<XMP><BODY></xmp> Tracers

Added 25-4-02
Updated 20-11-18

“Tracers Work Both Ways”

BUT they don’t have to! There are such things as “dark ignition” tracers in which the tracer element does not start burning until it is 25-50m from the muzzle.

A 4:1 ball:tracer mix is recommended to troops as a standard mix for M16 magazines, but all references I’ve found on US service 5.56mm rounds makes no mention of dark ignition. One veteran soldier was unaware that such rounds existed, but thought they were a good idea.


A quick websearch indicated that the 30-06 family of rounds included a dark ignition round called the T10 or M25.

M25 dark ignition round

The same search indicated that both the NATO and US ordinance colour codes distinguished dark ignition tracers by giving them an orange rather than red tip. The M856 round has a orange tip, so hopefully this indicates troops are using dark ignition rounds.

Recently I saw the recollections of some SAS and LRDG veterans that served in North Africa. They were very impressed that the Germans and Italians used several different colours of tracers while they had to make do with just one.

In many armies squad leaders are encouraged to carry a magazine of tracers for target indication. There is a case for issuing these in a different colour to the tracers used by the rest of the squad. These rounds probably shouldn’t be dark ignition.

Another tip is to have the last three rounds in the magazine all tracer to alert the firer that he is out of ammo. These rounds probably shouldn’t be dark ignition either, and maybe a different colour too.


Recently I saw a program where an ex-SAS man talking about the GPMG, stating that the 7.62mm round in British use ignites at 70 metres. By coincedence Rick Randal contacted me the next day with the following observations:

“US 5.56mm and 7.62mm seem to light up about 10m downrange. I think the delay isn’t supposed to be much, as the standards were set during the 1960’s, when using tracers for hip-fired full auto bursts was considered a good “night fire” technique at close range.

Frankly, tracers are really most visible the closer you get to 90 degrees from the gun-target line -- and I’ve never had much trouble looking for the disturbed vegetation and dust from the firing position under those circumstances. Of course, I’ve never done this with 50-75m of ignition delay. . . but that much delay starts to affect the ability of a small unit leader to use tracers as a “short range data link”, as the SciFi author David Drake once described it. . .

The target of a tracer burst is going to fire down the back azimuth (if they don’t panic) -- obviating the utility of delayed ignition in that situation.

I liked a 20-rounder with straight trace as an NCO, for fire designation. I could instantly tell by touch what a magazine was loaded with.

Never liked the use of the last few rounds as tracer to tell you to reload -- an M16 recoils very differently and sounds (when you’re shouldering it) slightly different (the buffer spring goes SPRONK! instead of SPRANG!) on the last round anyway, and I remember the old stories of bad guys using the Garand’s clip ejection noise as a signal to charge. Plus the fact that the M16 has a automatic bolt-hold open on last round anyway (which is why it feels and sounds different -- the action is stopped halfway through the cycle).

Liked the idea of MGs having a 25 round or so teaser belt of straight trace -- not for “movement to contact”, but for disrupting an assault. . . since tracers all seem to look like they’re laser designated on YOU, a long “Hollywood” burst of straight trace has been noted to cause assaults to falter (learned that one from a Vietnam 1st Cav vet I served with when I was a private).”

This suggests that conditions in Vietnam have caused the US to issue tracer with no/very short delay.

NATO small arms codes use red for a tracer with no delay and orange for tracer with delayed ignition. 5.56mm M196 rounds have a red tip, while M856 has an orange tip. I don’t know if M856 exhibits any appreachable delay.

From http://smallwarsjournal.com/documents/rhodesian-cover-or-drake-shooting.pdf:

Every third or fourth round of a magazine load was a tracer, and troops generally loaded two consecutive tracers as the final rounds to indicate the end of supply. For some, the preference was to make the last round a single tracer, the previous two or three rounds normal ball, and prior to those were loaded the tracer pair to WARN of end of supply. In this way we were already thinking of a reload before reaching the need to do so. Keeping an eye on the breech block was also normal practise, the sliding block remaining to the rear when the magazine was empty...

...FAL 7.62 tracers were red, while the AK47 tracer rounds of our opponents were green.Tracers were a good means of directing the stick’s fire onto an observed target when using the command, “Watch my tracer”, and could be used as the “Fireball” to mark a target for strike aircraft i.e when commanded to, “Send Fireball”...

...When no clear indication of a terrorist’s general position could be ascertained (i.e a “one burst wonder”), the practise was to “kill” any cover within the active arc to the front of each soldier, beginning with cover nearest to that soldier before moving further out. In the case of a sweep line, once a member “walked into” or sighted a terrorist, he immediately shot him, while the other members of the sweep would react to the rifle shot and cover shoot into their OWN arcs of responsibility directly to their front. In all situations the command “Watch my Tracer” (or just, “Tracer” or “Visual”), allowed the rest of the stick to switch their attention to a problem - This did not mean that other areas of possible concealment were then ignored. The affirmative reply to “Watch my Tracer” was, “Seen”. Other verbal methods of indicating a target position would be employed if a tracer shot etc would blow the sticks own closing position or ambush.

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Attack, Avoid, Survive: Essential Principles of Self Defence

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Crash Combat. Second Edition with additional content.
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