Firing Under Fatigue: A Developing Concept at 8/9 RARBy Taylor Speedy July 19, 2020
The human body is the laziest organism on the planet. It will only become what you want it to become. That is, if you want your body to be strong, you must expose it to strength training. If you want it to be fast, you have to train it to be fast (Baechle, 2016). If you want to be nothing, then expose your body to nothing. If you want your soldiers to be lethal with their weapons system in combat, then you must subject them to combat stressors whilst developing their shooting ability.
A common throwaway line used within the Royal Australian Infantry Corps is to “train how you fight”. This phrase is often used to encourage or lambast soldiers or junior leaders; however, is rarely achieved due to the inherent difficulties in replicating expected combat conditions. Any attempt to replicate these conditions requires time, effort, motivation and most importantly and usually the most neglected, thorough scenario design and planning to ensure applicability and appropriate safety.
“The road to easy street goes through the sewer”
- John Madden
During the Australian Army Skill at Arms Meet 2020 (AASAM 20) it was observed that there was a noticeable decline in accuracy once physical activity was introduced immediately prior to field firing. Further, the majority of the field firing practices commenced with soldiers essentially at homeostasis or at rest; contrary to those conditions soldiers would likely face in combat. These observations led to 8/9 RAR developing a scenario to test the theory that lethality decreased under physical and/or mental fatigue.
AASAM 20 Scenario
8/9 RAR developed a scenario that involved the conduct of a physical task prior to firing and rapid movement between five firing positions while ‘under fire’ to fatigue the combatant. Lethal hits, non-lethal hits and misses were recorded. The scenario involved the combatant conducting a notional task for a CQ that required moving relatively heavy items inside a FOB. Whilst conducting the task the combatant was engaged from a flank and was forced to quickly respond to the threat employing the Browning SLP 9mm. The serial required the combatant to engage 16 targets (a combination of both soft and steel) from ranges between 10 – 25m, whilst also moving rapidly from cover to cover as detailed in figure 1.
The lethal hits, non-lethal hits and misses were captured and are graphically represented below at figure 2. The data demonstrated that both arms and non-arms corps combatants had a low lethal hit rate on the first target bank (26% and 27% respectively). The observation made from the OIC was that this was possibly due to the “direct result of both the physical stimulus prior to shooting and members rushing to engage and begin the practise”. Additionally, the data indicated that combatants were at their most lethal when engaging from the second and third firing positions. Lethal hits decreased and misses increased at firing positions four and five; likely due to the cumulative impacts of physical and mental stressors.
Specificity Training Principle
“War makes extremely heavy demands on the soldier's strength and nerves. For this reason, make heavy demands on your men in peacetime exercises.”
- Erwin Rommel
This initial data capture led to developing the concept of firing under fatigue at 8/9 RAR. LWP-G – 7-7-8 Train the Battle Shot states: “A training approach that inoculates operators against combat stressors will increase combat effectiveness”.
Soldiers need to be exposed to conditions that replicate the neural response that occurs when the body is placed in a threatening environment. Training needs to generate a “fight or flight” response so that the body’s sympathetic nervous system takes over, activating the muscles and glands that release hormones into the blood stream that increases heart and respiratory rate.
The initial concept to replicate this neural response within 8/9 RAR was to raise heart and respiratory rate through physical training prior to shooting; however, this does have its limitations when it comes to replicating combat fear. On a biological level there is a difference in blood chemistry between an increased heart and respiratory rate caused by physical training, as opposed to an increase in heart and respiratory rate caused by a hormonal response generated by fear. The LWP-G – 7-7-8 goes on to state, “The acute symptoms of combat-induced stress response require both physical exertion and a stress component to make training and preparation effective. Competitive shooting with both a physical and mental component can in some part simulate this stress response”.
David Grossman and Loren W. Christensen - On Combat
“Performance is directly correlated with intensity. Intensity is directly correlated with discomfort.”
- Greg Glassaman
In 2004 David Grossman, a retired US Army Ranger and West Point Professor and Loren Christensen, a former police officer, published “On Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and in Peace.” In the text, Grossman and Christensen explains that there is a direct correlation between an increase in heart rate in response to fear and a deterioration of motor skills as well as a reduction in vision and hearing. The authors go on to break down individual’s “arousal” into several conditions being; white, yellow, red, grey, and black, with black being combat ineffective and white being unconcerned. Grossman and Christensen argue that condition ‘Red’ is the prime state for combat. In condition ‘Red,’ heart rate is between 115-145bpm and complex motor skills, visual reaction times and cognitive reaction times are at their peak; however, fine motor skills begin to deteriorate. The initial 8/9 RAR fatigue under fire serial was constructed off this premise.
Firing under Fatigue Serial – 4PL, B Coy, 8/9 RAR
"There's no substitute for daily dedication to your craft, whatever it may be"
- Cam Hanes
A serial was developed involving fatigue during a combat shooting practise as detailed in figure 3 above. The shoot involved a “five and five” consisting of five rounds being fired into one target, the conduct of a reload and five rounds being fired into a second target. There were three details of six firers conducting the shoot. The fatigue serial consisted of firers running level 6 to level 7 on the beep test in fighting order at the unload condition, then running best pace to the firing line (approx. 70m away), moving to the action condition and proceeding with the shoot.
As the first detail began firing, the second detail began running the beep test. Having the fatigue serial completed and moving to the firing line as the first detail was cleared and moving back to the beep test area. Each detail conducted the process three times.
The activity of running level 6 to level 7 on the beep test in fighting order had the desired physiological effects. Participants were observed to have an increased respiratory rate, increased sweating and a decrease of motor skills. Accuracy was observed to noticeably diminish the longer the overall practise ran. Motor skills diminished as individuals were observed to no longer “index” their magazines whilst conducting a reload. Muzzle awareness lowered as participants were observed not having positive control over their weapon system and “lazing” their mates, whilst moving to the firing point at the unload condition.
The conclusions we can draw from the analysis of these activities is that we need to change our training methods. It is clear that arriving at the range well rested, well fed and relatively relaxed does not expose a trained combatant to the likely stressors of combat or train our people to win on the battlefield. We have sufficient evidence to justify the construction of a training continuum that focuses training on how we fight; conditioning soldiers to excel in the “red zone”, the neurological state that they will experience in combat. Investing the time, resources and effort into this programme during peacetime will ensure increased lethality and likely survivability of our people in combat.
Baechle, T. (2016). Essentials of strength training and conditioning. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Dept Of Army. (2003). U.S. Army fitness training handbook. New York: Lyons.
Grossman, D., & Christensen, L. (2008). On combat. [Millstadt, IL]: Warrior Science Pub.
LWP-G 7-7-4 Combat Fitness Handbook
LWP-G 7-7-8 Train the Battle Shot