Updating the US Army’s shooting training

The US Army’s new publication TC 3-20.40, “Training and Qualification – Individual Weapons”, has been temporarily withdrawn to amend a few politically incorrect entries;  but it nevertheless appears to be a fairly substantial revision to the training standards for modern US soldiers.  Strategy Page has more.

What it comes down to is that troops must demonstrate not just shooting accuracy each year, but a larger array of related skills. These include firing night and day as well as while wearing a gas mask. Troops must not only seek to hit the target on the firing range but to do so while moving and changing firing positions. These include standing, kneeling and prone. The firing exercise is also continuous and troops carry extra ammo in on them as they would in combat and are tested on how well they get new magazines from where it is carried and into the weapon. There is no longer just one target but multiple targets and you are rated on how well you quickly select and fire on the one that is the greatest threat. There are no longer time-outs for jammed weapons or other problems. You are rated on how well you deal with these realistic disruptions. These problems could be fatal in combat if you didn’t know how to handle it under fire. All this is done while moving downrange among other troops firing and facing the same problems.

The new weapons qualification test will not be as much as a shock to the average soldier because a lot of the new items tested because of TC 3-20.40 are already part of basic and advanced infantry training. This came about because the army quickly realized after 2001 that better weapons training was required for the infantry as well as everyone else. Especially everyone else. So you could say that you could say TC 3-20.40 has been a work in progress for over fifteen years.

By 2005 combat experience in Iraq had already changed the way the army trained its troops to use their rifles, machine-guns and pistols. Since two-thirds of the casualties are caused by roadside bombs and gunfire from ambushes, troops have had to learn to use their weapons reflexively. This is a special kind of shooting, and the army usually had its hands full just teaching the troops the basics. This was especially the case for combat support troops, who are not expected to use their weapons often, if at all. In Iraq, any combat support troops outside a base quickly learned that combat was a very real possibility at any time. Thus, by late 2003, more elaborate and intensive weapons training became a necessity.

. . .

This application of “lessons learned” continued to change training for years. Many of these lessons are the same ones picked up in every war the U.S. has fought in the last century. But this wisdom gets polluted, diluted and forgotten during peacetime. If you are patient, observant, and not too old, you can watch this process repeat itself over the next two decades. The army realized it had to institutionalize much of this valuable experience. Which was another reason for TC 3-20.40.

Put another way the army took its Iraq/Afghanistan reality check seriously and made the kinds of changes that make a difference.

There’s more at the link, including details of the amended and updated training.

I’m very pleased to see these updates being “institutionalized”.  Having undergone weapons training myself in the South African military, I can attest from personal experience that the range training we initially received had not very much to do with the demands of operational shooting.  Shooting against the clock on a timed course of fire is all very well, but it’s nothing like the stress and adrenaline and fear of “If I don’t kill that ****** right now, he’s going to kill me!”  That’s a whole different kind of clock . . .

The most valuable shooting training I ever received with military weapons was that developed by the Rhodesian Light Infantry (see the sections “Fire and Movement” and “The Rhodesian Cover Shoot” in this .PDF document for more information).  Their “jungle walk” course of fire emphasized accurate snap-shooting in a bush warfare environment, with both eyes open, scanning the surroundings and shooting at every target that popped up.  It was hair-raising and scary, but after a few runs through the course of fire, everyone’s accuracy and speed on target improved enormously.  Later, in the bush, those “lessons learned” would save more than a few of our lives.

There was, however, a noticeable “disconnect” between the square-range training of basic instruction (and even of so-called “advanced” infantry training), and the “jungle walk” approach.  Some instructors maintained that unless one had first received adequate square range training (shooting at known targets over known distances, and scored for accuracy), one couldn’t do well at “combat”-type shooting training.  In my experience, this wasn’t so.  Those who came to the “jungle walk” from a background of hunting and farm defense operations frequently outshot everybody else in combat, even though they scored more poorly than the rest of us on the square range.

I’m pleased to see the US Army codifying its experience in this way.  Now, of course, the challenge will be to stop its instruction “ossifying” over time, until the “lessons learned” have been forgotten – and have to be re-learned the hard way, all over again.



  1. So, Big Army has finally figured out what the Marine Corps has known all along?

    First a Rifleman, then something else.

    Who knew, when joining the Army, that one would have to shoot a gun?

    Weird world we live in…

    And, Shall Not Be Infringed, Genius.

  2. John George, a veteran of Guadalcanal and Burma and a pre-war rifle champion, wrote at length in his book Shots Fired In Anger about the need for both kinds of training. I believe Lones Wigger did the same about what he found in Vietnam. IIRC, he mentioned troops who were being taught to shoot at thrown targets when they didn't know how to zero their weapons. Trying to short-cut the training for something so important as shooting is a failing that never seems to go away.

  3. At gun school in the 00's, every rifle class seemed to have at least one Army student that was due to ship out to the M.E. shortly. They were there on their own dime, and were very concerned that the yearly(!) ammo budget was 90 rnds/soldier. Most groups seemed to have settled on waiting until they got to Saudi Arabia to hold a range day to get the trigger pullers and their guns sorted out, prior to getting sent into an action area, as that ammo supply wasn't part of the group's direct expenses. Still wonder why contractors were the preferred bodyguards?

  4. Meh.
    The Army is now teaching recruits to pull the trigger.

    Conspicuously absent is the institutional attitude that learning to sight, and actually hitting anything for the effort, have any utility for troops other than school-trained snipers.

    Perhaps we should cut to the chase, and issue weapons firing .22LR blanks only, and let them make more noise with no danger of self-injury. Bonus: no recoil, and easier for Combat Barbies to shoot.

    That seems to have been the US Army goal since at least 1960 onwards.

  5. Waiting until military service to have people learn to shoot is not good. Best is to learn before puberty, as the brain appears to get hard-wired for physical abilities such as that. At least judging by my sisters and I.

    They had one range day with our father, and never handled a gun afterwards, but a decade later could outshoot all their boyfriends and everyone else gathered for a plinking day, using other's guns. the two older ones learned on my single shot boltie, but the much younger ones used something else, as I had moved away by then.

    In my 60's, I could go six months or more, and still do things with a DAO snubbie that people don't believe, so I've stopped detailing it.

    I don't know if this sort of thing has been studied to verify the ability, though.

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