When watching a military movie you may have seen how a sniper is accompanied by another person looking at the same direction. This person is called a “spotter”. But why does a sniper need one?
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When shooting in a combat scenario it is very important to have situational awareness. Not only to see incoming enemies but also to see how the situation around you changes. This is for example why soldiers are trained to shoot with both eyes open and to reload without looking down. For snipers it is almost impossible to see what happens around them as they have to fixate on their intended target for quite a long time. So they need someone who can look at the bigger picture and notify the shooter about any changes that is happening. It can be changing wind, enemy or friendly movement, etc….
I was an infantry sniper in the Army from around 2013-2016.
We were supposed to run three man teams. Spotter, shooter, and security. This isn’t what every sniper team runs. For example, I have no real idea what special operations do but I would imagine a two man team at least.
-The spotter is the team leader and most senior on the team. His job is to provide guidance to the shooter. Generally in the form of walking the shooter onto target if not already there. Determining distance and giving an elevation hold, wind hold and hold for movement if applicable.
After the shot it is important to watch for trace and impact to determine hit or miss. If there is a miss it is the spotters job to give a quick follow up call for the shooter. Simultaneously it is the shooters job to tell the spotter if they broke the shot clean or if they feel like the pulled directionally.
The spotter also carries a long gun, usually something like a precision semi auto, but isn’t the primary shooter.
-The shooters job is to focus on the shots and as I said above to tell the spotter if they think their shot was their fault.
-The security is basically your new guy. He is there to carry extra shit(ammo/batteries/radio maybe) and watch your back while you are both focused down range.
TL;DR – Spotter is the leader and guides the shooter.
Former army sniper here. There are several reasons you have a spotter. One is that ideally all the shooter should have to do is trigger pull, so you need someone to spot hits and give adjustment to get on target or where the next target is. The second is that rifle optics have a relatively narrow field of view compared to binoculars or a spotting scope, so the spotter has a better overall picture of what is going on. This also frees up the spotter to do secondary activities like calling up Intel reports and calling for fire. Finally you would never send a soldier into the field alone, so you may as well augment there abilities with some of similar skill set.
The military has an axiom: “There is no such thing as an individual”
This underlies everything that is done. For example, the smallest unit in the Canadian Infantry is the Fire Team- for us that’s a two soldier group. (the Fire Team is one half of an Assault Group, of which there are two in a Rifle Section…and on it goes upward)
What this is intended to mean is that the welfare of the group is greater than the welfare of the individual- which might seem straightforward to some- but it is this group mentality which can be critical to success on the battlefield. There is a great deal of psychology and philosophy wrapped up in this concept. It is a very interesting thing to study because it can be both deeply indoctrinated and at times counter-intuitive.
As far as snipers go, the top comment got this more or less correct. Very simply, two sets of eyes are better than one.
That, and the art of sniping is far more than what it is often seen reduced to in popular media- look down a telescopic sight, put the crosshairs in between the eyes, pull trigger.
The science involved in making or ensuring conditions for a successful shot, particularly at extreme ranges requires a great deal of complex calculations and using equipment that would require a solitary shooter to leave his firing position to work with.
Marksmanship is a lot like getting a good golf swing. It is an entire body discipline. We use the acronym “HABIT” to teach the principles of marksmanship to each and every recruit:
H Holding- a firm, controlled grasp of the weapon. The body of the shooter is to be imagines as a stabilizer, not unlike a bipod.
A Aiming- pick a point of aim- center of mass- and do not waver from it while engaging this target.
B Breathing- particularly while lying flat in the prone position, the mere act of breathing will raise or lower the weapon’s muzzle. Be conscious of breathing patterns, and always try to fire while holding a half exhaled breath (the pattern we teach is “breath in-breathe out- breathe in-halfway out, hold-BANG-all the way out”).
I Instinctive Positioning- this ties in to what I said above. From head to feet, the shooter must hold their position as still as possible. The slightest movement at the firing point will put the shot off. The further away the shooter is to target, the more a tiny fraction of movement can take a definite hit and create a wide miss. At the extreme ranges snipers operate, this is critical.
T Trigger Control- even the way in which the trigger finger operates the weapon can create a nudge that would shift point of aim. A smooth, slow and fluid motion against the slack of the trigger is to be followed through in the same way. A quick snap on the trigger is called a “jerk” for a reason.
So, those very basic concepts in “HABIT” is merely the foundation upon which the sniper is putting his shot together. Any information that they need or communication to their superiors beyond what can be done from a steadied firing position will be handled by the spotter.