Close Combat Shooting: Training to EvolveBy Robert Munro May 13, 2019
Evolution – Any process of formation or growth; development. The Macquarie dictionary.
Warfare has evolved from irregular bodies of men fighting using primitive tools to professional armies enabled by technology and information.
Charles Darwin¹, suggests those species that have the most in common are most competitive in the struggle for life, particularly when they come in contact with one another. To that end, if we consider our army as a variety of species, how competitive are we when confronted with the struggle for life against our enemies? This short paper will examine how Close Combat Shooting (CCS) can enhance our competitiveness in the struggle for life on the contemporary battlefield. It will focus on three broad areas – efficiency, survivability and lethality.
The techniques used within CCS focus on the combatant’s management of their weapon system, predominately the in-service rifle and pistol. They begin with preparing for combat, where the combatant is drawn into understanding the values of their upbringing, how they can train to increase their performance in combat, and understanding and managing combat stress. From this foundation, combatants are taught methods to set up their equipment and weapon manipulation techniques in order to increase their efficiency.
This is not a process to make them faster; on the contrary, it is designed to ensure they function as efficiently as possible whilst under stress. It is the combatant’s efficiency that provides them time and that time in turn, allows them to make more robust decisions. The mantra ‘fast where you can be, slow where you have to be’ reinforces the mindset of efficiency rather than speed. The endstate is a combatant who is functioning effectively through unconscious competence.
At the point of engaging an adversary our combatants must not be thinking about how they make or keep their weapon working. They should be using that time to exploit their situational awareness to determine the most appropriate use of cover, firing positions, methods of engagement and team communication. Efficiency provides this time.
Survivability in the CCS context can be summarised as those combat behaviours that provide the optimal chance of survival. They include safety, use of cover, trigger preparation, post engagement drill, and knowing when to transition to a secondary weapon versus conducting an emergency reload. By inculcating these behaviours into our combatants, we provide them anchor points from which to manage the stresses imposed by combat.
Soldiers have an inherent desire to survive in combat. They will discard behaviours they believe will not contribute to their survival, yet embrace those that do. As a case in point, Lex McAulay² recounts that during the Battle of Long Tan not all empty magazines were placed away in the basic pouch as trained. Why were these magazines discarded by soldiers in the midst of battle? It might be argued the soldiers believed placing the empty magazine away before taking out a full one detracted from their survivability in the face of an enemy at close quarters. The Emergency Reload Drill recognises, in the event of a stoppage in close proximity of an enemy, the importance of doing only those actions that will bring the weapon back to operation as efficiently as possible. This will ensure the combatant has the greatest chance of survival. It should be noted, this drill does not teach the combatant to discard or disregard the empty magazine as it is recovered at an appropriate time.
We must challenge our behaviours to ensure they remain relevant on the contemporary and future battlefield. History has demonstrated that those armies that evolve most effectively from their last conflict are better prepared for the next. Germany in their development of armoured warfare, in the inter-war years, is a modern example of this point. We must challenge and identify those combat behaviours which increase our survivability on the battlefield and train our soldiers to embrace them.
Lethality has always been a critical attribute required of a combatant. Various authors such as Richard Holmes (Acts of War), David Grossman (On Killing, On Combat) and John Keegan (The Face of Battle) discuss the challenges of training soldiers to kill, particularly at close range. Over time we have observed the evolution for training lethality in our soldiers through target design, range practices and psychology. CCS capitalises on these aspects, as well as improving the combatant’s weapon handling, through trigger manipulation and recoil management.
CCS facilitates a combatant’s understanding of the effects of combat stress and how to manage it, whilst employing their weapon systems to maximum effect. This training includes exposing combatants to stress through training aids (shot clock) and healthy competition. This allows combatants to see first-hand the application of their training under stress and its effect on their lethality. Through enhanced instructional techniques, combatants increase their lethality whilst managing stress.
When confronted with an adversary at close range, the combatant will be capable of engaging the enemy accurately, quickly and through their lethality win their personal fight for survival.
CCS highlights the inter-relationship between efficiency, survivability and lethality. Each provides scope for the existence of the other. The combatant is most effective when they have mastered all three. Charles Darwin³ contends that whilst it can be difficult to determine why one species or variety succeeds over another it can be accepted that structure, hidden manners or extra nutrients are all variables that allow one to thrive over the other. The parting question to the reader is – if we are training to evolve as an army, have we provided the ‘structure, hidden manners and extra nutrients’ to our combatants who, when confronted with the stress of combat, will thrive and win the struggle for survival?
This article was written as a collaborative effort by the staff of the Combat Shooting Cell at the School of Infantry.
- Charles Darwin 1869, On The Origins of Species by Means of Natural Selection, 5th edn, p.88, John Murray, London.
- Lex McAulay 1986 The Battle of Long Tan, p.108, Random House, Milsons Point.
- Charles Darwin 1869, On The Origins of Species by Means of Natural Selection, 5th edn, p.88-89, John Murray, London.