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The M249 is supposed to be used in either an Automatic Rifle and Light Machine Gun role. What differentiates either? For years, both qualifications were conducted in a very similar manner and many personnel failed to appreciate any difference.
An Automatic Rifle is individually issued, carried, and used while maneuvering as a part of a team. A Light (or Medium or Heavy) Machine Gun is a crew-served weapon that supports maneuvering elements in offense and defense. The same M249 can be pressed into either role but the usage differs depending on which.
I’ve found many personnel are confused by this difference and merely conduct whichever qualification is easiest.
A Proposed Fix
The following is merely an idea from one person (me) that has no official basis or status. I suggested this to personnel writing current Army small arms doctrine and they will have final say what becomes official.
Given that personnel don’t seem interested in reading and learning the difference, I’d say we should make the AR and LMG quals more distinct. The current AR qual mostly looks like a watered-down version of the LMG/MMG qual.
Grouping and Zeroing: Use the new 25-meter rifle/carbine zero target at 10 meters. Given that target’s 6 MOA “legacy” dashed circle is 4cm – same width as the 10 meter MG paster – and the 4 MOA circle and diamond is about 2.5 cm. The grid at 25 meters is 1 MOA squares, making it 2.5 MOA/0.75 mils at 10 meters. Zero standard becomes to shoot a centered three round burst inside the 4cm circle on that target from prone bipod supported.
Eliminate the 10 meter MG target and course and use the 10-meter range as a preliminary group/zero exercise, like the rifle/carbine.
Qualification: The Automatic Rifle qualification should be similar to the new four-table Modified Record Fire (Barricade) course. Phase 1 and 2 becomes Bipod Supported. Phase 3 and 4 uses a barricade and are fired kneeling and standing supported, respectively. Current Automatic Rifle transition ranges (100-400 meters) can be used as-is with the addition of a barricade and emphasizing longer shots bipod prone and closer distances from kneeling and standing, like the rifle/carbine.
Like the rifle Modified Record Fire (Barricade) course, this makes the qual similar to Drill G (Fight Up).
The Modified Record Fire (Barricade) course requires a reload while changing positions during the timed lull between tables, which (obviously) should be required to be done with magazines in the FLC/LBE/etc. I’d suggest having at least one reload for the AR course in the same manner, reloading with an ammo can, soft assault pack, etc. in a manner as how ammunition would normally be carried on person.
As a side note, we should also have the pistol qualifications require all tables start holstered and reloads done from gear on the clock. LMG/MMG qualifications should have a timed reload and a barrel change portion between tables for the same reasons.
If this sort of thing was built into qualification requirements, leadership might start to care more about it.