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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Is Marksmanship Obsolete?

In the late 1940s, the US Army formed the Operations Research Office to study battle reports from the two world wars. One of the findings was:

"that most combat takes place at short range. In a highly mobile war, combat teams ran into each other largely by surprise; and the team with the higher firepower tended to win. They also found that the chance of being hit in combat was essentially random; accurate "aiming" made little difference because the targets no longer sat still. The number one predictor of casualties was the total number of bullets fired."

This conclusion is what spurred the military to equip the infantry with high-capacity, rapid-fire rifles. However, recruits are still trained on how to fire at stationary targets hundreds of meters away. That kind of training makes sense for snipers but infantry are usually much closer to the enemy in battle. 

Furthermore, ammo use statistics show that in war, only a small percent of rounds fired actually hit the enemy. In the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, US forces fired 250,000 rounds per enemy killed. In the Vietnam, that figure was 50,000, and during WW2 it was 20,000. Conversely, snipers fire a little over 1 round per enemy killed.

Seems to me that if the goal is to kill as many of the enemy as possible, the time and resources spent on infantry should be spent on snipers instead. 

I've read that the main use of ammo in battle is to force the enemy to take cover so another unit can move in, and this is reason the is such as high ratio of rounds fired per enemy killed. OK, but why has the use figure jumped so much then? The US faced much stronger foes in WW2 than in Vietnam and the Vietnamese were far stronger than the enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan. One would think that soldiers fighting the Germans in WW2 would have had a much greater need for covering fire than in current wars. And yet the military has to use more ammo to fight a weaker enemy? That doesn't add up. 

Here is what I think is happening: soldiers are trained to shoot stationary targets at long range rather than moving targets at close range. Since the later scenario is more common in war, soldiers are unprepared and must use more ammo. It seems strange to me that the military tries to make everyone a sniper when most of them will never be in situations where that training is relevant.  

Fortunately, it appears the Army is experimenting with more relevant marksmanship training.

1 comment:

Alan said...

Your information is out of date. All soldiers, especially infantry are trained to fight in CQC (close quarters combat). In addition, you are failing to take into account supply chain, weapon types and terrain.

In basic training (as of 2006) soldiers were taught to fire from the prone unsupported, prone supported and kneeling positions at targets from 50m to 300m. In addition, due to the type of combat operations occuring in Iraq at the time, soldiers were also trained to fire from moving vehicles at targets from 15-100m.

However, enlisted infantry (and combat arms officers, including pilots) are taught the basics of fighting at close range in urban environments and indoors with targets ranging from 5m or less to about 25m. Those units that will be doing lots of CQC fighting further train in special urban cityscapes and indoor homes, businesses etc. with live ammo honing their skills.

Soldiers in WW2 and Vietnam carried nearly all the ammo they would have available in a given firefight. When you are worried about running out of ammo, which would make you defenseless and get killed you tend to not to waste ammo as much. In modern combat infantry often are driven into battle in APCs or MRAPs where they can quickly re-supply. In addition theses vehicles make for excellent cover from which to fire large numbers of rounds to suppress the enemy while maneuvering the attacking force for the kill. Lastly, aircraft are now much more prevalent and their ability to precisely and quickly provide ammo and other supplies to forces in the fight have been greatly expanded - further increasing the ground forces supply of ammo and reducing their need to conserve.

I also wonder about your number of 250,000 rounds fired. Does this include only small arms - or all rounds fired? We use far more bullets than bombs or missiles in Iraq and Afghanistan than we did in previous conflicts because most of the fighting is urban and the objective is not to necessarily kill the enemy, but rather to win the support of the civilian populace. Bullets are more accurate than explosive type munitions and create less collateral damage. It's no wonder then that more of them are used in the conflicts than 500lb bombs or artillery.

The goal isn't to kill as many enemy as possible. If that were the case we would just nuke or carpet bomb everything. The goal is to DEFEAT the enemy, or at least deny him the ability to achieve his objectives. This is NOT the same as killing him. If one of the enemy objectives to to convince the civilian populace to not cooperate with you, then by killing lots of enemy forces, and probably some civilians you then the enemy is winning, even though you might be killing more.

However, I agree that the military still trains nearly everyone on stationary targets, which is not at all like the conditions on the battlefield. Recently, the Marines developed some type of target robots that move around on the range that the rifleman must engage. Initial feedback has been very positive, and hopefully this will be incorporated for all marksmanship training.