Thursday, September 23, 2010

History repeats itself

Via Old NFO, we learn that Small Wars Journal has a very interesting article on what our infantry are encountering in Afghanistan. 'A Rifleman's War' is highly educational, in that it shows how deficient standard military weapons training has become in the era of 'spray-and-pray', and how much we've lost since the old days when marksmanship was considered a military virtue. (The US Marines, of course, are an exception to that rule - they've always considered every Marine to be a rifleman, and train accordingly.)

Here's a short excerpt from the article. (Link is to an Adobe Acrobat document in .PDF format.)

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 are even proscribed in villages and cities for fear of inflicting innocent civilian casualties.

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.

Recent publications by Dr. Lester Grau (Foreign Military Studies Office) indicate that a majority of the fights in Helmand Province are between 500 and 900 meters.

The problem is that we don’t teach soldiers to engage with their rifles at those ranges any more.

If Major Thomas Ehrhart’s monograph “Increasing Small Arms Lethality in Afghanistan: Taking Back the Infantry Half-Kilometer” is correct, the Army gave up teaching marksmanship as a primary Soldier skill in 1958, then thinking that all future wars would be waged either atomically or by armored forces where infantrymen would mop up, engaging at close range a defeated and demoralized enemy who had been pulverized by supporting arms and armor.

No one anticipated a counterinsurgency campaign against mountain and desert tribesmen in the Hindu Kush Mountains and deserts of Afghanistan.

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. By the way, this is essentially what happened at Wanat. The “Anti Coalition Forces” (ACM) came in close with superior numbers to try to deny us the use of supporting arms.

Again, back then no one anticipated a counterinsurgency campaign against mountain and desert tribesmen in the Hindu Kush Mountains and deserts of Afghanistan.

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.

. . .

... we are sending Americans off to war with minimal rifle marksmanship training to engage an enemy on his turf with inadequate skills.

Inadequate skills you ask? Can’t be! Consider: The popup target qualification course is all fired with a battle sight zero out to 300 meters. No allowance is made for wind other than “hold a little this way or a little that way.” 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 (call it the EERC) is 200 to 225 meters.

You remember earlier I noted that 52% of the fights in Afghanistan begin at 500 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.

There's more at the link. Very highly recommended.

In my own military service, marksmanship was certainly emphasized, even in a bush warfare environment. One never knew when a long-range shot might be required from the top of one koppie to another, or on a battlefield where the normally thick bush had been thoroughly cleared by artillery fire, vehicle movement and the like.

Another factor, of course, is that the norm for military rifle calibers has moved away from long-range accuracy to a much lighter round with a shorter effective range. The standard Western 5.56x45mm. or Russian (former Soviet) 5.45x39mm. cartridge, in their normal loadings, are accurate and effective out to about 300 yards, but not much beyond that. They may carry further, but their effectiveness on impact is severely reduced, to the point that they may not be capable of inflicting a disabling injury beyond about 600 yards. Their lighter bullets are also more susceptible to wind drift at longer ranges. The older .30-caliber rounds such as NATO's 7.62x51mm. or the Soviet 7.62x54mmR, with their heavier bullets, are much more accurate and effective at such ranges. However, being larger, heavier rounds, they're less controllable in full-auto fire, and an infantryman can carry far fewer rounds for the same weight of ammunition as he can with the smaller, lighter, more modern cartridges. These larger calibers are usually carried only by snipers or designated marksmen.

'A Rifleman's War' will be very familiar to those trained in 'the old school' of military marksmanship, and will doubtless produce a wave of nods and 'I told you so!' comments from those who have never agreed with the adoption of lighter calibers. (That would include yours truly.) Perhaps the realities of combat may yet make our military commanders revisit the issue and select a cartridge that's more effective across a greater number of the wide variety of combat scenarios faced by our soldiers. Fortunately, recent developments offer some promise in that regard. The 6.8mm. Remington SPC and the 6.5mm. Grendel (and perhaps the latter's clones such as the Les Baer .264 LBC-AR) are understood to be currently under evaluation by various special forces components of the US armed forces.



simon åslund said...

What is the point of the 6.5 grendel really? I myself am partial to the 6.5*55 or 6.5 swedish as i have seen it called in the states. An old but good caliber and already widespread as a hunting caliber.

ajdshootist said...

There is a 6.5 round that everyone seems to have forgoten about that with modern Powders and modern Bullets would do the job nicely and thats 6.5x54 ManSch its needs looking

Peter said...

Simon, I couldn't agree more about the superior performance of the 6.5x55mm. Swedish Mauser round. It's one of my all-time favorites, and out of the military cartridges of that era (Russian 7.62x54mmR, US .30-'06, German 7.92x57mm. Mauser, British .303, etc.) it would certainly be my choice as the best all-round performer, particularly at longer ranges where its superior ballistic coefficient comes into play.

If you examine the 6.5mm. Grendel, it comes very close to the ballistics of the 6.5x55mm. Swedish Mauser. With a 120 grain bullet in each, the Grendel has 96% of the Mauser's muzzle velocity and 92% of its muzzle energy, and an almost-equivalent ballistic coefficient. I'd therefore expect the Grendel to approximate the Swedish Mauser round's performance, but do so in a more efficient form factor for use in modern semi- and fully automatic weapons. The 6.8mm. Remington SPC round is marginally less comparable to the Swedish Mauser load, but still reasonably close.

Shell said...

Colonel Hackworth wrote about this very subject in 2004. Almost immediately upon arriving in-country line troops started complaining that something had to be wrong with their method of zeroing their weapons because they were having marksmanship problems.

The Colonel correctly attributed it to bad training. I sent him an e-mail suggesting that a lack of training in firing uphill and downhill was probably a factor, too. (To my utter surprise and delight he replied, saying that he appreciated my bringing it to his attention because he hadn't considered it before.)

To my knowledge the military, in addition to not changing the training to include more long-distance shooting, still doesn't say anything during it about uphill/downhill shooting. How difficult is it to add "Aim high uphill and low downhill." to the syllabus?

Anonymous said...

Send the troops through an Appleseed course before they depart.