New rifle qualification course teaches Airmen new shooting tactics

By Tech. Sgt. Matthew Bates

New AF Rifle Qualifications

Click image to view slideshow. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Bennie J. Davis III)

Staff Sgt. David Lee loves to shoot guns. As a combat arms instructor with the 87th Security Forces Squadron on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey, he gets to share this love with other Airmen.

This is good, because the Air Force recently changed its rifle qualification and is relying on instructors like Lee to teach Airmen the ins and outs of the new course.

The changes took effect in December 2011, and since then Air Force bases have been training their instructors and finding ways to implement the new course.

“It’s not like the entire Air Force changed from one day to the next,” said Master Sgt. Raymond Barnard, the NCO in charge of the 87th SFS’s Combat Arms Training and Maintenance section. “Some bases started teaching the course later than others due to manning issues, operations tempos and time constraints.”

The changes make the new course more tactical and representative of real-life situations Airmen may find themselves in downrange.

“Previously, Airmen fired from stationary positions,” Lee said. “Now, though, the course incorporates more movements and is meant to simulate learning how to fire from and use cover.”

The new course is designed to better prepare Airmen to meet the challenges of today’s deployed environments, something combatant commanders and Air Force senior leaders see as a top priority.

“Deployment training is one of the most talked-about items,” said Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Roy. “We want the right mix of skills so Airmen can operate in a deployed environment. Our current deployments are a lot different from the ones 25 years ago.”

“There may be situations where you have to do this in real life, and this is just a way of simulating that.” — Staff Sgt. David Lee

What this means for Airmen is simple: Going to the range now includes new information and new firing procedures. The course still includes the basics, such as weapon handling, cycling procedures and how to aim and shoot, but added is a new course of fire that incorporates target acquisition, multiple threat engagement and surviving weapon malfunctions and stoppages. The new course also teaches Airmen how to differentiate between targets.

“Basically, we give them two targets and tell them to shoot at one and not the other,” Lee said. “There may be situations where you have to do this in real life, and this is just a way of simulating that.”

If an Airman does shoot the wrong target, it’s an automatic disqualification, and the person will have to re-fire another day.

In the final portion, Airmen shoot three-round bursts from the standing position and then shoot both standing and kneeling from behind simulated barricades, moving and firing from several positions.

Since the new course was implemented, qualification rates have dropped.

“We’ve seen a decline in the percentage of people who pass,” Barnard said. “They’ve dipped from around 98 percent pass rate to somewhere in the low 80s.”

This is to be expected, he added, as the course is new to Airmen and teaches techniques and procedures that are unfamiliar to most.

“As Airmen keep coming through and this new course becomes the norm, you’ll see the numbers go back up,” Barnard said.

Since Airmen now only qualify on the range before deploying instead of conducting the training annually, it can sometimes be years before Airmen fire at the range. Then, hearing the course is changing, many get intimidated.

Lee’s reply: Don’t sweat it.

“Sure, the course is new, and you might be firing the weapon in ways you never have before, but you’re learning things that are very useful,” he said. “And, on top of that, it’s really a lot more fun now.”

Airmen who go through the new course are starting to agree, too.

“Going in, I didn’t really know what to expect,” said Tech. Sgt. Richard Dixon, from the 305th Aerial Port Squadron. “But now I feel like the course better prepares Airmen for what they might see or have to do while deployed. Plus, you get to fire the weapon on burst, and it doesn’t get better than that.”



11 thoughts on “TARGETING CHANGE

  1. As a former 75370 (Small Arms Weapons Instructor/Technician) and member of USAF Big Bore Rifle Team and USAFSS (Security Service) Big/Smallbore and Pistol Teams, it’s about time the qualification standards changed. I applaud the efforts of the current CATM folks in providing this training. However, back in the 60’s and into the early 70’s, Security Police and their predecessors were taught to fire from different positions using the hand weapon (.45 and later .38). This training was conducted at Camp Bullis TX. These troops also shot on the Bullis Field Fire Ranges and crawled under the barb wire while .30 machine guns fired over their heads..

  2. Why has it taken 10 years for the AF to realize a new qualification course is necessary? We always seem to be behind the curve.

  3. 10 years? It’s been needed a lot longer than that! The great news is, it’s finally here. I believe lives will be saved by providing this enhanced training. Now if we could only get the funding to shoot this course of fire on a regular basis, we’d have something. Shooting is a perishable skill and needs to be practiced regularly. Just-in-time training is fine for learning the latest chemical warfare stuff when going downrange, but surviving a firefight requires split-second muscle memory responses.

  4. Great news. With more dependence on security it was time for the change. My granddaughters passed the basic range requirements when they were 12!

  5. If you’ve ever gone through CST with the Army, or deployed in support of Army or Marine units, then you know how ill-prepared we generally are as Airmen to pull our weight during a real firefight (and I’m not referring to tactical AF SOF professionals). Hopefully this new training will help us to be more than an extra weapon carrier during hostile engagements.

  6. I was in the active duty Air Force SAC, Avionics Technician, ‘1961-1965’,KC-97, B-47, T33, B52H and KC-135A models Then Joined The Ohio AIR National Guard with KC-135A, E and R models. Our unit was activated in 1990-1991 to the Gulf. I loved every second of that time! We were dedicated to the operation of those acft. “Sorties” were required successful flights.
    Thats is why I joined the Air Force – to work on air planes not going on ground walking patrols hunting the enemy! MAINTAIN THE ACFT. TO FLY WHEN NEEDED…
    I qualified shooting the M-16.
    NOW, it seems to be that the Genernal Staff wants a multi-role airmen. They have them in the Marine Air Wing (tough bunch) and Army Air wing. I don’t like sleeping in tents and all that goes with that life style. Yes, I like my air conditioned enviroment and served meals three / day!
    Folks,don’t FLAME this msg too hard. If younger, I would be gung-ho to be a multi-role airman. I am not getting older, just opinionated. Thanks a lot for allowing me to BLOW a bit. Joe

  7. DOD needs more people qualified and comfortable using rifles, shotguns and pistols. This means shooting on a regular basis. There are even some humanitarian missions where shotguns and riot gear would be useful.

  8. In my 13 years and probably 15 depployments I have never even held a M-16 much less been involved in any situation they are talking about. I will never understand the USAF’s obsession with trying to be the Army.

  9. During basic in th early ’70’s, it was a one day trip to the range and a short time of instruction on handling the m16. Then the opportunity to fire the weapon. I guess as a young 18yr old boy brought up o the farm, this seemed a little strange. My Father served in Germany during WWII, and used a 50cal. I guess what i’m trying to say is our military espically the U.S.A.F. which i”m very proud of, is really behicd the curve on training. I have now been serving as a Police Officer (captain) for the past 35 years. and it’s train, train train. and then train again. thanks for the opportunity to have my say. God Bless the U.S.A. and God Blesss the Air Force.

  10. After basic training I was assigned to a SAC unit. It was 5 years until I touched an M-16 again. Once in TAC I qualified when I was supposed to and when assigned to a GLCM it felt like an M-16 was glued to me. I carried once quite often while performing my duties in Desert Storm as well.

  11. I’ve never understood why the Air Force didn’t shoot more. Once every three years or before a deployment does not make one proficient. Yes I understand it takes time and ammunition costs money, but most Air craft maintainers like myself actually like to shoot and enjoy the training. I’m glad to see they added the 3 round burst practice. I never understood why airmen were trained to shoot using three round burst it;s not like that feature doesn’t operate down range. I hope that all this training will eventually make to the Senior NCO corps as they are the leaders and should be able to do the same things ans the newly trained airmen.