Gunfire has its own language

Friday, March 8th, 2019

I was listening to the audiobook version of Outlaw Platoon, when Sean Parnell (or his ghostwriter, John Bruning) made the point that gunfire has its own language:

Suppressing fire, the purpose of which is to pin you down, sounds undisciplined; it wanders back and forth over you without much aim. It is searching and random and somehow doesn’t seem as deadly.

Accurate, aimed fire is a different story. It has a purpose to it. You know as soon as you hear it that somebody has you in their sights. The shots come with a rapid-fire focus that underscores their murderous intent. Somebody is shooting at you. It becomes intimate and fear inducing…

The enemy machine gunners hammered at us with accurate bursts. As their bullets struck home, they spoke to us infantrymen as clearly as if they had used our native language. Message received: these were not amateurs in the hills on our flanks.


  1. Kirk says:

    I honestly don’t think I know quite how I feel about Parnell, or his writing about the war. I started on this book, but was unable to muster the necessary enthusiasm to finish it, and I can’t quite put a finger on why.

    One of the things that I’ve noted about a lot of the literature written about these wars is that there’s a fairly common thread through most of the authors and the works–It’s all stuff written by tyros without a lot of exposure to military history or fieldcraft. Some of these guys really bother me, because from the writing, there’s a lot of military basics that they’re missing, and were never exposed to.

    I forget which one of them it was, but there was one author talking about Afghanistan, and decrying his inability to effectively respond to long-range machine-gun fire with his own guns–And, what was really aggravating to me was that this author, an officer, didn’t seem to grasp that the basic reason he couldn’t effectively answer the fires he was getting was that he’d left his friggin’ tripods back in the rear… An M240 has an effective range of about 800m on an area target, using a bipod and a shoulder as a rest. With a tripod, you can get out to about 1800m, but you’ve got to a.) have the damn thing with you, and b.) know how to use one on a dynamic tactical level. All too many of our officers and enlisted just don’t know the basics.

    You can tell that from the fact that we’re still issuing the same primitive-ass POS tripod that we first put under the M1919 back in the post-WWI era. That tripod works fine, from a fixed fighting position that you’ve had time to dig in and create the necessary flat firing tables in, but for doing fire support to a moving unit across mountainous terrain…? No. Just… No. You can’t change the leg length, the angle, any of that–The gunner has to adapt the terrain to the tripod, not the other way around, which is the correct way to operate. Not to mention, there’s no way to level the damn thing effectively, so it’s really not all that much use. And, all the latest version does is translate that design into titanium, with all the same deficiencies.

    TBH, I am not impressed with the level of professionalism I’ve seen demonstrated by a lot of our leadership. The troops are great, probably better than anything we’ve ever fielded. The leadership? Uhmmm… Man, I just don’t know. Too many of them think that making war is something that just started yesterday, and that the US is the only nation in the world that knows how to do it right.

  2. Graham says:

    A friend’s son recently joined the Canadian Army, a surprisingly long process, completed tri-service basic last year and will now be in infantry school with his regiment.

    He periodically relates how much old kit is still around. usually it’s stuff that really should be replaced regularly- we have a lot of old combat uniform, webbing, and boots still in circulation. I hope it’s better when you get out of training.

    I am always impressed when some weapons system passes the test of time and is in service for generations, though. But it’s a hell of a thing when that means WW1 era deficiencies never get addressed.

  3. Kirk says:

    The tripod thing with the US military is more sheer absent-mindedness than anything else. If you go look at our machine gun qualification ranges and the supporting manuals, the whole qualification process is predicated on the idea that the gunners are going to be re-fighting the friggin’ latter phases of Korea, or WWI–It’s all static, more-or-less flat, and fired from fixed defensive positions with nice, flat firing tables. The tripods we have support that mentality, soooo… No change, nothing new.

    And, that worked so long as we were mech-infantry centric with a focus on doing light infantry only in close terrain. Take us into open terrain and doing the light infantry thing, well… Issues show up with the tripods. You cannot do long-range support or suppression off of someone’s shoulder, even if it’s Carlos Hathcock’s. For one thing, he’s one-in-a-million, and for another, the ability to do actual fire control when you can’t say “Up five mil, left 20, fire for effect” and make sense to the gunner makes it problematic to actually effectively use an MG in dynamic engagements on open terrain like Afghanistan’s mountains.

    Yeah, some gear hangs around forever, and justifiably so–It’s hard to outdo something like the poncho liner, one of which I still sleep under to this day. But, some gear hangs around in terms of design simply because people are too lazy or uninformed to actually take up improved equipment.

  4. Graham says:

    The Canadian Armed Forces in the 2000s ran a project to develop new uniforms of all kinds, and supporting gear. The project was called Clothe the Soldier.

    I would not want to disparage it too much since I don’t know the ins and outs or the full outcomes. And I don’t know whether the “combat bra” project was part of it or a separate one.

    Still, they seemed to be the largest and most publicly discussed, and financially audited, defense program of the decade. Still couldn’t manage to get new stuff spread around.

  5. Kirk says:


    The Canadians have done really well on some aspects of their individual soldier equipment, and individual weapons. Some of those I’d argue are superior to the US–The C7 and C8, for example, use modern cold hammer-forged barrels, while the US is still specifying button-broached barrels for the M16 and M4–The M4A1 gets the SOCOM-demanded cold hammer-forged barrels, which are more durable and less prone to overheating on full auto. Some things are also better in terms of putting a collapsible stock on the C7A2 (I think that’s the latest version…), but the abysmal bolt-on rail at the front sight base is in no way comparable to a full replacement of the handguard that the US uses. Money, I presume… Latest monolithic uppers may get out to the forces, and those are clearly superior to anything the US issues.

    With field gear, the Canadians have great uniforms–Some of the CADPAT work was done by Natick here in the US, but actually adopted by the Canadians. USMC MARPAT is a modified version of that, while the abysmal US Army UCP crapfest was a derivative of that, and should have resulted in the responsible officer being given a single round, a pistol, and some personal time to do the “right thing” in his office…

    Cold-weather gear in Canada is naturally excellent, but there was awhile there that the control-freaks were insistent on uniformity of web gear that just doesn’t work in today’s environment. Lots of dissatisfaction with the issued gear, there, and the guys were buying their own, which was frowned upon first, and then banned. Not sure where Canada is at with that, today, but I presume that common sense finally prevailed.

    By and large, Canada has always fielded an excellent set of armed forces, within the limits of their politics and budget. This is something that seems to shock a lot of Canadians when I’ve talked to them, because a bunch of them were completely unaware that they even had an Army, Navy, or Air Force of any kind whatsoever, let alone that they were pretty damn good at their jobs. I had one conversation with a Canadian woman who was seemingly well-informed on a lot of issues, but for whom the shock of discovery over Canada possessing an Army was an earth-shaking revelation. She promised me she’d soon see to that issue, now that she was aware of it, and clearly thought that Canada should rely solely on moral suasion instead of {delicate shudder} armed force

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