Archive for the 'Infantry' Category



Problems And Solutions In Rifle Caliber And Training

BY Herschel Smith
2 weeks, 2 days ago

In The Army Wants A New Rifle, we discussed my view of the Army’s searching for a larger caliber rifle to replace the M4.  Experience in Afghanistan is the pretext for this need, and while as I show below I support a copious choice of weapons, selection of a different caliber won’t make marksmen out of Soldiers.  In fact, perhaps just the opposite.  You can go read the discussion for yourself.  I hope I’ve adequately dispelled the ridiculous notion that The Battle of Wanat is justification for anything at all except being smarter in the future in your COIN strategy.

Soon after this commentary, a active duty friend who has been with me for nearly ten years (basically ever since I was doing military blogging and commentary) and who can tell you more about these things in an hour than I will ever know in a lifetime, wrote to continue the conversation with me.  I am always richer when he does so, and honestly, this is one big reason for writing.  I always learn more from my readers than they learn from me.

I will not supply his name, but as you can see below, we build on our notes to each other like Lego blocks, and always have.  Each subsequent note presupposes that I recall what he told me before, which is usually a lot.  There are notes that preceded this one, on shooting uphill, mountain training of soldiers (which he knows a lot about), and various and sundry things.  But even in the absence of those notes, you may be able to benefit from his knowledge.

One “Lego block” that I didn’t add yet was that while he heaps praises on the Marine Corps shooting program, I think the MC could take a page from the army on a few things.  The MC still has in its stable of DM and sniper rifles the 5.56mm, 7.62mm, and Sasser .50.  When Carlos Hathcock did his work in Vietnam, he used the Winchester 30-06 (not the .308), which has a slightly higher muzzle velocity, and when that wasn’t sufficient he used the .50.  He was the first to do so.

When something works, it’s difficult to get the MC to change.  But their shooting program might benefit from inclusion of the .300 Win Mag and the .338 into their stable of weapons.  I know one Marine Corps Scout Sniper, in impeccable condition, his physique a literal specimen, who told me that in not too many rounds shooting the .50, he had headaches.  Why do this if it isn’t necessary?

Again as you can see, I support the inclusion of many weapons and weapons systems in the stable of tools for both the Army and Marine Corps, but I will never jettison my trusty AR-15 for CQB and medium range shooting.  With that said, here is our exchange of notes.

As ever, my congratulations to you for your tireless efforts on your Blog. You are still slamming them!

I read your “Army wants a new rifle” post with interest. I have a little different perspective. Nothing you say is wrong or incorrect. How could it be? You are more emphatic of late in general and no less here. I’ll explain myself, but I do need to admit that I think that the Army is full of shit on this issue, in general and will do something or nothing in this case, for all the wrong reasons.

I’ve tested a lot of gear for the U.S. Army over the years. The Army has a civilian in charge of boots and boot development. He’s a huge, overweight man who wears worn loafers on his own feet. But he has a Doctorate in “footoligy” or some such thing and a very keen understanding of the politic’s of procurement.  Our relationship with this idiot got so shady that he would bring bullet headed body guards with him to attempt to shut I and my peers up. So the Army has garbage boots because that is what they want.

I’ve tested and trained and conducted training on lots of weapons too; long arms, sniper rifles and the full suite of Warsaw Pact weaponry.  My favorite is the SVD with the wacky Soviet scope; it’s quick, easy to shoot, accurate and people are scared of it. The RPD is an LMG that is greatly underrated. That is because the “PiKa”, Pkm, PK, is so dominant. I cannot say enough good things about getting hosed down by this bad boy. It is  a real attention getter!  Even beyond it’s 600m sweet spot, its plunging fire is stunning. The 240B is a honey but the Pkm has it beat for down and dirty warfighting.

5.56 v/s 7.62; ask a man who has taken 7.62 rounds into the chest or back plates, who also has the experience of dumping 5 or 6 rounds of issue 5.56 into an enemy to stop him. He will tell you that one 7.62 round in the plates will knock you down now and that the 5.56 will not return the favor. A few of the high-speed-low-drag elements get special 5.56 rounds that are one-shot-one kill specials. Our General Purpose forces don’t get this round though.

The Marines have established in their 24-72 hour protracted, static, fire fights in Southern Afghanistan, that three 30 round magazines will do the job, if you have NCO directed, well aimed and properly spoted fire. Shoot from cover, control your security and do not allow an element to maneuver unobserved on your position. Maintain indirect fire back-up for surprises and to exploit enemy error’s. It sounds basic but we do not routinely practice this doctrine. So we kill and maim our troops because of and regardless of, the grain count of our issue rounds. As you point out.

I’ve trained lots of guys to shoot both 5.56 and 7.62 in all sorts of long arms out to 1000m and lots of it on a high angle range; aim low, practice shooter spotter and get your point of aim and point of impact details worked out ahead of time. I can teach an experienced and confident soldier to shoot an Acog equipped M4 out to 600m with an hour of class room time and with 30 rounds on the range.  He will of course have to practice these new shooting skills to develop their value.

I cannot train an inexperienced and unconfident shooter in this ridiculously brief time span and round count. In fact I’ll make him a worse shooter because he will do so poorly and understand zero of what I’m telling him. Even shooter/spotter will blow his mind. The exception here is with young Marine’s. They can often hang enough to get in their heads what is going on.

If you give me a 7.62 round weapon, even the M14 variants kicking around, and a little more time; I can get the confident guy consistently out to 850m. He’ll be able to read bullet trace, call his shots and walk a less experienced shooter quickly on to a target.

Good for me, so what. Hopefully the details are instructive. Again, as you point out, unless there is a solid grounding in the fundamentals of marksmanship, and or well trained NCO leadership in all our maneuver units; we may be better equipped to kill if we carry spears. We can conduct the training. But our Army does not currently know how to train, so maybe new magic rifles with new magic rounds are the answer.

Thank you,

[Name Redacted]

I respond.

Very good to hear from you.  I like the MC idea of a number of DMs who have something a little different.  My own son was trained as a DM even though he was a SAW gunner. [But] The notion the new 7.62 guns will make all soldiers marksmen is overreach versus what big army management wants.  Too many poorly educated kids from homes with no fathers who look to the *.gov for a meal and education.

He responds.

You are correct; the DM is the way to go. The Army took this seriously from about 2005 to 2010. The POI was really the 1st week of Sniper school; grouping, range E, calling your own shots and wind, point of aim/point of impact. And they issued a lot of “black rifle rigged ” EBR’s. A good shooter, but without a LaRue tactical mounting system for the optic, it would not hold a zero.  The iron sights are fine but that is another training challenge.

So if we could get a Marine or a Ranger Regiment soldier, he got the EBR and a chance to step up!

Lets face facts though; the Marine Corps base of marksmanship training is superior in every way and the U.S. Army’s base of rifle training is a hand wave. This disparity puts a lot of pressure on Army units gaining Basic Trainee’s. If the US Army has a trained DM in every Infantry Squad, then we have an opportunity to make up for this ridiculous institutional disparity.

In fact, as a First Sergeant, I’d get soldiers back from their Basic Training and Infantry AIT who had never qualified with the M4!  One young man was so bereft of basic skills that I issued him a black plastic, “rubber duck” rifle, until his platoon was able to prove he could safely carry the real thing. We did turn him into an Infantryman. But as you point, we were fighting 17 years of neglect.

Nothing gave me as much confidence, in a platoon, as a shit-hot SAW gunner.  Imagine one man who can fill in for a two man machine gun team. Would not believe it unless I was a witness! The enemy does not like the SAW either!  It takes a huge amount of skill and dedication though. Its worth the effort but it puts a lot on one mans shoulders.

You are most welcome to print what you choose Mr Smith! All I can say is; don’t quit! We need what you are doing.

As you can guess, I am actually much more concerned about how we incorporate these lessons in our work than with whether Big Army incorporates anything I have to say.  Let’s make it more personal.  I’m much more concerned about whether I incorporate these lessons than anything else.

Helmand: Camping Trip to Hell

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 4 months ago

From McClatchy.

FOB HASSANABAD, Afghanistan — The young Marines at this outpost could be on a camping trip to Hell.

The living conditions in Helmand Province, one of the worst regions for trouble in Afghanistan, are such that most of friends and family in the United States wouldn’t consider putting up with them for one day, much less the months these men will be assigned here.

It’s not even officially winter, yet temperatures routinely fall below freezing at night, and there’s no heat in the tents. At night when standing guard in one of the security towers, the Marines put on layer after layer of clothes, including thermal suits. It does little to ward off the chill of the desert air.

There is no hot water. The only running water in the camp comes from a 3 inch diameter hose that jets out cold water in fire hydrant fashion. Clothes are washed in buckets, when time permits and the weather cooperates, then strung between tents and dried in the sun.

There are “sun” bags that can warm water to a tolerable temperature but they’re used outside in a small wooden enclosure where the wind wreaks havoc on the bathing experience. Some of the men go for a couple of weeks without a real bath, using cloth sanitary wipes. Many just use the cold water from the hose and get clean as fast as possible without succumbing to uncontrollable shivering.

Meals come in a box. After a few days they all taste the same: Chicken with salsa, meat loaf, pork loin patty, cheese tortellini. The men gruble, as military nmen have for centuries.

Toilet facilities are wooden stalls with canvas doors and plastic commode seats where WAG (Waste Allocation and Gell) bags are used.

Mice are everywhere, pouring in from the surrounding cornfields. The men have adopted several kittens, even outfitting them with flea collars. The arrangement benefits t the cats and the Marines; the cats crave the attention and they have a healthy appetite for the mice.

But the Marines of Golf Company don’t mind the austere conditions. Most shrug their shoulders and say they don’t like spending much time in the base camp anyway, they’d rather be out on patrol chasing the bad guys.

There’s no shortage of bad guys in Helmand, scene of some of the most intense fighting in Afghanistan. It boasts the highest casualty rate in the country.

But the Marines say they don’t mind. After all they are Marines.

Now compare this to the conditions we observed in Bagram Bloats: Where is the infantry?

The base’s main road, a tree-lined thoroughfare called “Disney drive,” is so congested at times it looks like a downtown street at rush hour. Kicking up dust on that road are Humvees, mine-resistant vehicles, SUVs, buses, trucks and sedans.

A pedestrian path running alongside that road is as busy as a shopping street on a Saturday afternoon, with hundreds of soldiers, Marines, airmen, navy officers and civilian contractors almost rubbing shoulders. Similarly, the lines are long at the overcrowded food halls, the American fast food outlets, cafes, PX stores and ATM machines.

Signs on bathroom walls warn of a water shortage.

“If you think you are maybe wasting water, YOU PROBABLY ARE,” warns one sign.

Clients must wait, sometimes for up to an hour, for a haircut. For the luxury of a back massage, an appointment is recommended.

The ratio of support to infantry is far too high, the efficiency of logistics too low, and the expense of supplies out of control.  Until this institutional and bureaucratic bloat is lanced, any campaign will cost more than it should not only in terms of dollars, but in that most important metric: human lives.  The DoD needs real force transformation, not shuffling the deck chairs.

Abolish SOCOM

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 4 months ago

Regular readers already know my history regarding special forces (and read here also special operations forces).  While on the one hand advocating specialized billets for certain forces that would  be too expensive to establish across the board, I have also strongly advocated against the reliance on SOF as direct action troops while relegating GPF (general purpose forces) to counterinsurgency efforts and policing the population.

SOF troops come in the middle of the night and kill high value targets (always members of some one’s family), disappear into the night, and leave the GPF to explain the next day why it all occurred.  It’s horrible for the campaign, bad for morale within the GPF, bad for maintenance of capabilities within the GPF, and bad for the overall qualifications of SOF and SF.

Furthermore, it misses the point of why SF were created.  Finally, it allows the degradation of the qualifications and capabilities of GPF by rule, regulation and law.  To rehearse yet another sore spot, I have strongly opposed women in combat billets, and yet with the division of SOF to perform DA missions and GPF to perform COIN, it makes it easier to justify women in these billets, especially if they operate out of huge bases rather than from combat outposts.  The Army in the Korengal Valley has proven that GPF can do what is needed in terms of DA missions and other combat.  The Marines in the Helmand Province have also shown why only males are allowed in combat billets (with combat loads of 120+ pounds).

The Small Wars Journal has an interesting commentary on whether SOCOM has outlived its usefulness.  You can read the entire commentary at the SWJ, but a few comments are lifted out and given below.

… many outside the military establishment are enamored with the myth and romanticism of Special Operations. There are so many “groupies” among staffers and in academia that it is hard to see Special Operations for what it really is and what it has become. And within the military, Special Operations has been “hijacked” by a group of hyper-conventional Ranger types and other supporting elements that Special Operations and most important, its heart and soul – Special Forces – has lost its way …

USSOCOM has allowed itself to become dominated by the hyper-conventional side of SOF with domination by the so-called direct action forces to the detriment of Special Forces, Civil Affairs, and Psychological Operations. The cultures of these two types of forces hinder effective cooperation and coordination. There is probably more disdain between the direct and indirect forces of SOF than there is between SOF and conventional forces.

The entire paper is worth the study time.  A comment made by MAJ Mike Dhunjishah is also telling:

As a former 7th SFG officer who has been away from group for several years, I find it interesting to talk to my contemporaries who, upon returning to group, find that SF has indeed “lost its way.” I’m not sure who is to blame, but it seems as if Army SF is focused on DA at the expense of UW. After 9/11, Army SF filled a void that General Purpose Forces (GPF) could not regarding DA missions. However, now, 8 years later, the GPF have developed the capability to do all but the most complicated DA missions. Therefore, it is time for SF to do what SF was created to do; conduct missions that the GPF cannot. We need to refocus on the hard stuff, read UW, before we lose our institutional knowledge. Great article on some of the hard questions Army SF and the Special Operations community in general needs to address.

Finally, as one pictorial depiction of just what is being said, see this photo taken from Foreign Policy.

SOF_Beards

I’ll let you read Foreign Policy’s take on why this bearded SOF is not good for the campaign.  But take note of what has happened.  This special operator no longer looks anything like any of the Afghanis, even if he is SF and not SOF.  If he is SOF performing direction action operations along with other SOF operators, then with the backwards ball cap, sleeveless shirt and lack of a uniform, he simply looks like an undisciplined thug.  Nothing more.  He doesn’t need to look like he does.  He has no compelling reason to appear thuggish and silly.

Again to the position that I have pressed: just like Force Recon Marines, attach all SOF to infantry (and Force Recon has no business with SOCOM, as they are simply another Marine billet attached to infantry).  If an infantry unit needs a specialized billet, then train to that billet.  Rely on GPF to perform most if not all DA missions, and this reliance will shape the force.  It’s time to end the absurdity that has become SOCOM.  If you want the romantic notion of direct action SOF operators who perform missions like those that can be found in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (air support from the AC-130), then train a few operators to do this.  It’s still better to make this capability more widely distributed rather than less, and to attach these troopers to infantry.

Prior:

The Cult of Special Forces

Special Operations Forces Navel Gazing

Fathers and Sons, Diamonds and Goats

Special Forces category

Bagram Bloats: Where is the Infantry?

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 5 months ago

From AP:

BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan — Seen from a tiny village on a recent moonless night, the sprawling U.S. base three miles to the north looks more like a medium-size city than a military facility in a war zone.

Bagram Air Field, as the base is formally known, is the largest U.S. military hub of the war in Afghanistan and is home to some 24,000 military personnel and civilian contractors. Yet it is continuing to grow to keep up with the requirements of an escalating war and troop increases.

With tens of millions of dollars pouring into expanding and upgrading facilities, Bagram is turning into something of a military “boom town.” Large swathes of the 2,000-hectare (5,000-acre) base look like a construction site, with the rumble of building machinery and the scream of fighter-jets overhead providing the soundtrack.

The rapid growth here is taking place at a time when the Obama administration is debating the future direction of the increasingly unpopular war, now in its ninth year. Among the options under discussion is a recommendation by U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the overall commander of foreign forces in Afghanistan, to bring in additional U.S. troops, perhaps as many as 80,000.

But even with current troop levels — 65,000 U.S. troops and about 40,000 from allied countries — Bagram already is bursting at the seams.

Plans are under way to build a new, $22 million passenger terminal and a new cargo yard costing $9 million. To increase cargo capacity, a new parking ramp supporting the world’s largest aircraft is to be completed this spring.

Elsewhere at Bagram, construction has begun on permanent brick-and mortar housing for troops and headquarters for military units, according to Lt. Col. Troy Joslin, chief of Bagram’s operations.

Hundreds of Afghan builders in traditional tunics, loose pants and hard hats arrive by bus every morning. Dozens of trucks laden with dirt and other building materials come into the base daily.

The water and electricity systems and the waste management facility are being upgraded. The Army Corps of Engineers is increasing the capacity of the base’s roads as well as building new ones on the east side of the airfield, said Joslin.

The base command is acquiring more land next year on the east side to expand the base, according to Joslin. No figure was given.

When the U.S. military took over Bagram in December 2001, the base was 1,616 hectares (3,993 acres), according to Capt. Jennifer Bocanegra, a military spokeswoman at Bagram.

It is now 2,104 hectares (5,198 acres), she said.

Bocanegra said the lease of additional land to expand Bagram was needed to protect personnel and accomplish missions. “The acquisitions have been made with the express knowledge and consent of the Afghan Government,” she said.

The base’s main road, a tree-lined thoroughfare called “Disney drive,” is so congested at times it looks like a downtown street at rush hour. Kicking up dust on that road are Humvees, mine-resistant vehicles, SUVs, buses, trucks and sedans.

A pedestrian path running alongside that road is as busy as a shopping street on a Saturday afternoon, with hundreds of soldiers, Marines, airmen, navy officers and civilian contractors almost rubbing shoulders. Similarly, the lines are long at the overcrowded food halls, the American fast food outlets, cafes, PX stores and ATM machines.

Signs on bathroom walls warn of a water shortage.

“If you think you are maybe wasting water, YOU PROBABLY ARE,” warns one sign.

Clients must wait, sometimes for up to an hour, for a haircut. For the luxury of a back massage, an appointment is recommended.

The air field is already handling 400 short tons of cargo and 1,000 passengers daily, according to Air Force spokesman Capt. David Faggard. A new 3.5-kilometer (2.17-mile runway) was completed in 2006, to accommodate large aircraft, he added.

Bagram was a major Soviet base during Moscow’s 1979-89 occupation of Afghanistan, providing air support to Soviet and Afghan forces fighting the mujahedeen. It also was fought over by rival factions during the country’s civil war that followed the Soviet withdrawal.

The view from the old Soviet-built air traffic tower, replaced last year by a new, $50 million tower, reveals a picture more akin to a busy commercial hub than a military facility in a war zone. So frantic is the pace at the air field that giant C-17 transport aircraft fill up with soldiers almost as soon as their cargo is emptied.

“The current expansion supports thousands of additional Coalition troops, either assigned to or supported from Bagram Air Field,” said Bocanegra.

With Bagram’s rapid growth and increase in importance to the war effort, the need to protect it was never greater. The responsibility for that primarily falls on Air Force personnel and paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division.

Bagram lies in Parwan, a relatively quiet province. The Taliban-led insurgency, while growing in numbers and strength elsewhere, is not known to have a significant presence in the province.

Still, the base is susceptible to rocket and mortar attacks.

This year insurgents have launched more than a dozen attacks on Bagram, killing four and wounding at least 12, according to military spokesman Lt. Col. Mike Brady.

And from The Meridian Star we re-learn what we already knew:

Not so far from the offices of U.S. Navy Commander Christopher Bownds at the Navy Technical Training Center (NTTC) on board Naval Air Station Meridian, Rolls Royce jet engines can be heard roaring as they power up to take yet another student aviator and his instructor into a clear blue morning.

As the jet engine roar is replaced by yet another, and another, Bownds smiles knowing this is what many people in East Mississippi and West Alabama think of whenever NAS Meridian is mentioned. Rightfully so, NAS Meridian graduates hundreds of Navy and Marine aviators each year who go on to defend America and its people. But Bownds was quick to point out on a media tour Tuesday morning that there are a great many more military personnel who graduate from the sprawling complex for other duties.

There are a lot more men and women in the Navy and Marines who are in support roles than who are on the front lines or flying aircraft,” said Bownds. “Here is the place in which they learn their jobs so they are prepared to be assigned to their duty stations or fleet assignments.”

As we have pointed out before, the ratio of support to infantry is vastly bloated in the U.S. military, and by this I mean both Army and Marines.  Let’s forget about AF and Navy for the moment.  The Army and Marines are supposed to field line companies, and yet there are more support than infantry in both.  It’s disgraceful, and the bloating must stop and be turned on its head in order to support the campaigns in which we find ourselves in the twenty first century.

To be sure as we have discussed here, logistics is critical, even determinative, to any campaign.  Intelligence (or lack thereof) contributed to the failures of VPB Wanat and COP Keating.  Advocacy for trimming is not the same thing as lack of appreciation for the necessary job that support troops must do.  But trimming is imperative, and the ratio of support to infantry must decrease.

The leadership for any campaign that has a bloated system where a base as large and soft as Bagram exists while Marines in Helmand and Soldiers in Wanat, Korengal and Kamdesh are dying must ask themselves why there are safe, protected, comfortable troops worried about amenities while there is no quarter for our fighting men.

fighting_holes

Marines sleep in Helmand during the initial phases of Operation Khanhar.


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