As the battlefield has evolved during the last century, so too has our soldiers’ tactics and training. Slowly. U.S. Army recruits in 1911 were schooled in the same mass maneuvering and firing tactics used by soldiers in the Revolutionary War. As WWI and WWII turned into the Korean War and the Vietnam War, those tactics quickly became worse than useless—a realization that dawned on our Armed Forces with predictable speed. The U.S. Air Force has recently decided to update their rifle qualification course. Considering the old requirements it’s a major improvement . . .

About.com’s article on USAF rifle qualification provides the basic outline of the “old” qualification course of fire. Apparently, the entire qualification course takes only 80 rounds of ammo fired at distances from 75 to 300 meters.

The course seems designed to find “marksmen” in the WWII sense of the term: airmen who can hit a stationary target from a long distance. That skill isn’t necessarily beneficial in the modern ‘close quarters’ fighting style. In fact, the USAF course of fire reads like a National Match event, with shooters firing short strings at stationary targets within a generous time frame.

The new qualification course has the same basic building blocks as the old one but greatly reduces the time allowed for each string. It also tacks on two new blocks of qualification requirements involving short range engagement, moving while shooting and night shooting. The quals emphasize multiple threat engagement, target discrimination, and fixing weapon malfunctions in a time-is-life situation. Oh, and the targets move.

“There are time constraints on all the firing positions to increase your heart rate and make you nervous,” said Tech. Sgt. Robert Duerr, a 52nd SFS combat arms instructor. “At no point downrange will you be shooting at a stationary, small black target with a circle on it. This training will definitely make the individual more competent and confident in their handling of the weapon.”

The new qualification requirements will better train our USAF soldiers to fight in the modern battlefield. Unless someone invents a man portable laser system in the next decade the new system will last them a good long while.

If learning to shoot on the move and clear weapons malfunctions are required for even the “special” children of the armed forces (whose idea of combat is typically seen from 10,000 feet) it’s probably a good idea for you to learn the techniques as well. It’s a skill set that could save your life.

[Lead image (C) U.S. Air Force]

19 Responses to U.S. Air Force Redesigns Firearms Qualification Course

  1. Excellent! It seems clear that the old gun range paradigm—standing and shooting at a stationary target—is doomed to extinction.

    And not a moment too soon. (A bit late if you ask me.) With more and more Americans carrying a handgun for self-defense, it’s high time they learned how to use it under stress in a dynamic environment.

    Hey Nick, ring ’em up and see if you can check out the new quals first hand. Maybe even have a go.

  2. “The ‘special’ children of the armed forces…”

    I resemble that remark. But really, the AF is getting a lot more involved on the ground, especially our SF guys. And helo pilots aren’t too high above the ground…

    • “Special”? Yeah, perhaps. And yet at the same time the fixed-wing aviation assets the Air Force and Navy bring to the battlefield are perhaps the biggest combat multiplier for the types of engagement our country faces today. It is because of them that I did not need to fire my personal firearm during the entirety of the Desert Shield / Storm operation.

  3. Only a few AF components get involved in organized ground combat — security police and SOF elements. Other than that and the small percentage of pilots who drop bombs the AF is hardly an armed service.

  4. I get worried when people start talking about how wars are fought today, as though the low intensity, low coordination, low mass level of fighting is the way of the future.

    There are lots of good reasons for the newer style of firearms training, but the basics are still the basics, and I like my Marines having the confidence in their weapons and themselves to be able to reliably hit their target at 500 yards. The other stuff is important too, but so is long distance shooting.

    • I am always glad to see people learn to shoot better, but I think this does not bode well for the future. Not in a conspiracy theory way, just the old adage that the military always fights the last war. If that holds true then the next one is going to be different. Will it be fire and maneuver? Will it be trenches and machine guns? Maybe massive artillery and aerial bombardment? But it is virtually guaranteed to not be the same as it is now, and the only carryover is maybe some lessons learned about urban combat.

  5. Most of the world’s militaries are training to fight the last war, not the next war. Because the US military is a huge, powerful but lumbering beast, it’s usually one war behind the curve.

    The troops in the field are fast learners, but the top-down structure of the military means that change occurs slower than it should. The upshot of all this is that most training regimens are wrong most of the time, but the people who are actually tasked with carrying out the mission — not the brass hats in the rear with the gear — usually adapt and make things right.

  6. For those who are uninitiated,there are many reasons why the so called “Chair Force” needs this training.

    Without going into OPSEC territory, there are times when ground pounding Air Force personnel assigned to Iraq/Afghanistan who are posted in support duties like computer support and other desk-bound jobs are tapped for outside the wire reinforcement of SF at certain times.If an Army supply convoy needs more bodies and its the AF personnel squadron’s turn to step up you want those Airmen squared away on firearms technique.

    In addition, certain paper-pushing jobs have hazardous qualifiers in a wartime environment.Finance is not an exciting job stateside, but overseas the chance exists that an Airman in that job may end up guarding a pallet of government money in some “x-istan” with a rifle. In both cases, shooting at static targets is not gonna cut it.

  7. This type of training is an entirely positive development; one of my good friends is a USAF officer running airbase logistics and airspace deconflicting, and a few years ago he and his airmen got tapped to ride security for convoys in some desert shithole.

    He hadn’t fired a real weapon in so long, he emailed me to see if I had any pointers for what to do in a firefight. He knew I’ve had no military or police training or force-on-force firearms training, and have never fired a gun in anger. I’m not a Navy SEAL (and I don’t play one on the Internet) so I didn’t pretend to know anything about gunfights. I told him that his M9 probably wasn’t powerful enough to be of much use in a fight, and that he should pick up an M4 or M16 and carry all the magazines he could grab.

    Now he’ll actually look forward to weapon training and qualification, instead of putting silly target shooting on a par with ‘dental readiness’ as a relevant career skill set.

    Regardless of the intensity level of future wars, engagement distances are likely to remain relatively close in most parts of the world. This is because the threat of US airpower and artillery means that our enemies will have to stick close to us to avoid being blown to jelly. In past wars artillery or air strikes within a few hundred yards were uncomfortably close, but ‘Danger Close’ now means a few dozen meters. Our enemies know this.

  8. I took my shot the AF this morning but now that I have time and have given this post some serious thought here some observations about what kind of marksmanship skills are needed in ground combat.

    BUF: Infantry combat requires the full range shooting skills from close combat to long range fire.

    Like all conventional wisdom, the idea that the military forces prepare for the last war and end up fighting under a new set of conditions is wrong. Certainly strategic objectives and war aims may change but from a ground combat perspective changes in the way they are fought are less dramatic than suppose. I suspect that the fighting the last war meme comes from the German 1940 campaign in France. Looking at our post WWII conflicts combat actions at the tactical and operational level changed little from WWII. Korea was fought with the weapons and tactics of WWII. It was very much like the Italian campaign. Despite, the image Vietnam was also fought like WWII in the Pacific. Both Campaigns were fought in closed jungle terrain often a close ranges. Desert Storm and OIF were pretty much the same as North Africa with Italians as the opponents. Afghanistan is somewhat different in that resembles the 19th Century Indian wars but from an infantryman’s perspective it is mostly standard combat in fairly open terrain.

    Infantry combat in both Iraq and Afghanistan is a mix of urban close combat and open spaces. US small arms and/or marksmanship skills are deficient in several key areas. In urban environments the M-4/M-16/SAW are adequate from a range and accuracy perspective but lack power to penetrate modern urban buildings. Hence the revival of the M-14. In the wide open spaces of Afghanistan the lack of NATO 7.62 weapons like the M-60 puts the infantry at a disadvantage because the Taliban still uses Soviet/Russia 7.62 heavy weapons. Army forces are not trained to use their their individual weapons for long range engagements but as noted the above the Marines still are.

    The new AF training syllabus is well suited to what the AF mission is but will not meet Army requirements. The likely outcome of this kind training is “spray and pray” tactics that is so much derided here abouts. The ability to hit fixed targets at long range is still required in infantry combat. The muzzle velocity of all infantry rifles available since 1900 is such that for all practical purposes the target is fixed. How far can you run in half a second when weighed down by 80 pounds of equipment? At close ranges where angular displacements become large spray and pray is an appropriate shooting doctrine.

  9. I was in a forward deployed Air Force unit and we trained with guns every 3 months. We had M-60, shotguns, ARs, .38 and 9mm handguns. On top of it all we were stationed with the Army and trained with them. This may come as a shock to those who think AF guys just fly a desk but someone has to call in airstrikes, setup mobile communications in the field, and defend the positions close to lines.

  10. Watch how you say “Chair Force.” My job as a Crew Chief is to fix an F16 and get it off the ground asap and then move on to the next broke jet.. The only chair we see is the one that is underneath the belly of the jet Flightline Crew Chiefs are the 1% of the AF, we occupy the flightline for about 12-16 hours a day. Our jets are not always parked inside a hangar, so just like the Mailman rain, snow, or shine we’ll liberate the shit outta ya!

    And back to guns…….Every time I have to qualify with the M16, I always chuckle at the 90 seconds they give for each firing string. The guy to my left and right would blast through all there rounds and I would take my time. My best score was 49 out of 50. I am glad to see that we will be getting more training, but at the same time. We qualify once every 2 years! The only reason I know my way around a weapon is because I own several and paid for training. It’s not going to stick to those Chairforcians……

    P.S. Pirates are pajama wearing sissies that cry over everything….that let them get beat up…..like when a F16 goes up against an F22(did you really think you’d have a chance?). Yes I meant Pirate…….

  11. Former Jarhead and 21 year AF vet( Security Police/1st Sgt) Yep, the AF can have a bad rap, but we have undertaken more mission than many can imagine. AF Cops parachuted in to Iraq on the kickoff of Iraqi Freedom, convoys, AF EOD and Engineers embedded with the Army way out front…We’ll never have the ground combat capapbilities of the Army and the USMC but don’t sell the AF short. We all have the common mission of killing bad guys.. I had the honor of visiting some wounded AF troops at Ft Sam Houston. I had recovering wounded soldiers hugging me because I was AF…. “I’m alive today because the AF took care of me and got me to Landstuhl Germay…thank you so much….” was the common theme. Pretty sobering stuff and validated my pride in the USAF.

  12. I’m in the Army Nasty Guard. I wish we got to fire 80 rounds per year. 9 to zero, 40 to qualify, clean the weapon and do it again next year.

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