16 Mar Village Praxis: Taking Back the Infantry Half-Kilometer
Publisher’s Note: Okay, time for a deep dive into the tactical. The point of departure is this paper by Army Maj. Thomas Ehrhart, Increasing Small Arms Lethality in Afghanistan: Taking Back the Infantry Half-Kilometer (.pdf), written last year at the Command and General Staff College, that says fighting in Afghanistan has exposed the fact that American infantry are poorly equipped and trained for long range firefights. -BB
In Afghanistan, the infantryman’s “weapons, doctrine, and marksmanship training do not provide a precise, lethal fire capability to 500 meters and are therefore inappropriate,” Ehrhart says. Unlike on the streets of Iraq, where firefights were few and were typically fought under 300 meters, insurgents in Afghanistan skillfully use the wide open rural and mountainous terrain to stretch the battlefield. The following excerpt sums it up pretty well:
“Comments from returning non-commissioned officers and officers reveal that about fifty percent of engagements occur past 300 meters. The enemy tactics are to engage United States forces from high ground with medium and heavy weapons, often including mortars, knowing that we are restricted by our equipment limitations and the inability of our overburdened soldiers to maneuver at elevations exceeding 6000 feet. Current equipment, training, and doctrine are optimized for engagements under 300 meters and on level terrain.”
There’s a lot to unpack in this paper, the author gets into the relative merits and disadvantages of the 5.56mm round, reliability of the M4, the rifleman’s standard ACOG site, basic training, adding more marksmen to the squad and even the shortcomings of the standard issue magazines (Magpul gets a real big shout out for their PMAG M4 mag replacement). He concludes that only with significant changes to training, doctrine and weapons will infantry be able to engage targets out to 500 meters.
“In the table of organization for a light infantry company only the six –M240B 7.62-mm machineguns, two– 60-mm mortars and nine designated marksman armed with either 7.62-mm M14 rifles or accurized 5.56-mm M16A4’s rifles are able to effectively engage the enemy. These weapons systems represent 19 percent of the company’s firepower. This means that 81 percent of the company has little effect on the fight. This is unacceptable.”
I’m going to get into a number of these points throughout the week, but first off, I want to get into Ehrhart’s description of meeting engagements in Afghanistan and the standard U.S. tactical response. “The enemy travels light and employs supporting weapons from standoff, to include mortars and medium machineguns. Faced with these conditions, the modern [U.S.] infantry attempts to fix the enemy with direct fire and use supporting assets to kill the enemy,” he writes.