There’s an interesting article over at Defense Tech about the problems grunts are having with long range engagements in Afghanistan. Unlike Vietnam, with its dense jungles, or Iraq, with its urban terrain, many parts of Afghanistan have long vistas. Quite often, our troops find themselves in fights at ranges from 300 to 500 meters. As an added bonus, they almost always find that the enemy has the high ground. The M4 carbine, which is the standard rifle for our troops, just isn’t designed to shoot that far.
MAJ Thomas Erhart, as a student at the School of Advanced Military Studies at the Army’s Command and General Staff School, has written a monograph that addresses the concerns, and offers some solutions.
I don’t really agree with all his conclusions. He raises valid concerns about the lethality of the current M855 5.56mm x 45 round. But just because it probably isn’t immediately incapacitating at 500 meters doesn’t mean that a hit on a Taliban is worthless. Would the Army be better off with a 6.5mm or 6.8mm round? Almost certainly. But the Army isn’t going to go there. So the real question becomes, what can we do with what we have?
First, he minimizes the influence of SAWs. The M249 is quite accurate for a machine gun, and can easily reach out 800m or more. Second, while the M4 is hardly the optimum weapon for ranges past 300 meters, it can place effective fires out to 500 meters. It just takes a lot of training.
And training is the heart of the issue. The Army just doesn’t train troops to shoot past 300 meters. And there’s no real good reason why they shouldn’t. MAJ Erhart addresses some of the reasons why, mostly as a holdover from the days of conscription. And frankly, the current marksmanship training is probably good enough for non-combat arms troops. But there is no reason why infantry troops shouldn’t be held to a higher level of marksmanship.
The Marines have long trained at ranges of 500 meters (though this marksmanship training isn’t terribly realistic, any training at that range is better than nothing). The Army could quickly and easily address the training concerns, without major changes to doctrine or equipment. They can, and should.