Royal Marines Sniper Training

The latest Sniper course has just completed at Commando Training Centre Royal Marines. The course normally runs twice a year is 13 weeks long and is widely acknowledged as one of the hardest military training courses in the world.

In the Royal Marines Sniper training is conducted by the Platoon Weapon (PW) specialisation.  The PW’s are subject matter experts on all infantry weapon systems and plan and conduct infantry live firing exercises. 

The sniper candidates had already passed a week long selection course before they started the course, as due to the demands placed upon the students a high level of infantry competence is required. 

Once students are on the course the training team teaches them advanced levels of infantry skills based on those that all Royal Marines learn in training.  These include marksmanship, map reading and camouflage and concealment techniques. 

“The sniper should be a first class marine,” says a sniper instructor.  “He should be very good at fieldcraft and exceptional at marksmanship.  You’re building the capability on that.” 

The sniper should be a first class marine. He should be very good at fieldcraft and exceptional at marksmanship

These core skills are then practised repeatedly in challenging and operational related conditions to achieve a highly refined level of competence.

“The guys may have to operate in small teams, and he may have to brief senior officers.  He needs to know what he’s talking about when it comes to maps and models and air photography.”  

The snipers also learn about foreign weapons, ballistics and the various night vision optics available to them.  They also have to pass a long range shooting test using their L115A3 rifles which are accurate up to 1200 metres. 

Much of the course is spent on Woodbury Common refining their specialist skills in varied locations.

Typical Day

A typical day will start off with the sniper candidates doing a static map reading test.  These normally start with the marine having to prove his position using a resection which is a reverse bearing from identifiable objects. 

After the map reading they will do judging distance. The instructors will ask them to identify the distance to a tree or other object and the students will make an estimation using nothing but experience and their knowledge of terrain. This is probably one of the hardest elements of the course and is done they need to identify ranges to a potential target before they engage.

Next they progress to an observation stance. Here they will have items of equipment or weapons hidden amongst the undergrowth.  The students normally have 40 minutes to observe them and correctly identify the objects amongst the foliage using binoculars.  

The sniper students also do Kim’s games, which are memory tests. The name is derived from Rudyard Kipling's 1901 novel Kim, in which the hero plays the game during his training as a spy. 

Objects are placed on a sheet or poncho and the students are given several minutes to observe them. Items can include anything from a rifle magazine to a watch with a certain time set on it. The students have to memorize as much information as possible before the objects are covered up again. Later they have to recite what they saw in detail.

The final part of the day will be a Stalk.  This is the military term for approaching an enemy unseen.  There are three groups: the observers, the walkers and the sniper candidates.  


The students are given a target, the observers, and they will be given an area with boundaries.  They will be given ever decreasing amount of time to camouflage themselves using the local foliage. 

The snipers camouflage net is known as a ghillie suit.  “Just putting your ghillie suit on doesn’t make you invisible, you have to change the camouflage as you move to blend in with the ground,” says the sniper instructor.  

The students must approach the target over the course of several hours without being seen by the observers who use binoculars and telescopes.  This usually involves a large amount of crawling. 

Once the sniper is within a set range of the target ie 500m they set up their final firing position with their rifle on a tripod with a rice bag for stabilisation. They fire once. If the observers can not see them they get a walker to move within 10 metres of the sniper and then he will fire a second round.

If the observers can still not see the sniper the walker will put his hand on his head to see if the observers can pick him out. Following this the walker will check the snipers sight alignment and wind settings are correct and the observers will hold up a paddle with a symbol on it to check that the sniper can actually see them. The observer will ask what range estimation the sniper is declaring, and this must be correct.

If the sniper has passed all these tests he is then allowed to extract out of his position.  If he manages all of this successfully he scores maximum points. 

World leader

In recent years the length of the sniper course has increased considerably to 13 weeks long, of which a month is spent on developing marksmanship skill, firing at increasingly longer ranges.  

“The course was looked at in detail as we were trying to not only improve the pass rate but also the end product,” says the sniper instructor.  “We looked at the marksmanship phase and realised that if the guys were given a few extra days of marksmanship they were less likely to fail that module.”

“The shooting has never been as good and the standards have never been as high as they are currently.  It’s really good to see the young marines that are making the grade,” he adds. 

The Royal Marines Sniper course is recognised as a world leader and can also be attended by the army and foreign nations, providing they have the ability.