The Marine Corps wants to replace its outdated rifle qualification standards with a new course of fire that accurately assesses a Marine's ability to destroy the enemy instead of just his or her ability to score hits on a bullseye.
By early 2021, Marines could start going through a demanding new Annual Rifle Qualification that requires shooters to engage realistic targets, both moving and stationary, from fixed positions and while the targets move -- all while they are kitted out in full battle-rattle.
The rifle qualification is designed to assess how Marines in the operational force use fundamental marksmanship principles to apply lethal force on modern, threat targets with lethal zones marked on the chest and head.
One portion of the new qualification tests Marines' ability to place two rounds in the chest and one in the head within five seconds while the target approaches from a distance of 25 yards.
"The reason for that is, in the event of failure to stop, if two rounds to the chest does not stop the threat because the threat is wearing body armor or something, the immediate action is ... one to the head," said Col. Howard Hall, commander of the Weapons Training Battalion at Quantico, Virginia, who described the experimental annual rifle qualification, or ARQ, as "the greatest leap forward for Marine Corps rifle qualification in about a century."
Currently Marines use the Annual Rifle Training (ART) qualification course, which was created in 1907 and has Marines engage the standard, fixed-able, dog and B-modified targets at ranges of 200, 300 and 500 yards from the sitting, kneeling, standing and prone positions. There is also a portion of the ART course that focuses on short-range engagements within 25 yards.
"It made perfect sense to shoot with a stationary Marine against a stationary target at known distances of 200, 300 and 500 yards ... based on the operational environment at the time," Hall said, adding that the course was ideal for World Wars I and II.
"The battlespace has become more complex, and it does require a different way of thinking, focusing on shooting for lethal effect instead of shooting bullseye-style marksmanship simply for score."
The new ARQ course of fire is dramatically different from the ART course, which features the Corps' Firing Tables 1 and 2. Table 1 of the ART has Marines engage targets from 200 to 500 yards away without combat equipment, or slick. For Table 2, Marines engage targets out to 25 yards wearing helmet, body armor and load-bearing equipment. The process takes a unit 10 to 14 days to complete, depending on range availability.
There are also Tables 3 through 6 that have Marines engage targets in from multiple positions in combat equipment in day and night conditions, but they are not part of the qualification process.
The new ARQ features three separate events -- Long Bay, Short Bay and Night sections. The Long Bay has Marines engage targets at 200 yards, 300 yards and 500 yards from the prone, standing and kneeling positions. In the Short Bay, Marines engage a series of stationary and moving targets at 100 yards from standing and kneeling positions as well as targets moving from 25 to 15-yards from the standing position. The night portion features the same target scenarios and distances that are on the Short Bay portion.
The entire course in the new qualification program is completed wearing helmet, body armor and load-bearing equipment. On Day One of the three-day event, Marines confirm their zeros and practice on the Short Bay, Long Bay and Night portions. Marines then go through pre-qualification and qualification on Days Two and Three.
Related: Army's New Marksmanship Qualification Course Ramps Up Difficulty
"What we have done with ARQ ... is take all the tables, 1 through 6, and combine them into a three-day course of fire," said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Anthony Viggiani, director of marksmanship for the Marine Corps.
The changes were first reported by Military Times.
Unlike the current ART qualification course, Marines will be able to use supported positions as needed instead of just a sling.
It allows a lot more flexibility for the individual shooters," Viggiani said. "Marksmanship is not one-size-fits-all; each one of us different shapes and sizes, so we do not get behind a barricade or get down in a certain position in the same way ... individuals need to understand what their capabilities and limitations are to best perform their duties."
The ARQ also does away with the seated position since it has no tactical value in modern engagements, Marine officials said.
"It didn't make practical sense, especially with kit and gear," Viggiani said.
The new course of fire also will feature more realistic silhouette targets marked with lethal zones on the head and chest. Shots will be scored by "Destroy," "Neutralize," "Suppress" or "Miss," but only "Destroy" scores will count for qualification.
The three targets used on the current ART course are different shapes and sizes and can be generous when it comes to scoring.
"Right now, on the targets at the 500 for that B-Modified silhouette I can hit the individual in the shoulder, and I get max points; I can hit them right on the edges and as long as I am hitting black, I am getting max points," Viggiani said. "That gives a false positive to the individuals because I am only winging them. I am only suppressing that individual ... I am not destroying him. I am not putting that individual down."
The lethal zones on the newer targets do not change regardless of day, night, distance or angle," Hall said.
"Based on a number of studies of the human anatomy, the lethal zones are in the upper thorax and in the center of the head. Those are the zones where the Marine can expect to have destroyed the target," he added.
If approved, the ARQ will only be used in the operational force. Enlisted recruits in boot camp and the Marines' School of Infantry and entry level officers will continue to qualify with the ART course.
"We still have to have a platform from which entry-level Marines can learn and establish those fundamentals of marksmanship," Hall said.
The ARQ course will then help Marines take those marksmanship skills to the next level of lethality. The shortened three-day course will also give commanders more time to create a training program that focuses on areas of weakness identified by the scoring data, Hall said.
"We are breaking it down to individual events to where at the individual Marine level or at the small unit level, commanders can track trends and develop a training plan that would really focus in on where the small unit or the individuals need the most improvement," Hall said.
"So, ARQ does not equate to less training. It just narrows the focus down to a three-day commitment in which Marines are assessed in their lethal abilities. And the data that comes from that will allow unit training managers and commanders to more effectively design a training plan to home in on those key facets of the skills that are necessary to apply lethal force."
The Marine Corps marksmanship community began discussing the need for a more realistic qualification course back in 2016, and drafted the ARQ course of fire at the annual Combat Marksmanship Symposium in October 2018.
So far, 226 Marines have gone through the new course. Phase Two testing will involve 600 Marines from ground combat, aviation and logistic units across the operational force, Hall said.
"Anecdotally, what we have seen is that lethal force no longer in the sole purview of the ground combat element," Hall said. "In Iraq, numerous times, the logistics combat element running convoys had to fight through complex ambushes. As we've seen in Afghanistan at Camp Bastion, the aviation combat element had to defend against a complex attack on an airfield, so that is why this is a total force effort."
Phase Two testing began in November and is scheduled to run through June. From there, the data will be analyzed and recommendations will be made to Marine Corps leadership.
"There are a lot of things that have to line up to make this perfectly happen, but in an ideal world, in calendar year 2021, we can begin to implement this," Hall said.
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.