<XMP><BODY></xmp> Correct use of three round bursts and automatic fire.

        “The principal value of the M.P. 44 lies in its accuracy and high rate of fire (22 to 28 rounds per minute) as a semiautomatic weapon, and in its alternate use as an automatic weapon, when it is fired in short bursts of 2 to 3 rounds (40 to 50 rounds per minute). Generally, the weapon is set for single fire. Bursts will be fired only when beating off an enemy assault, making a counterthrust (against a penetration, in close combat), or at very short ranges during combat in trenches, towns, or woods. Strict fire discipline must be observed. Conserve ammunition!”
General Hans Guderian's instructions to Fortress Infantry Battalions

        Probably the most major difference between the M16A2 and nearly any other assault rifle is that it has a three-round burst capability but no fully automatic mode. The intention is obviously to limit ammo wastage by troops “spraying and praying” and as is often the case the US military has opted for a technological solution rather than a training one.

        Burst fire is a useful tool but when I heard about the M16A2 I and many others thought the rifle should retain a full-auto option for emergencies. Suppose you turn into an alley or drop into a trench and there is a big cluster of hostiles? Wouldn't this be a situation where it would be desirable to open up with full “Rock and Roll”? We'll come back to this question.

        This page http://www.geocities.com/Pentagon/Bunker/4356/burst.html has an interesting article on burst fire and some good suggestions. While for the most part I agree with the author there is one statement I'd dispute:-

“Why shoot someone three times when 1 will do just fine?”

        No small arms round can be guaranteed to take out a man every time with a single hit so in many situations multiple hits are desirable. It will often not be apparent if your round has hit or not. In real combat troops tend to keep firing at a target until they drop or are in some other way obviously not a threat. Unless at close range semi-automatic fire is usually a more effective way to do this when using a rifle.

        It probably is the case that burst fire is often used inappropriately. The two main situations when burst fire is needed are:-
        For all other shots the rifle should be set to semi-automatic. “Double tap” a target if you have to but aim both shots.

        Suppressive fire poses a problem. It is understandable to want to hose the target in lead but a rifle lacks both the weight and the ammo capacity to do this as effectively as a machine gun.
        The USMC Rifle manual suggests that each rifleman laying down suppressive fire should only expend 12-15 rds per minute. The current US Army manual suggests one round every 3-10 seconds.

        Use single aimed shots and fire at:-
        You can see this sort of suppressive fire in virtually any Western. Usually it involves someone hiding behind a big rock and a bullet zinging off the rock every time he tries to move or shoot back. Meanwhile another cowboy will move position to get a better shot at the suppressed individual.

        Back to our scenario of a cluster of uglies in a trench or alley. If you had a machine gun you could just mow them down. A rifle differs from a machine gun in several respects:-
         Firstly it usually has a smaller ammo capacity.
        Secondly, it is lighter. This makes it more responsive but also means it climbs more on burst fire/full auto.

        In the past some fighters have exploited muzzle climb by turning the weapon on its side. This was once a popular trick with fully automatic versions of the Mauser pistol. A more effective use of automatic fire is to put a short burst into each target and not waste rounds in the gaps between them. Three-round burst mode is an obvious asset here and you can also make the weapon's recoil work for you too:- you direct the recovery of each burst to jump the muzzle towards the next target. This technique works for various other weapons, including pistols.

        When using “rapid burst fire” in this way a word of caution. If you release the trigger of an M16A2 too early the gun will only fire one or two rounds of a burst. When you pull the trigger again it will fire the remaining shot(s). If your triggering is really poor you could end up firing a succession of one round bursts.
        The solution to this is the usual answer :– Practice! Set up a cluster of multiple targets and practice putting a three-round burst in each as quickly as you can. Remember – you fight as you trained.


        I've now been told that three-round burst with the M16A2 does very little for the long-range shooting unless a bipod is used. Quite simply the rate of fire lets the muzzle move around too much.

        A solution to this and an ingenious piece of lateral thinking comes from Ed Sackett
        Firstly, convert the rifle so that if fires Two-round bursts (some Hecker and Koch weapons have this option).
        Secondly, modify the mechanism so that the burst is fired at a much higher cyclic rate so that both rounds have left the muzzle before recoil takes effect. This would improve both close range and long range shooting. This is the same effect as is found with the
Russian AN-94 but the weapon is mechanically simpler since there is no requirement for fully automatic fire.

        Several weapons have had selector mechanisms as part of the trigger - the AUG being the best know of current weapons.
         Suppose we combine this with the high-speed 2 rd burst that Ed has suggested, which we will call “Speed-burst”.
        Pulling the trigger to the first stop fires a single shot, pulling it all the way fires a rapid two-round burst.
         What I like about this ideas is it is sort of adrenaline regulated. If a target is fleeting or pops up close you are far more likely to snatch at the trigger and fire a burst - at exactly the times when it is most likely to be needed.

Fully Automatic Fire with Assault Rifles and SMGs
        There are some new models of rifle such as the M16A3 and M4A1 that have re-introduced fully-automatic capability and currently in Iraq various vehicle crews and infantry are using captured AKMs so some discussion of the effective use of fully-automatic fire with rifles may be in order. In the context of the following paragraphs “Automatic fire” can be taken to refer to a long burst.
         As has been discussed already, an assault rifle or SMG does not perform in the same way as a full weight machine gun and the range at which automatic fire is effective rather than a waste of ammo is correspondingly shorter. The current US Army Rifle manual suggests that fully-automatic rifle fire should only be used at ranges of less than 50m. Any discussion of effective range has little meaning unless the size of the intended target is taken into consideration. For our purposes we'll consider an automatic burst useful if the majority of the rounds pass through a vertical square with sides of one metre or less. A one metre square is the sort of front that two or three individuals bunched or a fire team in a file would present.

         Ralph Zumbro:- “Having served back in the Garand days, and having spent several YEARS on marksmanship detachments, I have little use for full auto...Except in close range mob situations. Even then, I prefer the 3-6 round burst. Ya gotta have a round counter in your head to know about when that mag is going to run dry. That means ALWAYS using the same size mag. NOTE...in close combat, the muzzle flash provides a strobe effect that will illuminate a small area. Trick is to shoot where the ape was headed with your next burst, then change direction or find cover REAL fast, in case he knows that trick also.”

        The effective range for automatic fire with an assault rifle or SMG will depend on several factors, including the weapon's characteristics and those of the shooter. We will assume that the firer is in a standing position, not prone or using any means of support such as a branch, bipod or window edge.

        A long burst of automatic fire will leave the magazine of most rifles or SMGs either empty or nearly empty. Such tactics are therefore best used when the shooter is sure he has sufficient cover or time to reload, or can rely on his comrades to provide covering fire while he does so.

        Ralph Zumbro:- Anyone who gets rid of 7 M-16 mags in 240 seconds has done several very stupid things. First off, he has attracted my attention by putting out the rate of fire of a light machine gun...I am likely to do several things...First is gonna be 90mm HE on his position. Second I am gonna drive over there and do a pivot steer on his dumb ass...If I and my tank ain't there he has still attracted unwelcome attention by putting out the MG signature and may have an air strike called in on his dumb ass.
        Every firefight I have been in...and that is a LOT...the grunts fired semi-auto or in short bursts...7 mags in 240 seconds will melt the barrel....and/or get it so hot that I can see it with my Mark One eyeballs let alone a thermal sight.
        Bottom line is reality....single shots at known targets or 3 round bursts....7 mags will go for hours, not minutes. Been there, Done that, Got the T shirt.

         In certain situations the Soldier may have no option but to resort to what can truly be described as “Spray and Pray” –waving the weapon around and hoping everyone drops. Effective range for this is probably in the order of 20ft/6m. If the range is greater than this the Soldier probably can use more controlled methods of ammo expenditure.

         Ralph Zumbro “I have seen BARs working in formal competition as part of a marksmanship detachment. Germany 1959 505ABG (ABN)....they regularly got 12 inch groups at 300 yards. HOWEVER they had switched cyclic rate down to 350rpm and were stroking the trigger to single shot and were rocking with the weapon's recoil. (US Army BARs had no semi-automatic setting and instead had two cyclic rates) Delivered fire was about 2 shots a second....Don't know if this would fit combat but it illustrates a valid point....Solid base, aimed semi-auto fire is murderously accurate.”

        It is also worth remarking that while the M16 is claimed to have an effective range of 50m for full-auto fire the manual for the M3 and M3A1 Grease gun claims an effective range of 90m. The M3/M3A1 could only be fired fully-automatically. The M3 and M3A1 is a shade heavier than most M16s but uses a round with less recoil than the 5.56mm and has a much lower cyclic rate (450rpm). In the 1970s the US Army experimented with a 5.56mm rifle called the TRW LMR (Low Maintenance Rifle). One of its design features was a low cyclic rate (450rpm) to allow for readjustment of fire between shots. Jane's Infantry Weapons 1976 reports that the weapon fired much smaller groups than an M16 when used for short or long bursts. Trial also included a M16 with a reduced cyclic rate (not specified) which also shot smaller groups than the standard model.
        The above observations suggest that some modern assault rifles are too light and/or have too high a cyclic rate.

        Although this article has mainly been about Assault Rifles and SMGs the principles of economic suppressive fire can also be applied to the use of Machine Guns and SAWs. While manuals state that such weapons should mainly be used to fire 3 round bursts in practice this may not be done in the heat of combat. There may be merit in experimenting with semi-automatic suppressive fire with such weapons and reserving fully-automatic fire for definate targets. The use of a two or three round burst mode also deserves experimentation.
        All weapons (rifles, SMGs and MGs) should routinely be kept set to semi-automatic and burst fire or automatic mode only engaged where appropriate. For a rifle this probably means automatic is only used when the target is within 50m (with 50ft being more realistic). A suitable range for when use an SMG on automatic can be determined experimentally using a 1m x 1m or man-shaped target. Modern LMGs and SAWs are often used like SMGs so the operator should have some idea what sort of range he can expect to hit a target at when firing automatically from an unsupported position.

        In this article a Soviet Veteran of Afghanistan recalls:-
        “My unit was tasked with cutting off the Afghan's supplies by stopping their convoys and caravans. We would receive information a convoy or caravan would be coming through a certain area and set an ambush up for it and wait for it to arrive.....”

        “.....in the initial fire contact you need to unleash everything you've got full automatic with long bursts to suppress their will to fight.”

        “Plus they teach you to aim at the knees of the target at anything inside 300-400 meters. When you've got people attacking you in a staggered formation like a checkerboard they tell you to aim at their right knee and the first round will hit them in the chest and the second will hit them in their left shoulder and the third round will go over their left should possibly striking the enemy soldier behind.”

By the Author of the Scrapboard :

Attack, Avoid, Survive: Essential Principles of Self Defence

Available in Handy A5 and US Trade Formats.

Crash Combat. Second Edition with additional content.
Epub edition. Second Edition with additional content.
Back to the Scrapboard