Regaining the initiative in the infantryman’s hale kilometer

Improving Army marksmanship: regaining the initiative in the infantryman’s hale kilometer

David Liwanag

“The primary job of the rifleman is not to gain fire superiority over the enemy, but to kill with accurate, aimed fire.”

–General J. Lawton Collins

Combat experience in the mountains of Afghanistan, two wars in the Iraqi desert, and current fighting in cities reinforces the need for effective rifle and carbine training to shoot and kill enemy soldiers at all ranges. We have no doctrinal training courses for close combat (7 to 200 meters) nor for extended range (300 to 500 meters) M16/M4 precision shooting. Division-level schools like the 10th Mountain Division’s Infantry Mountain Leader Advance Rifle Marksmanship course (briefed at the 2003 Infantry Conference at Fort Benning) provide 21-day programs of instruction to provide training in close-combat marksmanship, known-distance (KD) training for extended-range engagements, and the use of optics and night-fighting devices.

The U.S. Army infantryman is supported by incredibly sophisticated all-weather weapons and arms notable for their precision, effectiveness, and lethality at extended ranges–yet he must close to within 300-200 meters to engage enemy soldiers with a rifle effective to 500-550 meters. This fight is in the “the infantryman’s half-kilometer,” the difference between the 200-300 meter range of the average infantryman’s training and the 500-550 meter maximum point-effective range of an expert rifleman armed with an M 16/M4.

Today’s accepted musketry standards are far lower than during WW1, when 600 meters and under were regarded as “close” range for a rifle.

Our current marksmanship training programs do not give Soldiers the confidence to control the infantryman’s half-kilometer. Program Executive Office (PEO) Soldier interviews with Soldiers in Iraq found, “In the desert, there were times when Soldiers needed to assault a building that might be 500-plus meters distance across open terrain. They did not feel the M4 provided effective fire at that range. The 82nd Airborne Soldiers wished they had deployed with M14s at the squad level as the 101st did.” Even had they done so, do the Soldiers know how to effectively use them at that range?

WWII observations made by Colonel (later Brigadier General) S.L.A. Marshall, as he documented U.S. infantry fighting experience in Men Against Fire: The Problem of Battle Command in Future War, led the Army to change its training methods to get more infantrymen to fire their weapons during engagements. His analysis led him to several conclusions:

* “What we need is more and better fire.”

* “What we need to seek in training are any and all means by which we can increase the ratio of effective fire when we go to war.”

* “… weapons when correctly handled in battle seldom fail to gain victory.”

* “… a highly proper doctrine which seeks to ingrain in the infantry soldier a confidence that superior use of superior weapons is his surest protection.”

* “The rarest thing in battle is fire in good volume, accurately delivered and steadily maintained.”

* The secret of mobility: “They moved faster because they could place their trust in the superior hitting power of relatively small forces.”

* “The soldier who learns and applies correct principles of fire will always move.”

* “The man who has the fire habit is looking always for forward ground from which to give his fire increased effectiveness.”

The Infantry School at Fort Benning converted these observations into the Trainfire marksmanship program. The Known Distance (KD) marksmanship training system to teach recruits was abandoned for Trainfire instruction on reactive popup/knock-down targets to 300 meters.

General Willard G. Wyman, Commanding General of the Continental Army Command (predecessor of FORSCOM and TRADOC), wrote an eight-page article in the July-September 1958 Infantry Magazine titled “Army Marksmanship Today,” to answer questions and assuage institutional doubts about the new system.

Traditionalists protested that Trainfire was a “short cut” to marksmanship proficiency. Advocates championed Trainfire’s strengths–instead of learning to shoot at round bull’s-eyes, recruits would shoot a combat-style course of fire. Soldiers would gain confidence in quickly detecting indistinct or fleeting targets, rapidly assuming steady firing positions, and hitting detected targets. An unintended benefit discovered nearly 40 years later was the mental training and immediate feedback conditioning derived from rapidly shooting humanoid-shaped silhouettes, analyzed by Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman in his book, On Killing.

Extensive training center tests at Fort Jackson and Fort Carson showed that on the 112-shot/112-target qualification course then in place, over 12,000 Trainfire Soldiers hit 5 more targets, on average, than did KD-trained counterparts. The bottom line: KD produced fewer first-time qualified Soldiers but more experts; Trainfire produced more first-time “Go” riflemen faster and cheaper, but fewer expert shots.

General Wyman pointed out, however, that there would always be a need for extended-range precision rifle fire and a cadre of expert riflemen to give quality marksmanship instruction. The objectives of the Army marksmanship system, he explained, were to quickly and cheaply train large numbers of basic, effective combat marksmen, with units developing precision riflemen for combat and competition. Unit and Soldier mobility and dispersion dictated there would always be a need to cover gaps and terrain using designated squad riflemen (distinct from snipers) who could effectively shoot and kill targets at extended distances to 500 meters.

Infantry Soldiers were to receive Trainfire I in basic combat training. In infantry advanced individual training (AIT), they were to learn to fire as members of squads. Selected riflemen were to take a two-week Infantry School or Advanced Marksmanship Unit KD precision-shooting course, and all Soldiers were to be allowed the opportunity to compete in Army marksmanship events. The most advanced Soldiers would be selected for sniper training.

According to General Wyman, advanced KD and competition shooting were to remain an important part of marksmanship development and sustainment. The order implementing Trainfire I for CONARC units required that a minimum of 50 KD firing points (to 1,000 yards) per division, or equivalent, be maintained at each major installation.

Army marksmanship doctrine shifted to formally emphasize short-range volume fire over precision fire. Soldiers were taught to shoot at terrain and suspected enemy hiding places and firing positions–experience had proven it was easier to get amino resupplied than trained replacements. The Army transitioned from the 8-shot semiautomatic M1 to the 20-shot semiautomatic M14, then to the full-automatic-capable M 16.

Vietnam experience seemed to validate assumptions that most infantry engagements would be intense, short-range fights against indistinct targets. Theory suggested survival and success were linked to pure volume of fire. “Quickfire” point-shooting techniques without the use of sights appeared in the M16 marksmanship manuals, and were trained at Vietnam-specific training centers like Fort Polk using B-B rifles. Army marksmanship doctrine earned the nickname “spray and pray.”

Vietnam manpower requirements demanded large numbers of riflemen from the institutional training base and the Army needed to train thousands of draftees quickly. KD and competition shooting were viewed as expensive and irrelevant for enhancing combat skills and survivability at jungle-engagement distances. FORSCOM and Continental U.S. Armies (CONUSAs) deactivated their marksmanship training units (MTUs).

The current Trainfire rifle qualification course requires a recruit to hit 23 of 40 targets to meet Initial Entry Training standards (before 1980 this was 17 of 40). The expected norm is 27 to 31 hits. Fort Benning recently reported Initial Entry Training Soldiers averaged 27 hits of 40. The qualification score card in FM 3-22.9, Rifle Marksmanship M16A1, M16A2/3, M16A4, and M4 Carbine, shows that to qualify a recruit does not have to hit all 200-meter targets, and can qualify while hitting no targets beyond 200 meters. Recruits are formally evaluated using only two shooting positions (prone and foxhole, supported and unsupported). Soldiers are not trained in sustained fire (being conditioned that a “hit” immediately eliminates a threat when the target goes down).

The Army has trained several generations of Soldiers since 1958 using Trainfire, transitioning from .30 caliber M1 and 7.62mm M 14 rifles through the M16A1 and M 16A2 to the current M 16A4. Nearly all serving Army senior leadership personnel (generals and command sergeants major) have been trained to shoot to a maximum range of only 300 meters.

Trainfire gave Soldiers immediate feedback whether or not they hit a target, but it could not give qualitative feedback (a hit to a fringe area on a 700 square-inch E-type silhouette is as good as a center-of-mass hit to the central nervous system). Trainfire “was never intended to be, nor is it suitable for providing the feedback necessary for diagnosing problems, correcting a faulty zero, or gradually refining or sharpening a beginner’s shooting ability,” according to a U.S. Army Research Institute for Behavioral and Social Sciences report.

Trainfire’s lack of precision downrange feedback, declining numbers of advance-trained shooters and coaches, and the collective inability of our NCO corps to analyze and correct shooting errors began to have a cumulative detrimental effect. By the end of the 1980s, most KD-trained NCOs and officers had attrited from service and Army-wide marksmanship competition was dying. We lost our experienced unit and institutional Army marksmanship training base.

Trainfire is also a throw-back to the active defense strategy of the 1960s and 70s, in that it is a defensive course of fire (where the shooters in static prone or foxhole shoot at targets that appear at varying distances downrange of the Soldier). It conditions a Soldier to shoot as a defensive measure, vice closing with the enemy to destroy him.

Post-Vietnam frustration with the general level of marksmanship proficiency led Army Vice Chief of Staff General John Vessey to publish a Marksmanship Memorandum dated Dec. 11, 1980. The lead sentence reads: “Many current Army regulations and policies place insufficient emphasis on individual, crew, and unit marksmanship. If the fighting Army does nothing else, we must be able to hit our targets. Conversely, if we do all other things right, but fail to hit and kill targets, we shall lose.”

Eventually, Clinton administration guidelines to simplify government resulted in many government and Army regulations being declared obsolete and discarded. In 1996 the Army’s Director of Competition Marksmanship (DCM), directing the Army Competition Marksmanship Program (CMP), became the civilian Director of Civilian Marksmanship overseeing the Civilian Marksmanship Program (a congressionally-mandated corporation). Formal active-Army marksmanship competition ended in 1994, the Army Championships having moved from Fort Benning, Ga., to Camp Robinson, Ark. The U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit (USAMU) at Fort Benning was slated for deactivation in 1998.

The problems identified by the Army Research Institute (ARI) in Basic Rifle Marksmanship Training in 1977 have remained:

* Too few competent instructors,

* Limited basic rifle marksmanship (BRM) knowledge. Limited diagnostic skills, and

* Inability to conduct effective remediation.

A 1980 ARI report found that “there has been a demonstrated loss of institutional knowledge over the years in fundamental marksmanship training skills. Observations of drill sergeants who were unable to correctly diagnose trainee errors or more simply to recognize improper firing positions were not at all uncommon during the test. To assist in correcting trainee errors, the drill sergeants themselves must be adequately trained. The U.S. Marine Corps uses highly qualified instructors in a ratio of one to two students at critical fundamental skill acquisition times. There is evidence that this has much to do with the excellence of their marksmanship training program. It remains to be seen what gains would occur for the Army as the ratio of student to qualified instructor drops from as much as 20 to 1, as now exists, to a smaller ratio permitting greater individual attention per student.”

Steps to correct the loss of marksmanship instruction proficiency led to some Army self-examination. The ARI noted major problems in 1980: “poor quality of instructors (often having to work with high ratios of trainees to instructor, when individual attention is needed), little opportunity for practice of necessary skills, and insufficient feedback of where bullets were landing so that correction of problems was difficult.”

In 2005 very, very few (if any) staff NCOs can train precision marksmanship to 600 yards from experience. Our Army is not trained to shoot to the doctrinal maximum effective range of our service rifle (M16A2-550 meters, M16A1-460 meters) and carbine (M4-500 meters). Army assumptions that combined arms, crew-served weapons, and the infantry battalion’s six organic snipers would dominate the infantryman’s half kilometer have not proven true in recent mobile expeditionary warfare.

To improve marksmanship scores and training, and to provide some sort of timely, quality precision feedback for marksmanship trainers, the Army has invested in five different shooting simulators: the Accudart, Weaponeer, Multipurpose Arcade Combat Simulator, Engagement Skills Trainer, and Beamhit Laser Marksmanship Training System. Despite this investment in research and simulators, the quality of marksmanship instruction remains stagnant. Only 31 Regular Army, 15 Army Reserve, and 20 Army National Guard riflemen representing the entire United States Army fired in the National Rifle Championship Matches in 2003. There are no STRAC ammunition allocations for rifle and pistol competition training, and Army Subject Schedules for advanced marksmanship training and competition are obsolete.

Infantrymen maneuvering in urban battlefields need realistic close-range shooting training. Special Forces units met close-quarters marksmanship skill requirements in the 1970s and ’80s by forming unit-level schools, notably Special Operations Training (SOT) and other specialized courses. Major General William G. Boykin, commanding general of the U.S. Army Special Forces Command, instituted Special Forces Advanced Urban Combat training at group level in the late ’90s.

Close-quarters combat rifle courses of fire can be conducted on existing 25-meter zero rifle ranges that are universal on Army posts.

The Soldier’s perceived limited effectiveness with his rifle has spawned the requirement for the Objective Individual Combat Weapon to compensate. The proposed adoption of the XM8 carbine (with a 12 1/2-inch barrel) to replace the M16 rifle and M4 carbine will further decrease a Soldier’s ability to hit extended-range targets. The XM8 will no longer exploit the relatively flat trajectory of the 5.56mm cartridge to 300 meters. Additional problems arise from the future requirement for training on the 25mm explosive launcher of the Objective Infantry Combat Weapon (OICW). Simulation is already seen as the answer to high ammunition costs and the inability to maneuver on explosive-contaminated ranges. The Army must address the need for precision fire to avoid collateral damage caused by a proximity-fused area weapon and the inherent limitations of a short-barreled XM8. In the interim period between retirement of the M16 and fielding of the OICW, we will be vulnerable to enemy small arms fires from 200-500 meters.

Advance Combat, Known-Distance Marksmanship, and Competition as a Proposed Training Fix

The Army can build a trained cadre of competent NCO rifle marksmanship trainers using both known-distance and close-combat competition as the vehicle. Shooting competitions are held at ranges from 25 to 600 yards. The USAMU can give advanced marksmanship training at Fort Benning, at requesting-unit home station, and in-theater by mobile training teams. USAMU established and began conducting exportable designated marksman courses in October 2004.

Divisions and posts can run competitions covering known-distance shooting, firing from advanced and alternate firing positions (kneeling, standing, and sitting), conducting sustained fire with magazine changes, and adjusting sights to compensate for the effects of environmental and meteorological conditions. Combat matches emphasize rapid target engagements, magazine changes, and offensive action toward banks of enemy targets. Fire-team level events exercise squad leaders and individual shooters in selecting targets and using sustained fire.

Combat KD rifle firing and competition can help build a trained instructor base. KD shooting and techniques provide invaluable precision training feedback. KD teaches Soldiers to compensate for the effects of range and wind (correcting by hold off or sight correction for elevation and wind-age), atmospherics, and lighting. Designated courses of fire reinforce sustained individual and squad rapid aimed fire and magazine reloads, and train squad and fire-team leaders in fire distribution and control. Soldiers are already familiar with E- and F-type silhouette targets. Soldiers shoot offensive courses of fire in full field gear to include helmet and body armor from 600 yards to 25 yards (KD ranges are set up in 100-yard increments from 100 to up to 1,000 yards).

Combat KD courses of fire are offensive in nature. Soldiers and squads advance toward the target line, closing the distance to the “enemy.”

The Known Distance Alternate Qualification Course fired at 300, 200, and 100 yards (see in FM 3-22.9) is an offensive rifle qualification course. Soldiers fire six zero-confirmation rounds from 300 yards in the prone-supported position. They then fire 10 rounds for record in 60 seconds from the prone-supported firing position. Bullet holes are marked on the E-type silhouette to show the Soldier where his groups are impacting, helping to determine whether he is applying the basics of marksmanship. Soldiers repeat with 10 rounds in the prone-unsupported position, then move to the 200-yard line where the exercises are repeated. Soldiers then advance to the 100-yard line where they fire on the F -type silhouette. This qualification course gives excellent feedback and forces the Soldier to employ his marksmanship basics in rapid, sustained fire, and psychologically preps for the offense, to close distance with an enemy from 300 to 100 yards.

The Infantry Team Match is a squad-level KD course of fire. The historic U.S. eight-man infantry squad was issued 384 rounds of .30 caliber ammunition for their M1 rifles (six 8-round clips per soldier. The traditional round count remains at 384 for today’s MI6 or M4 match). Six riflemen engage eight E-type silhouettes at 600, 500, and 300 yards with the squad leader and fire team leader controlling fire and ammo distribution. Targets are exposed for 50 seconds at each yard line. Scoring is by simple hit or miss; hits at longer ranges can earn extra points. Soldiers and teams get feedback from group plots on KD target boards.

Commanders put four squads on a 50-point KD range to shoot the Infantry Team Match. Twenty-four Soldiers, on line, shooting 40 rounds each in rapid aimed fire is inspiring to experience–the cadence and noise of the fire gives the match its nickname, “Rattle Battle.” Four USAMU riflemen demonstrated to Lieutenant General Dennis D. Cavin (then commanding general of U.S. Army Accessions Command) that a four-man fire team armed with M16A2s can deliver 40 shots per Soldier in 50 seconds, scoring 35 to 36 hits per E-type silhouette (against four targets) at 600 yards.

Combat Match 321 and the Combat Excellence-in-Competition (EIC) rifle match start individual Soldiers at 300 yards to rapidly engage timed and multiple target exposures, advancing to repeat at 200 and 100 yards. Soldiers then advance toward the target berm to engage multiple “snap” targets (exposed for 3 to 5 seconds) at ranges of 75, 50, and 25 yards. Soldiers must use prone, sitting, kneeling, and standing positions.

Division and post matches are also venues for Excellence-in-Competition matches, which formally recognize shooters who place in the top 10 percent of competitors. The division and post match format mirrors the Army Rifle and Pistol Championships and helps commanders train NCO marksmanship trainers. Successful teams represent the Army in interservice and national championships.

KD shooting instruction cannot be given at some posts, as the TRADOC Army Training Support Center has declared KD ranges obsolete and dropped them from 2004 edition of TC 25-8, Training Ranges. Many infantry and armor division posts no longer have serviceable KD ranges.

KD combat marksmanship training and competition can produce competent instructors and advanced-skills riflemen relatively quickly. Resources are precious but available.

Marksmanship training experience in the U.S. Marine Corps is centralized at brigade level. A warrant officer “gunner” is responsible for marksmanship-sustainment instruction, competition, and ranges, and his duties are akin to armor and Bradley master gunners. In the 1st Special Forces Group, a designated experienced master gunner and instructor group teaches close-quarters battle (CQB) marksmanship, advanced urban combat marksmanship, and group-level sniper training. The U.S. Army should consider assigning a small arms “gunner” to each infantry brigade headquarters.

“Shoot, move, and communicate” are core Soldier battlefield competencies. Our doctrinal infantry marksmanship yardstick once stated, “If you can see it, you can hit it. If you can hit it, you can kill it.” Trainfire trains large numbers of Soldiers quickly and cheaply. KD and competition produces precision riflemen. The Army’s leadership identified the benefits and need for both systems in 1958. The 2006 Army must invest in precision marksmanship training and competition to re-establish the experience base of our NCO corps and make our riflemen effective in the infantryman’s half kilometer. Training-the-trainer experience has proven we can develop confident and competent NCO and Soldier shooters who can decisively engage and kill enemy targets from seven to 600 yards with our service rifles and carbines.

Technical advances in aiming and sighting devices derived from the USSOCOM SOPMOD (now the Army Modular Weapon System) allow the Soldier to acquire, identify, and engage targets faster, farther, and in the dark or with thermal sights. We are the world’s premier night-fighting force, and we should dominate the battlefield to the maximum effective ranges of our weapons and enabling technology.

Chief of Staff of the Army General Peter J. Schoomaker emphasized the absolute need for marksmanship competency and Warrior focus in his speech at the 2003 Association of the United States Army Convention in Washington, D.C. We must build on that direction to make the U.S. Soldier the most lethal and effective man on the battlefield.

For more information on KD and combat shooting competition, contact the United States Army Marksmanship Unit, 7031 Bill Street, Fort Benning, GA 31905, (706) 545-1272; or the National Guard Marksmanship Training Center, Camp J. T. Robinson, North Little Rock, AR 72199-9600, (501) 212-4504.

Formal Army Recognition of Individual Marksmanship Achievement

In 2003 the Army republished AR 350-66, Army-wide Small Arms Competitive Marksmanship, which dictates procedures and guidelines for service and interservice marksmanship competition and training.

Distinctive badges and awards already exist to recognize competitive marksmanship expertise and achievement. Bronze and silver EIC marksmanship badges are of higher precedence than standard marksman, sharpshooter, and expert badges, with gold Distinguished Rifleman and Distinguished Pistol Shot highest in precedence. Badges and points are awarded for finishing in the top 10 percent of all competitors in announced EIC matches. No sighter or zero shots are fired in EIC matches.

The President’s Hundred tab is awarded to the top 100 shooters in the President’s Rifle and President’s Pistol Matches at the annual National Matches held at Camp Perry, Ohio. The respective champions receive a commendation letter signed by the President of the United States.

Regulations governing the permanent wear of Excellence-in-Competition badges and the President’s Hundred Tab are outlined in AR 670-1.

The USAMU resumed hosting the Army Small Arms Championships at Fort Benning in March 2004. The All-Army Championships help the USAMU, Army Reserve, and National Guard (combined Army and Air Guard) Rifle and Pistol Teams identify talented Soldiers who may be asked to shoot the summer-season TDY. Soldiers represent their components at Interservice and National Championships.

The National Guard Marksmanship Training Unit (NGMTU) at Camp Robinson sponsors the Winston P. Wilson matches, international Armed Forces Skill-at-Arms Meeting, and international Interservice Small Arms Championships. These competitions include combat rifle and pistol matches, machine gun matches, sniper matches, and rifle and EIC matches. They are excellent opportunities to develop advanced combat marksmanship skills.

The USAMU and NGMTC can provide assistance to establish and run brigade-level and above marksmanship competition programs. USAMU recently helped establish an EIC match program for Special Operations Forces and MACOM combat rifle and pistol matches for the Joint Special Operations Command.

Squad Designated Marksman

Army marksmanship doctrine and the new Stryker concept both identify Squad Designated Marksmen (DMs) as Soldiers armed with the standard rifle or carbine, with or without an optical sight, who engage and kill targets to 500 meters (training is specified in FM 3-22.9). A DM equipped with a modified M16 and optical sight may be exceptionally effective at covering ground from 200 to 500 meters. The Soviets historically filled similar requirements with squad and platoon marksmen armed with the 7.62 x 54mm SVD semiautomatic rifle, and the U.S. Marine Corps is studying using accurized M14s and M16s as DM and Squad Advanced Marksman (SAM) rifles. The 82nd and 101 st Airborne Divisions (equipped exclusively with M4 carbines), the 2nd Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team), and the 1st Cavalry Division recently pulled 7.62mm M14 rifles from Army stocks to serve as DM weapons.

The M16 can be modified to provide exceptional accuracy with combat reliability. Since 1993, most Interservice and National records set with either the M 1 or M 14 have been broken by shooters using the M16. One of the most successful individual weapons to emerge since 9/11 is the modernized M16A1 rifle (designated Mark 12 SOF Precision Rifle, or SPR by the United States Special Operations Command). The Army G3 approved a Designated Marksman-modified M 16A4 for the 3rd Infantry Division for use in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2005.

The USAMU-designed SPR and the 3rd ID Designated Marksman Rifle are built using the same techniques as for precision competition M 16s. Armorers install a high-quality free-floating stainless steel match barrel (the hand guard tube and Special Operations Peculiar Modification, or SOPMOD, accessory rails do not touch or affect the barrel) on a flat-top upper receiver and tune or replace the trigger. Ammunition designed for KD competition shooting has proven exceptionally effective in combat in the SPR and M4 carbine to 600 yards. Lethality is increased as hits on target increase. Match-grade ammunition (5.56mm Long Range Special Ball, Mark 262 Mod 0, DODIC AA53 loaded with 77-grain target bullets) is now type-standardized but in limited production for the U.S. Navy and U.S. Special Operations Command. The U.S. Marine Corps has designed and deployed their prototype SAM-R, a very similar system, and use the same type of ammo.

Another rifle that may fill the requirement for an infantry DM is the 7.62mm AR-10T. For all intents and purposes a scaled M16 or M4, it can be configured with SOPMOD accessory rails and use either 7.62mm M118 Long Range or standard ammunition used in the M240 machine gun. Soldiers are already familiar with AR-10 design and operation.


Lieutenant Colonel David Liwanag commanded the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit at Fort Benning, Ga., from June 2003 until June 2006. He is currently assigned to the J3, Special Operations Command–Joint Forces Command at Norfolk, Va. Other previous assignments include commanding the U .S. Army Parachute Team and serving with the I st Battalion, 1 st Special Forces Group.

COPYRIGHT 2006 U.S. Army Infantry School

COPYRIGHT 2006 Gale Group