On December 1st, Lee published a cadre post on this blog: ‘The Origin of the Assault Rifle.’ It was an excellent post, with the intent of articulating a general history of the ‘assault rifle,’ while explaining what it really is, and more importantly, the utility and purpose of such a weapon in an infantry context. A scan of comments will show that although many understood this, there is a dogged minority who make the mistake of simply missing the point. They want to argue over specific historical points concerning the exact development and models of rifles, or bring out points that are not within the scope or intent of the article, such as rifle calibers that are not considered suitable for an assault rifle round, etc.
Why do I bring this up?
I was reflecting on this, and I realized that this is also, to a large extent, similar to the whole ‘caliber debate.’ I don’t in fact believe that this is a debate at all, but rather a symptom of something else. Professional soldiers do not worry about the ‘caliber debate’ because it really is a non-issue. There may be points of utility of certain rounds, or application of certain weapon systems, but on the whole you get the job done with what you have. In my experience, for example, it is well understood that the 5.56 AR Platform is an excellent weapon system for its intended use. This is borne out by the fact that, barring special use, U.S. and UK SOF/SF forces use the 5.56mm AR platform, by and large, as their personal weapon system. Many of us who are operating in the civilian sector, use the AR15 as our go-to weapon of choice. The British SAS have the choice of procuring whatever weapon system they want, and they used the M16 for years, more recently going to the M4, in the form of the Canadian made DeMarco.
(Yes, I am aware that in the military, you are largely issued what you get, so you don’t have much of a choice, but I will get to that specifically in a bit.)
So what do I think this whole thing is a symptom of? Well, to some extent it is a problem with the unending myths that were created when the M16 design was rolled into service poorly in the Vietnam War. It is also a confusion over ‘varmint rounds’ and what people do when hunting. But overall, I think it comes down to a conflation of the sport of shooting, and the skill/art of small unit tactics.
There are many who shoot, and some who shoot very well either as hunters or sport shooters. There are less who understand small unit tactics (SUT). This is where the problem comes in, when SUT experts are trying to get useful information and training out there, and we get all these comments from left-field about the types of rifle/caliber used. It also doesn’t help when the large part of the ‘tactical industry’ using ‘tactical carbines’ is rooted in the LEO world and preoccupied with standing close to paper targets and peppering them with high round counts. No wonder precision shooters look at this in disbelief! It is two separate worlds, and none of them directly relate to training in SUT.
I have written posts about how you may want to use, as a ‘graduate level’ choice when you have the required PT and training levels, .308AR style weapons as an alternative to 5.56AR, in some situations. Yes, you can use an AK instead. Yes, it is a myth that the AK is somehow a better weapon, more reliable, than the AR. I have used the AK for real and my personal weapon of choice is an AR. Tell you anything?
The thing is, SUT is not sharp shooting, although the ability to shoot straight is a considerable advantage, and of course you may employ a designated marksman in some cases. I firmly believe, although I value marksmanship, many are too hung up on it, and related closely, the perceived effect, or lack of effect, of some calibers. Tactics is about orchestrating fire, maneuver, and position (terrain) in order to affect the enemy to your advantage. You only need to achieve the accuracy that will give you that effect. That implies shooting that is accurate enough to affect the behavior of the enemy i.e. suppress him, in order to allow you to maneuver, either towards or away from him, to achieve your objective. Yes, it’s great to hit him in the face, or otherwise wound or kill him in this situation, but remember that this shooting must be done under combat conditions with all the attendant physical and psychological stresses. It’s not necessarily as easy as you think, with a moving thinking enemy taking up best positions of cover. I will tell you that it is far more dangerous to be a paper target downrange on a square range than it is to be a real target downrange for real.
Oh red dot, Oh red dot,
Why won’t you hit the target?
Because fuck you, that’s why!
The reality is that shooting as a discipline or sport is only a small subset of SUT. And this is where the problem lies. We have many perceived expert shooters coming in and telling the tactical trainers how to do their job. I’ll tell you what, I’m not an electrician, and although I know how to turn on a light, I’m not going to tell an electrician how to wire my house. The other problem is that SUT can be read about, which leads many to believe they can do it, but without actual physical training in the subject, that will prove to be a sad fantasy. I mean, how hard can that fire and movement team tactics thing really be, right? And thus, we have a whole legion of nuggets out there on the internetz, commenting on tactics, when really they need to be quiet, and educate themselves, ego aside. Ego (ignorance) = the biggest impediment to effective tactical training of the armed American citizen.
There are other related issues, ingrained deep in the psyche, and they are (yes, wait for it), lack of physical fitness, fear, and denial. This is where the ‘retreat sniper’ commenter is coming from: He knows he doesn’t do the PT, he knows he won’t or can’t train, and he feels the fear when he reads articles on tactics, or PT, knowing that he is not going to make an effort to get trained. So, he pushes it aside, overturns the table. Throws his teddy bear out of the crib. Smashes the train-set. He tells everyone, in an effort to to persuade himself that all of the stuff that ‘Max teaches’ is not relevant to him; why train to do fire and movement and ‘peels’ and all that rubbish when it doesn’t apply to him when he is defending his retreat, when he won’t have that ‘tactical team.’ Welcome to opposite world, which really isn’t just a leftard thing.
Trying to control circumstances so that you will only ever face a threat when it is under your control, at standoff, with you in your retreat in an advantageous position, awake and alert, and the enemy coming across an open kill zone in broad daylight, is pure madness. You cannot control circumstances to that extent. I have made the point before that yes, if you have that situation, it would be great to be able to pick them off with your scoped high power rifle in 30.06 or whatever. But in any other circumstance the best rifle to have is a ‘multi-tool’ tactical style weapon, such as an AR15. When woken from sleep, when on patrol, when moving by vehicle, when picking tomatoes, when the enemy gets into or close to your house. You will regret that Mosin (or Garand….insert here…yawn) at that time.
As an untrained shooter with a large caliber scoped rifle, will you perhaps be able to take some guys out in certain circumstances? Achieve limited success? Sure. In conditions when they present themselves in front of your occupied firing position. Once you pull that trigger on a trained tactical team, and get one or two, your whole situation turned left, because it will no longer be a known distance range with targets presented to you. Now they are in cover and maneuvering on your position. Did you take the shots from your house? Oops, sucks to be you. What is also overlooked here is that a modern AR15 can have an excellent optic on it that will reach out to range, thus taking care of both close and long range situations. I have an ACOG with RMR on mine. The enemy will not walk off a 5.56 round at 800 meters! If he does, shoot him again, and keep shooting until he stops moving. Oh, but I forgot, 5.56 just bounces off bad guys (and also bears, because that is relevant, right?), and all that.,….
There is no magic pill here in terms of the perfect caliber. Are there better rounds than the 5.56? Can we talk about 6.8 and others? Maybe, but what is the point? You cannot make up for training failure by trying to achieve the magic pill of equipment, in this case represented by your perfect killing caliber. You want a rifle that is versatile and can be carried, along with a decent amount of ammunition, that can generate both a small and a large volume of fire accurately and under control. With this you can defend your family at close and medium ranges whether you have a team or not.
Ask me about the many students who brought ‘man guns’ to training, but had a ‘girl gun’ AR as backup. What were they mostly carrying by day 2? The ‘girl gun.’ Or if they were so determined (or had no choice) to carry the .308, how they realized how much the ammo weighed, and how much they really needed to carry to be able to suppress and maneuver on the tactical ranges.
With this article I am not intending to reopen the ‘caliber debate’ as I will be no doubt be accused. If you think that, go back and start the article again, and read it through this time. I am telling you that the ‘caliber debate’ (read: 5.56mm is crap) is ridiculous, largely based on myth, and may well be handicapping your efforts at self-defense. Shooting is a sub-set skill to SUT, and is relevant to SUT only in that an effect is applied to an enemy force that will allow you to achieve your objective.
As an aside, in terms of equivalents to support weapons such as machine guns, to up the firepower when circumstances dictate, then I refer you back to my suggestions on the use of .308, when trained and physically able to do so. I’ll leave you with this: if you are unable to generate the volume of fire (‘accuracy by volume’) to suppress using a fully automatic machine gun, then to achieve that same effect, you can do it by concentrating more on accuracy. The only issue then is weight of round, in terms of if you have to contend with cover that needs reducing, such as with enemy behind cover. This is the potential reason for the .308 – e.g. I don’t have a M240, and I have to suppress that bunker. Rather than tearing it apart with volume of machine gun fire, I have a designated marksman with a .308AR, who is able to accurately put rounds into that bunker (same round, less volume, more accuracy). Of course, I can do all this with 5.56, with perhaps less effect on materiel than with the .308.
To conclude, remember that shooting is a skill on its own and the ability to shoot does not relate directly to SUT. Can you still shoot people in self defense? Sure. Do you really need training in SUT to make best use of the application of your shooting ability? Yes.
Is it great to be a really good shot? Yes, of course. Do many people go down a rabbit hole on shooting itself while never progressing to the application of shooting in real tactical environments? Yes, for sure. If I can have a team that understands, and is trained in, maneuver under contact, who have trained effectively together, who can get ‘minute of man’ accuracy under fire and maneuver conditions, then I am going to be happy with that. Given that I have magazine fed semi-automatic rifles capable of sustained fire, rapid fire, controlled pairs, hammer pairs and stream fire, and team members who can carry the required amount of rounds and maneuver because they have a basic level of physical fitness, we will win the day.
Remember, ammunition equates to time under enemy fire. No movement without suppressing fire equals no movement without ammunition.
And one last thing: assault rifles: it’s got to be a select fire medium caliber weapon, that can be used effectively at range and also in the assault. An AR15 does not fulfill that criteria because it is not select fire i.e. it is semi-automatic and does not have a fully automatic capability. Does this mean that it cannot be used as an assault rifle. Hell no! If I remember correctly, doctrinally automatic fire (unless from a machine-gun) is only to be used in dire circumstances such as when your position is being overrun. Back in the day, automatic fire was used for room clearing, but no longer. I am not interested in playing political games with terminology: my AR15 is an assault rifle, despite not fulfilling the definition, because I can use it as so, and rightly so, because that is why we have these weapons: For killin’ them that needs killin.’ Hopefully, using well trained SUT to do so. Be comfortable with that.
By means of illustration, there is some ‘assault rifle’ use in this video, of course without a team. It’s not a ‘squad attack,’ it’s just an individual range exercise, so don’t over analyze it!:
This is the sequel to ‘Patriot Dawn: The Resistance Rises.‘ The story follows on immediately.