5.56 Timeline

Q&A with Ash Hess

I am a competitive shooter and Gov Sales Specialist at Knight’s Armament Company. I am also a Retired US Army Senior NCO. My last assignments included serving as the Senior Writer for Small Arms in the Weapons and Gunnery Branch and the US Army Infantry School Marksmanship Program developer at the Maneuver Center of Excellence Fort Benning, Georgia. 
Army Schools include US Army Master Marksmanship Trainer Course, Rifle Marksmanship Instructor Course, Urban Combat Leaders Course, Air Assault, Rappelmaster, Senior Leaders Course, Army Basic Instructor course, High Angle Marksmanship Course, and Unit Armorer course…Four combat tours totaling fifty-two months overseas.

When developing the new program, did you find there was any one thing that stood out to as biggest
problem in army marksmanship training?

The biggest problem is/was what we refer to as institutional inbreeding. Way back in the late 60s the Army
taught two fundamentals Aiming and Steady hold. There were 8 factors to steady hold which included trigger
and breathing. So Soldiers at the time had been trained that way. In ’74 the Army introduced the 4
fundamentals which said the same thing but were easier to memorize. The people that had been trained the
old way still knew that and it worked. Over the next 40 years, that knowledge dropped away and all people
knew were the 4 fundamentals with no depth. NCO’s were running around saying “apply the fundamentals”
and “fix your breathing” Few had depth of knowledge to explain more than the bumper sticker slogan they
leader for the E5 board. These NCOs trained more NCOs and the problem just got worse. If a Soldier had a
shooting problem that was harder to fix than just saying don’t jerk the trigger 90% of leaders had no idea what
to do.
When TC 2-.22.9 published in 2016, it had zero uses of the word fundamental. This was two fold purpose, one,
it shows who has an has not read the manual to remain tactically and technically proficient. The second was to
force people to go deeper into marksmanship knowledge.
The last part of the marksmanship problem was individual accountability. If you think about it, a Soldier with
10 years in the Army has been taught how to use iron sights 21 times assuming a PMI class prior to each range
trip. Yet, if they fail to group it’s because they need more training. If they fail a PT test its because they were
fat and lazy but fail a qual and its training.
Assuming those classes were 2-4 hours, they have had 80+ additional hours of training on the use of a simple
system they had to know to pass basic training. When do we get to fire someone for not knowing something?

We have found that the vast majority of shooters that use the AR15/M4 way underestimate its ability
to deliver accurate hits at range. Military and Civilian shooters both seem to think 200 yards is a limit
for some reason , and we have done a lot to address this myth. How common did you find this to be ?

Propaganda and lack of real training.
On the propaganda side, people use energy numbers as an effective range. They also leverage various reports
of hit rates at Army ranges.
The only accuracy standard the army hold is 6.5 MOA(4CM) at 25 yards. This size of group means that without
stress or environmental effects, all the rounds will land on fully exposed target at 300. Add stress or wind and
you are losing rounds.
Army doesn’t “make” you shoot well enough to get hits at distance under stress.
Its common enough that people swear by the 200 yard zero despite different ammo and other factors.

To add to the question above, how much of that idea that the M4 is a short range gun was passed on 
over and over inside the Army?

That isn’t something I heard a lot. I got my first M4 in 1998 and most everyone understood it could go beyond 200. Once we got into theater people realized quickly that the thing holding back range was irons and red dots.

Did you find or observe a lack of confidence in the service rifle/carbine by the users because they just
had no idea what it was capable of?

I would say they had no idea what they were capable of. At the Light Fighters School at 10 th Mountain, my
crew and I took thousands of Soldiers from big groups and low hits to small groups and getting hits out to 600.
The most comman thing we heard was that all Soldiers should get the training because they just hadn’t seen
the higher standards and learned how to achieve it.
Propaganda lands in here too. People have been talking about the problems the M16 had in Vietnam since
then. Most of those problems were short lived and fixed with the M16A1 which was fielded in 1967. But yet,
you see guys talking on facebook today about problems a rifle had before they were born.

Can you tell us what you think the biggest shortcomings was with the older marksmanship training and
what you would like to see developed further?

The biggest problem was the qual and how we ran the qual. The tower slowed everyone down, the table was
slow and didn’t match any shooting we are doing in 18 years of combat. It didn’t force a reload and was so
lock step that Soldiers in combat actually waited for a command to reload. It was ran so risk adverse that if
one watched from the outside it looked like the Army didn’t trust Soldiers with rifles. But as soon as we get in
country, they were running around with loaded weapons and expected to do operations.
The other problem fell on leaders. If a soldier failed to qual they would just send him again. And again. And
We observed a Unit attempting to get Soldiers to qual expert for EIB. Several Soldiers got 10-15 attempts to
get their expert. That is not an expert in my opinion. If they qual had a one time per year, one attempt only
requirement, Soldiers would take it seriously.
Lastly, leaders that allowed their Soldiers to qualify on the ALT C course of fire at 25 yards failed them. They
failed their Soldiers, the Army and the United States of America.
The greatest change to Army marksmanship in recent history was the removal of this course of fire and a
legitimate qualification.

Any thoughts on the SDMR and role of the DM? Would you expand it or ideally have every rifleman
capable of filling a DM role for example etc.

Ah, the SDM.
First, yes, there should always be someone capable of being called on for a low percentage shot. The SDM
came into modern use when 90% of the rifles were irons and red dots. Yea, a guy with a scope in that can
make a difference. The problem was and still is idiots want to make the role something more than it is. They
send e-4s and 5s to the handful of SDM training slots that are available. By the time that guy gets decent at
the role he either is promoted or out, leaving the squad without that trained guy. Also, ATP 3-21.8 defines
SDM as an additional role for the Rifleman, meaning the private.
If we train that guy, then he will be a good shooter as the SDM and for the rest of his time in the Army.
Eventually, you whole enlisted force has SDM training.
It’s a dude with a tool and skills to shoot well. That’s all. Nothing more.

Can you give us  your no BS  opinion on the performance of the M855A1 round?

M855A1 is great. Rumors of it destroying guns were just that, rumors. It is though, a different round that wears
different. Millions of rounds have been fired in anger since 2011 when I first got it. It is very effective.
Again, propaganda and misinformation are out there on M855A1. The program said it was a ballistic match to 855.
What they forgot to add was the follow on. Matched to what? Well, I will tell you that an M4A1 firing M855A1 is a
near ballistic match to an M16A2/4 firing 855. So it was match to that flight profile.
The lethal effects of 855A1 are Savage and it works as designed.
The Army is not pursuing Next gen systems because of a failure of 5.56 on soft targets. It is pursuing next gen
because of the proliferation of body armor among neer peer enemies.

For the average rifleman in the Army, how many would you say take their marksmanship to heart and
would willingly devote more time to honing that skill beyond being ordered to work on it?

I would say enough. The problem with talking marksmanship in the Army is people talk about it in a vacuum. Few
battles are won by a man and a rifle. Yes, its important but its value drops with proper tactics and combined arms
operations. Good shooting will make the time in between the start of the fight and the arrival of high explosives
much more tolerable though.
We do owe it to our Soldiers to provide enough training and practice to know, I mean KNOW, that if they set sights
on a combatant that they will get a hit and or effect. This isn’t a call for more rounds per say. Shooting doesn’t
mean getting better. More rounds under training evolutions and tough standards are whats needed.
Little known fact is that the Army only shoots 48% of their allocated rounds every year. By the STRAC every soldier
gets 288 rounds a year, not 58. An Infantry Soldier is allocated nearly a thousand rounds for individual and
collective training. Every Infantryman. If All soldier fired their allocation of ammunition and spent the 12 simulation
hours in the EST we would see improvement.

Have you been able to see any results or improvements yet from the new program?

A study conducted by the Army Research Institute showed that Soldiers under the old system retain about 40% of
marksmanship knowledge 6 weeks after basic training. Early tests under the new system brought that up to 60%
by switching to the Shot process for teaching, Army training flows more inline with current sport psychology
methods. It will prove to build Soldiers with a better understanding and better shooters overall

Last question, If you had your way, what would your idea issue standard service rifle look like/be?

Without going into next gen, the answer is pretty basic. M4 with full length rail and 1-8/10 variable optic.
Fixed power and red dots are last century tech. As far back as 1993, magnification has been being asked
for. That magnification is fine but we still need to be able to do rooms and tight spaces. With a variable, I
can go to 1x for up close and immediately zoom for far away targets. They army has had a program called
Squad Common Optic since 2011 looking at these sort of optics. Yet 8 years later nothing has been fielded.
Also, a small suppressor. The amount of money the Army pays me for massive hearing loss could by a
couple of suppressors every month. Multiply this by the thousands of people just like me and it just makes
sense. That’s just talking disability and not actual positive effects in theater.
They have inline thermals that allow for great targeting that can’t be used because some honcho in some
office wont remove the front iron sight tower.
In short, the rifle is very close but old heads that never deployed are stopping progress.

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2 thoughts on “Q&A with Ash Hess”

  1. While you may not be seeing any major problems I do think that switching to the LMT or similar enhanced BCG would be. Wise upgrade.

    The stronger bolt and longer dwell time would be good upgrades to pair with the higher pressure M855A1.

    From what I have read; the M855A1 has cause some issues with the M27s

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