Loss of Zero is a MAJOR Problem

Our weapons aren’t always zeroed when we need them. As a result, we're losing some portion of the effectiveness of those weapons… and putting our Nation’s warriors (and innocent bystanders) at increased risk.

We’ve had the honor of training thousands of our Nation's protectors over the past decade. During courses that include rifle work, we routinely ask students if they have a good zero. Almost all of them will say 'yes'.  When we move to the range to confirm, though, the VAST MAJORITY of them will have to make adjustments. Conversations with other instructors indicate that this is a common situation. Shooters think they're zeroed. But they're not.

The fact is that a large percentage of military and law enforcement personnel are operating with rifles that are not zeroed. The implications of this are enormous. For the military, it means reduced lethality and increased casualty rates for friendly forces and non-combatants. For LEOs, it increases risk to officers and innocent bystanders (and increases liability).

Legendary firearms instructor John Farnam wrote a great article [READ IT HERE] that illustrates the problem in the context of domestic law enforcement. In that article, his 'friend from a big department' describes recreating a standoff situation on their range a few days after the actual event. He wanted to see if officers on scene could've made the required shots if the situation had played out differently. The answer was 'NO'. He is quoted as saying "Non-zeroed rifles in police service are a disaster waiting to happen." Mr. Farnam's friend is right. But this goes beyond law enforcement. It's most 'armed professionals'. 

Don't agree?

If our weapon systems really do hold zero, why do we start every qualification with half a day of zero confirmation? And why do the vast majority of shooters have to make adjustments each time?


It’s not just qualifications. Virtually every trip to the range starts with confirming (or establishing) zero. How often, though, do we take note of zero adjustments needed on weapons that were supposed to have been 'operational'?  The answer for most units/ agencies/ shooters is 'never'... but that’s the wrong answer. Having to make adjustments to a 'zeroed', operational rifle should be a BIG DEAL. Unfortunately, though, we have allowed it to become normal and accepted. We make our adjustments, do the day’s work on the range, and forget. Then on our next trip to the range, we do it again.

Most shooters are somehow losing zero between trips to the range. And starting each training (or qualification) session 'fixing it' with zero adjustments HIDES THE PROBLEM.  What if we'd been called on to use that rifle two days before we went to the range?

We've been hiding a zero retention problem by adjusting zero prior to qualifications and live-fire training days.

SWEAT & Zero

The Army's SWEAT model, which was developed by the Maneuver Center of Excellence (MCoE) at Ft. Benning, GA, is useful for understanding combat weapons as a ‘system of systems’- and for understanding the elements involved in establishing and maintaining zero. Within the SWEAT framework, the individual weapon ‘system’ is comprised of: Soldier (or shooter); Weapon; Enhancements (i.e. optics and mounts); Ammunition; and Training.

There’s obviously no magic in this model- and there wasn’t intended to be. But it serves as an excellent reminder that achieving effective hits on bad guys involves more than just a rifle or an optic; it requires proper calibration of each of the elements of a fairly complex system. This is important, particularly since we have a tendency to look at one or two components of the system (typically the gun and sights) in isolation.

So, what does SWEAT have to do with zero? A lot.  Zero is traditionally defined as the alignment of sights so that point of aim (POA) equals mean point of impact (MPOI) at a specified distance.  That’s technically true. Zero isn't just about sights, though. It's about getting ALL of the elements of SWEAT aligned and calibrated. A perfectly zeroed weapon, for example, will be suddenly un-zeroed if the shooter changes his/ her cheek weld.  So, professionals must buy a high-quality, battle-proven optic and a solid mount- that’s incredibly important. But that’s not the end of our zero retention concerns.

Zero is the glue that holds the SWEAT elements together.  It's about getting ALL of the components of SWEAT calibrated to each other. If any one of the components changes or moves, zero is lost… AND WE MISS.


So, what’s the big deal? My shooters are just tweaking zero, not making major adjustments.

If you’re reading this you probably know better. A ‘minor’ one inch zero adjustment on the 25m zero range means that, if the shooter had been called on to use the rifle before the adjustment, a perfect sight picture and flawless fundamentals would have yielded peripheral hits (that may not stop the threat) on a fully-exposed, squared-up bad guy… inside of 100m. Bad guys using cover or further away would have been missed entirely. Maybe this is why the M4 ‘isn’t lethal enough’?

If we hadn't made that 'minor' adjustment to zero...

An otherwise perfectly executed shot group at 150m.

The Precision Paradox

The more we improve the components of SWEAT, the more dangerous loss of zero becomes. In fact, it reverses the overmatch that our superior equipment and training provide us… and puts us at a distinct disadvantage.

Under stress, a skilled shooter with good equipment will place the dot on the threat and deliver a relatively tight shot group. He’s done so enough in training (after adjusting zero) that he expects hits. BUT… if zero is off, the result will be very consistent misses. A terrorist with an AK, by contrast, may spray rounds in a 24 MOA cone (so zero is not important for him)…. but the law of probability says that one of those sprayed rounds will eventually find its mark. Meanwhile, we’re still shooting our tight group of misses. When our zero is off, even a little, the precision of our weapon systems works against us.


So what can we do about this hidden problem? First of all, unit leaders and firearms instructors need to start taking note every time shooters make zero adjustments. They can also go through a troubleshooting process to determine WHY zero was lost. Was it the sight? The mount? Did the shooter change their position on the rifle? Is the problem isolated, or systemic?   

The Small Arms Collimator allows shooters to confirm zero routinely. Even when they aren't going to the range. This is incredibly important. These checks help identify loose mounts, sights that are walking, etc. - and enable the shooter to immediately correct the problem and get the rifle back up and operational. More importantly, frequent checks also help shooters establish and ingrain a consistent position on the rifle.  

Understanding the problem is one thing. Solving it, though, requires constant monitoring of the SWEAT elements to ensure that each is properly calibrated. As we’ve discussed, we’re currently losing zero between range trips. A possible solution would be to increase the frequency of trips to the range for zero confirmation until adjustments are no longer being made. That’s not practical (or even attainable) for most organizations or shooters, though. And it also doesn’t address the issue of equipment failure prior to a patrol or operation, possibly resulting from the bumps or knocks inherent to the combat environment. A more practical and complete solution – really the only solution – is the Collimator.

There are complex interactions between each SWEAT term. Major advancements will only come from exploiting these interactions.

Small Arms Ammunition Configuration (SAAC) Study


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Brunswick, GA 31525 USA


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