5.56 Timeline

Two Man Tactics Part 3 – Sectors of Fire,

I’ve been struggling with writing this one as there are so many parts of this topic.  Hard to say where to start or what to cover.

Well, what is a sector of fire?  It is “A defined area which is required to be covered by the fire of individual or crew served weapons or the weapons of a unit.”

Preferably, a sector of fire could be completely observed by the individual (or team) from single place with out movement.  Ideally, a target could be engaged in this sector of fire without obscuring visible observation of the rest of the sector of fire.  For an individual, this usually ends up being a maximum angle somewhere around 90-120 degrees.  A smaller of sector of fire is preferable as it is easier to maintain complete observation over it.

But if you are alone, you need cover 360 degrees around you, not including the potential of threats above and below. You have to turn your head (or entire body) to maintain observation on this area. That sucks! Fortunately, we are talking about two person teams. That drops your area to cover to a 180 degree swath, not mentioning looking up and down.

Previously we established that there are three different two-man formations.  Column, Line, and Echelon.  Let us look at the column formation.

It would be easy to assume that the optimum way to do things would be the split coverage front and back and each person would cover a 180-degree swath.

Some would immediately argue that each person should cover as much area as they can.  While there is some truth and wisdom to that, there is also a reason why we say not to do that.  I’ll come back to this topic.

There may be any number of situations where one individual of the pair may not be able to cover a 180 degree swath.  For example, if were trying to move through thick brush, an area of booby traps, or a hallway.  The lead person might be focused on clearing a path, looking for traps, or looking into/pieing/observing rooms and windows or other avenues where threats may reside.

I think one of the most realistic examples of this might be a hallway. The rear person do their best to cover forwards and backwards down that hallway, while the lead person covers forwards and looks in each door, window. As the lead person is covering potential problem areas to each side, they will not be covering forwards, so the rear person needs to be covering it.

When you are moving, and especially in small teams, your sector of fire is continuously changing, and you need to be observant and reactive to this.

Covering to the rear is often seen as slightly less important than covering to the front or sides. This tends to be due to the direction of movement potentially moving you closer to hostiles, and that you have likely cleared the area you have just moved though. If this is not the case, if you are fleeing a hostile group, then covering towards the rear may be much higher priority than to the front.

It seems to me that when working in pairs, be it two vehicles with turrets or two individuals, splitting the coverage for direct front for one and the rear 180 degree arc for the other made sense, it was a little easier if the sectors of fire were angled.

front and rear sectors of fire
angled sectors of fire

While the sectors of fire depicted on the left picture worked ok, something like the right picture tended to work a little better in practice. The lead person often had to look back (look over their shoulder or turn) to maintain awareness and communication with the tail element (rear person) that which ever side they favored they could also cover more in that direction. The person in the rear almost never is able to just walk backwards watching the rear (walking backwards is a good way to fall on your ass). This angled sector of fire can be completely observed by turning ones torso when walking forwards. You can’t cover the a rear 180 degree as well as an angled one.

But this is something you need to practice with your partner/battle buddy/buddy cop/etc. It will come naturally with practice, but you won’t find what works best with out actually doing it. Lefties will be more comfortable using a different angle than righties. If there is a height difference, it might be better to have the tall person in the rear where they can look over the short person. (If I were shorter I would want the tall person in front so I would have more concealment from enemy fire). Etc, etc, etc.

Yes, but no.

Let me share a reason why we don’t teach sectors of fire like the picture above. Each individual has a job to do and needs to be trusted to do that job. Only once they have done their job should they try to help others. If you are trying to cover your buddies sector of fire and yours, and a hostile pops up in each sector of fire, you might end up engaging the one in your buddies sector of fire, leaving the one in your sector free to kill both of you.

How do I explain this?

And why beholdest thou mote that is in they brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the most of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out from thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the most out of thy brother’s eye.

Even Jesus says to cover your sector of fire first.

Let me share a story. When I was in School of Infantry East (SOI), at Camp Lejeune, as one point we went though a live fire shoot house. Mine you, SOI’s shoot house was two rooms where you could only shoot one direction (downrange). The shoot house was a major culminating point in this urban warfare training. But to be realistic, the shoot house really wasn’t much by way of training, and the urban warfare part of SOI curriculum was really lacking. But it was all new to us, and between the stress and trying to learn everything else, it was hard.

We did lots and lots of dry runs in a field near the shoot house. Looking back, we got more out of those dry runs than the couple minutes of live fire in the shoot house.

The Marine I was partnered with must not have thought very much of me. I am not sure if it was intentional or subconscious, but he must have thought that I couldn’t do it. We were having a good bit of trouble during the dry runs and practice. Finally the instructors pulled my partner aside and talked to him. They pointed out that each of us had a job to do, sectors of fire to cover, and targets to engage. My partner was trying to cover his entire sector of fire, engage all his targets, while covering my sector of fire, and engaging my targets. He was trying to do twice as much work as he needed to, and in turn, prevented me from being able to do what I had to do. I couldn’t do my job due to his interference, reinforcing his thought that I was unable to do it. I was too inexperienced to realize what was wrong. They instructor talking to him pretty much had to tell him that I was doing what I was suppose to be doing, and he wasn’t. That all he had to do was his share of the work.

A few more dry runs and we finally got proficient enough that we did the shoot house. Went fine.

It is good to help people, but you gotta talk care of the things you NEED to do first.
I’m not saying not to engage targets in your buddies sector of fire, I’m saying don’t do it unless you are completely confident your sector of fire is secure, will remain so while you are not observing it, and that your actions are necessary for victory.

Different shorter story. When I was in Iraq, I got shot. When I came back to my unit from the hospital, some of my squad mates joked about my getting shot because I didn’t cover my sector of fire. I pointed out that I was shot from behind. NO ONE got shot from MY sector of fire. All that joking quickly stopped. No one ever did say who was watching our rear when I got shot.

Working with other people involves trust. They may fail you. You might die because of that. But if you don’t trust people, you will never be able to work effectively with them.

Knights Armament (KAC) MP5 RAS source

Knights Armament has made a variety of accessories and firearms that have become rather collectible. One of this is a rail system for the MP5. I was just informed that a store called “Presample Depot” has a four in stock at the time of this posting. Figured I would share that with you in case you are looking for one. I have not ever dealt with this company so I don’t know if they are reputable or not. Good luck.

Link below:


Two Man Tactics – Part 2 – Rates of Fires & Talking Guns

I know I said I was going to do sectors of fire next, but this was quicker and easier to talk about first.

In the past I was taught than when your buddy is reloading or if their weapon malfunction, you need to pick up your rate of fire to compensate for their lack of shooting. I believed this and taught it to others.

Now I don’t think so.

A good example of when this would be necessary would be if you had two mortar teams and they were going to fire 4 rounds each for a total of 8 rounds on target. If one gun were to go down during the string of fire, the other would fire more rounds to get the proper number of rounds on target.

But if you are talking about a 2 man team, I don’t think this applies.

Back when I carried a M16A2, I found that my buddy and my self would each start with 30 rounds in a mag, and end up having to reload around the same time. If the other guy had to reload first, if I tried to pick up my rate of fire I would nearly immediately have to reload. Leaving us both reloading.

On that note, it might make sense for small teams to plan for some individuals to reload early to prevent everyone from reloading at the same time.

I think this advise comes from military highers ups looking at individuals as a commodity. If each individual rifleman is suppose to be outputting 15 rounds a minute, if one soldier goes down you have a deficiency in your firepower. So you tell one of your guys to increase their output to 30 rounds a minute to maintain the total unit firepower.

Let us back up a moment. Why do we shoot? We shoot when the alternative would be worse than not shooting. This isn’t just about combatives, we shoot to test equipment, hone our skills, or to have fun. Not plinking is a worse outcome that plinking.

So, if we are in a fight, touching off rounds for no reason gives us no benefit. If I shoot uselessly, the enemy might initially be deterred by the noise, but once they realize I am not effectively engaging them, they will be emboldened to effectively press the attack.

If I am in a fight, I need to strive to be as efficient and effective as possible. Wasting any resources, ammo, energy, etc, mean that you might not have that for the next fight.

Instead of adjusting your shooting rate off what your partner is doing, you should be adjusting your tactics off what your partner is doing. If they are unable to shoot, you may need to cover their sector of fire. But you should be shooting what ever amount and rate of fire is necessary do get the job done.

If you are shooting to destroy the enemy, shouldn’t you already be shooting as fast as you can do it effectively? If you are shooting to suppress the enemy, shouldn’t you be shooting just enough to keep the enemies from returning effective fire to you? Why in either of those cases would you shoot faster because your buddy is reloading or clearing a jam?

I think this concept makes sense when you are talking machine guns. If there are two teams of belt fed weapons firing 3-5 round bursts and one gun needs to reload, it would make sense for the other gun to fire longer bursts during that reload. But if you and someone else are fighting with handguns or rifles, our rate of fire should be dependent on what is necessary to engage the enemy, not some set number.

If shooting fast will let you win faster, do it. Doesn’t matter what your buddy is doing. If shooting faster won’t make you win faster, don’t.

Now, on a similar topic, let us talk about “talking guns”. My intent it to explain the concept of “talking guns” and then explain why a two man team is not likely to be using that tactic. Then I will contradict my self and wrap up with an example of when it might be useful.

With machine guns and machine gun gunnery there is a very common and well known tactic known as “talking guns”. Talking guns is where two or more machine guns alternative firing bursts. There are many reasons for using this strategy. First it can keep constant rounds going downrange towards the enemy, while each of your machine guns are just firing normal bursts. A second, but not lesser reason, is to make it harder for the enemies to pin point the location of your machine guns if your machine guns are alternating bursts.

Now I read people claim that well practiced Machine Gunners will have their alternating gun fire sound like a single long burst from a single gun. I never heard that from when I was in and I somewhat think that this is a bullshit idea from people who are not machine gunners. It would be easy to mess up and have both guns fire at the same time

If you are a two person team of automatic riflemen or machine gunners, this would be a great tactic for for the two of you. Out side of that, not so much.

I’ve sometimes heard or read people suggest using talking guns for any two man team.
I think people suggest this because the concept of talking guns is cool and just seems like it would be good for a group of two.

Let us imagine that Shawn and I each are carrying our pistols and facing down a hoard a baddies.
What justification would there be for us to hold fire in order to alternative taking shots?
Each of us would want to shoot as efficiently as we could.

Especially once you get distance involved. You and your buddy should not be side by side as that would make it easier for the enemy to engage the both of you(or an explosion taking out both of you). Dispersion aids survival. But that distance means that you and your partner see different things. Each one of you may see different enemies or have very different experiences.

If I can see two enemies, and my team mate can not see any, should I hold off firing at the second baddie until my team mate fires?

Let me use another example. Different people have different skill levels. One shooter might be slower at lining up and making good shots. Another much faster and more effective. If the better shooter waits for the slower shooter to shoot, they are drastically reducing their own effectiveness. In most scenarios, there is little to gain by alternating shots.

But to wrap up, it isn’t bad to know or practice these things. Imagine a situation where you have a two man marksman/sniper team working individually in separate locations. If the two shooters engaged their enemies from different locations, alternating shots, it would make it much harder for the enemy to locate each shooter and/or respond appropriately.

With this silly drawing, you can see how a situation where two marksman in two different locations can cause quite the problem for the enemy. If they take cover from one shooter, they are exposed to the other. If they actively move to engage and destroy one marksman, the other can still engage them.

In the initial engagement, our 2 man team might want to alternate shots to help prevent the enemy forces from identifying where the shots are coming from, delaying their ability to effectively respond to the incoming fire. If one of is spotted, using the tactic of talking guns would be pointless.

Most of the time, in a small team, each individual would be best off shooting to their full potential. Rarely would you want to limit that rate of fire, or push someone to shoot faster than they can engage their targets effectively.

Thoughts and Feelings on the M17

I picked up a M17 Surplus from my dealer Monday, got to shoot it today. I thought I’d share my thoughts on it. Don’t think of this as a proper review, but more like assorted feelings.

The M17 Modular Handgun System (MHS) is based of the SIG P320 pistol.

I previously posted up some photos here:

I’d much rather take this to a fight than a M9. It feels much better in my hands. While this is a large gun, it doesn’t feel as huge as the M9 does. I do think I would prefer the compact M18 over it. It certainly says something that the Army picked the full sized M17, and the rest of the branches picked the compact M18 pistol.

I think the idea of a modular pistol is a good one, but I’d bet that the majority of people would just buy the stock configuration and not modify it. Also by the time you are buying additional slides and frame I think many people would just buy a whole additional gun. I think it is a shame that SIG didn’t make it truly modular and that you can’t convert to .45. If I were setting up a P320 for my self, I think I would go with the small (front to back) grip module.

SIG includes a second recoil spring assembly with the M17 saying that their pistols are sprung for the higher power NATO spec ammo. The second recoil spring assembly is weaker for shooting the lighter loaded factory 9mm ammo that is commonly available on the market. The Gen 4 Glock pistols got a good bit of bad press as they were set up for the hotter NATO spec ammo and when they were released in the US they were chocking on the light ammo. I tried shooting Wolf 9mm in the M17 and I had no issues. This gun is broken in, so as I expected, it was able to function just fine with the lower power ammo.

When I first got the gun, I thought the trigger was ok. There was a little slack, then some sponginess, then a firmer spot right before the trigger pull broke. Then I cleaned and degreased it and thought the trigger pull was absolutely terrible. But once I was actually out shooting, the trigger pull was plenty fine.

The sights were marked as being manufactured in 2017. In the past I thought I wouldn’t like orange rear dots with a green front dot, but having been able to use that on this pistol, I rather like it now. The Tritium in these SIG sights seem much dimmer than Trijcion sights I have had for many more years. Sight picture is somewhat obstructed by the massively wide rear sight. I have no idea why SIG made that rear sight so wide, but they did and it covers up more field of view than the rear sights on my other handguns. Past that, the sights worked fine.

When I first handled the gun, I was worried that the safety would make it hard to hit the slide release. The grip was just large enough that I had to shift my grip to hit the slide release or the mag catch. I figured it would be awkward when I shot the gun. I was wrong there, manipulating the M17 while I shot it felt natural and easy. But I do have a complaint about the safety. I wish it were a little larger to the rear. I found it just small enough to make it an annoyance to use. If I were carrying a P320 with a safety as a self defense gun, I would try and find a little larger safety.

Towards the end of the session as I was approaching my target I decided to try a little 25 yard shooting with the M17. Aiming at a 3/4 inch dot at 25 yards was rather hard for me. When I focused on the front sight, the little dot I was aiming at would disappear. Still firing 5 round of Wolf I was pretty surprised by how I did. It makes me curious what it could do with good ammo, and a proper target to aim at.

At closer distances I tended to be shooting a ragged hole, unless I pulled a shot.

I did a little rapid fire when I was trying the pistol. Decided to end the day with double taps. Starting with controlled pairs, I quickly moved to hammered pairs. The M17 is just very easy to shoot. The last 10 round of the 20 I fired at the top dot were just raising the pistol and pressed the trigger twice with out even getting a sight picture. It is just an easy gun to shoot. But to be fair, most full size 9mm fit that description.

I really like the 21 round magazines. While they are extended, they (to me) are a reasonable size. Glock’s 33 and 24 round magazines are a little large for practical carry purposes.

My biggest complaint would be that if you ride the slide closed, it almost always won’t close completely. You can see in the first picture above that the pistol is out of battery. When you are loading a round, and releasing the slide from the rear it isn’t an issue. But when you are handling it and checking if it is unloaded, it seems and feel bad that the slide won’t close completely.

There are some interesting rumors about these released M17s. First SIG says that the Army returned them because of the coloration. That the first M17s have tan controls and a different shade of tan on the slide. That seemed plausible. Easier for SIG to provide new pistols than the rebuild the old ones.

Rumor came out that these first M17 pistols were not drop safe. SIG denies that, but interestingly enough the slides were clearly milled after they were finished. So the slide was made, than later retrofitted to be drop safe.

A SIG rep denies this, but then claims that the first batch of SIG M17s were always planned to be returned to SIG. That seems pretty doubtful that SIG would make 4000 or so pistols with the intent that they would be returned. It is possible that these pistols were retrofitted to be drop safe before they shipped to the Army, but I can’t say.

There is somewhere around 4000 of these Army Surplus guns out there now for sale. It is very unlikely that more will become available and we may never see the surplus compact M18 pistols ever. It is very rare to be able to buy modern US military surplus firearms. If you want one, get one now before prices get crazy.

I would gladly carry a M17 into combat. But owning Glock pistols, I wouldn’t bother to pick a P320 over a Glock. But if you didn’t have any Glocks, the P320 seems like it would be an excellent alternative.