SURE KILL: A Baseline for Sniper Lethality


Increasing lethality within a unit’s sniper section requires leadership to understand the key elements of overmatch. Overmatch is the sniper’s ability to apply their learned skills, employ their equipment correctly, leverage technology and apply the proper force to create an unfair fight in favor of the sniper team.

Prior to a sniper team deploying to the front lines, leadership must develop a robust training strategy for the sniper team. The training strategy must develop and sustain tactical skills that allow the sniper team to maneuver effectively, observe and report information, employ accurate and precise fire onto targets and survive on the battlefield.

Discussion in the forthcoming paragraphs will focus on the individual sniper weapon system and how to establish a baseline to assess the shooter’s capabilities with that weapon system.

Author using the MagnetoSpeed V3 barrel-mounted ballistic chronograph to obtain muzzle velocity for a Pentagon ERT counter sniper.


Establishing baseline data on the individual sniper and their assigned weapon system allows leadership to establish a baseline of the performance of the sniper. Baseline data will indicate the level of skill and capabilities of the sniper and their weapon, determining their effectiveness and any further training that might be needed.

The first step in establishing baseline data for the sniper is grouping and zeroing of their assigned sniper weapon system. Zeroing is a maintenance procedure with the sole purpose of achieving the desired relationship between line of sight and the trajectory of the round over a known distance. In order to reach a high level of accuracy and precision, the sniper must first achieve a consistent grouping of a series of shots, then align the mean point of impact of that grouping to the appropriate point of aim.

The second part of zeroing is conducting a scope calibration test on the assigned optic of that weapon system. Uncalibrated sight adjustments are one of the most common problems in shooting. In most cases, there is some error in scope turrets. Like every measurement instrument, the sniper needs to verify the scope turret adjustments and determine if the adjustments are accurate. The sniper will conduct a tall target test as follows:

  • Level target at 100 meters. This distance must be confirmed with a tape measure.
  • Visually check horizontal and vertical stadia line alignment with target.
  • Dial zero mil of elevation (100-meter zero).
  • Fire a five-round string and group at the lowest target circle.
  • Dial 10 mil of elevation.
  • Fire a five-round string, but use the same aim point as in step four.
  • Measure vertical distance in centimeters from group to 100-centimeter line.
  • Measure horizontal distance in centimeters from group to vertical stadia line.
  • Apply correction factor to ballistic program to account for scope tracking.

Every centimeter equals a one-percent elevation error. For groups above the 100-centimeter line, subtract from 100. And for groups below the 100-centimeter line, add to 100. The answer equals the correction factor percentage. For horizontal measurements, every centimeter equals 0.1 milliradian of scope canting.

Weapon cant or scope cant must be accounted for and should be identified and corrected through the use of an anti-cant device for all engagements.

Long Range Arms (LRA), a U.S. company based out of Idaho Falls, Idaho, has designed a robust and precise electronic level that eliminates cant and produces much greater accuracy than a mechanical level.

You never have to take your eyes off the reticle. The Send iT from LRA is far more accurate than mechanical levels, and its green LED can be seen easily out of your peripheral vision.

When mounted on a Picatinny rail, each LRA Send iT Level is factory calibrated on multiple axes using 12 points. This calibration is completed for various mounting positions that the sniper may encounter. The factory calibration uses the 12 points of reference in an algorithm to ensure precision in a way that a standard level simply cannot. A built-in user calibration mode allows the sniper to set the level true to their crosshairs. This mode can be set when swapping between rifles and from multiple mounted positions. The Send iT level automatically recognizes and orients itself much like a smartphone orients the screen when rotated.

The green LED on the Send iT indicates when the rifle is level, and it does so 3–5 seconds more quickly than a mechanical level. Five different sensitivity settings allow the end user to vary precision according to the task at hand. Send iT’s LEDs are superior in low light conditions, and the device works with night vision/thermal scopes for no-compromise tactical applications. (

Once the sniper has conducted their grouping and zeroing procedures, the next stop is the chronograph station. The sniper will fire 10 rounds to establish the standard deviation of the ammunition and the muzzle velocity of their rifle. Muzzle velocity is one of the most important inputs for a ballistics program.

MagnetoSpeed’s barrel-mounted ballistic chronographs use electromagnetic sensors that are designed to operate in the harsh environment at the muzzle of firearms. MagnetoSpeed’s chronographs shrug off common environmental conditions that bedevil other products, such as too much/little sun, fluorescent lights, nearby shooters’ muzzle blasts, high winds and many other unpredictable variables. Using the provided spacers, the sniper adjusts the bayonet so that the bullet will travel just above the unit’s sensors. Each sensor produces a voltage that is proportional to the change in local magnetic field induced by the bullet. The display unit is able to use these voltages to accurately determine the time the bullet was directly over each sensor. Because the distance between the two sensors is precisely calibrated (+/-.005 inches), the sensors can report the velocity of the projectile very accurately.

After muzzle velocity data collection, the sniper can conduct a calibration of their firing solution if needed. Before calibrating a ballistic firing solution, the sniper needs to ensure that all variables and device settings are entered and set up correctly. The primary error in a ballistic firing solution is entering the wrong information.


Commanders can assess a sniper’s probability of successfully hitting the intended target by using the zone confidence table and the sniper’s training and qualification records to establish their baseline of performance.

  • The crosswind confidence level can be defined as “High” (experienced sniper, great downrange wind indicators), “Medium” (easy environment, such as a flat range) or “Low” (challenging environment, such as a valley in Afghanistan).
  • The range estimation confidence level can be defined as “High” (sniper using a laser range finder), “Medium” (expert use of ranging reticle) or “Low” (average use of ranging reticle).
  • The rifle estimation is represented by the mean group size that the sniper is capable of at close range (100-meter zero) expressed in minutes of angle (MOA).
  • The variation in muzzle velocity of the ammunition is characterized by the standard deviation (SD). This metric can be obtained by the sniper using a chronograph for his rifle and ammo.

By testing the sniper in crosswind estimation, range to target estimation and by assessing his rifle’s precision (grouping ability) and ammunition velocity consistency (chrono-graphing the current lot of ammunition), leadership can gauge the capabilities of their sniper weapon system (rifle, scope, ammunition and shooter). Leadership and the sniper can evaluate whether or not a shot should be taken based on mission requirements, situation, terrain and probability of hit. Several factors may influence the decision to take the shot, including the following:

  • Distance to the target
  • Size of the target
  • Speed of the target
  • Movement patterns of the target
  • Shooter/spotter proficiency
  • Consequences of a missed shot

If the target size and range require a sub-minute-of-angle (sub .29 milliradian) level of precision, then the sniper weapon system must be capable of producing that level of precision.

Once a baseline of the individual sniper and their weapon has been established, leadership should shift focus to other forms of training, which may include the following:

  • Stationary target hold-off training
  • Moving target engagement training
  • Alternate position training
  • Range estimation and target detection training
  • Field craft and observation/reporting training
  • Qualification and culmination exercises

Only through repeated practice and taking the time to establish a baseline for their snipers will leadership and their sniper teams reap the benefits of lethality on the front lines.