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Lessons from Helmand are honing skills of Army’s top shots

August 19, 2010

Up-to-the-minute lessons being brought back from southern Afghanistan’s front lines are redefining marksmanship within the Army; changes brought into sharp focus during the 2010 Central Skill-at-Arms Meeting. Report by Stephen Tyler.

For sharp-eyed marksmen serving in Britain’s Armed Forces there is no greater proving ground than the ranges at Bisley and neighbouring Pirbright.

The Surrey facilities have hosted generations of soldiers keen to show off their shooting prowess by dropping to their belt buckles and patiently delivering ultra-accurate shots into targets hundreds of metres away.

But while the sharpshooting set’s actions retain a place in the centres’ folklore, their contemporaries need to display an increasingly different set of skills to earn entry into the crack-shot elite.

The annual event for the best Service shooters, the Central Skill-at- Arms Meeting (CENTSAM), is shunning its old-school static serials in favour of action-packed, quickfire versions inspired by the battle-winning techniques being used on Op HERRICK.

Soldiers at the CENTSAM now have to shoot from several positions, including crouching
Photo: Graeme Main
Crown Copyright/MOD 2010

Major ‘Clem’ Clemson, an incoming member of the Operational Shooting Training Team based at the Army Rifle Association’s (ARA’s) headquarters at Bisley, is continuing a drive to use the latest feedback from theatre to make small arms tuition and competitions as relevant as possible:

“Operational experience is driving everything we do,” he explained. “I don’t think the standard of shooting in the Army has slipped, but where we struggle is in finding the time to do the live-firing training.

Examples of the CENTSAM’s transition into the here and now were not hard to come by at the Army Operational Shooting Competition (AOSC). Where historically contestants would lie down in the prone position before taking their time to zero in on distant targets, the AOSC adopts a much more physical approach.

Several individual contests now require soldiers to fire from kneeling and standing positions to mimic the situations they will encounter in Helmand province.

The long-established Parachute Regiment Cup has been tweaked to make it operationally-relevant. Teams now have to complete a casevac (casualty evacuation) with a 75kg dummy over 300 metres and carry ammunition tins along the range during the frantic move-and-fire shoot.

Army marksman competes at the 2010 Central Skill-at-Arms Meeting at Bisley ranges
Photo: Graeme Main
Crown Copyright/MOD 2010

The claustrophobic nature of the modern battlefield has also been taken into account with the introduction of a close quarters marksmanship (CQM) match.

The discipline tasks personnel with advancing to combat along a 100-metre range, switching from rifle to pistol for the final sections to simulate what they would have to do if their weapon malfunctioned. And new targets have been introduced to help train soldiers to improve their aim.

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