Sniper Sustainment

By Brian K. Sain

First in, last out; that is usually the way it goes for the SWAT sniper. He deploys covertly, either with a teammate or alone and as soon as possible, starts providing real time information to his teammates andcommand post. He is usually there providing protective over-watch before the entry and perimeter teams begin their operations and he remains there until the last man is safely accounted for. He may be in position minutes, hours or days. He may not be relieved at all and therefore must be as totally self-sufficient as possible. Circumstances dictated by the suspect may force him to have to fire his rifle. However, relaying accurate, real time information is what the job is mainly about. To do the job properly for extended periods of time requires more than a little forethought and planning on the part of the sniper. 

Since the inception of police snipers into modern law enforcement, we’ve gotten smarter. We have realized that police snipers, like their military counterparts, need to operate in two-man teams. We have also learned that even two man teams need to be relieved if possible and that a man can only peer through a telescopic sight for so long before his performance starts deteriorating.

Authors note: Some agencies still deploy their snipers alone and under certain circumstances, this may be unavoidable. However, to make it a general practice is unsound doctrine.

The American Sniper Association and the National Tactical Officers Association are clear on their positions regarding two-man sniper teams. This is because two men best handle the duties of the sniper.The two-man team can carry more gear and stay in position longer and more effectively than a man deployed alone. While one man is on the rifle, the other can handle communications and note taking while giving his eyes a rest from the riflescope or stretching cramped muscles. The two can trade off as required, thereby increasing their efficiency. Furthermore, two heads are always better than one and decision making can be shared as well.Situations sometimes occur, where time is compressed and a sniper or sniper team is suddenly forced to fire their rifle(s). It should be reassuring to a commander that if deadly force is used (or not used) by his men, that two reliable operators in the same position are more likely to have seen the same things and come to the same conclusions about what was seen or done.

Deploying one man alone can also have other repercussions. One example involved a sniper in the northeastern U.S. who on what was to be the last call out of his career, was forced to deploy alone. He and his team were called out on a barricaded subject that was armed with a scoped rifle. This is one of the worst case scenarios for a sniper because the suspect has a rifle with the same capabilities as the sniper himself. The well-camouflaged sniper set up in a field to gain concealment. The sniper was forced to assume a sitting position in order to see over the weeds and to provide cover for his teammates. The sniper stayed this way for seventeen hours as the operation drug on. The sniper’s back began hurting him hours into the incident but he remained in position. A relief was sent to him later but the relief sniper was inexperienced and arrived in a standard, patrol uniform. Furthermore, by the time the relief arrived,the damage had already been done. The sniper could not leave prior to his relief arriving and after the relief did arrive, the sniper knew the suspect would easily spot the uniformed officer. So the sniper stayed at his post the entire time and subsequently incurred irreparable damage to his back from the forced positioning. This exceptional sniper’s dedication to his teammates also effectively ended his law enforcement career and required extensive medical attention and therapy that continues to this day.

To remain in position for hours on end, the sniper needs to choose equipment and gear that will provide him some margin of comfort. It has been said that fatigue makes cowards of us all. I believe that this is an accurate statement. Sniping, whether military or police is not for the weak and if some item is available that will help accomplish the mission easier and safer, it would be foolish not to take advantage of it.

There seems to be two schools of thought on what a police sniper should carry on any given deployment.Some snipers bring everything with them but the kitchen sink and wind up burdened with gear that they do not need. Others travel light and sometimes suffer without things that they do need. A sniper never knows where the callout will be or what the callout might entail so I suggest having various types of gear for many eventualities. Try to anticipate what you will most likely need on a callout, tailoring your gear as the mission dictates. A lot of this just comes with experience. I suggest having a small pack (preferably Camelback compatible) with basic gear, and a sniper vest and uniform ready for an “overnighter” in the event one must grab it and go. All a sniper has to do is fill the Camelback and grab some fresh Powerbars and he is set. Just remember that whatever you choose to bring; you will have to carry it wherever you deploy. Make sure that your gear enhances your performance rather than hinders it.

There are many items of gear that a sniper needs to perform his mission. However, the intent of this article is on sustainment of the sniper for extended periods and not on addressing every piece of gear that a sniper may possibly need. For this purpose, the following items are some of those that we may choose to carry on any given callout to help us go the distance. The following list is certainly not all-inclusive but it is a good start.

A shooting mat - This can be anything from a military issue, green foam, sleep mat to one of the more sniper specific mats as made by Eagle and Blackhawk Industries. A mat is indispensable if one has to deploy to a hot metal or tarred roof, on hot concrete or on wet ground. Some of the sniper specific mats have loop attachments for camouflage, pockets for other gear and double as a rifle case. Extreme heat or cold will rob you of your comfort and strength so it is often best not to be in direct contact with the surface you are laying on. Any mat is better than no mat at all and soft knee and elbow pads can also help in some situations.

Authors note: The military style sleep mats will not reliably stay in position without the addition of some type of anchor when used on a common, residential, composite shingle roof. This can result in a serious fall if the angle of the roof is steep.

Water - Heatstroke and heat exhaustion are two factors that must be controlled if the sniper is to carry out his mission for extended periods. Otherwise, the sniper becomes a casualty and just another part of the problem. Human beings are dependent on water and simply must have water to survive and an immediately available supply of water (preferably a hands-freetype) is necessary. One or more of the fine Camelback products are the first choice that comes to mind. However, canteens or water bottles work as well.Simply put, do whatever it takes to stay hydrated while deployed.

Food - Snipers need something small and light that will still satisfy their hunger and Powerbars of various types are a sniper staple. If he can grab and go, a sniper can also try and drink plenty of water and eat a sandwich or other filling food on the way to the scene to prevent hunger pains hours later.Hard candy and chewing gum are also a distraction from hunger pains while deployed. I know one experienced sniper who unwraps a Powerbar immediately upon getting into position. He then just sticks the tacky Powerbar to the stock of his rifle. This way, he can break off a small piece when he gets hungry and is never far from the trigger if need be.

Toiletries - A small travel pack of baby wipes and/or tissues are handy in certain situations.

First Aid - A small Tupperware container works well when used as a first aid kit. It easily fits in a BDU pocket or pack and should contain the following: Bandaids (large and small), a small roll of gauze, medicaltape, anti-bacterial cream (Neosporin), sun block, a couple of sewing needles and a pair of tweezers (for splinters and insect stingers), lotion such as Calamine for insect bites and poison ivy, aspirin or ibuprofen, allergy/sinus (non-drowsy), first aid spray for abrasions, crush capsules for ant or wasp stings and a few Q-tips. The trick here is not to have a portable field hospital but rather, a means of supplying a small amount of comfort from the more commonly encountered insects and scrapes that usually accompany a deployment. The gauze can be positioned to stop the smaller items from rattling to maintain noise discipline.

Clothing - Weather gear is important and selection of clothing layers is critical depending on what environment you will be operating in. Gore-Tex and polar fleece items are necessities in colder weather.Gloves and shoes are critical as well. Hand / foot warmers can also bring relief in frigid temperatures. Comfortable rain and waterborne gear has its own important set of rules so it pays to do some research and make intelligent decisions regarding the clothing you choose. Improvements in modern sport fabrics such as Under Armour should be explored and taken advantage of. The sniper needs to keep in mind that in addition to providing protection from the elements; his clothing choices must not hinder his movement or shooting when worn with the other gear he must carry.

Communications / Electronics - Most snipers use a standard police portable radio to communicate with the rest of their team. Typically, a patrol officer may be issued one battery and possibly a spare. If he is not careful, the officer may allow the batteries to develop a “memory” and the batteries will not hold a charge for as long as they were designed to. This can be disastrous on an operation because a sniper that cannot communicate is almost useless. A good supply of fully-charged portable radio batteries are an absolute necessity for effective tactical operations. Unfortunately, they are often overlooked until someone’s radio malfunctions and then that person is scrambling to get back into the game.

Many of the items snipers rely on are battery-operated. Flashlights, range finders, windmeters and illuminated reticles all rely on batteries to function. Whenever possible, a sniper should avoid battery-operated gear for the simple reason that batteries eventually do fail. However, it is impossible to totally get around this.

Many teams have a rack of portable radio batteries charged and ready in the command post and this is good for the entry, react and perimeter elements because these operators are often going to and from the CP.The snipers however, are usually deployed in covert,static positions and traffic to their positions for re-supply may compromise their hide site. Therefore, snipers should keep a good supply of batteries (for everything battery-operated that they use) on their persons because if something can fail, it almost always seems to do so on an operation and at the worst possible time.

Authors note: A military M16 magazine / grenade pouch also works well for holding several portable radio batteries and a pair of Surefire Spares lithium battery / lamp holders. The pouch has a cover with a Fastex buckle for weather protection and ALICE clips to attach it to a belt or pack. When used this way, the sniper can usually carry enough batteries to communicate with his team and operate his equipment through even the most extended police operations.

Radio headsets - Trying to talk, write, or hold a rifle, while cradling a standard portable radio is difficult at best, therefore a hands-free headset is almost a necessity for the sniper. These aren’t cheap but they are necessary, especially if the sniper is forced to deploy alone. Most companies will allow sample headsets to be sent out to agencies for testing and evaluation. Again, research on what is available pays off in performance.

Weapon/Scope maintenance - A small cleaning kit(such as the Otis brand) is nice to have in case a sniper rifle is compromised by dirt or foliage on a deployment. Special care must be taken with the coated lenses on the riflescope. Riflescope lenses are comparable to those found on fine cameras and a lenspen, pre-moistened lens tissues and Q-Tips are necessary to clean them without causing damage. A sniper absolutely has to be able to see and sometimes a sniper is forced to make do with what he has available at the time. However, rubbing the lenses of a seven to fifteen hundred dollar riflescope with a dirty shirt cuff is not a good idea if it can be prevented.

Binoculars - Snipers often spend a large amount of time looking through a riflescope. Anyone who has done this for as little as ten or fifteen minutes at a time are aware of the headaches and fatigue it can induce. Riflescopes are more properly identified as telescopic sights and are not designed for extended periods of observation (although we often use them in just this way). A riflescope often has a limited field of view and a police sniper is better served doing the majority of his observation over the rifle or through a pair of quality binoculars. Most police snipers operate at short to medium distances and choose a small pair of binoculars that afford good light transmission, good field of view, and waterproof and rubber armored construction.

Packing these items is an important detail in its own right. The sniper should take care where and how he packs these items so he can find them with minimum movement and in the dark. It is smart to discuss how and where you and your sniper teammates pack their gear in case a teammate must retrieve a piece of gear while the other sniper is on the rifle. Needless to say, dumping an entire pack out to look for a small item in the bottom is not a sound tactic.

These are just a few things a police sniper needs to consider before attempting to endure extended sustainment on a deployment. The items need to be checked intermittently and replaced if necessary but most of all, they need to be packed and ready to go before the pager goes off.


Brian K. Sain is a detective and sniper with the city of Port Arthur(Texas) Police Department. He has been a peace officer for fifteen years and is a member of the NTOA, TTPOA, ASLET, IALEFI, PMA, NRA (life) and is a charter / advisory board member of the American Sniper Association. He can be reached at 409-983-8643 or

(Reprinted Courtesy of Police Marksman)