March 1, 2012  

Know thy enemy’s weapons

The Army needs to step up training on foreign arms

It’s time the Army started providing soldiers with formal training on the foreign weapons most commonly used either by the enemy or by friendly host-nation military and police forces. Nearly every conflict in which the Army has participated — including present-day operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Africa — has included some mission requiring soldiers to train host-nation forces. Yet we as an Army fail to adequately prepare today’s trainers on how to conduct foreign-weapons instruction to foreign militaries should the need arise.

Once largely the province of Special Forces, missions to train national armies, police and other extensions of the host-nation’s government or other indigenous fsorces have proliferated in recent years throughout the Army’s “conventional” units. Thousands of soldiers and hundreds of units have deployed in support of operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn to conduct training under myriad transition teams. Throughout Africa and Europe, conventional units from both the active and reserve components routinely deploy to train and mentor host-nation militaries. Units train indigenous forces in small-unit tactics, which include individual and crew-served weapons training.

Foreign-force adviser teams are routinely required to provide the host nation with basic and advanced marksmanship training. Additionally, they are required to track and assist in maintaining foreign-force equipment and weapons issued to the host-nation unit. Most weapons used by foreign-force military and police units are Soviet-style small arms such as the AK-series assault rifle, the PK-series machine gun and the DShK heavy machine gun.

Yet the Army offers no formal training to soldiers on these or other weapons commonly found in the environments in which they operate. Soldiers tasked with the mission of providing small-arms instruction or weapons qualification must rely largely on dated manuals, Internet references and personal experience.

The Army preaches composite risk management in all aspects of training and combat operations, yet when it comes to foreign weapons we turn a blind eye to safety. What would the ramifications be for a leader who not only put a weapon into the hands of a soldier not trained on that weapon, but who also put that soldier in charge of teaching others how to use it safely? This problem would be compounded by the trainees’ own lack of safety awareness, which would further raise the risk for the students and instructor alike.

Know the Environment

Leaders conduct mission analysis using the METT-TC factors (mission, enemy, terrain and weather, troops and support available, time available, civil considerations) to make deductions about the enemy and his capabilities. The leader will use these deductions to drive operational planning and execution. Knowing whether the enemy’s most effective casualty-producing weapon is a PKM medium machine gun or a DShK heavy machine gun will heavily influence the leader’s decision-making about the tactical employment of his unit. Of equal concern would be the ability to distinguish those weapons in a cache. The lack of accurate and detailed reporting prevents situational understanding of the operational environment.

Maintaining a foreign-small-arms instructor at the unit level would provide commanders with a resource to accurately identify weapons and ammunition found in caches or recovered during battlefield engagements. Foreign weapons instruction would assist the commander in determining standoff distances and force-protection levels, in creating effective engagement zones and in reacting to enemy-initiated actions.

The ability to identify foreign small arms becomes even more important during the inspection of recovered ammunition. Too often, units will report weapons in cache reports in a generic categorization (“AKs” or “assault rifles”) or altogether incorrectly — for example, mistaking an AKM for an AK-74. The effects of a “standard” anti-tank rocket-propelled grenade versus a tandem or even thermobaric RPG are extremely different, and may portend the arrival of a new and more lethal weapon in the area of operations. The lethality of an armor-piercing incendiary round is greater than those of standard ball ammunition, and the presence of API rounds could affect a commander’s decision about body-armor configuration — for example, full-vest or plate carrier for a given mission. Yet commanders are left blind to these and other differences that should have an impact on their mission command and decision-making.

Commanders already have several assets available, but none that are dedicated to providing foreign small-arms expertise. For example, commanders are often provided “slice elements” such as explosive ordnance disposal and weapons technical intelligence teams, but the primary missions of these elements fall outside this lane. Weapons intelligence teams are primarily technical-intelligence teams — the initial scope for these teams included improvised explosive devices as well as conventional weapons, but their emphasis has been on IED exploitation. So although all of these teams are valuable assets, they do not negate the need for a conventional foreign-small-arms asset at the company level.

In Time of Need

U.S. service members need to be prepared to win in battle despite overwhelming odds. Soldiers engaged in combat operations need to know how to correctly employ the foreign weapons when required, such as when a soldier’s own weapon is rendered inoperable or a lack of ammunition requires him to use the enemies’ weapons — not only to survive but to defeat the enemy.

Col. James Coffman was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross after a lengthy battle on Nov. 14, 2004, in Mosul, Iraq, while assigned as the senior adviser to the 1st Iraqi Special Police Commando Brigade. At one point, an enemy round shattered Coffman’s shooting hand and rendered his M4 rifle inoperable. After bandaging his hand, the colonel picked up AK-47s from commando casualties and fired them with his other hand until they ran out of ammunition.

Then-1st Lt. Brian Chontosh was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions while assigned to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force in Iraq on March 25, 2003. When his unit came under fire from enemy fighters occupying a nearby trench, Chontosh began to clear the trenchline. After his own ammunition was depleted, he twice picked up discarded enemy rifles and engaged the enemy. When a Marine following him found an enemy RPG launcher, Chontosh used it to destroy yet another group of enemy soldiers. When his audacious attack ended, he had cleared more than 200 meters of the enemy trench, killing more than 20 enemy fighters and wounding several others.

The Marine corps Model

The Marine Corps offers a standard baseline in foreign-weapons training that the Army should offer as well.

Each Marine infantry officer undergoes familiarization training as part of the Basic School’s Infantry Officer Course. According to the course introduction, students receive this training because each officer must have a working understanding of the potential threats, capabilities and limitations enemies bring to the battlefield.

The Foreign Weapons Instructor Course (FWIC) offered by the Weapons Training Battalion at Quantico Marine Corps Base in Virginia is a two-week course with three goals:

• Provide unit commanders the capability of having a foreign-small-arms instructor on hand throughout a deployment.

• Provide students the skills necessary to return to their units and instruct other Marines on the use of the most commonly found foreign weapons.

• Assist the unit commanders’ ability to give weapons instruction to foreign militaries should the need arise.

In addition, the FWIC provides a comprehensive overview of several foreign weapons, including the AK-series assault rifle, the G3 and FN FAL battle rifles, the SVD-designated marksman rifle, the RPK light machine gun, and the RPD and PK medium machine guns. The selection of these weapons was intentional — they are some of the most commonly used weapons worldwide, and they are used by both friendly and enemy forces. The course also provides overviews on RPGs, DShK heavy machine guns, 82mm mortars, numerous other small arms and ammunition, and the principles of small arms and ballistics.

Although soldiers can attend the Marine Corps FWIC, priority rightly goes to Marines. The Army should adopt a similar additional skill identifier-producing course to provide units with school-trained foreign-weapons instructors. The Army version of an FWIC should not be designed as a replacement for the longer and more-exhaustive 18B course (Special Forces weapons sergeant); rather, it should focus strictly on those weapons a conventional soldier will be asked to teach as part of an established transition team.


The Army should embrace foreign-weapons training as a standard of training for maneuver units and units assigned as foreign-force advisers. Foreign-force advisers are currently being drawn from the total force of Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. This shift of a once-unconventional mission to the conventional forces requires the Army to ensure that soldiers are adequately prepared to succeed. Recommendations include the following:

• Incorporate foreign-weapons training into the Maneuver Captain’s Career Course and the Infantry Officer’s Basic Course. Early familiarization with foreign weapons and their effects will provide a more adaptive officer corps.

• Institute a foreign-weapons-instructor course. Create an additional skill identifier for graduates of the course. This course should train soldiers on the characteristics, assembly and disassembly, zeroing, firing and maintenance of common foreign weapons, to include the AK-series assault rifle, the G3-series rifle, the SVD “Dragonuv”-designated marksman rifle, the RPK light machine gun, the PK medium machine gun, the DShK heavy machine gun and the RPG-7. The course should also train soldiers on the identification and characteristics of small-arms ammunition.

• Create authorized positions for the FWIC additional skill identifier throughout a brigade combat team.

• Maximize training on foreign weapons for maneuver brigades and below deploying overseas. Require foreign-weapons training for all units serving in an advisory role to a foreign force, such as a military or police unit.


As leaders, we would be remiss if we put a soldier who lacked formal training behind a weapon. Soldiers deploying into a theater of operations are required to qualify on their individual weapons prior to even leaving the continental U.S. (And even that isn’t always enough — many units were also subject to requalification in Kuwait before crossing into Iraq). Yet we currently deploy soldiers without providing them any formal foreign-weapons training at all.

The Army needs to implement formal training on foreign weapons for three reasons: first, to ensure that our soldiers are prepared when serving as advisers or as part of a training team tasked with enabling foreign forces, such as the Afghan National Army or Iraqi National Police, to become more professional; second, to help leaders understand their environment, the enemy and the enemy’s capabilities; and third, to provide soldiers the ability to use the enemy’s weapons against him in time of need (e.g., the inoperability of an individual weapon or the depletion of ammunition).

Not preparing our soldiers in how to safely and successfully employ the most common foreign weapons creates a risk we should no longer be willing to accept. AFJ

MAJ. JIM TIERNEY is a U.S. Army officer assigned to the National Ground Intelligence Center in the Infantry & Mobility Branch, where he serves as a small-arms analyst. He has served in numerous infantry-duty positions in the 116th Brigade Combat Team (Virginia Army National Guard), including Weapons Company commander and S-3 for a light infantry battalion, with deployments to Afghanistan and Kuwait He is a graduate of the Marine Corps’ Foreign Weapons Instructor Course. The author wishes to thank the members of the NGIC Small Arms Team for their insights and expertise.