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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Urban Survival Skills - Firearms Proficiency received a question from a reader asking about "what level of training and what of skills I would recommend in order to make someone proficient in a given rifle and therefore be a contributing member of a Survival Group."

Timely enough, I received an article, by Jeffrey Wall, Staff Sergeant, California Army National Guard, that was published in Small Wars Journal, that related to the current state of training and proficiency in the U.S. Army on small arms, including rifles, carbines, pistols and machineguns, but really focused on the primary weapon which is the M-4 rifle, or carbine if you want to get technical.

I would advise all to go to Small Wars Journal and read the entire article, very interesting with the historical connections. In fact, you may decide to get a subscription. I am posting some of Wall's article as it is pertinent to the question I received about what level of training does one have to have to be proficient in a firearm. My comments in the article are in Italics.

Afghanistan has become a rifleman’s war.

Because we are fighting a counterinsurgency campaign against a tribal warrior society we have and increasingly continued to limit the use of supporting arms (machineguns, indirect fire such as mortars and artillery, and Close Air Support).

The result is that we must rely more and more on our riflemen to engage and defeat the enemy. We know that 52% of the fights in Afghanistan begin at 500 meters and go out from there. The problem is that we don’t teach soldiers to engage with their rifles at those ranges any more. The Army gave up teaching marksmanship as a primary Soldier skill in 1958.

Vietnam tended to reinforce the misconception of rifle marksmanship being of secondary importance as much of the fighting there was at close range – either because of the thick vegetation and/or because the enemy grabbed us by the belt buckle and engaged at such close ranges that we could not bring our supporting arms to bear.

In either case, near or far, we now must rely on our riflemen to do the work. The trouble is they are not trained for it.

Army standards are to – ideally - train a rifleman going to war with 58 rounds of ammunition – 18 to zero and 40 to qualify on the “Pop up Target Range”.....again, that's 58 rounds.

What is not trained when Soldiers are sent to war after having fired only 58 rounds? Long range marksmanship, range estimation, the effects of wind and gravity on trajectory, short range marksmanship, gun handling skills such as rapid magazine changes and enough practice to cement these skills. ( I would include malfunction clearing, transitioning from rifle to handgun, and shooting from disadvantaged positions are necessary skills as well)

So we are sending Americans off to war with minimal rifle marksmanship training to engage an enemy on his turf with inadequate skills. Consider that the pop up target qualification course is all fired with a battle sight zero out to 300 meters. No training in reading the wind is given, no formulistic method is taught for wind estimation or how to calculate a wind adjustment even though the rifle itself has a half a minute of angle windage adjustment capability. Worse still is that many Soldiers don’t even attempt to shoot the 300 meter targets preferring to save those rounds to ensure a hit on the closer range targets. They have no idea what adjustments need to go on their rear sights to engage at 400, 500 or 600 meters. What we have then are soldiers whose effective engagement range capability is 200 to 225 meters.

Presumably you see the problem - the disconnect if you will - between the reality of the war in which we are engaged and our training regimen.

The author goes on to explain the Squad Designated Marksman (SDM) concept where every infantry squad has a better trained and equipped soldier capable of engaging targets with precision at longer ranges. The SDM necessarily has an optic equipped rifle. Furthermore he makes the case of spending the money for the necessary ammunition for training, and in his view, 3,000 rounds to train all Soldiers to engage targets, proficiently, from 0 to 500 yards.

The author breaks down the ammunition expended at each range: 1200 rounds - 0 to 100 yards (the author says... "this is the range zone where the pucker factor is greatest; where the shooting skills must be instinctive, i.e. based on“muscle memory”);

1500 rounds to shoot known distance range to 600 yards and an unknown distance range to at least 700 yards; and, 300 rounds - 100 to 300 yards [this is really the easy distance, little gun handling under pressure is required and little adjustment for wind and gravity are needed.

Training/shooting at night, on moving targets (day and night) and using artificial illumination tools such as white light flashlights and/or IR scopes and IR non-visible lasers must be included. At least a rudimentary knowledge of reading winds and applying corrections should be considered.

The Survival Group should consider having at least some of their people equipped with a magnified scope, not only to scope for effectively at longer ranges, but to use the magnified scope as an observation tool.

As far as specifically answering my reader's question, which is a very good question, I prefer not to talk about amounts of ammunition needed to achieve a certain skill level, may take hundreds of rounds for someone and tens of thousands of rounds for some else. Resources, which mean time and money, will always restrict training. A smart trainer will find ways to mitigate these restrictions.

Anyone relying on a rifle to protect himself/herself and others should be able to accomplish the following tasks:

Disassemble, clean and re-assemble the rifle; load and fire the rifle applying the seven fundamentals of shooting (stance or position, grip, sight alignment, sight picture, trigger control, breathing and follow through);

Be able to zero the rifle at 25 yards placing three rounds at the point of aim in about a dime sized group;

Shoot accurately,..I think a fair measure of accuracy for a novice shooter would being able to shoot and hit a 8 x 11 inch target up to 200 yards using iron sights with a rifle; as the shooter starts drilling center mass of his target, start doing it faster. As the shooter starts shooting inaccurately, then slow down. Speed is built through a constant repetition of this cycle.

Note: I say a 8x11 target, since a piece of typing paper is 8.5 inches by 11 inches and this replicates the vital chest area of a human. Therefore, you always have access to low cost targets. Then your standard is keeping your shots on this paper at all distances.

The shooter should be able to reload the firearm (magazine exchange, aka tactical re-load, and emergency re-load, aka from a empty weapon) order words, reload and get back into the fight.

Correct stoppages and malfunctions and get back into the fight. Training using blank rounds or empty cases in a magazine will force a shooter to confront and remedy stoppages.

This above skill sets are pretty minimal and do not include applied tactics such as shooting utilizing cover and shooting from degraded positions. Not do they consider the high stress environment the Survival shooter will be in. Some physical stress can be replicated and incorporated with exercise such as running, pushups and other physically demanding exercise before and during firearms training. You can incorporate "dry fire" training as well to help build muscle memory and confidence in your fellow Survival Group members. If you consider the environment you live in and will be surviving in, and consider the possible threats you will face, then apply that to realistic training, I think you'll be successful. Hope I answered your question well enough.

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