- Last week, the Ukrainian military claimed one of its snipers successfully engaged a target at 1.68 miles.
- The shot was uploaded to social media as an example of Ukrainian troops pushing Russian soldiers off their land.
- Although the shot was difficult, it was not impossible, and the claim may well be true.
Ukraine’s armed forces claim one of its snipers made one of the longest-distance shots in history last week: the targeting of a Russian soldier at 1.68 miles. Popular Mechanics could not independently verify the shot, which was recorded and posted to the messaging platform Telegram. The shot is not physically impossible, however, and there is at least one reason to suspect it really did happen.
The Ukrainian military’s Strategic Communications Office posted the video to Telegram on November 13. It appears to show a Russian soldier walking through a treeline, perhaps one with trenches dug into it. Much of the battlefield in eastern Ukraine is made up of fields of low-lying planted crops, every kilometer interrupted by narrow stands of trees. These stands tend to be fortified with trenches, as the trees give troops some concealment from drone surveillance.
The video shows the sniper’s aiming reticle as it follows a Russian soldier. The soldier moves with a treeline behind him in the background, and when he pauses, the sniper fires a single round. The soldier falls. The sniper also engages another Russian soldier who runs to aid the first soldier, shooting him as well. The distance: 8,891 feet.
The Ukrainian military didn’t provide any further details, but the video allows us to make some informed guesses. The weapon used was almost certainly one of Ukraine’s big-bore sniper rifles, either the T-Rex or Snipex Alligator. Both weapons are bolt action rifles chambered in Soviet 14.5-millimeter, originally a heavy machine gun round. A 14.5-millimeter, at .57-caliber, is even larger than the .50-caliber round used by the American/NATO M2 heavy machine gun. The Alligator is 6 feet, 6 inches long and weighs 50 pounds. The 14.5-millimeter round weighs 2.2 ounces, probably the heaviest sniper round available.
The Snipex Alligator was issued to the SSO, Ukraine’s special forces troops, in December 2021. Snipex advertises the Alligator as having a maximum effective range of 6,561 feet, so the shot was outside the rifle’s typical engagement range. But if a variety of factors are adequately compensated for, the rifle can technically reach farther.
The video was taken with a night vision device clipped onto the rifle scope, but we don’t know whether or not the shot was taken during the day or at night. The night vision device could have been used because it provides good contrast between a soldier and his surroundings, or simply because it allowed the sniper to record what was going to be a truly remarkable shot. Whether or not the shot was taken during the day or night is irrelevant, however, as the considering factors are the same.
The rifle is fitted with a high-powered scope, probably 20x or more. The scope is fitted with a tall scope mount that can not only physically accommodate a large scope with a large objective lens, but a mount that can make the necessary, and somewhat extreme, elevation adjustments necessary to make the shot.
As a bullet exits the barrel of a gun, it is immediately subject to the gravitational pull of Earth. The gravitational force will not only eventually slow the bullet to a complete stop, it will also cause the bullet to gradually fly lower to the ground until it impacts the dirt. Because the laws of physics are constant, this “bullet drop” is predictable and can be properly compensated for. If a bullet will be 100 inches lower at a distance of 1 mile than it was when it exited the muzzle, the sniper can adjust the scope elevation to compensate. That’s why, despite the extreme distance in the video, the sniper in the video can simply center the reticle on the enemy soldier and shoot.
One major factor supporting Ukraine’s claim: the time of flight of the bullet. In the video, it takes just under three seconds for the bullets to hit the Russian soldiers. The 14.5-millimeter round has a muzzle velocity of 3,241 feet per second, meaning it should take roughly 2.74 seconds to hit the target. Bullet velocity is not constant, however, slowing with the effects of gravity, so a little less than 3 seconds is within realistic expectations for the shot.
Some have suggested this incredible shot could be a morale-building hoax, like the “Ghost of Kyiv” fighter pilot in the early days of the war. The “Ghost” was a fabrication by the Ukrainian media in the early days of the war to build civilian morale. The Ukrainian military is a bit more measured in its claims, and if it was in the habit of inventing difficult shots like this, it would probably have done so months ago. Given the fact the war has been going on for the better part of a year, it’s actually kind of surprising that a shot at this distance wasn’t made sooner.
Is the video real? We may never know for certain. It is certainly technically possible, and after eight months of war, a small cadre of Ukrainian SSO special forces snipers likely has the necessary experience.
Writer on Defense and Security issues, lives in San Francisco.