Close Quarters Marksmanship

From Think Defence

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Back in my day, close quarters shooting simply wasn’t done. The safety issues meant absolutely nothing like realistic short range combat shooting could be done. All firing had to be from the prone position. Which, if you’re in a field with thigh high grass is pretty difficult.

Scenes from a Gunnery

Ah, the culmination of a couple of weeks downrange. Pics and commentary courtesy LTC Esli Pitts,  AR, USA, 3/8 CAV

Formerly a lost art, with the end of the war in Iraq and drawdown of heavy forces in Afghanistan, heavy brigades are getting back to tank and Bradley gunnery. It was a rough start, given that many of the tankers had never fired gunnery, or certainly not in their current positions. Having shot our second gunnery within the year, we saw some pretty good results.

Even with the Texas heat, there are few things more satisfying than taking an M1A2 through its paces on a live-fire range. Sure, it is blindingly hot, but face it; there is something cool about things that go boom. The idea that I can put the reticle on a moving plywood target 2200 meters (yeah that is 1.4 miles) away and kill it about a second later is mind-boggling. And fun.

A unit goes to the field for about 2-3 weeks, and at the end, they are lethal tankers. It’s hard work and long hours, but in the end, it is fun. I like to say that we get paid year-round, but the only time we actually earn the check is on the range.

Before you can fire, there are prerequisites. They include a certain level of proficiency in the Advanced Gunnery Training System (AGTS) (way better than the old UCOFT). Additionally, you have to pass Gun Table I and the Gunner’s Skill Test, which include hands-on testing in loading and firing machine guns, loading the main gun (seven seconds to pass, but the real standard is under four seconds), conducting mis-fire procedures, rollover drills, boresighting the tank, etc. There are also a lot of maintenance checks required to get the tanks ready.

Once you meet the pre-reqs, you go to the field and fire the following day and night tables:
-Screening: a lot like zeroing the tank, this is a test to make sure that the tank hits where the computer says it is supposed to hit.
-Gun Table II: Crew Proficiency: This is a dry (or sub-caliber training device) run to make sure the crew can perform their crew duties properly
-Gun Table III / IV: Basic Machine Gun and main gun tables combined.
-GT V: Practice crew qualification. Usually with smaller targets and longer ranges, this is a hard table.
-GT VI: Crew Qualification. (For all of you old guys, yes, this used to be Tank Table VIII, but the HBCT gunnery manual published in 2009 revised all of them.)
Generally every other gunnery, you will progress to tactical tables including:
-GT IX: Section Qualification (two tanks)
-GT XII: Platoon Qualification (four tanks under the control of a Platoon Leader. I generally make GT XII a 72-hour event with tactical tasks as well as gunnery. These are fun, but high-stress for the PL.)

During GT II through GT VI, the crew fires ten engagements, each of which requires the crew to perform different tasks (called Minimum Proficiency Levels) from an offensive or defensive tank during either day or night. Some examples:
-Tank Commander’s engagement with main gun
-“Simo” including TC’s .50 cal, the loader’s M240 and the gunner’s coaxial M240.
-Change of ammunition: Tank target with sabot, then light armor with HEAT
-Change of weapons-system: tank target with main gun then troops with coax machine gun
-Use the Gunner’s Auxiliary Sight
-NBC conditions.

Target ranges vary, with machine gun targets up to 800 meters, and main gun targets out to about 2200 meters (training ammunition is not ballistically matched to service ammunition, so is not accurate much farther than this). The hardest target on my last gunnery was the commander’s engagement of a flank moving tank (about 10 mph) at 2200 meters.

A target is presented for 50 seconds. The crew is scored on how quickly it can kill that target. In the defense, the time to kill does not start until the tank pulls up to fire (i.e. could be hit by the enemy). For example, a target could be exposed for 40 seconds before the tank comes up in the battle position and kills it. If your tank was only up for 5 seconds or so, it would be 100 points. On the other hand, if the target came up and the tank crew immediately came up to fire, but did not fire for 10-15 seconds, the crew loses points with every second they are exposed to the enemy’s fire. In the offense, when you are already exposed, time starts immediately and you must be quick. In 50 seconds, you may have two targets. A third may be presented on a 15 or 20 second delay. This might seem like a long time, but sometimes it takes a lot of time just to find the targets. It takes 70 points to qualify each engagement.

If a crew qualifies seven of ten engagements and scores 700 points or greater, than he is “qualified” as Q1. If he qualifies eight of ten engagements with a score of 800 points or more, than he qualified with a “Superior” rating. And for those that qualify nine (or ten) engagements and score 900 points or more, they have qualified with a “Distinguished” rating. A crew that fails to qualify “Q1” will re-fire engagements until he has qualified 7 of them with 70 points, and is qualified as a “Q2.” This is not good. But it happens.

A change with the M1A2, which is hard for older tankers to get used to, is the extremely abbreviated nature of fire commands now which literally saves seconds with each engagement.

There are lots of traditions associated with tank gunnery. Some good. Some not so good.
-Not changing whatever worked. One former PSG shot every gunnery wearing the same red long underwear regardless of temperatures, and always included his stuffed teddy bear, even after his angry wife once ripped its arm off. I’ve shot every gunnery but my most recent with the same pair of gloves.
-Blessing the tanks. Some units used to to put the tanks on line and have the chaplain bless them.
-No peaches are allowed on the tanks. No one knows why, but that is good enough reason.
-Firing a HEAT round with a roll of toilet paper soaked in flammable fluids placed over the spike. Frowned upon but spectacular.
-Loading a lieutenant’s hat in the breech and firing it. Dumb. Having witnessed this result in a sabot round stuck in the chamber and hours spent freeing it, this is not worth it by any means.
-The earning of the right to wear tanker boots after qualifying.
-Steak and eggs on the range after qualifying.
-Kill rings on the main gun of the tank. One ring for a Q1, two rings for Superior, and 3 rings for Distinguished. Tan tanks get black rings; green tanks get white rings. The top tank gets gold rings.

On the way!

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This is the office on my home-away-from home…

…..

That’s brand new track on the tank. Considering my tank rolls more and farther than any other in the BN, we deserve it! Yes, the fender is damaged from taking the tank into a wooded environment for crew training. Hey, that’s why they are cheap.

New paint job on the CIPs panels: 8th CAV crests. WARHORSE!!!

My crew after I had the distinct honor and privilege of pinning Army Achievement Medals on them for shooting Distinguished. Then, into the tents behind for steak and eggs, and watch some of “The Beast.” Great night.

Just hanging out after the final night run AAR. The paint is barely dry on the crests.

Showing off the kill rings the next morning. Three means we qualified Distinguished. Gold rings would be for the top tank. We weren’t even close to D34 with a 1000 point run.

I am looking at a job in art one day; all of the new artwork was mine… Kill rings and 8th CAV crests.

Gunnery was always a lot of hard work and late nights (and early mornings, as always) but it was also a lot of fun. And shooting stuff was the whole point of being in the combat arms.

Concealment =/= Cover

Here’s an interesting look at some of the penetration capabilities of various small arms. And if you stick with it to part 3, there’s some splodey thrown in for good measure.

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Accidental Discharge

An accidental discharge is when you fire a weapon when you don’t mean to. Obviously, bad things can happen when someone accidentally discharges a weapon. There’s a good chance of shooting someone you don’t necessarily want shot. Cranky, over at the Hostages asked me the following:

Hey, ever been around a clearing barrel when someone puts the barrel of the weapon into the opening and squeezes the trigger and it fires? Everybody laughs.

A clearing barrel is simply a 55 gallon drum, filled with sand, mounted with an opening. You stick the barrel of your weapon in there, and squeeze the trigger. That’s proof positive that the weapon is clear. Units deployed overseas that routinely go out armed with live ammo have them. Units in the states generally don’t. You clear your weapons at the range. And when you get back. And just before you put them in the armsroom.

Hawaii, 1986. We were back from a live-fire exercise and turning in our weapons. One of the guys in line had an M-60 machine gun. He had the bolt pulled back and the feed tray and cover closed. He extended the bipod legs and dropped the weapon a few inches to the ground while waiting for his turn at the window. The jolt of the drop let the bolt slip forward. And the weapon functioned perfectly after that, firing a 7.62mm round. Which went right past the crowd waiting to turn in weapons, hit the concrete wall, ricocheted, went right back past the crowd and across the street where it lodged somewhere in the battalion headquarters. It was a minor miracle no one was hit. But not even a miracle could have saved that soldiers stripes. You can have a thousand “attaboys” and they are all wiped out by one “Oh, Shit!”  I never did learn how he got all the way back to the company with a round in the weapon. He should have checked it, his assistant gunner should have checked it, his squad leader should have checked it, and the range safety NCO should have checked it. Still, soldiering is a human endeavor, and humans will always find a way to screw things up.

My own sin was, luckily, a venial one, and not a cardinal sin. My 20th birthday, still in Hawaii. The Big Island to be specific. We we conducting a raid. We had flown from the Pohakaloa Training Area in the center of the Island to some private land that allowed us to operate there. After getting off the Blackhawks, we had a long, long walk in the woods. Just before boarding the choppers, our Company Commander had reiterated his stance on accidental discharges- DON’T. He’d had a soldier shot in an accidental discharge and was adamant that it wouldn’t happen again. So, of course, it was my turn in the barrel. The company column stopped briefly and we all took a knee. As I knelt down, I heard the distinctive “POP” of an M-16 firing a blank. My first thought was “Wow, someone screwed the pooch!” My next thought was panic as my platoon sergeant clamped his hand down on my shoulder and asked what the hell was I thinking. I had not only screwed up, I’d done it with an audience. My platoon sergeant was directly behind me. Right behind him was the company commander and the evaluator grading our excercise. Oops. I had indeed fired the round. No harm done but for some embarrassment. Our standard operating procedure in those days was to travel on patrol with your finger on the trigger and your thumb on the safety. I’d somehow hit the safety (probably on my equipment belt) and not noticed it.  My CO awarded my a summarized Article 15 with 5 days of extra duty. It was just painful enough punishment to make sure the lesson was learned, but not so painful as to turn me off from soldiering.

The next incident was the one of the worst moments of my time in the Army. My brigade was at Grafenwhor in Germany. Graf is a huge complex of ranges, for everything from M-16s to tanks, Bradleys and artillery. I was working in the armsroom while the company went out to a range where squads mounted in M-113s would each practice assaulting an objective. While one of our squads were in the back of the 113, and just before heading out to shoot, the platoon leader tossed in some weapons lubricant (called Break-Free CLP) and advised everybody to make sure their weapons were lubed. George was armed witht he M-249 SAW. The normal way of lubing a SAW was to open the feed tray and squirt a little in there. Then you would pull the bolt back and pull the trigger and cycle the bolt back and forth a few times. But in addition to feeding from a belt laid on the tray, the SAW could be fed from a rifle magazine  mounted on the side of the weapon. George’s weapon had a magazine in the side. When he let the bolt go forward, it stripped a round from the magazine, fed it into  the chamber, where the firing pin struck it. The round fired and the bolt cycled. Seven rounds were fired. Each round struck the Track Commander in the back of his left leg and passed through to strike the driver in the back. Both were critically wounded. The Track Commander, a former college footbal star, lost most of his left leg. The driver’s injuries were so severe that he was later discharged with 100% disability.  George was court-martialed for negligence and sentenced to 18 months in prison.