Preparing for Air Force Basic Training

The M-16 Rifle Qualification Range

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Okay, okay, we can't really teach you how to shoot an M-16 rifle through an online course or article. You'll have to wait until you get to basic training for some hands-on experience.

Everyone in Air Force Basic Training fires the M-16 rifle on a standardized Air Force firing course. By "standardized," it means it qualifies as a regular Air Force qualification. That means (if you shoot good enough), you can qualify as an "expert," and be awarded the Air Force Small Arms Expert Ribbon.

In basic training, the M-16 was initially the only weapon you were trained to fire. As of November 2008, recruits in Air Force Basic Training were required to also fire the M-9 pistol.

For about 80 percent of you, the M-16 and the M-9 will be the only weapons you will ever fire during your entire Air Force career. Certain career fields (such as Security Forces, Pararescue, Combat Controller), need to qualify on other weapons, as well, such as the M-4 Carbine, or even the M-249 "Machine Gun." These folks will initially qualify with these weapons during technical training, and periodically throughout their career.

How often you must qualify with the M-16, (and/or the M-9) after basic training, depends primarily on your job, your unit of assignment, and/or your deployment availability status. For most of you, you'll shoot the M-16 once per year. Those assigned to specific types of deployment duties (such as classified courier duty), will also periodically re-qualify with the M-9 pistol).

The Air Force Small Arms Training Program is governed by Air Force Manual 36-2227, Volume 2, Combat Arms Training and Maintenance Training Programs. The M-16 training procedures are contained in Chapter One of this publication.

As we said above, there is no way we can teach you how to handle and fire the M-16 Rifle over the Internet.

In fact, during AFBMT," you'll spend about six hours in the classroom, learning how to do this before you even get to fire one round. What we can do is briefly describe the range procedures, so that everything will be just a little more familiar to you when you get your chance to attend this training.

The M-16 Rifle

The M-16 rifle is a magazine-fed (box type magazine, 30 rounds of 5.56 mm ammunition), gas operated, air-cooled shoulder weapon. It is capable of being fired either semi-automatically or automatic 3-round bursts. It has a maximum effective range of 550 meters. The barrel is surrounded by a heat-resistant, polycarbonate material that serves as a hand and forearm guard. The buttstock is also made of a durable polycarbonate material of high impact strength. The weapon weighs 8.5 pounds unloaded; loaded, it weighs 8.79 pounds. Accessories that can be used with the weapon include the bipod, bayonet, M204 40mm grenade launcher, and night vision devices.

The Air Force Qualification Course

During the actual firing, you will fire a total of 80 rounds at a man-sized target (upper body only) at ranges from 75 meters to 300 meters (remember a "meter" is just a tad longer than a yard -- 1 meter = 1.094 yards). The range at Lackland is a "short" range, so you will actually be firing from only 25 yards away, however, the target sizes are "shrunk" to represent the proper sizes at the specified distances (75 meters, 175 meters, and 300 meters).

Here's how the shot groups break down:

Phase I -- Battle Sight Grouping and Zero. During this phase, you are "sighting in" the rifle. After each shot group, you (and the instructor) will examine the target. The instructor will give you advice (breathing properly, jerking the trigger) to correct anything that you are doing wrong. Additionally, the instructor will tell you how to adjust your sights, to correct your grouping.

All of the shots in Phase I are in the "prone, supported" position. That means you are lying on the ground, on your stomach at a slight angle to the target, with your rifle supported on top of a sandbag. The targets for this phase are all man-sized targets at 75 meters.

  • 4 rounds (one magazine with 4 rounds loaded) at 75 meters. Check target and make sight adjustments.
  • 3 rounds (one magazine with 3 rounds loaded) at 75 meters. Check target and make sight adjustments.
  • 3 rounds (one magazine with 3 rounds loaded) at 75 meters. Check target and make sight adjustments.
  • 3 rounds (one magazine with 3 rounds loaded) at 75 meters. Check target and make sight adjustments.
  • 3 rounds (one magazine with 3 rounds loaded) at 75 meters. Check target and make sight adjustments.
  • 16 Total Rounds

Phase II - Practice. During the practice phase, you fire a total of 24 rounds from 4 different positions. A couple of twists are thrown in here -- first of all, each round is timed, and you'll have to reload a fresh magazine during the round. Keep your head and don't rush, as there is plenty of time to make your shots count and still change the magazine and shoot again within the prescribed time limit. During the practice round, you fire at a man-sized target at 175 meters.

  • Prone Supported - 6 rounds (two magazines with 3 rounds loaded in each), at 175 meters. 50 second time limit.
  • Prone Supported - 6 rounds (two magazines with 3 rounds loaded in each), at 175 meters. 50 second time limit.
  • Kneeling Supported - 6 rounds (two magazines with 3 rounds loaded in each), at 175 meters. 50 second time limit.
  • Over Barricade Supported - 6 rounds (two magazines with 3 rounds loaded in each), at 175 meters. 50 second time limit.
  • 24 Total Rounds

Phase III - Qualification. This is the phase that really counts. You will fire a total of 40 rounds at a man-sized target at 300 meters. To pass the qualification course, you must hit the target at least 20 times. Those who hit the target at least 35 times qualify for the Small Arms Expert Ribbon.

  • Prone Supported - 10 rounds (one 4-round magazine, two 3-round magazines), at 300 meters. 90 second time limit.
  • Prone Unsupported - 10 rounds (one 4-round magazine, two 3-round magazines), at 300 meters. 90 second time limit.
  • Kneeling Supported - 10 rounds (one 4-round magazine, two 3-round magazines), at 300 meters. 90 second time limit.
  • Over Barricade Supported - 10 rounds (one 4-round magazine, two 3-round magazines), at 300 meters. 90 second time limit.
  • 40 Total Round

Some Firing Tips

Sight Alignment. Sight alignment is accomplished by aligning the front and rear sight. The front sight post will be aligned directly in the center of the rear sight. Once this is accomplished the shooter will then need to concentrate on the front sight until it is crystal clear. This is accomplished by placing your face on the stock of the rifle approximately 2 to 3 fingers away from the charging handle. If your face is farther away, proper sight alignment will be difficult.

Sight Picture. The sight picture is simply the addition of the target to the sight alignment Once the front and rear sights are aligned, place them on the target. The front sight post will cover up the bottom half of the target. You will not cover the entire target with the front sight post. The front sight must remain crystal clear when aiming at the target, and the target will remain blurry.

Wobble Area. When you aim at the target, notice your front sight wobbles back and forth. This is caused by heartbeat and muscle fatigue. this can't be stopped, ignore it.

Breath Control. Hold your breath while firing any shot. Take a deep breath, let it out until you reach your natural respiratory pause, and then hold it. Relax all muscles in your body, and begin your trigger squeeze.

Trigger Control. Accomplished by applying slow steady pressure to the trigger. There should be a 4 to 6 second time period from the time you start applying pressure to the time the weapon actually fires. Do not take your finger off the trigger completely when releasing the pressure on the trigger.

Anticipation. Concentrate on the front sight. Keep it aligned as your finger eases the trigger back. Do not anticipate the weapon going off -- let it surprise you.

Follow Through. Keep your face on the stock and your firing and support hands in place throughout the movement of your weapon.

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