On-Target Training: Rifle Qualifications Dusted Off Down Under
The Australian Army is integrating its new primary rifle, the EF88, into the soldier training continuum in a manner that provides an excellent example for the U.S. Army.
By simultaneously amending the qualification standards and techniques for the rifle as it is delivered to army units, the Australians are able to leverage the increased capability of the weapon and instill the combat mindset in soldiers from all MOSs. The opportunity exists for the U.S. military to duplicate this in the future through range refurbishments, or as new ranges are developed.
The Combat Marksmanship Program in the Australian Army is a new approach to training soldiers to be experts in close combat. It enables soldiers to accurately and rapidly shoot and “kill” realistic enemy targets by day and night, from cover, with efficient use of ammunition while under pressurized and competitive conditions that simulate battlefield stress.
The continuum starts from initial entry training and progresses as soldiers move into combat specialties to include advanced marksmanship. For example, a quartermaster soldier may not progress beyond 300-meter engagements for qualification, and conduct only basic close-combat-shooting training, whereas an infantry soldier will advance further on the continuum and be expected to execute accurate engagements at ranges of 600 meters and continue on to more advanced close-combat training.
A Better Rifle
Before initial delivery of the EF88, Australian Army leaders realized that this weapon, with its improved ancillaries, could increase the lethality of their soldiers. Therefore, as the new weapons arrived at the first units, the army had a pilot qualification standard ready to maximize the weapon’s capabilities and enhance the way qualification ranges are conducted.
The new qualification standard shoots are developed to incorporate:
- Increased ranges (out to 600 meters for infantry soldiers).
- The use of cover and alternate firing positions.
- A stimulus, response, reward vs. simple round count hit process.
- The use of realistic targets.
- Scenarios using fire-control orders that support good combat behaviors.
The previous standard rifle qualification did not require infantry soldiers to fire beyond 300 meters because the 1.5 magnification optic on the weapon made accurate engagements to that distance, the maximum that could be expected. With the new SpecterDR 1x/4x magnification scope, including a bullet drop compensator, a properly trained soldier can expect to accurately engage targets at 600 meters. Decisions are still underway as to what the specific engagement distance requirements are for each soldier, but 600 meters is achievable and slated for incorporation into the new infantry qualification shoot.
The new training continuum and final rifle practice also include use of cover, alternate firing positions and movement forward before some engagements. Firing from the kneeling and standing positions alone without utilization of cover/concealment can lead to poor combat behavior; i.e. soldiers kneeling and standing in the open when adequate cover or concealment is nearby. The Combat Marksmanship Program uses plastic blocks to provide cover and support options for shooters during qualification. By incorporating movement and the use of cover and alternate firing positions, the rifle practices become not just a test of objectives, but also a training event that reinforces positive combat behaviors in soldiers through every iteration.
On most U.S. qualification shoots, the shooters know they have an equal number of rounds for a given number of targets. During the standard basic qualification shoot, each candidate is issued 40 rounds for 40 targets. Therefore, the soldiers expect the target to either drop immediately if they hit it, or remain upright if missed. Over time, this can lead to an unconscious bias of thought that an enemy soldier engaged in combat will go down after an accurate shot. History has proven that this simply is not the case. Combat requires a soldier to continue to engage an enemy until they achieve a lethal or debilitating effect. The stimulus response technique in the new Australian qualification trains just this.
Each target is divided into zones. For example, an arm or shoulder shot is worth two points, a stomach shot is worth three, and a head or chest cavity shot is worth six. The targets are then set to fall only after achieving a lethal effect, in this example, a total of six points. So, while some soldiers may see an immediate effect on the target after one shot because they struck the lethal zone, others may need to hit the target two to three times before it falls. This type of engagement reinforces in soldiers, on every qualification practice, that hitting a target once is not necessarily good enough, and that they must continue to engage until the enemy is neutralized.
Another change the program has fostered is the use of realistic targets. The standard Australian Army target is an orange Figure 11 target. It’s bright orange and represents a nation-neutral silhouette. However, its true look is between an angry soldier or comic book caricature, but not a combatant one could expect to see on the battlefield. Leveraging off evidence such as that produced by retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Dave Grossman in his book On Killing, the Australians are researching new targets that are more realistic and representative of a non-nation-specific soldier and camouflage uniform pattern, thus bringing further realism to each engagement.
The scenarios developed for the new marksmanship program make the shoots realistic to instill further good combat behavior. Commands come to the shooter via a set of fire-control orders to place the soldier in a combat mindset. The targets then appear at ranges from 50 meters to 600 meters in a sequence that forces soldiers to shoot near targets before far targets and moving targets before stationary ones.
Accuracy Is in Order
As an example of how this is accomplished, the concept of the first serial for Rifle Practice 6A follows.
At the beginning of the serial, the first target to emerge is the 600-meter target. This target alone is up for approximately 10 seconds, then the 500-meter appears. The 600-meter target remains up but can no longer be neutralized until the 500-meter target is first, reinforcing the elimination of the most dangerous or, in this case, nearest threat first. The 400-meter targets then appear and those not neutralized at the 500- and 600-meter range remain visible. This continues until, at the 100-meter range, targets appear, to include laterally moving targets at 100 and 200 meters. At this point, all targets that were not previously engaged are still present, giving the effect of the enemy moving in on a position with the opportunity to continue to engage the targets missed from near to far if able.
Due to the nature of the scoring, there is not an exact quantity of ammunition required to complete the shoot. Rather, the goal is to still have rounds remaining after completion, thus reinforcing to the soldier that ammunition allocation, in combat at the individual level, must be based on effects achieved with a mind toward future engagements. At the beginning of the practice, soldiers are given four magazines of 30 rounds, forcing them to conduct magazine changes or ‘top-up’ drills throughout the shoot with no guidance from the range director. This use of unplanned magazine changes, and an understanding of ammunition conservation, further strengthen those desirable combat behaviors. In a given tactical situation, the shooter can choose when to change a magazine but when one is empty, or a stoppage occurs, they must rectify it on the spot. There are no “alibis” in combat.
It’s Not All Work
Despite the serious nature of the exercise, shooting the new Combat Marksmanship Program is fun. The movement and different positions required, target engagements at varying distances, and progression of the shoot make it an exhilarating experience. Numerous studies have shown that enjoyable experiences while training are conducive to learning. The new program in the Australian Army is just that. Rather than taking a back seat after achieving a pass mark, soldiers are lining up to have another attempt, conducting dry practices while they wait without prompting, and coaching one another. This rewarding and challenging shoot places soldiers much closer to combat-like situations and reinforces good combat behavior so when they deploy for the first time, they are better prepared.
As leaders, we are charged with using every opportunity to better prepare our soldiers for combat. Utilization of techniques such as those above in basic qualification standards can further enhance current biannual requirements in the U.S. Army. By continuously striving to make every training event as realistic and beneficial as possible, we develop precombat veterans who are armed with the highest levels of survivability and lethality possible and best prepared to win on the battlefield.