Ranking Stealth Ability

I want to use this post to write about a very important concept. One useful for both driving your own skill development as well as for making good use of your skills (or the skills of others if you happen to be working together). It is important not just to think of yourself as ‘sneaky’. I think many people do this… But rather to be realistic about your stealth abilities.

I propose the following ranking system as a practical method for tracking your ability.

The Objective Framework

I’m calling this ranking system ‘the objective framework’ because it is both about making the most ‘objective’ generalizations about a very ‘subjective’ talent. But also because the ranked grades are essentially ‘goals’ or ‘objectives’ to be achieved. So working your way through them clearly shows your improvement in skill over time.

What do I mean with my mention of the subjectivity of stealth? I simply mean that stealth is generally the hiding of one’s signature or actions against a given person or surveillance system’s perspective. To which end there is very little ‘objective’ about it. Your goal is to literally hide from the subjective perspective of one or more persons/systems. Making objective sense of this very subjective skill means essentially generalizing over repeated interactions. I mean that it is more ‘objective’ to say that you can avoid being seen if you are behind someone, or behind an obstacle (for example) since this is almost always true.

So what is the objective framework?


The framework ranks stealth skill on the basis of the ranked person’s ability to avoid detection in a collection of circumstances. Essentially if you can successfully avoid detection in one of these circumstances the majority of the time, then your stealth skills are at least at that rank.


The ranks are as follows:

  • Recon – S1
  • Escape & Evasion – S2
  • Maneuver – S3
  • Close Contact – S4
  • Ghost – S5


In the recon scenario you may be tasked with observation of a location or set of persons. Under this task you should avoid being spotted or leaving any trace. You are given the benefit of distance, and generally the element of surprise. Though there may be lookouts aware of the possibility of your precense they should not generally know the time or direction of your traversal of the area.

Generally you do not need to close with the target location in order to complete recon. This is the rank that most stealth enthusiasts quickly master. Going on a recon operation means staying hidden, but it’s not generally all that difficult unless circumstances are particularly strenuous. For some of the things which can happen as a result of general recon (and which might be expected to happen in combat operations or other high security operations) we will see the ranks below.

Escape & Evasion

This rank is for those who under any circumstances are good and evading the capture of a roving patrol which is searching for them. This searching may even be the result of a recon operation gone wrong. Or it can be under more extreme circumstances such as for downed aircrew. The skills required to avoid active pursuers are far more advanced than those required for general recon activity. The abilities of someone able to perform this task successfully under realistic conditions far exceeds the abilities of those folks only able to watch from a distance.

For escape & evasion, there is generally the benefit of distance between the pursued and their pursuers. For this reason there are yet still greater ranks of skill than this. This rank is the one which many military personnel will reach in their careers. This is a significant body of skill.


Stealth operations under maneuver conditions essentially means the ability to employ more than just incidental stealth during direction application of enagement with an oppositional force. This might mean repeatedly outflanking pursuers and applying counter ambush. Or it may simply mean the ability to evade detection to reach a particular objective and extract with an asset while under pursuit.

The skills for maneuver stealth are similar to those from escape & evasion, but far more pressing in their application. The maneuver rank implies the ability to carefully judge with precision the location and ability of the opposition in order to achieve objectives that come ever closer to the opposition themselves. This skill is achieved by many special operations forces who work to achieve objectives in situations where an enemy force may traditionally outperform, and encircle them. For example, extraction operations for downed aircrew by PJ teams.

Close Contact

In this context we use close contact to mean operations which involve closing with any avoiding, or engaging/destroying opposition. This could mean the ability to stealthily enter an objective and eliminate a particular target such as in examples of assassination. It may also mean the ability to close with an objective under the direct control of a target, and extract with that objective regardless of the state of the opposition upon your exit.

This rank is not about elimination of the opposition per-se. It is about the ability to carry out stealth operations within close physical proximity to opposition with the benefit of the ability to be detected by that opposition if needed – as long as the objectives of the operation are completed. This could mean closing with an opponent – then upon detection, ‘popping smoke’ and retreating into an escape & evasion protocol – as long as the objectives were met prior to detection.


Finally, as an evolution of the close contact rank; those who are able to close with opposition to within meters distance, and complete realistic objectives of merit without detection and under real conditions of possible detection may consider themselves rank S5.

This is the tier at which you would expect to find folks such as ‘cat burglars’ who regularly avoid conflict with security forces by entirely avoiding detection under extreme circumstances. Detection at this rank may include any ‘trail’ that the operative leaves behind that could enable pursuit, to include things such as footprints in the snow, or fingerprints on a glass.

In Conclusion

What rank do you think you are? If you want to test yourself using this framework, please do! Just don’t get into any trouble! There are plenty of ways to test your stealth skills that don’t involve endangering yourself or others. You can reach out to me on twitter @zaeyx if you have any feedback.

About the author

Professional hacker & security engineer. Currently at Google, opinions all my own. On Twitter as @zaeyx. Skydiver, snowboarder, writer, weightlifter, runner, energetic to the point of being a bit crazy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *