Taking Back the Infantry Half-Kilometer

BY Herschel Smith
7 years ago

I weighed in over three years ago on the merits (or lack thereof) of the M-16 (although not comprehensively).  Since then, a certain Marine I know had to put a nine round burst (from a SAW) into an insurgent in Fallujah in 2007, only to see him keep advancing (they suspect that he was high on morphine and epinephrine like so many others at that time).  There are advantages (lighter ammunition leading to more ammunition carried on patrols) and disadvantages, e.g., lack of killing power at long range, to the Stoner system of weapons.  C. J. Chivers also has two very good articles on the same subject, and much more comprehensive than I have time for (Part 1 and Part 2).

But there is an interesting graduate paper from Leavenworth by Major Thomas P. Ehrhart entitled Increasing Small Arms Lethality in Afghanistan: Taking Back the Infantry Half-Kilometer (PDF here).  It is causing a stir, and is more applicable to Afghanistan than Iraq due to the protracted distances of fire fights (as opposed to the MOUT in Iraq).  We have covered some of this in our ongoing analysis of the Battle of Wanat (where the limitations of the M-4 figured prominently) and Kamdesh (where terrain loomed large, so to speak, similar to the situation at Wanat).

I observed of the Cubbison study that training is paramount for clearing jams and ensuring proper functioning of this system of weapons.

Mr. Cubbison also goes into some detail considering other tactical and weapons failures (specifically at OP Top Side).  Due to rate of fire issues, there were numerous weapons systems failures (e.g., jamming) of SAWs, M4s and M16A2s.  I know one Marine who has trained his “boots” hard in the art of rate of fire and other measures to keep their SAWs from jamming and the barrels from melting.  Clearing jams within mere seconds is necessary for proper functioning of the Soldier and Marine and his .223 closed bolt system of arms, and Soldiers and Marines must be extensively trained to accomplish this under duress.

However, there is also truth to the notion that this training is necessitated by the weaknesses in the system of weapons.  Another way to say it is that when fire fights have to depend heavily on the art of weapon jam-clearing, something is fundamentally wrong.

Increasing Small Arms Lethality in Afghanistan: Taking Back the Infantry Half Kilometer

I agree with the recommendations of Major Ehrhart to tool the fire team and squad with greater latitude and more available weapons depending upon the situation and their own choice.  But aside from this, two other observations are appropriate.  First, leaving aside the issue of lethal range for a moment, there is no reason whatsoever that the Army and Marines can’t replace the current M-4 / M-16A2 system of arms with an open bolt or gas piston system like the H&K 416.  This may not affect range, but it would go directly to the issue of reliability which was paramount at Wanat.

Second, it occurs to me that the Army (with their much more vehicle-borne approach) could take a page from the Marines (who are more foot-bound).  The Marines qualify (iron sights) at 500 yards, or around 457 meters.  The Army could as well, and it has to do with a strategic choice, not capabilities.  This might go a long way towards a remedy for the infantry half-kilometer.

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Tim Hamilton

With 20 years in the Army, I always found that our small arms marksmanship training was at best, mediocre. I’m no expert with small arms, but in my opinion, training in the Army needs to get to a higher level than what it is now. I found that the majority of Soldiers do not understand basic shooting fundamentals or fully understand the performance characteristics of the cartridge they are using. I don’t think a caliber or modifications to current weapons are going to change anything. If Soldiers can’t hit anything now, even with optics, why would we think this would change if we fielded something new? As MAJ Ehrhart’s monograph suggests, the Army needs to fix it’s training, before buying anything new.


Heckler & Koch G 36. Hard to beat as an assault rifle and perhaps a little bit more accurate than an F2000. Both modern weapons and much better than any AR 15 knock off.

My sympathies to the poor fools with M4s in the Helmand desert. A bit strange that the richest country on Earth would economize on weapons.

john jay
friends: make the ar-15 with a steel upper receiver, and the heat and stress issues with the ar-15 receiver go away. don’t mess with lower receiver, it is genius. get rid of those dumbass clam shell forends. go to an aluminum tube, as all commercial ar-15 variants do. same as w/ picatinny rails. co-index all sights. as to the bolt carrier and the bolt, … , well, imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. all of the “rivals” for military contracts in small arms copy the ar-15 variants. except those rifles using delayed blow back systems and fluted chambers, and if you think the gas impingement system of the current ar-15/16 is dirty and leads to failure, i cannot imagine what those damn things would do. as to cartridge. tim hamilton puts the nail right on the head of the hammer, so to speak. if current training does no better than it does, equiping people with 7mm magnums is not going to do any damn better. if you cannot hit it, you cannot kill it, no matter what you are shooting. if the army & marines could shoot better, and i am talking about combat infantry, it really doesn’t… Read more »
john jay
friends: i have read the linked articles. they are very interesting. i have also given herschel plenty of additional comment, regarding which i am sure he is most appreciative. laughing. well, he has borne it all in good grace, anyway. the basic ar-15/16 platform works. the m-4 seems a piece of shit. even so, the articles emphasize something that is not discussed very much, and that is, despite an overwhelming manpower advantage to the enemy, our troops inflicted very heavy casualties against the enemy, while suffering comparitively light fatalities. the one article mentioned 150 enemy killed as against 9 american killed. but, i find this loss very disturbing, because it seems so needless. it is needless because things known for hundreds of years are being ignored in the deployment of these men to remote areas in which they do not and cannot control the intimately immediate high ground, ceding to their enemy tactical and strategic advantage which cannot be reversed. and, there are two other things i do not read in these reports. 1)there is no field artillery support for these bases, e.g., our infantry has no field artillery. and, 2.)there is no mention of helicopter gunships being deployed to… Read more »

Better yet would be to replace the family of SAW, machine gun, and M16 variant weapons with a new family of 6.5 G weapons. A bullpup standard weapon with quick change barrels, a 6.5 SAW or automatic rifle with a larger magazine, and a new light machinegun to replace the M240, all using the same ammunition.

john jay
herschel: this is off the top of my head, but … . it seems to me that the standard 100 yd. target black for military rifle targets is about 6″. if memory serves me correct, the ar-15 front sight subtends about 5 or 6 inches at 100 yds., so you just set “the black” on top of the front sight and blam away. at 500 yards the target black would have to be about 30″ to present the same size image above the sight. and, the bottom of the black would be 15″ below the center of the x-ring. to hit the center of the black at that distance would require holding the front post halfway up “the black”, and even with young eyes, it is hard to hold a 5 minute post half way up a 5 minute circle. no doubt the marines do a fair job of it to qualify. but, i am 5′ 8″ tall, 165 lbs., about 18 inchs across the shoulders and 11″ from nipple to nipple. about 5″ across the forehead at the brows. about 30″ from topnot to crotch. i think this points out pretty graphically that a marine, certainly better marksmen on… Read more »

I think part of the problem is the M-16 platform, as well as the 5.56 cartridge. Both need to be replaced. I am certain a new rifle will solve any problem the iron sights with M-16 platform have. Plus the replacement for the M240 could be greatly lightened. I also hope that the automatic rifle concept (BAR or Bren like) will be added to supplement a new SAW like weapon. I think it is pound foolish and penny wise to try and get a replacment based on a new upper for the M-16 platform. Yeah you save alot of money on magazines and lowers, but you loose on capability. The M-16 platform has outlasted its usefulness. It is a nice jungle weapon or urban terrain, but not a good general rifle. I also think that the arms room concept is too costly and a danger for the logistical train. Lets go new and then ammend the 1934 Act and let Americans by the surplus M-16 family of weapons. Or give them to Christians in Sudan, Nigeria, Indonesia, and Malaysia to protect themselves from Islamic agression.


Guys I never went to advanced school on this stuff so I don’t know what I’m talking about on this subject but, it seems to me that we aught to change boot camp and include training for everyone to shoot reasonably accurately, the 50-cal sniper rifle. Then make every fire team has one in their quiver.

This will begin to change the stand-off dynamics of the fight, making the enemy feel threatened inside 1 mile. That doesn’t mean we start firing the 50-cal a mile away. It means we built up a reputation that we got-em and we use-em. Then still close on the enemy as needed.

Over time, this should reduce their exposure to enemy fire they allow themselves for each shot (reducing accuracy) and cause a lot more blind firing over the top of the positions, using up ammo without much effect.

But this is outside my area of expertise totally. I’m not suggesting we train everyone to the high standards and excellence and advanced strategies we put into snippers. I’m just saying alter the engagement dynamics to reduce the enemy’s effectiveness and gain an additional psychological advantage.

Taking the idea a little further regarding the 50-cal sniper rifle asset assigned to each fire-teams arsenal. Remember, this writer has no idea what he is talking about. These are half-baked theories that seem to contain some thread of intuitive logic. Continuing… The raw recruit, during book-camp, is given training on the use of his primary weapon until proficiency is reached. He is given additional training with the 50-cal sniper rifle with scope sites for a reasonable level of proficiency the idea being to build into the fire-team several characteristics that increase their killing power: • A slight psychological advantage spreads over time as fire teams make kills at extreme distances. Reputations spreads in the battle area quickly that US fire teams are an extreme threat up to a mile distance. This changes the dynamics of the battle engagements in several ways. The question is, will the changes advantage the US or the enemy? The enemy is given a new threat to which there are several responses: o Response Option #1: The enemy waits to draw in our fire teams to within 400 yards before giving up their position. o Response Option #2: Ambush at close range. o Response Option… Read more »

And since the Captain’s out for the weekend, let’s party…

This here is how they hunt in Mississippi, it’s all in the head…

Going back to the Toon-Town bullet or Toon-bullet, there have been some low priority efforts to develop Smart Bullets: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smart_bullet The 50-cal. appears to have the range needed to really alter the fire team engagement dynamics and rapidly change the perceived threat levels of our fire teams inside 1-mile. http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/dec99-03.asp Declaration III – On the Use of Bullets Which Expand or Flatten Easily in the Human Body , Laws of War : Declaration on the Use of Bullets Which Expand or Flatten Easily in the Human Body; July 29, 1899 To be clear, there appears to be no lawful limitation on the Caliber size. Not many of us would consider the .50-cal weapon part of the small arms arsenal because of its heavier capabilities and heavier uses historically. A bullet that exploded with high explosive war head “might” be a violation of the Geneva Convention unless the bullet was designed to explode as a proximity device to saturate a target zone, for example. Also as long as the bullet is not the “primary weapon” of the foot soldier, but a community weapon of the fire-team, it would likely be lawful under Geneva Rules. Designing the “warhead” for the smart bullet… Read more »
From Global Security.Org: http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/ground/m107.htm “According to Operation Iraqi Freedom PEO Soldier Lessons Learned [LTC Jim Smith 15 May 2003] “The Barrett 50 cal Sniper Rifle may have been the most useful piece of equipment for the urban fight – especially for our light fighters. The XM107 was used to engage both vehicular and personnel targets out to 1400 meters. Soldiers not only appreciated the range and accuracy but also the target effect. Leaders and scouts viewed the effect of the 50 cal round as a combat multiplier due to the psychological impact on other combatants that viewed the destruction of the target. “My spotter positively identified a target at 1400 meters carrying an RPG on a water tower. I engaged the target. The top half of the torso fell forward out of the tower and the lower portion remained in the tower.” 325th PIR Sniper “There were other personal anecdotes of one round destroying two targets and another of the target “disintegrating.” Back to my notions about Boot Camp training being extended to include a proficiency in using one’s primary weapon and extended training for everyone in using the M107 .50-cal snipper rifles. Default training would be of course using… Read more »
Continuing and remembering the main point, that this writer has no idea what he is writing about from the stand point of training and focus of background. I am simply following one prospective future line of potentialities extracting what intuitively seems to be a reasonable probability. Developing the technologies of the advanced rifle scope (ARS) and its advanced rifle scope bullets (ARS-B). Developing Toon-Town Bullets (smart bullets). Fire and forget tracking capabilities. Is it really possible to build such advanced technologies in small arm bullets? Isn’t this bordering on a combination of (a) nano-technology (b) coded radio transmission technologies(c) solid state electronics (d) chemistry under high-g (high gravity) conditions? The underlying assumption is warfare will follow and explore every possibility until a successful niche is filled which serves us better than it may serve the enemy, keeping US forces one step or more ahead of its likely enemy. Gaining a stand-off capability for the ground force fire-teams from 500 yards out to 1400 yards is a significant change in battle dynamics over current Army capabilities (I think – based on various non-classified reports on line). The financial incentives of development. (Financial Incentives reflect demand for a product. The trick is… Read more »
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This article is filed under the category(s) Weapons and Tactics and was published March 8th, 2010 by Herschel Smith.

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