Tuesday, January 12, 2010


'You may not realize it, but you are smarter than the gun!'


I have come to realize over the past few years that of the myriad 'tactical' carbine instructors that this country has to offer almost all of them teach different methods of rectifying malfunctions.

How can this be?

It seems as if there is almost 100% consensus on the topics of 'Loading, unloading and positive/press checks' - 'Ready positions' - 'Presentation time and set time' - 'Fundamentals of marksmanship' - 'Positional shooting' and pretty much every other lesson in the syllabus on a basic tactical carbine course. So why are there so many different techniques in sorting out arguably the most important part of 'running the gun'? Could it be that instructors are merely presenting or re-presenting information passed to them from previous courses of instruction most likely originating from their former Military units?

If this is true then I find it completely unacceptable. Part of the responsibility of the instructor as a Subject Matter Expert is to research and develop faster and more efficient tactics, techniques and procedures in his respective field. This is an implied task as the role of the instructor is to impart knowledge, skill and attitude to students.

Over the past four years I have worked for Blackwater as a lead instructor of firearms and tactics. I often train high level special operations units from the US Navy, Army and Air Force. With such diverse clientele, it is important to be well versed in the particular TTP's of the unit being instructed. From my experience it appears that not only are there different terminology and classifications for malfunctions across the services, each service teaches a different method of clearing them. This in itself isn't a big deal so long as the operator can effectively bring his weapon back up to a working condition within a certain timeframe in order to remain combat effective.

It would be nice to have commonality in small arms training across all services of the military. Although this seems like an impossibility due to the doctrinal ways of each service, it could be possible in the near future should the military continue to outsource for its small arms training.

In the private sector there has been literally hundreds of former service members trying their hands at making a buck off the '9-11 shooting school' boom. A few have made a name for themselves and secured a government contract or two. This is where we run into the same old problems of what service did the instructor come from? Was he a SEAL, DELTA, SF, AFSOC or Marine?

As a subject matter expert in small arms and combat marksmanship I am obligated to my students to get out to the range and train when ever I have the opportunity. I work with a diverse team of professionals that come from all facets of gunfighting. From Coalition SOF, SEALs, Army SF, Marines and Police SWAT. We are all very good friends and are all very competitive. When we get out and train we always have a shot timer and always test each other on marksmanship skills such as speed and accuracy as well as gun handling skills like reloads and malfunctions. When we train we are always looking for the best way to perform a drill or a skill. But, it can't just be fast! It has to be accurate. By accurate I don't just mean on target, I mean that if it is a technique that speeds up clearing a double feed it has to clear it 99% of the time. This is where I have issues with other instructors and 'their' drills. More on this later.

I served my country in the Army for 12 years, 6 of those years were at the highest level participating in training and operations on par with US Tier 1 assets such as CAG and DEVGRU. One thing that I have realized is that I am a better gun fighter now than I ever was back in the unit. I am much faster, more efficient and more accurate than probably anyone in my former unit. Why? Because the only thing that I concentrate on is shooting! I don't have to deploy for months at a time, or maintain currency as a paratrooper, an assault swimmer, a combat medic and so on. Now I concentrate on how to run the gun faster and more efficiently while still maintaining a combat mindset. And by that I mean I wear the same kit as the warriors that I teach. I don't shoot an AR that is designed for competitions with muzzle breaks and 2 pound triggers. Nor do I shoot a competition handgun with a modified load. I shoot the same guns as my students. A Berreta M9, a SIG 226, a Glock 17 and a Safariland 6004 leg holster. For a rifle I shoot a standard Daniel Defense M4 or an LMT. No trigger jobs or compensators and I shoot iron sights as much as possible. I wear combat fatigues the same as the students and wear heavy armor the same as the students. If you are going to teach combat marksmanship you should probably train and look like a warrior not a '3 gunner' or an IPSC champ.

On the range.

What I teach now is a bastardized mix of what I have learnt over the past 17 years as a combat decorated Commando and SAS warrior turned private security and military small arms instructor with Blackwater. In over a decade in Special Operations I had never heard of terminology such as 'Tap Rack Bang' or 'SPORTS' or 'type 1 and type 2' or 'Immediate Action and Remedial Action' as names or methods used to clear malfunctions until I began training US personnel. I find this really strange too as everyone uses the same weapons platform in the AR.

Australian Special Operations have been using the AR platform ever since it first showed up in Vietnam. My fore-fathers carried versions of the M16 and CAR 15 during operations along with the MAC-V and LRRP during the late 60's. So 'we' have as long a heritage with the AR as the US does.

SASR Vietnam.

Having said that, Australian SOF has simplified correcting malfunctions over the years and simply put when the weapon fires then stops, you carry out the IA - Immediate Action drill. The IA for the M4 is 'Tilt Look.' Tilt the rifle over to the left and observe the ejection port opening. After inspecting the ejection port you can determine what the problem is.

If the bolt is forward - Tap the magazine and charge the weapon. Reacquire sights and reengage if required. If a round is ejected the operator should take mental note as this is an indicator of the cause of the malfunction.

'Weapon fires, weapon stops!' - 'Carry out the IA'


'Bolt fully forward'

Here is where you have to be smarter than the gun! After leaving the regiment and taking up a career as a tactical small arms instructor I have adapted a different approach to malfunctions. The first thing I want to know is where the bolt is. In this example the gun lets you know exactly where it is because the last thing that the gun did was go 'CLICK'.

What does 'click' mean?

It means that the bolt is fully forward and in battery. The weapon is working just fine, it just didn't go 'BANG'!

This can only mean that there is either a bad round in the chamber or no round in the chamber and quite frankly I don't care which it is!

If I know that the bolt is fully forward I don't have to waste time at 'Tilt Look'. If I tilt look I see the bolt is in battery.

The Jason Falla Immediate Action drill for a gun that goes click is - 'Tap-Tug, Rack, Re-acquire'. However, I will throw in a caveat and that is that during combat operations it may be difficult to hear/feel the click. If this occurs I recommend the default setting of 'Tilt Look'.

If the weapon fires and then stops but doesn't go 'click' then the bolt must be out of battery. This is confirmed by a dead trigger. In order to identify what malfunction has occurred you must 'Tilt Look'. The good thing about tilt look in this case is that the gun has let you in. You can now see inside the weapon and select the right drill to rectify the stoppage. It may be difficult to determine an empty magazine from a double feed during heavy combat operations. Therefore tilt look is the order of the day.

'Weapon fires, weapon stops. Carry out the IA.'


'Double Feed'

The Jason Falla method of rectifying a double feed.

1. Lock the bolt to the rear.

2. Remove the magazine.

3. Bring the weapon to the work station and inspect the chamber.

4. If the chamber is clear place the magazine back on the weapon.

5. Release the bolt.

6. Continue firing as required.

I'm a big proponent of retaining the magazine rather than dumping on the ground for several reasons.

1. We never under any circumstances take bad magazines on operations. All magazines are to be test fired prior to heading out to ensure proper feeding. So it won't be a magazine issue unless your using standard GI magazines and haven't downloaded the rounds for some time. You will know that the spring has failed when you look at the magazine while inspecting the chamber. If you see the spring has collapsed and rounds just floating in the mag, dump it for a fresh one.

2. Special Operations operators are carrying less magazines on target than ever before. Some units SOP is to only carry 4 mags. (Statistically it's likely that a DGI M4 will malfunction after 68 rounds fired according to military test figures.) So if I dump two mags after two stoppages, potentially I could be loosing up to 50% of my front line ammo. A big reason why these units turned to the HK 416 with its piston operating system.

3. I don't want to leave ammo on the battlefield for the enemy to acquire to use against me or anyone else if I can help it.

So what happens at night when I can't see into the chamber area to see if it is clear? At night the double feed drill should be modified to include a compulsory three racks of the bolt. This extends the time of the drill but gives the shooter a 98% solution. If after completing this drill you find yourself back in double feed mode there will most certainly be bigger problems. Such as a broken extractor, or the rim torn from the case.
If your mission is being conducted in a permissive setting such as LE SWAT or other domestic CT units, dumping the mag may be acceptable. If however you are operating in a non-permissive environment then I would hazard against dumping magazines and ammo on the deck.

I refer back to my original statement that you should be smarter than the gun and also smarter than basic drills! It may seem like I teach complex malfunction drills. But the more proficient you become with the rifle the less complex they become. There is no point in having a student with a double feed, tap and rack! I have seen this technique taught for double feeds. Tap rack does nothing but waste time!

I will be covering bolt overrides on my next post. So check it out if your not 100% with clearing them.

Most people spend minimal time on the range performing malfunction drills and shows during range practice and stress courses. So take the time to get out there and square away your stoppage drills.

Take care.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Short range ballistics and the 200 Meter Combat Zero

'The 200 meter zero is a fire and forget system for the combat rifle between 0 - 250 meters.'

This is a very interesting subject and one that I get a lot of questions about.

What is the best distance to zero a combat rifle? To me a combat rifle is a rifle/carbine that is issued as a standard service weapon. In todays military in the US this would be either the M16 A4 or an M4 Carbine. Both are chambered in 5.56mm. The real difference in the two is the overall length and more importantly the length of the barrel. The M16 A4 comes standard with an 20" barrel and the M4 comes with a 14.5" barrel. The length of the barrel will directly effect effective range and accuracy. However, accuracy at long ranges is based more on the ability of the shooter than 5.5 inches of barrel length.

Ammunition selection is critical also for a couple of reasons. Reliability and performance. Military ammunition may not give you the performance of a match round for competitions but it will give you the most reliability during cycling on the battlefield. This is seen to be more important than performance for the Military.

Most manufactures of Military grade service weapons test their products using Milspec ammunition. The most common test rounds include but are not limited to M193 55gr ball, M855 62gr 'green tip' and Mk 262 77gr long range ammunition. Each one of these rounds perform differently in terms of ballistics.

In short M193 is more accurate than m855 but lacks the penetration. Mk 262 is more accurate over longer distances than M193 but again lacks the penetration capability of green tip.

Green tip was originally designed by the Belgians and designated at the time the SS 109. The projectile was designed to pierce Soviet Body Armor at 200m and through one side of a steel helmet at 600m in line with the specifications of an LMG (light Machine Gun). This was in preparation for a possible war with the former Soviet Union.
In order for the projectile to perform this task it needed to be stabilized for longer. This means make the projectile spin faster. So the twist rate of the M16 had to change from its original 1:12 of the Vietnam era or 1:14 from Stoners original design to 1:7 twist rate of the M16 A2 adopted by the Marine Corps and Army in 1982.

The performance of green tip ammunition is almost irrelevant on the modern battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. Our enemy is not technologically advanced by todays standards and is made up of militia members rather than enlisted men and unlike most first world militaries does not issue body armor to its soldiers. Therefore the M855 'penetrator' round is relegated to punching through mediums such as heavy cover like cinder block walls and vehicles.

When green tip strikes our enemy it penetrates 10-15 inches before it yaws, and separates into three pieces. The tip, core and sheath, creating three separate wound channels and thus incapacitating him. Unfortunately, the chest walls of our enemy are between 8-10 inches thick and green tip has exited before it can separate. When this occurs we generally see .22 calibre through and through wound ballistics that may not kill the enemy.

Mk 262 77 grain long range ammunition was designed to fill the ballistic gap of 5.56 and 7.62. It was specially made for Special Operations teams to use with their SPR rifles. After its successful incorporation into the SOF inventory Mk 262 became a heavy duty work horse for special operators throughout the Middle East.

The M 193 55 grain ball ammunition has a full copper alloy jacket and an antimony alloy core. M 193 is a light weight round that is generally used against personnel and unarmored targets. M 193 ball is a good training round that is extremely accurate over short ranges however it lacks the punch of 62 grain green tip.

When the question "What range do you recommend to zero a carbine?" comes up. I hear nearly every instructor say something like, "Well, what country are you deploying to, Afghanistan or Iraq?" And back it up by saying that if your going to Iraq you should have a 100m zero because of the combat ranges there. And a 300 meter zero for Afghanistan because of the extended ranges.

Well I call bullshit on all accounts.

In combat there isn't one specific range for shooting bad guys either in Afghanistan or Iraq. What is important is that you have a zero that best covers the ballistic profile of the projectile being fired.

This is why I advocate the 200 meter zero. A 200 meter zero is like a fire and forget system for the combat rifle from ranges between 0 - 250 meters.

When you zero your rifle for 200 meters you can either use a reduced target and shoot at 25 meters or shoot Point Of Aim/Point Of Impact at 50m. If you zero at 25, always confirm POA/POI at 50m as there will always be discrepancies when zeroing on a reduced target. A good shooter should be able to hold a 1" group at 25 meters with an inservice M4. (This is consistent with Military Specifications of the weapon being a 4" gun or holds a 4 inch group at 100m. A service rifle should hold a 2 MOA group and service ammunition should hold a 2 MOA group hence the 4 inch group.)

At 25 meter the projectile will be approximately 1" low and be POA?POI at 50 meters. At 100 meters, the projectile is traveling on its upward flight path and should be around 2 inches high at its culminating point and will intersect POA/POI at 200 meters. At 250 meters the projectile will be approximately 6 inches low of the POA and approximately 10 inches low at 300 meters. What this means to the operator is that he doesn't need to worry about 'hold overs' or 'hold unders' at all at any range between 0 - 250 meters based on the percentage of the target seen.

With a 100 meter zero the projectile will be in the parallax zone until about 87 meters then fly pretty straight through 100m which is its culminating point. At 200 meters the projectile will be approximately 6 inches low and 18 inches low at 300 meters.

The BZO sees the projectile intersect the POA? POI at 25 meters then fly's high, up to 10 inches at 150 meters which is it's culminating point. It then drops to intersect the POA/POI at 300 meters. The biggest issue with this zero is that the marksmanship standard in the Army for example is 1.5 inches at 25 meters. This extrapolates to a 6 inch group at 100 meters and 9 inches at 150 meters.
If a soldier puts his Aimpoint red dot onto a target at 150m with a rifle with a BZO his POI will be 19 inches higher than his POA less any shooter error.

This is one reason why our Military personnel are not killing enough bad guys!

An interesting fact to note is that m855 is not lethal beyond 200 meters and needs to be traveling at about 2700 f/p to be effective. This limits the effectiveness of SBRs in combat engagements beyond 100 meters and where shot placement becomes critical.

Stay safe