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Foreign weapons training: a necessity for tactical advising.

In the early 1950s, the forefathers of Special Operations Forces (SOF) saw a need to develop competency with the weapon systems they would train foreign forces to use. They also saw the need for small groups of men with limited supplies and ammunition to be able to effectively employ the weapon systems of their counterparts and enemies, since ammunition and supplies would be more readily available for those weapons. For nearly 50 years, SOF stood alone in manning, equipping, and training foreign security forces (FSF), as they did in their need for competency with foreign weapons.


With the deployment of combat advisors (CA) and the implementation of counterinsurgency (COIN) theory in modern warfare, SOF is no longer the singular force operating by, with, and through FSF. Since the onset of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, the responsibility for training and operating with FSF has expanded to combat advisors and conventional Army units. With the expansion of this mission, foreign weapons training has become a more vital part of pre-deployment training for brigade combat teams (BCTs) and CAs to allow them to gain and maintain credibility while training, planning, and operating with their FSF counterparts.

In the current theaters of operations, host nation security forces (HNSF) carry a wide variety of weapons: M4s, M16s, AK-47s, AK-74, PKMs, RPKs, SVDs, RPG-7s, M9s, and Glock pistols. Now, everyone in the U.S. military is, at the very least, familiar with the function and capabilities of the M4, Ml6, and M9. However, only a few service members are, at a minimum, familiar with the function and capabilities of the Soviet family of weapons listed above. The issue here lies in the fact that in a COIN fight, general purpose forces--not just SOF--are expected to partner, train, plan, and fight with HNSF. This creates a few problems for U.S. forces.

First, how can a unit expect to gain and maintain credibility while training their HNSF counterparts with little or no knowledge on the weapon systems being trained? Now, some will make the argument that if you know how to use one weapon system, then you know how to use them all. However, anyone who has fired an American series weapon and an AK series weapon knows that they behave drastically differently and, therefore, require significant training to become proficient. With that being said, the basics are still the same. Sight picture, breathing, trigger squeeze, and body position never change. However, applying the basics to control and become proficient with a different weapon system takes time and training--something that should not happen for the first time in front of HNSF counterparts, if you want to maintain your credibility while advising and fighting with the HNSF.

Planning, executing, and advising combined operations with HNSF also requires familiarization with the HNSF weapon systems. The capabilities of those weapon systems will play an integral part in their effective employment. If the primary planner/advisor has no understanding of the capabilities of those weapon systems, then he will not be able to effectively emplace them or advise his counterpart in their use. Again, two things that will result in a loss of credibility for the advisor and more importantly could result in the loss of life.

Currently, the 162nd Infantry Brigade FSF-CA trains and deploys combat advisors on a weekly basis. Most of these advisors receive a minimum of a four-hour weapons familiarization course on foreign weapons. During the course of instruction, advisors receive training on the function and capabilities of the AK series of rifles, the RPK, the PKM, the SVD and the RPG series of grenade launchers. They are taught how to assemble, disassemble, load, fire, and reduce stoppage on each weapon system. They also receive instruction in proper sight picture and employment of each weapon system. Teams that perform tactical duties in country also receive a familiarization fire. While at the range, the advisors apply all of the knowledge they gained during the classroom portion of training. They also receive additional instruction on the different intricacies of each weapon in order to better prepare them for possible future situations. While this training is absolutely valuable, it is not necessary for everyone.

Advisors on strategic-level teams or advisors on combat service support missions need only basic foreign weapons training. For these advisors, foreign weapons training should not be a priority task; however, if they have the time in their training schedule and the resources available, these advisor teams should attempt to at least go through a familiarization class.

Combat advisors deploying to train and partner with HNSF tactical level units should receive significant instruction in the weapons they will encounter, especially if they are not U.S. military weapon systems. Before deploying, combat advisors with this mission should be proficient with their counterparts' weapon systems. They should be able to accurately fire and maintain each of the weapon systems their counterparts will be carrying. Tactical-level advisors should attend a thorough and detailed classroom portion of instruction where they will become intimately familiar with the functions and maintenance of those weapon systems they will encounter. The second portion of training should consist of at least two full days of live fires. Here, the advisors need to learn to zero and effectively engage targets on a modified qualification table. They should also test the capabilities of each weapon system, to see exactly how the weapons react at the maximum range of the weapons' limits. This training would provide the combat advisors with a level of credibility and capability that would allow them to gain rapport with their counterpart quicker than normal. This competence would also prove valuable for the combat advisors during combined planning with their counterparts and possibly during the execution of an operation if the advisor must directly employ the weapon system.

Unlike combat advisors, conventional units partnering with HNSF will probably never be in the situation where they are required to fight with a HNSF weapon system. However, their ability to employ these weapon systems could make their partnership significantly more effective. The leaders of these units, from team leaders to company commanders at a minimum, should be able to effectively maintain and employ the weapon systems they will encounter.

At the company level, it is not as important that the company level leadership be experts with each weapon system; however, they do need to become intimately familiar with the capabilities and limitations of each weapon as that will play a major role in the planning and execution of combined operations. At this level, leadership should attend at least a one-day familiarization class. If time and resources allow, they should also attend a familiarization fire.

At the platoon level, team leaders to platoon leaders should be competent with the weapon systems they will encounter. The platoon leadership should also attend the familiarization class along with the familiarization fire. They should also attend the live-fire exercises described above for the combat advisors, since these individuals are, in effect, tactical level advisors.

Figure 1 shows the recommended training for company-level leadership, non-tactical combat advisors, platoon-level leadership, and tactical combat advisors. Once trained and proficient, these leaders can return to their units and train their subordinates on these skills.
Figure 1--Recommended Training Levels

Day 1 Classroom Familiarization Function and Capabilities (6 hrs):

Day 2 Familiarization Fire AK-47 (Co, NTCA, PI, TCA)
 (Company-Level and AK-74 (Co, NTCA, PI, TCA)
 Non-Tactical Combat PKM (Co, NTCA, PI, TCA)
 Advisors) RPK (Co, NTCA)
 Zero and Familiarization SVD (Co, NTCA)
 Fire(Platoon Level and RPG-7 (Co, NTCA)
 Tactical Combat

Day 3 Zero and Familiarization RPK (PI, TCA)
 Fire Continued (Platoon SVD (PI, TCA)
 Level and Tactical RPG-7 (PI, TCA)
 Combat Advisor)

While a combat advisor or a conventional unit will not have the time or resources to become an expert on a foreign weapon system, the recommended training will provide them with a minimum level of competency that will make them a more effective element in the COIN fight. The abilities gained from training with and becoming competent with foreign weapons will pay dividends for both the combat advisor and conventional units. While foreign weapons training should not be the primary focus of a deploying unit, it should be an integral part of its training. The skills and knowledge gained from this training could be the difference between gaining and losing credibility, and in the most extreme cases, it could determine the condition in which you bring your Soldiers home.

CPT Micah J. Shockley is currently the commander of Barbarian Company, 1st Battalion, 353rd Infantry Regiment, 162nd Infantry Brigade, FSF-CA. B Company is one of two companies in 1st Battalion that trains security force assistance brigade combat advisors. He has deployed twice in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom with Blackfoot Troop, 3rd Squadron, 89th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, Fort Polk, La. He holds a Bachelor's of Science in Systems Engineering from the U.S. Military Academy.
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Title Annotation:Training Notes
Author:Shockley, Micah J.
Publication:Infantry Magazine
Date:Nov 1, 2010
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