.

Sniper teams consist of at least two soldiers, the spotter (observer) and the shooter.

Bundeswehr/Maximilian Schulz

“We always operate in teams. Although we are part of the company, we operate independently, detached from the rest of the unit. Snipers always fend for themselves”, André L. explains and adds: “We work in teams of two, sometimes of three. There is no hierarchy based on ranks. Every sniper can perform the tasks of his team members at any time.” Working in small teams forges a bond between the soldiers, lifting team spirit up to a completely new level.

A sniper team consists of a spotter and a shooter. Each depends on the skills of the other, and both must have absolute trust in the other. The spotter is responsible for target acquisition and for specifying the target coordinates. He gives the shooter the data he needs to adjust his aim. He takes into consideration the exact target range, the angle of inclination, and wind and weather data. This information is important. “They say that the shooter shoots and the spotter aims. Cooperation ensures the bullet hits the target. The spotter has to measure the target range exactly, for example, because distances of around 1,000 meters can involve deviations of several centimetres,” Lance Corporal L. explains.

In the second part of this article you will learn when snipers are employed, what weapons they use, and what sniper camouflage has to do with a Scottish mountain spirit. It will become clear how closely reason and morale are connected when it comes to fighting and to the final shot.

*Name changed

by Elisabeth Rabe

Part 2

A sniper describes his equipment, his camouflage and what kind of special tasks he performs as an infantry specialist.