Mark Westrom: Rapid Semiautomatic Fire

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“I could never get a kick from full-auto.”

– J. C. Tate, CDR USN (Ret.)

Lt. Col. Mark A. Westrom was one of my previous commanders as well as the former owner of ArmaLite and Eagle Arms. Before retiring from the Army, he published an informative paper:
Rapid Semiautomatic Fire and the Assault Rifle
Firing Rate Versus Accuracy
United States Army Reserve Command Small Arms Training Team

In his paper, LTC Westrom detailed a series of tests conducted with competitive shooters and military personnel shooting scored and timed courses at various rates of fire. With him in attendance, we ran a similar test based on his findings at the All Army Small Arms Championships at Fort Benning one year.

The basis of testing was to have shooters to fire on scored targets at varying rates. Given there was no fixed round count, every shot fired added to the score, but only if it hit.

The results were unsurprising to anyone in the know: Rapid semiautomatic fire at the maximum pace a shooter can get something resembling aligned sights on target ends up with the highest score. This is much faster than Rapid Fire in High Power and is fast enough to result in occasional misses, but is controlled. Obviously, the pace varies based on shooter skill and target size/distance. Taking the speed above the shooter’s limit sees the score decline and increasing the rate of fire further reduces the score even more. All shooters maxed their score with semiautomatic fire; nobody improved their result with full auto.

Lt. Col. Westrom concluded his paper with this:

IV. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Today, the U.S. Military is generally conducting small arms training with much the same emphasis on single round accuracy that it did eighty years ago. Preliminary data suggests that a substantial increase in lethality can be obtained by increasing the firing rate of the line. The principles now taught are generally sound, and little additional training is needed to squeeze an important increase in effectiveness from our soldiers. Rapid semiautomatic fire is a simple extension of existing training, and its benefits are easily achieved by emphasis during training.

To make the best of Rapid Semiautomatic Fire we must:

  1. Test the benefits of rapid semiautomatic fire.
  2. Experiment. Additional firing data needs to be gathered to learn the effect of training, position, tactical situation, and weapon design. Fortunately, the experiments aren’t lengthy or difficult to conduct. The apparent flattening of the firing rate curve suggests that a rule of thumb rate of fire such as “50 shots per minute in the final assault” is adequate guidance. Lengthy testing to pin down exact numbers under a variety of scenarios might be interesting, but will probably not prove useful.
  3. Train soldiers to use rapid semiautomatic fire, and to shoot until the target is down.

Current qualification courses provide the shooter one round with which to engage each target. This isn’t tactically realistic. The current courses punish a shooter using rapid semiautomatic fire for even nearby targets.

In combat, the soldier is presented with a significant logistics issue: how to consume his basic load of ammunition with greatest efficiency. When presented with a distant target, he may need to fire several rounds to get a hit. If he does so, however, he may run low on ammunition. When presented with a threatening, nearby target later, he may be out of ammunition. He certainly must not decline to fire a second shot at that nearby opponent if the first shot is a miss.

This is just what the current qualification courses train the soldier to do. Current training teaches the wrong lessons. Each target is addressed by one cartridge. The correction to this is simple. Issue sufficient ammunition to allow for misses. Reward the shooter based on targets ultimately hit. Reward him further with a few points based on ammunition remaining. The highest scores obviously continue to go to the best shots, who both hit many targets and return with ammunition, but all are trained to engage.

  1. Aim every shot.

The current edition of FM 23-67 [since replaced by TC 3-22.240, TC 3-22.249, and TC 3-22.50, and TC 3-22.19 – Ed.] providing doctrine for the [then-current] M60 Machinegun, shows a machinegunner boldly firing the weapon from the hip. An M60 is too heavy to fire readily from the shoulder, so aiming every shot with this manner may be difficult. Nonetheless, advancing with a weapon firing from the hip must be regarded as an act of desperation or idiocy. The very fact that such an unsound technique is posted to the cover of a major document is a poor indicator of fire discipline.

The correction for this omission rests properly with the NCO Corps. Every NCO must assure as a matter of faith that every shot must be aimed in both training and combat. Even machineguns must be sighted. There can be no exceptions for blanks.

  1. Avoid burst or automatic fire.

As previously noted, there is ample evidence proving that automatic fire is almost useless beyond 25 yards. It is essentially useful for room to room fighting or trench clearing. Three shot burst if largely useless for both close combat and longer range fighting. It is truly the worst of both worlds. Both automatic fire with the M16A1 and burst fire with the M16A2 should be strenuously discouraged by the same NCOs who reinforce the act of aiming every shot. This is especially important during training with blanks, because soldiers enjoy automatic fire as a matter of play.

In summary, aiming assures maximum efficiency with each shot. Rapid semiautomatic fire assures maximum efficiency with each moment of contact. Combined, they offer a substantial increase in combat effectiveness with little change in resources or doctrine.

Full-automatic: Why does it render gun owners stupid?

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“Let’s waste thousands of dollars on BATFE-restricted gear and ammo, and then destroy it for no reason. Everyone will love it!”

“This is a highly restricted, very expensive, difficult-to-obtain firearm. Let’s wreck it!”
“I don’t know what I’m doing, but the other idiots will love it!”

What I don’t understand is why someone would go through the hassle and expense to obtain Class 3 equipment while having no interest in learning gunnery or anything related to effective full auto use. It usually ends up being a big jerk-off giggle fest. Knob Creek is a stunning and sad example. Military training on this is rarely better, even though the principles are there to be learned by anyone literate enough to read them.

Myths about what is and isn’t suppressive fire are common.
https://firearmusernetwork.com/suppressive-fire-myth-fact/



Handheld full auto always sucks. I should put “almost” in there as absolute statements are always wrong (as the self-conflicting adage goes) because outliers and exceptions do exist. However, these are unicorns in this case. With the very rare exception of a very few highly-trained full-auto shooters, semi-auto fire is much more effective with handheld firearms. Basically, only people that compete in and win NFA submachine gun matches. Nobody in the military or police is this good and those that claim otherwise are breathing Dunning-Kruger graphs.

Side note: The first NFA match I attended was with a friend from my local USPSA club using his M1A1 Thompson. After looking at the courses, I asked if I could just shoot everything with the “Tommy gun” on the single (semi-auto) setting. “No,” I was told, “That would be cheating.”

Every class, match, or range event that tested this proved this true.

Handheld full auto fire is almost always less effective than aimed semi-automatic fire.


Acutal machine guns are a different matter but they are only effective when employed using gunnery concepts, tripods and T&Es, and a knowledgable crew. For all the bluster of full-auto fire, I still know of only one free, public video discussing this. Let me know if you can find another.


If you can find a better video giving a more thorough discussion of gunnery with machine guns, please share it!

What do you think? Why does full-auto fire render so many gun owners into idiots? Why aren’t people interested in fully-automatic firearms interested in learning how to employ them effectively?

Machine Gun Training

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EVERY 0331 that goes through AMGC does high angle fire. Slow news day?

– Joe R Heft

A variety of gunnery skills are taught during USMC Advanced Machine Gunner Course but most Army personnel remain oblivious to gunnery with machine guns and are rarely competent with them beyond loading and minimal marksmanship on easy and well-defined point targets.

In fact, most Army personnel have been conducting machine gun qualification incorrectly and failing to achieve published standards. Consider this from the new small arms training manual:

TC 3-20.40
7-119

Table IV-B requires gunners to practice trigger control and requires the firer to fire one five to seven round burst at each specified point target or series of targets in the area target sequences. Gunners are authorized to fire only one five to seven round burst at each paster. [Emphasis added]

The authors explicitly spell this out due to recognizing most Army personnel have failed to perform at this standard but it is NOT a new/different standard. This is not a change to doctrine or a new qualification, this is the way the qual was always supposed to be run. Simple arithmetic of the number of rounds issued during qualification, the number of rounds per burst to be fired, and the number of target areas engaged confirms this. The explicit instruction was forced in due to a large number of Army personnel that don’t math good.

Lack of skill with this equipment is unfortunately common.
MG-backwards
backwards-load-MG

Operation Cold Steel has been less than stellar…

Such “expertise” is rampant:

army handgun pew

Marines practice rarely trained machine gun tactic that could take out Russian vehicles

The Marine Corps is in Bulgaria practicing high-angle fire with a 40 mm grenade launching machine gun known as the Mk-19… The tactic could be beneficial in striking down infantry troops behind walls or protection, or taking out advancing Russian armor and light-skinned vehicles.

With seamless communications and competent forward observers, high-angle Mk-19 fire could also be used to rapidly and easily walk rounds onto an enemy target, according to several machine gunners.

It’s a skill set learned at the Marine Corps’ six-week Advanced Machine Gunner Course.

More:
https://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/your-marine-corps/2018/07/18/marines-practice-rarely-trained-machine-gun-tactic-to-prepare-for-a-fight-with-russia/

https://firearmusernetwork.com/soldiers-take-aim-and-miss/

https://firearmusernetwork.com/machine-gun-gunnery-commonwealth-militaries/

https://firearmusernetwork.com/death-of-machine-gun-gunnery/

https://firearmusernetwork.com/comparing-small-arms-training-wwii-today/

https://firearmusernetwork.com/suppressive-fire-cyclic-rates/
https://firearmusernetwork.com/suppressive-fire-myth-fact/

https://firearmusernetwork.com/automatic-rifles-should-the-m249-be-replaced/

https://firearmusernetwork.com/the-emma-gees-by-herbert-mcbride-part-1/

Musketry & Combat Practice Firing

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Note how often that competition was suggested as a good approach to training.

US Army Training Film TF-24
Musketry & Combat Practice Firing

1935 US Army Training Film

The application and control of collective fire of rifle units (Rifle Squads & Rifle Sections) is called “Musketry.”

This film covers rifle firing skills.
– Reel 1 provides an introduction to methods of estimating range to target.
– Reel 2 shows how unit members communicated knowledge of the target in the field.
– Reel 3 instructs squad leaders on the construction and use of ranges for landscape target firing.
– Reel 4 details technical characteristics of rifle fire and its effects.
– Reel 5 demonstrates the application of rifle firing techniques in field exercises.
– Reel 6 features a schematic drawing of the effect of combat fire.

Suppressive Fire: Cyclic Rates

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Many of the comments to this video illustrate the popular myths that caused this film to be made in the first place.
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Suppressive Fire: Myth and Fact

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Suppression is fire that degrades the performance of an enemy force below the level needed to fulfill their mission. The purpose of suppression is to stop or prevent the enemy from observing, shooting, moving, or carrying out other military tasks that interfere (or could interfere) with the activities of friendly forces.

There are only two ways fire can be suppressive.
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Full Auto Fire Demonstration

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This is a demonstration of control of fully automatic weapon fired in overly-long bursts to illustrate control.

George Harris of International Firearms Consultants LLC (http://ifcllc.us) shot the AR-10 and Thompson. The AR-10 was shot with a continuous burst of 20 rounds of 7.62 M-80 Ball. It was a beast to control but was controllable. Harris could put all 20 on a 12″ plate at 25 yards without much trouble.

The other demonstrations are of Jeff Brennan shooting an AK, CZ and RPD running wide open.

The point is, if you know what you are doing, (taught by a trainer that knows and can demonstrate how to shoot full auto) it’s really a piece of cake.

Real world practicality is that you had better have a lot of loaded magazines and several guns available if you are going to do a lot of it. This isn’t a practical approach to effective fully automatic fire, just a demonstration of the control that is possible.

More here:
https://firearmusernetwork.com/2014/12/05/full-auto-rises-in-burst/

Full Auto Fire Rises During a Burst – NOT

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I’ve had way too many troops in class claim that all full auto fire is doomed to climb excessively. With good technique, this is not true. Here are some random examples.

Slow motion:

Long, hand held bursts aren’t particularly useful, but further illustrates the point.

Another demo here:
https://firearmusernetwork.com/2014/12/10/full-auto-fire-demonstration/

Misfire: The Story of How America’s Small Arms Have Failed Our Military

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Review
Misfire: The Story of How America’s Small Arms Have Failed Our Military
by William H. Hallahan

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Soldiers Take Aim … and Miss

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I wish this were an April Fool’s gag. Sadly, it is true.

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