Taking Back the Infantry Half-Kilometer

Friday, March 5th, 2010

Major Thomas P. Ehrhart of the US Army’s School of Advanced Military Studies has written an extensive piece on taking back the infantry half-kilometer:

Operations in Afghanistan frequently require United States ground forces to engage and destroy the enemy at ranges beyond 300 meters. These operations occur in rugged terrain and in situations where traditional supporting fires are limited due to range or risk of collateral damage. With these limitations, the infantry in Afghanistan require a precise, lethal fire capability that exists only in a properly trained and equipped infantryman. While the infantryman is ideally suited for combat in Afghanistan, his current weapons, doctrine, and marksmanship training do not provide a precise, lethal fire capability to 500 meters and are therefore inappropriate.

Comments from returning non-commissioned officers and officers reveal that about fifty percent of engagements occur past 300 meters. The enemy tactics are to engage United States forces from high ground with medium and heavy weapons, often including mortars, knowing that we are restricted by our equipment limitations and the inability of our overburdened soldiers to maneuver at elevations exceeding 6000 feet. Current equipment, training, and doctrine are optimized for engagements under 300 meters and on level terrain.

Where will we find such properly trained and equipped infantrymen? The commenters at DefenseTech have some suggestions:

  • The M16A4 is accurate out to 600m. Marines qualify annually at 500m. I have shot the M4 accurately at 500m, and I’m not a sniper by any means.
  • I wonder if the Marine units are doing any better. They still field the longer barreled M16A4, and their marksmanship training requirement still includes the 500-yard line.
  • You can look at the New York Times or AP and check photos from the Marja operation; 99% of the Marine force I saw wasn’t even using an M4, which is all you would see in photos from Iraq. They all have the super long-barreled M16?s of some sort. The only M4?s I could see looked to be with commanders. It seems like they know what they are doing; they went in looking for a ranged fight in that case.
  • The US Army trains its soldiers to fire out to a range of 300 meters. The US Marine Corps. trains out to 500 meters. They both train on a weapon in which the basic premise was built into the design that the firefights typical take place at less than 300 meters range, this being the case during World War 2 and Korea and even more so during Vietnam and Iraq. I think we need to train US Army soldiers to the Marine standard of 500 meters. That will alleviate one of the issues, that being our soldiers not being trained to fire the weapon at that range.

Addendum: I should clarify that this is not news to Ehrhart :

The Marines are the only service that still qualifies to a distance of 500 meters, though not under realistic conditions. They also retained the full size M16A2 rifle when others adopted the M4 carbine. Though it is more lethal, its overall length makes it less practical.

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