HOCHFILZEN, Austria – Military snipers from Belgium, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Slovakia and the United States conducted training on high-angle shooting during the International Special Training Centre’s High-Angle/Urban course Sept. 9-14, at the Hochfilzen Training Area here.
ISTC is a multinational NATO accredited institution that provides education and training facilities for tactical-level, advanced and specialized training of multinational special operations forces and similar units. The training center employs the skills of multinational instructors and subject-matter experts. The High Angle/Urban Course is a two-week course that qualifies experienced snipers to operate and engage targets in mountainous and urban terrain. The second week of the course is dedicated to mastering high angle shooting techniques in the Austrian Alps.
“High-angle shooting is when you shoot further than 300 meters at angles greater than 15 degrees,” said Lieutenant Alexander Rishovd, a sniper instructor assigned to the Norwegian Army Land Warfare Centre. “Imagine the whole shooting process being a triangle and the sniper is on top, the line of sight to the target at the other end is greater than the distance the bullet travels in a flat line. With the greater the angle the more the deviation between the line of sight and the distance that gravity has to affect the bullet.”
Engaging targets from high-angles requires the sniper team to do additional calculations in order to figure out how much the bullet will drop on its way to the target.
“Each degree of angle will have an associated number value called its cosine,” said Rishovd. “For snipers shooting at high-angles they need to measure the range to the target in line of sight and multiply it by the cosine get the actual range the bullet is going to fly. Then the sniper will set his bullet drop compensation from that distance.”
As with all fundamentals of marksmanship the further away the target the greater effect any variable will have. When shooting at a high angle calculating the trajectory is only part of the challenge. The positions that snipers must fire from are often awkward, making long-distance high angle engagements more difficult than a shot at an equivalent distance on a flat range.
“The calculations are not very difficult,” said a Belgian Special Forces soldier. “The challenge is the shooting positions. To aim at targets that are at odd angle requires getting into difficult and sometimes unstable and uncomfortable positions. It is also difficult for the spotter to get a good line of sight. The further out you shoot the more the angle and other factors effects your shot. Operationally it is one of the most commonly used skills, so it is good to refine them here.”
The vast majority of ranges are flat, so snipers do not get to regularly train and refine their high-angle skills.
“It is very difficult to find ranges where you can shoot at high angles,” said U.S. Army Staff Sargent Ryen Funk, a scout squad leader assigned to the 2nd Cavalry Regiment. “We don’t get to practice high angle enough, so it is good to come here and get that experience.”
One of the strengths of ISTC is the ability to seek out training facilities across Europe that are best suited to teaching specialized courses.
“The benefit of an ISTC course, and high angle in particular, is the ability to use facilities that best suits our needs,” said a U.S. Army Special Forces sniper instructor assigned to ISTC. “Hochfilzen compared to most is very user friendly and accommodating, we prefer to come here now because the students love the facilities from the barracks to the ranges. There are few other ranges that allow us to teach high angle so effectively in natural terrain.”
Training in the steep and technical Austrian Alps also challenges the students physically during the course. In order to access the ranges used by the ISTC for high-angle shooting, the entire class must ascend up to 2000 meters in elevation with all the necessary gear to sustain training operations.
“You also realize when operating in the mountains you have to be light,” said the Belgian soldier. “With a sniper rifle and sometimes two rifles, hundreds of rounds of ammo, tripod, spotting scope and night optics, mountaineering gear, sleep system, and water and food your pack easily gets over 40 kilos. It is a difficult balance because snipers require a lot of specialized equipment, so you have to decide what is absolutely mission essential.”
The opportunity to train in an environment that realistically reflects those on missions provides valuable experience to students, so they can make more informed decisions in the future. The training also gives students the opportunity to learn from each other and see what works best in the field.
“For us it is good to work with SOF and see how they do things,” said Funk. “Every country brings something different and that enables you to share those learned experiences, and you can take back to your unit what you think is beneficial.”
As with all ISTC courses the students and instructors come from diverse backgrounds, and by combining efforts it enhances the learning experience for everyone involved.
“Each country has its own tactics, techniques and procedures,” said the U.S. instructor. “When we pair snipers from different countries together, or have them compete against each other, they are able to compare and see what works best. Then they are able to add those best practices to their toolkits.”