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By Matthew Cox

01 Nov 13. U.S. combat troops are comfortable operating at night, but even after 12 years of war, they still struggle after dark when it comes to hitting enemy fighters on the run with accurate rifle fire.

Combat-marksmanship training has always been a key focus in both conventional and special operations forces. Trainers have continually upgraded shooting techniques to counter enemy tactics.

But preparing trigger-pullers to effectively engage fast-moving enemy fighters remains a training challenge. The services have a limited amount of moving-target training resources for daylight marksmanship.

To date, however, there is no standardized night marksmanship training program — for conventional or special operations forces — that effectively replicates how fast-moving, elusive enemy forces look on a darkened battlefield, Defense Department officials said.

It’s a challenging capability gap, but it’s one that the Army’s Asymmetric Warfare Group here is hoping to close with innovative marksmanship techniques and a relatively new style of robotic targets.

Combat units “don’t have a way to truly replicate running, stopping, moving, hiding behind cover or running from piece of cover to piece of cover,” said Sgt. Maj. Don Boyer, the Concepts Troop sergeant major at AWG.

The Army conducts force-on-force training with blanks and non-lethal training ammo, known as Simunitions, but nothing is as effective as training with live ammunition, Boyer said.

“You can get some of that with live role players, but just being able to go out to a live-fire range and shooting live rounds down range — I have yet to see a range that allows you do to something like that,” he said.

The AWG is a specialized unit under Training and Doctrine Command that was stood up to enhance combat effectiveness and survivability of Army units, said Lt. Col. Mike Richardson, commander of D Squadron, which is responsible for gap analysis and capability development at AWG. The unit is filled with “highly experienced veterans,” who embed with combat units, identify tactical problems and search for solutions, he said.

The Marine Corps Warfighting Lab at Quantico, Va., working with AWG, recently held an experiment that involved Marine instructors from the Basic School practicing a series of techniques for hitting these four-wheeled robotic targets.

Marine Sgt. Jamie Wieczorek, who participated in the experiment, said the training with this type of moving target made him realize what he already suspected.

“We have not been proficient in hitting moving targets,” he said.

AWG officials first started working with these smart targets, made by the Australian-based Marathon Targets, more than a year ago. It didn’t take long to recognize that they represented a potential breakthrough for improving training against moving targets, Boyer said.

“Sometimes, you don’t know what you don’t know until you see it,” Boyer said, describing these wheeled, robotic targets that are topped with life-like mannequins and move at speeds of more than eight miles per hour. “You have to see it … you have to go out there and see the technology to understand it.”

The robot targets, which present only a 12-inch-wide target when moving
horizontally, can be programmed to change directions quickly and move for cover like many of the enemy seen in Afghanistan.

“Then you can get with a commander after he sees it and say ‘what do you want the enemy to do tomorrow for your guys who are training.’ And he can draw you out a little map and as long as you can image that, you can make that happen,” Boyer said.

Despite the promise of the technology, creating effective techniques for engaging these robotic targets at night has been difficult, Boyer said.

“We did one night study and we thought we’ll go down there, I’ll turn on my illuminator, I look at my laser and this will be easy and we will writ

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