When thinking of a sniper team and how they operate on the battlefield, most people think of them being in a “Snipers Hide”. The hide referred to here is a hidden location where the sniper team lays concealed and exacts their deadly fire on the battlefield in front of them. Well, that is not a bad description of what a hide is. The Final Firing Position (FFP) is in fact what is referred to as a “Sniper’s Hide”. But when occupying a hide, what are some of the considerations for the location when the team is preparing to build it? Does a team just meander on up to where they want their hide to be and then plop down? Does the team always select the location that provides the best protection from incoming fire? What about their equipment? What a sniper team does when selecting a hide location, moving into it, occupying it, and then ex-filtrating from a hide are core skills that the team needs to master. We will try and cover the basics of that first element in this article: Selecting and moving into a hide location, or FFP.
Selecting the proper location of a FFP is one of the most important tasks a sniper team will do during the mission planning phase of an operation. When selecting that location, perhaps the single most important variable is going to be where the area of operation (AO) is and how the team can best achieve the mission objectives within that area. How the mission objectives are accomplished is a discussion for a different article, and specifically needs to happen between the Commanding Officer and the sniper team before an operation planning begins. With that in mind, we’ll move on to the next items of consideration, and that is where to locate the FFP within that AO.
Once the area of operation is determined and the team knows where to go and what they need to do once there, they will begin gathering information on the area by using satellite photos, google maps, aerial photos, talking with others that have been in that area or even perform a recon of the area on their own. Perhaps the most important thing that needs to be considered is the basic tenants of cover and concealment, keeping an eye on ideal concealment locations while doing the initial evaluation.
Additionally, when determining the rough location of
where the FFP is going to be located, fields of fire and observation need to be
considered to insure the primary mission can be accomplished. Of course, the
number one priority is to survive, so looking for covered routes into the area
are also very high on the priority list. To maximize the effectiveness and
safety of the team, the FFP should be located in the most effective kill range
of the sniper rifle in use and hopefully outside the edge of the enemies kill
range. So if the enemy is expected to have weapons with a max effective ranges
of about 400 meters, than the FFP should be located at LEAST that far away from
the primary target area. This allows the sniper team to maximize its superior
equipment and training. Having a natural obstacle between the primary target
area and the FFP is another sound tactical decision to allow the team options
of exfiltration if needed with obstacles to slow the enemy down.
Once some of these major decisions have been made and a suitable area has been located that will work well for their FFP, the team should select an Objective Rally Point (ORP). This is an area that is close to where the team feels the FFP will be, but yet is in an area that offers maximum concealment from enemy observation, there is no need for good fields of fire at the ORP as it is just a staging point. This is the spot the team will head to before making their final reconnoiter of the previously selected area for the FFP. The team will store and stash equipment at this point before achieving maximum stealth to move to the area where they will select their FFP. One team member will remain at or near the ORP while providing cover for the other team member as he or she moves to find the where to locate the FFP for the team. That team member will then provide cover while the previous team member moves from the ORP into the FFP to begin occupation and preparation. Maximum concern for stealth is REQUIRED during this most vulnerable stage of the operation.
When determining the final location of the actual
hide, one rule of thumb that we like to use is the following: If I was the enemy,
where is the LEAST likely place I would look for a sniper? This sometimes means
that if there is a wonderful outcropping of rocks on the hill side that would
provide great cover and concealment, guess what? That same outcropping looks
like an ideal spot to the enemy as well and is the first place they will look
for a sniper. It is difficult, but when planing for your FFP, use the least
likely location that you can imagine. It may very well be in the middle of an
open field or in a swamp, etc.
Finally, be creative and imaginative. How can you most effectively use deep shadows? What about boring under a knoll to come out the other side? What about a complete bare patch of dirt in the middle of a field, can it be utilized as a FFP? No one looks in detail at a bare patch and that 5 inch deep depression from a tire track just might be enough. What about creating secondary FFP’s that over-watch the primary FFP in order to provide cover if moving back and away. Be creative.
Here is a quick list of places to AVOID when deciding on your FFP:
- Any prominent terrain feature, such as a point or crest of a hill
- Isolated objects that stand out
- Populated areas can offer many concerns, avoid them
- Bends in trails, roads, streams, rivers, pathways, etc.
- Ends of trails, roads, pathways
When trying to pin point the exact location of the FFP, there are a number of considerations that should be taken into account beyond what has been discussed. One of the most critical will be the terrain itself. The main concern with terrain is the ability for your team to be able to conceal itself and blend in. If the terrain and soil is hard granite or rock, digging in is not going to be feasible so alternative methods of hide construction will be required. Considering the patterns available in the terrain will also determine needed equipment as well.
Another consideration for FFP selection is also the population of non-combatants. As was mentioned in the “places to avoid” section above, staying clear of populated areas all together is preferred, but that is not always doable given mission objectives. But there are often times options as to less populated areas of cities. Some areas of concern here include the team avoiding grazing areas for local herds that might attract shepherds or other folk. Avoiding areas where large groups may congregate outside, such as nearby playgrounds or sports fields is also desirable. The more eyes that can see you increases the chances of detection, even if they are untrained civilian eyes.
Another key aspect to take into consideration is weather conditions for the environment you are expecting to operate in. If the temperatures are suppose to sky rocket, shade may be desirable. If it is expected to be moist, then drainage from your FFP becomes critical. If the temperatures are supposed to plummet, avoiding wind funnels might save on the windchill, or even partially wind protected locations will take a higher priority. Another aspect of this is drinking water and how much will be required to bring with you and if there might be means of procuring drinking water near or around the FFP. If so, is it protected from observation?
The final point of consideration I would like to mention in regards to FFP selection, is that of the local vegetation. This is important for cover and concealment. Not only does the vegetation deserve studying for actually obscuring your FFP, but it also needs to be considered for color and shades so your sniper team can alter your camouflage to match the local vegetation. A dark green ghillie suit does not blend in well in the browns of a freshly cut wheat field. Additional study of the vegetation to determine additional information is also important. This could include things such as how easy a trail is left when crawling through the veg, or how quickly it wilts when cut. Notice in a few of the pictures on this page, there was a light snow from the evening before, but will that snow still be around in the afternoon? Likely not, so how will you compensate with your camouflage going from white in the morning to browns in the afternoon?
Moving Into and Occupying Your FFP
So you have found your perfect FFP, or hide, and you are ready to occupy that spot, but everyone knows you do not just stroll on up to the spot and plop down. There are some precautions that need to be taken. The most tactically sound advice I think I can pass on is to always assume that you are under observation by the bad guys… all the time! If you do this it will put your team in the proper mindset about proper discipline. As a part of that, all noise and talking will be avoided at all costs and you will assume a proper level of movement technique. This also means avoiding all unnecessary movement as movement is a primary giveaway to your position.
When preparing to move into a FFP it is necessary to
carefully consider your route into and out of that hide. Select a route that
provides the best combination of concealment and protection. Also be careful
not to leave a trail of broken down twigs and brush, they are surprisingly easy
to spot when in the woods. While moving be sure to stop often, using that time
to both look and listen for anything out of the ordinary that might signal the
presence of the enemy nearby.
We have often times mentioned the value of shadows but you really do need to be aware of them. They can be a great aid when using them to conceal your movement and your FFP, but they can betray you rapidly if you do not pay attention to their constant movement. Be sure to use shadows when performing the initial observation of your FFP as well, and when observing around a tree, stay low to the ground.
Once your team has moved into the location of the FFP, before you begin working on the hide construction itself, perform a quick search of the target area. After that, perform a very detailed search to insure everything is good to go and safe, then begin construction. Remember, if the construction of your hide is going to take a while, do it under the cover of darkness. A lot of that will depend on the type of hide you are planning to build, which we’ll get into in another article. Once construction has begun, be sure to maintain proper security and proper tactical discipline. Sound may be difficult to control here, but you will need to do the best you can.
Once the hide has been built to a satisfactory level you will first want to prepare the things of immediate importance such as a range card of the target area. Then begin to organize your equipment for ease of use, being mindful of the need for a possible hasty retreat. Once those tasks are taken care of, it’ll be wise to setup a routine of observing, eating and latrine use. Establish your routine for the team and ensure that you have fresh eyes on the scope at all times. Your FFP discipline will play a large part in determining the success of your team and how effective they will, or will not, be.
We have covered a lot of “ground” in discussing the selection of a good hide and also in preparing to occupy that hide. None of this is probably earth shaking or new to most of you. But the important thing to try and get across is the importance of discipline. I remember when we, as a sniper team, were acting as the OpFor for a platoon in our company and we had been in our FFP for several hours waiting for the enemy to appear. It was a chilly fall day up in the mountains and my teammate decided to grab his jacket out of his ruck which was placed behind our FFP. Our fault was that we assumed we were not under observation. His undisciplined movement gave our position away to the enemy. It turned out that a private just happened to be looking in just the right place at just the right time to pick up the movement. Bam… we were compromised. Luckily it was a training exercise and not real combat, else it would have ended up a lot worse than it did. We had a great hide, but it did us no good because we became lax. Maintain your hide discipline, it likely will save your life.