Air Force rifle training evolves to match today's combat

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany -- Leaders of the 52nd Fighter Wing here participated in a modernized rifle qualification course test Oct. 13.

Spangdahlem's combat arms instructors were the first U.S. Air Forces in Europe Airmen to prepare and fire the new qualification course. Wing leadership went through the preliminary course to experience first-hand how the enhanced rifle training will affect Saber Airmen.

"It was challenging," said Col. David Julazadeh, 52nd FW vice commander. "It will change your mindset about weapons training. The Air Force is continuing to build warrior ethos across all career fields. We're creating combat-ready Airmen, and this is the course to do it."

The major changes in the qualification course include more stringent time constraints, required wear of a combat helmet and body armor, movement during fire, and different firing tactics, said Staff Sgt. Marc Rodriguez, 52nd Security Forces Squadron combat arms instructor. Also, there are now three skill assessments, or tables, in which some Airmen will participate.

Table 1 encompasses the positions currently in the rifle qualification course. Table 2 involves new movements and short-range marksmanship. Table 3 involves night firing and is primarily for career fields where Airmen require advanced weapons training, like security forces.

Airmen will still participate in a classroom portion before firing at the range. However, the time to complete the course has increased to nearly 10 hours.

Rodriguez said while the same basic guidelines of the current qualification course apply, the addition of the new firing positions and techniques should change the way Airmen engage their targets.

"As combat evolves, so must our training," he said. "Modern combat is not normally an Airman lying prone shooting at an immobile target 300 feet away. So, Airmen will probably find the new training challenging."

As an example of the new course's difficulty, Rodriguez said that during the move and shoot portion, Airmen will have seconds to advance to the firing line, shoot while standing, crouch, and shoot while kneeling. Rounds not fired within the time limit don't count toward qualification.

"There are time constraints on all the firing positions to increase your heart rate and make you nervous," said Tech. Sgt. Robert Duerr, 52nd Security Forces Squadron combat arms instructor. "At no point downrange will you be shooting at a stationary, small black target with a circle on it. This training will definitely make the individual more competent and confident in their handling of the weapon."

Growing pains are expected with the new course, Duerr continued. However, the training is intended to hone Airmen's weapons skills to provide a better equipped and trained warfighter to combatant commanders downrange. The training may be difficult, but it is not impossible.

"This is not business as usual," said Col. David Lyons, 52nd Operations Group commander, to all Airmen who will participate in this course soon. "Make sure to bring your A game."

Air Force leaders have issued a mandatory implementation of the modernized rifle course by Dec. 1.