The Marine Corps may not be the military’s largest branch, but it’s still a big lumbering beast when it comes to change. This is what makes its change from Annual Rifle Training (ART) to Annual Rifle Qualification (ARQ) much bigger than a simple name change. The ARQ represents a massive improvement to the weapon training of the United States Marine Corps.
The ART had been around since the 1900s. It was archaic and in no way represented modern tactical or combative shooting. I was an infantry Marine and it was a near-universal joke that rifle qualification was more pageantry than training. What we did on the range with a loop sling and slow fire didn’t translate over to the real world even a little bit.
I have six degrees of separation to the ARQ through CWO4 Anthony Viggiani. When I heard he was a part of the ARQ and its formation, I knew we’d see some major advancements in the Marine Corps rifle program.
Prior to his commission as a warrant officer, he had served as my company gunny. He is a Marines Marine and one of the best leaders I have ever served under. He brought modern training to our company and arranged and designed courses of fire that stressed speed, accuracy, and decision-making that were miles above standard training.
From ART to ARQ
The old-school ART was based around stable shooting positions like sitting, the prone, and a standing position you’d never use in combat. You didn’t wear gear, and Marines strapped on a parade sling to make a big loop around their arm for increased tension.
The ARQ does away with all that. Marines will shoot in full gear, using their weapons as they would in combat. This means they would be allowed to use bipods, turn their magazine into a monopod, or even throw down their day pack for support.
The older qualification started close and moved far; the new qualification reverses that better representing an actual engagement. The mission of the Marine Corps rifle squad is to locate, close with, and destroy the enemy. Closing-with is now represented in the qualification.
Marines will implement barricades to provide supportive fire. How or even if the barrier is used is up to the Marine. They have to make the decision. Decision-making regarding positioning during the ARQ is entirely on the Marine.
For example, at 300 yards, the Marine can choose between the standing, kneeling or prone. Prone seems like the natural choice, but you have a time limit, and standing or kneeling requires less movement and, therefore, less time to assume.
Range and targets
The previous qualification was at 200, 300, and 500 yards. The ARQ takes place at the 500-, 300-, 200-, 100-, and 25- to 15-yard lines. Also, moving targets will now be in the mix at the 200- and 100-yard lines.
The old qualification used three different targets, but the ARQ will use two: Shooters will engage a “‘Destroy” target, which is a man-sized target holding a weapon. A silhouette-style target that is 12 inches wide will be used for moving targets.
Inside the Destroy target, there is a head and chest shot. You have to hit these areas to score a kill; no longer can you just hit black to score points.
Another scoring component involves passing both the Destroy portion and the Drills portion. You have to pass both to succeed. You can’t score high in one and fail the other and be qualified.
Why the Marine Corps made the right choice
The ARQ allows for a combative weapon qualification that isn’t strenuous logistically for every Marine to accomplish yearly. I can design a helluva qualification, but making it scale to the entire Marine Corps isn’t easy. The ARQ seems to do just that.
The ARQ implements modern tactical training and techniques. The civilian world moves much faster than the military world, and the use of barriers and supported shooting has been around for decades in civilian drills. Barriers are also a realistic feature for shooting in a firefight, and Marines should be educated on how and why they should use them.
Targets rarely standstill in a real firefight, so training to hit movers is a nice touch, especially at 200 and 100 yards. Additionally, the Destroy targets require effective shot placement, and so do actual firefights. Also, no one in a firefight is tossing a loop sling on and fighting slick. Implementing gear and modern weapon accessories are a nice touch.
Ultimately, the ARQ represents a more modern and likely much more challenging annual rifle qualification. This qualification should encourage more practical rifle training and less slow and standard snapping in type training.
The goal of the Marine Corps training should be to make Marines more lethal and more effective. The ARQ seems to aim to do just that and to make Marines of all MOSes more effective and more lethal in combat.
Feature Image: U.S. Marines assigned to Battalion Landing Team 2/5, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) stand by during a small arms qualification shoot aboard amphibious assault carrier USS Tripoli (LHA 7) Sept. 12, 2022. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Maci Sternod)