Home Forums Modern Ultramodern Engagement Ranges on the Table Top Reply To: Ultramodern Engagement Ranges on the Table Top

John D Salt

Rod Robertson wrote:

I recently read that most rural engagements between Coalition ground forces and insurgents happens at ranges of between 500 -1500 meters. The breakdown given was about 50% of engagements occurred between 500 -1500 m, 30% between 300 – 500 m and only 20% under 300 m.

…and in response to a request for a source from Whirlwind:

A number of sources but to be completely honest I can’t remember them all. Here are two which I do remember reading:



The first source is “Taking back the infantry half-kilometer” (a monograph from the School of Advanced Military Studies my Major Thomas Earhart), whch has caused quite a lot of discussion and comment since it was published nine years ago. It says on p.24 : “After-action reviews and comments from returning non-commissioned officers and officers reveal that about fifty percent of engagements occur past 300 meters.” No source is cited. Elsewhere Earhart frequently calls for small-arms to be made effectice to 500m, but only once does the claim appear that this is an “average”. A footnone on page 2 says “Interview with MAJ (P) Vern Randall, National Police Zone G3 mentor, Afghanistan, August 31, 2009. MAJ Randall stated that “The average small arms engagement range here in RC-East is 500 meters”, with no further information, not even what kind of “average” Major Randall had in mind. So wherever the distribution of engagement ranges comes from, it isn’t this source.

As an aside, Earhart’s monograph is also vulnerable to criticism for making some misleading statements about the “lethality” of the 5.56mm round, his discussion on pages 27-28 apparently muddling the fragmentation of the M193 and M855 (US version of SS109) bullets. Some German-built bullets to the SS109 pattern exhibit high-velocity fragmentation, having thinner cannelures than the US version, but this is not a design feature, not least because fragmenting bullets remain illegal as they have been since the Hague convention of 1899 as causing “maux superflus”.

The Free Republic piece is merely an amateur journalist’s reporting of Earhart’s monograph. An idea of the depth of understanding the writer has on the topic can perhaps be judged from the astonishing pronouncement that “Soldiers commonly are taught in training to use “suppressive fire,” in effect returning enemy attacks with sprays of gunfire, which are often ineffective in Afghanistan.”

A piece by retired Major John Plaster in “The American Rifleman” https://www.americanrifleman.org/articles/2011/2/23/the-m14-enhanced-battle-rifle/ makes the claim that there exists “…U.S. Army data, which reveals that more than half of the war’s small arms engagements are now beyond 500 meters”, without stating any specific source.

I’m afraid a lot of this sounds to me like innumerate hand-waving by crusty old Majors who remember the dear old M-14, the rifle they learned shooting with, just as old farts of my age get dewy-eyed about the dear old SLR (which was originally designed for 7.92mm Kurz, by the way). How often, in Afghanistan, can riflemen actually see a small beige target against a large beige background at ranges greater than the traditional 300m? I doubt it happens often if at all. Except in a few special cases, fire over 300m, and certainly over 500m, is in the nature of area fire, and really should be done by weapons intended for the role, which rifles have not been since about 1915.

As far as I can see, a lot of the recent bout of bleating about the reputed “ineffectiveness” and “lack of lethality” of 5.56mm is the result of soldiers badly over-estimating the number of hits they are scoring in close combat as well as having unrealistic expectations of the effect of bullets striking soft tissue, combined (at least in the case of the British Army) with one of those periodic realisations that most armies go through from time to time that most of their soldiers in action couldn’t hit a cow’s arse with a banjo, especially if you keep cutting the budget for training ammunition.

More believable figures for the distribution of engagement ranges seen in Afghanistan, sadly also not properly attributed but seen elsewhere vaguely ascribed to “MOD”, are in Tony Williams’ thoughtful piece on his web site at http://www.quarryhs.co.uk/TNG.pdf

The figures given there are in a histogram are, very roughly:

25% below (a bit less than) 200m
50% below (a bit more than) 300m
75% below (a bit less than) 500m
100% below about 900m

This seems much more believable, and if MGs are included under “small arms”, not madly out of line with historical experience in other theatres. I suspect that another of the difficulties with such figures, apart from poor scholarship in citing sources and unspecified approaches to surveys, is the lack of precision in what is meant by “small arms”, which some people too readily interpret to mean only “rifles”. It would not be donctrinally unexpected to have GPMGs or GMGs engaging at 1000m or beyond, but it’s not clear if that is what people are talking about.

Tony Williams takes the line — with which I wholehertedly agree — that a new general-purpose round is long overdue for introduction. Every serious design effort put into finding an ideal calibre for the last hundred years or so has come with a Goldilocks answer that is just right somewhere between the 7.62mm (too big) and 5.56mm (too small) NATO standards. It’s not as if the 7.62mm NATO round was a particularly good design even when it was first introduced, and my own survey of the rate of spread of technological innovations in small-arms suggests that its standardisation had a stultifying effect on innovation in service cartridges.

Of course some wargamers will love the richness and variety of having a single section armed with 5.56mm rifles, a 7.62mm designated marksman rifle, a 5.56mm LMG, a 7.62mm GPMG and a 12-bore combat shotgun, with 30mm UGLs and 9mm pistols adding to the assortment, but it strikes me as an overspecialised and irrational mess and a logistical nightmare. Over-powered and over-weight the 7.62mm NATO might have been, but at least we only had one calibre in the section back when I was bimbling around training areas in DPM.

All the best,