Analysis: The Army has a range problem, but it’s not because of the 5.56 round

[G]iving soldiers a more reliable weapon with greater range is kinda pointless if we don’t address one of the Army’s most persistent and glaring faults: its marksmanship program sucks. There’s no one part of the thing we can point to as being problematic. It’s not just the BRM taught at Basic, or the qualification tables. The whole thing, from start to finish, really, really, sucks.

What’s the point of giving soldiers a shiny, new rifle if they can’t hit the broadside of a barn with the one they’ve got?

Now, before you break out the pitchforks and your Expert qualification badges, sit down and think about what I’m saying. Unless your MOS directly involves shooting things in the face, when was the last time you went to the range during the workday for something other than qualification? When was the last time you broke out the rifles for anything other than to qualify, or to clean them for inspection?

For most of you, that answer will be either the last time you deployed, or never. And that’s a huge problem.

Over the last ten-and-a-half years in the North Carolina Army National Guard, I’ve spent more time being told not to kill myself or rape people than how to shoot. I don’t have a problem with qualification myself; I can reliably shoot high sharpshooter to low expert. But I also make a point to shoot recreationally whenever I can. Not everyone has that option, and plenty of folks who do don’t take advantage of it.

For most folks, the entirety of their marksmanship training will consist of three weeks in Basic, the few days out of the year when they go qualify, and maybe a few days or even a week or two of extra training when they mobilize. And that simply isn’t enough.

Nevermind that the Army’s qualification system is stupid and outdated. Shooting static popup targets at ranges between 50-300 meters is a good start, but to rely on that as the sole measure of a soldier’s ability to engage the enemy is insane. According to the Army Times article linked up at the top, one of the driving forces behind looking for a new round is the fact that something like half of all firefights occurred at ranges greater than 300 meters. Meanwhile, your average soldier doesn’t even bother shooting at the 300 meter targets, because they know they can’t hit the damn things.

If the Army’s quest for a new sidearm is any indication, the search for a new rifle will take at least a decade, untold millions of dollars, a half-dozen Congressional inquiries and investigations, and probably a few lawsuits before they settle on the final product. Which means there’s plenty of time to teach soldiers how to shoot before the new gear ever starts filtering its way through the system.

As a starting point, come up with a comprehensive training plan that utilizes Basic Rifle Marksmanship, then build on that foundation throughout the soldier’s career. Get soldiers to the range more often. Update the qualification tables to more accurately represent the threat they’re expected to face. Enforce qualification standards like PT standards, and offer regular remedial training for folks who fail to meet those standards.

Or just carry on before and put a shiny new rifle in the hands of a kid who barely knows which end goes bang. I watched a guy from our battalion’s Forward Support Company shoot a 6 this year. That’s good enough, right?

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7 comments on “Analysis: The Army has a range problem, but it’s not because of the 5.56 round

  1. Marty Goodman says:

    Hire civilian masters and high masters to teach a 3 week course after AIT ends to all Infantry troops. With the focus on medium and long range shooting in 4 positions.

    Similar training can be done for pistol marksmanship.

  2. Sounds great and I think it would be helpful. In fact, the marksmanship units I used to be in (SATT and SARG) did do this in the past.

    The problem is USARC saw fit to disband both units, even with documented evidence that what we were doing was effective.

    Current members of the USARCMP and our Mobile Training Teams were part of this. Convince the CAR to rectify this and we’re ready to go.

  3. Joe Silvia says:

    Seems this is and has always been the responsibility of subordinate leaders.
    MTTs and the like do no good if the internal structure of a unit is not interested.
    Anyone who has recently been or is about to be deployed should be interested enough in survival to spend some extra time with weapon training.
    Do this from the bottom up. It isn’t going to happen from the top down.
    Never has never will. Take responsibility for your own readiness.
    It only takes one competent soldier per unit to make a difference.

  4. Best thing MTTs can provide is guidance for those subordinate leaders to prevent the blind leading the unknowing.

    Good point about one competent soldier in a unit, provided they’re genuinely skilled.

  5. Joe Silvia says:

    That’s my point. With MTTs you are dealing with some who are there because they were assigned to be. I have never encountered a military unit in which someone was not interested in shooting.
    Find that someone in every unit and work up from there.
    Every commander is responsible for unit qual. Most will be happy to have someone in the unit willing to be the subject matter expert.

  6. Jeremiah Johnson says:

    All of the great ideas here are valuable and can have add value to our warfighters. The bottom line however is DOLLAR BILLS. There are limitations as to what is available for actual training munitions. It is called STRAC and it outlines the quantities and types of munitions required for soldiers, crews,and unit to attain and sustain weapon proficiency relative to readiness levels, making maximum use of training aids, devices and simulators (TADSS) and sub-caliber firing devices. At the end of the day there isn’t enough ammunition to give EVERY soldier the training being recommended. The guard and reserves are even worse. If your in some units you don’t even rate a STRAC. Every MTOE STRAC fluctuates depending on the ARFORGEN CYCLE they are in. Couple all of that with a perishable skill set. Our best bet is to train a very basic solid foundation. And focus SPECIAL attention where needed. And support the killers above all else.

  7. >> The bottom line however is DOLLAR BILLS. There are limitations as to what is available for actual training munitions. It is called STRAC and it outlines the quantities and types of munitions required for soldiers, crews,and unit to attain and sustain weapon proficiency relative to readiness levels…

    This is all true, however, I’d argue Department of Army is failing to maximize use of the resources already being spent. Skill rates (more than just qualification rates) can be improved with the resources (ammunition, time, etc.) that are currently being used, if they were used better.

    As conducted, Army-run ranges are often inefficient time sinks spewing bad advice and wrong ideas (“watch your breathing”) by personnel that simply don’t know any better because they’ve never seen a better way. Institutional inertia makes positive change difficult.

    Our training doctrine, especially the current Training Circulars, is plenty good and there are a host of research papers backing up. However, most personnel never read any of this. If all personnel conducting qualification were required to prove they read and understood the current TC or FM (sort of like proving you watched that SHARP and EO video) it would help because that’s how bad it is now.

    Drill sergeants rarely are much more skilled or knowledgeable in marksmanship than the new recruits they are instructing. It’s like having elementary school children in second grade deemed qualified to conduct classes for new first graders simply because they managed to get to second grade. They’re often unchecked and wrong about these issues, have never demonstrated proficiency beyond passing routine qualification themselves, and whatever they spew at recruits during initial basic training will likely be carried by that soldier for the remainder of their career.

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