September 05, 2005
Updated rifle course brings new scoring system, tougher field firing, additional phases
By Gordon Lubold
Times staff writer
Want to qualify with your M16A4 or even your M4 carbine? Go ahead. Got a new three-point sling? Bring that, too. But the Corps’ new rifle marksmanship program will require you to take the field-firing portion a lot more seriously than you do now and you can forget about qualifying on Tuesday and going home early.
The program that goes into effect Oct. 1 is longer, tougher, more flexible, more realistic and has more “teeth” in it now, to hear one gunner tell it. But when you finish it, you’ll be better prepared for combat shooting than ever before, officials say.
It’s all part of a plan to vastly improve the Corps’ marksmanship program. After a couple false starts over the last year or two, Corps officials are making big changes they say will improve the way Marines requalify with the rifle each year.
The five-day program that kicks off in October is only an interim program; range officers, gunners and others will work to make a broader, even more systematic marksmanship program over the next year or two. But for now, the new program is considered head and shoulders above the old one because it’s far more attuned to combat and holds Marines more accountable for the training each year, officials say.
“This is a huge step in the right direction,” said Capt. Dan Griffiths, assistant marksmanship coordinator with Weapons Training Battalion at Quantico, Va.
Soon, you won’t be able to speed through rifle requalification like you’re running a PFT. The new program keeps you on the range for a full week — no exceptions — because you can’t qualify early anymore. And the field-firing portion now has an effect on your bottom-line score. Also, the scoring system for the known-distance course has been totally revamped too — scoring is once again based on a total of 250 points, a system that Marines who have been around the block a few times will remember well.
Now, rifle qualification will be full of learning moments, and not just a yearly tasker that drags you away from that ever-growing stack of work back at the shop.
Officials say the new program also:
• Focuses on basic marksmanship by creating a more logical progression of training.
• Changes targets, replacing the “dog” targets used in the hit-or-miss scoring system with circular targets appropriate for the new scoring system.
• Allows Marines to qualify with the weapon they carry — whether it’s the M16A2, A4 or M4 carbine, and lets shooters use the new three-point “tactical” sling that is gaining popularity among Marines.
• Minimizes the number of Marines who can “opt out” of requalifying if they’ve shot expert previously.
• Requires units to conduct their own combat-related courses of fire starting Jan. 1.
“The program is going to be a phenomenal improvement,” said Maj. Gen. Thomas Jones, the head of Training and Education Command at Quantico, who will retire Sept. 8. “It more closely represents how they’re using a weapon in combat.”
The aim is to bring Marines back to the basics: It’s no longer a check-the-box-and-move-on evolution — it’s becoming an annual training session that focuses the shooting skills Marines will need in combat, according to those who helped put the new program together.
“There is more of a focus on training than there is on just getting a score,” said Griffiths, who spoke on a Quantico range as he watched gunners and range officers from around the Corps shoot the new program Aug. 25.
Apart from the scoring changes, one of the biggest — and perhaps most intimidating — differences Marines will see is in the field-firing portion. What Marines will notice first is that the targets are a lot closer. Instead of shooting the “Table 2” program at distances of 200 and 300 yards, the focus is on plugging targets from just 25 yards.
And here’s where it gets interesting: The field-firing portion is now a tested event. Marines will shoot for a pass/fail grade and if they pass, good on ’em. But if they fail, they’ll have to go through remedial training and no matter what their K-D score was, it drops to 190, the minimum passing K-D score.
Chief Warrant Officer 3 John Bennett, Quantico’s range officer, said he has noticed that since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Marines began to get serious about the field-firing portion. Still, this new phase — actually, it’s not called a phase anymore, it’s called a table — with its two days of instruction and qualification and its effect on the Marine’s bottom-line score has a lot more meaning.
“It’s got big teeth and people will take it more seriously,” Bennett said.
There are other aspects of the program Marines may — or may not — like.
Under the current rifle requal program, Marines who shoot expert for two consecutive years don’t have to go back out to the range. Now, that exemption will be a bit harder to get, Griffiths said. If a Marine shot expert, but only has a score of 220, for example, his commander now has more authority to order him out to the range the following year.
“I think it was defined more as a right than a privilege,” Griffiths said of the prior exemption.
The Corps is also allocating up to 67 million rounds for the combat-related aspects of the marksmanship program found in the updated field-firing portion and two new unit-level training packages — tables 3 and 4 — that debut Jan. 1. More ammo means fewer headaches for range officers and unit commanders, who in the past have had to hunt down enough rounds to conduct combat shooting, he said.
The new program also applies to the Marine Corps Reserve, but the tables will be modified to reflect the needs of Reserve training. Officials are now working out the details on that, Griffiths said.
All Marine units will be required to shoot an additional course of fire over two- or three-days’ time at some point each year called Table 3. Infantry units will have yet another program to shoot now known as Table 4.
These two programs are new. When they are incorporated into the marksmanship program this winter, all Marines will get an additional three days of close-combat shooting experience and grunts will get as many as six days of marksmanship training.
Not every Marine a rifleman?
As a whole, the new course looks like it finally answers the mail on long-standing concerns among enlisted leaders about the state of the Corps’ marksmanship skills.
A group of noncommissioned officers visited Washington in the summer of 2001 to propose ways to improve the Corps, and chief among its gripes was the notion that that non-infantry Marines were neglecting basic rifleman skills.
The Marines, who discussed issues with the then-commandant and sergeant major of the Marine Corps at the NCO Symposium, said the Corps was unwittingly loosening its standards on those skills and they recommended changes to tighten things up.
The mere suggestion that the Corps’ “every Marine a rifleman” ethos was beginning to ring hollow freaked out some senior Corps leaders, some of whom dismissed the concerns as the usual NCO grumbling.
But it turned out the concern had some legs. In the last few years, officials have attempted to improve marksmanship training by incorporating changes that would force units to spend more time at the rifle range.
Corps officials proposed radical changes to the marksmanship program in summer 2003, dropping the field-firing portion of the exercise and turning it over to individual units, instead emphasizing on pre-firing exercises the week before. However, Commandant Gen. Mike Hagee shot those changes down in March 2004. Corps officials said it was the wrong time to implement a new marksmanship program, especially with thousands of Marines overseas in Iraq.
Fast-forward to April of this year, when the Corps held a marksmanship conference in which new interim changes were proposed, approved and put on a fast track to prepare Marines for the combat they’re seeing in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“It’s more realistic,” said Bennett, referring to the new program as a true “meeting of the minds” of range officers and infantry weapons officers.
Another gunner said he thinks the new emphasis on close-combat shooting should help Marines who in real-world operations are more likely to experience close-in urban fights than long-distance shoot-outs with enemy troops hundreds of yards away.
“It’s more combat-orientated,” said CWO-3 Reynaldo Vellido, the gunner for 3rd Marine Division on Okinawa, Japan, who was shooting the program at Quantico. “It’s the way Marines are going to be shooting in combat.”
The Corps’ new five-day marksmanship re-qualification program adds some events, eliminates others and bears little resemblance to the current program. The new lineup allows Marines to fire not just the M16A2, but also the M16A4 or the M4 carbine. Portions of the new program debut Oct. 1, with additional events joining the lineup starting Jan. 1.
New training for a new war.
September 05, 2005
Course incorporates latest weapons, field gear
By Christian Lowe
Times staff writer
After putting their standard-issue equipment to the test in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, Marines are increasingly customizing their combat loads with commercially available tactical gear.
The type of equipment that was once exclusive to high-speed special operations forces is now finding its way to the average Marine.
More and more units are being given pre-deployment cash to purchase the accessories for their troops, including thigh holsters and three-point slings.
Now, the Corps’ new marksmanship program accomodates the gear Marines are using in combat.
The three point “tactical” sling, for example, is a popular and common accessory to the M16A2 rifle, the A4 and the M4 carbine.
Staff Sgt. Robert Miller, assigned to 2nd Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company in Iraq, says he bought a three-point sling before they were issued to his unit.
“I use it off and on,” he said in an e-mail from Iraq. “Sometimes it is a pain in the a-- to move with it and all your gear on. But when you’re holding a radio and talking it’s great.”
Miller was skeptical of the addition of the tactical sling to the annual rifle re-qualification.
“To qualify with it slung across my body? I don’t think range safety would ever go for it because it’s not pointing down range,” he said.
Recognizing the utility of the three-point sling, the Corps so far has issued 56,000 in response to the urgent needs of leathernecks in Iraq.
The sling has been refined since the first ones were issued during Operation Iraqi Freedom and its aftermath. They now feature stronger sling swivels that resist melting and a quick release buckle so a Marine can drop the weapon off his body in an emergency.
Plans call for issuing the sling to all Marines.
Another indication of the changing gear list among combat units is the incorporation of the M4 into the marksmanship program.
The carbine has been a subject of heated debate in recent years, as Marines have debated the value of making it the standard issue weapon instead of the M16. Some praise the weapon’s telescoping stock and compact design, while others fear the Corps is getting caught up in the mystique of a “sexy spec-ops weapon.”
But even amid the debate, fielding has seen a surge since the war on terrorism began. The Corps fielded 200 M4 carbines last year, with 10,000 more to be fielded through 2007. Who gets the M4 is up to the individual Marine Expeditionary Force commander, but mostly vehicle crewmen, Humvee drivers and some infantry officers will get the compact rifle, said Maj. Mike Manning, individual infantry weapons team leader at Marine Corps Systems Command in Quantico, Va.
Also increasingly common in the field is the M16A4, which boasts a rail system for mounting combat optics, flashlights and other equipment. Again, because Marines are using them in the field, Training and Education Command will let them qualify with those weapons on the range.
But Marines who turn out for requalification with the M16A2 shouldn’t feel behind the times. When the A4 was introduced a few years ago, the emphasis was on supplying combat arms troops.
That means many thousands of Marines are still firing the A2 as their issued weapon. So far, about 40,000 M16A4 rifles have been fielded, with another 26,000 to be fielded through 2007, Manning said.
September 05, 2005
250 returns as magic number
By Gordon Lubold
Times staff writer
The scoring system for the Corps’ new rifle marksmanship program goes back to the future.
Under the current system, scoring is based on a total of 65, but the new course is based on a total score of 250 — marking a return to a scorecard that was used up until the late 1990s.
Right now, you have to shoot:
• 40 or higher to qualify as expert.
• 35 to 39 for sharpshooter.
• 25 to 34 for marksman.
But under the new scoring system that goes into effect Oct. 1, you’ll have to shoot:
• 220 or better for expert.
• 210 to 219 for sharpshooter.
• 190 to 209 for marksman.
Marines will still fire 50 rounds, but those hits will be counted differently to add up to 250. The Corps is going back to circular targets with a progressive point system. Each of the four rings is worth anywhere between 2 and 5 points. Scoring 5 points with each of the 50 rounds yields a perfect 250. “Dog” targets will still be used during the rapid-fire stages at the 200- and 300-yard lines.
Under the current system, shooters accrue up to 65 points under a scoring system that is predominantly hit or miss. The one exception is the 200-yard line, where shooters can score up to two points during certain stages of fire.
Why does the change matter? Range officers and others say the graduated scoring of the new system inspires Marines to do better than the current hit-or-miss program. Now, shooters can perhaps see more benefit in adjusting for wind or other factors to shoot for a better score.
“It’s a huge benefit when you start talking about confidence and making sight adjustments,” said Capt. Dan Griffiths, assistant marksmanship coordinator with Weapons Training Battalion at Quantico, Va. “If they want to hit black, it’s a little more difficult.”
By the way, Marines can no longer count on qualifying as an expert at the 200-yard-line, as they can now. Under the 65-point system, if a Marine places every round perfectly at the 200-yard line, he could choke at longer distances and still make expert.
Not anymore, Griffiths said.
Marines that I have talked to seemed very enthusiastic about any type of training that involved shooting at relatively short, UKD ranges under stiff time pressure.
Whats this business with the M4? In Fallujah a long range shot was 35m. The M4 is almost TOO long for CQB, let alone the M16A4. There is no longer any advantage to such a long barreled weapon.
excellent! the old qual was not what we need for a urban war.
Your question would make sense if we had a cristal ball that would assure us that ALL future engagements will be held at 50 yards or less.
But we don't, and it doesn't.
The KD portion was at the insistence of the Range Officer, the Gunners (Infantry Weapons Officers) wanted to pretty much abandon the KD range, however in a somewhat backward way instead of the Gunners the Range Officers are proponent for combat/marksmanship in the Marine Corps.
This is a compromise solution and I would imagine after the GWOT we will go back to the KD course.
IIRC, the 305 range at Quantico was the most kick-ass, challenging range at which I ever tried my humble rifle skills. Looks like the Marines intend to use several of the facilities at the WTB for this. Good deal too.
Anecdotal evidence indicates that SF shooters with TA01NSNs have scored confirmed kills at up to 600m with M4 carbines. Why should a 250 fps loss of velocity make a big difference? Beyond a certain distance neither one of them is shooting a fragmenting bullet, and with optics you are as likely to hit with the M4 as with the M16, so why use a 38" long rifle with a stock designed for Yao Ming when a 33" rifle with an adjustable stock is available?