When the chips are down

Nir Maman
January 22, 2014
By Nir Maman
The basic tactical orientation course instructor, a seasoned veteran, began explaining the concept, mechanics and importance of moving and shooting. After completing his introduction, he pointed at me and stated "Nir knows all about moving and shooting, he's done it many times." I had completed my second term of service in the Israeli Special Forces Counter Terror Unit one year prior to joining the police service so the instructor assumed I must have been heavily trained in and proficient with the technique. Moving and shooting is a dynamic, complex and advanced skill which is heavily trained and emphasized in military special forces, where the concept was born. The ability to master a complex skill is automatically equated with the ability to effectively address real life – a huge fallacy.

The basic tactical orientation course instructor, a seasoned veteran, began explaining the concept, mechanics and importance of moving and shooting. After completing his introduction, he pointed at me and stated "Nir knows all about moving and shooting, he's done it many times."

I had completed my second term of service in the Israeli Special Forces Counter Terror Unit one year prior to joining the police service so the instructor assumed I must have been heavily trained in and proficient with the technique.

Moving and shooting is a dynamic, complex and advanced skill which is heavily trained and emphasized in military special forces, where the concept was born. The ability to master a complex skill is automatically equated with the ability to effectively address real life – a huge fallacy.

There's a perception in both the military and policing fields that if an 'elite' unit uses a theory or tactic, it must be effective. The fact is that the majority of the world's special units, even ones who deploy to hostile war zones, don't ever get a chance to experience or apply most of the tactics for which they trained!

Additionally, many times when tactics are deployed in real life, the situations are not ones that push the tactic's supporting principles to the point of exploiting their weaknesses, allowing for a full and realistic evaluation of effectiveness. It's the equivalent of gauging your skill level in a sport by only training with or competing against less skilled opponents. Even with poor skills, you will win every time!

Seeing the concept of moving and shooting implemented in a professional situation makes me cringe in frustration. We do not use this concept in Israel, simply because it does not lend itself to an efficient resolution in a real life gunfight. It's important to understand the difference between:

  • Shooting a threat;

  • Being shot at by a threat;

  • Being in a gunfight with a threat.

Most of the world is experienced with A and B but the majority of Israeli engagements are in the third category. Moving and shooting also negates both instinctive response and tactical capability under stress.

Rationale

There are three main points that constitute the foundation for implementing the concept:

  1. You are a static target and much easier to hit if you're not moving during a gun fight.

  2. Moving while you shoot opens up visual acuity of the environment, allowing you to further visually assess your surroundings and possibly identify additional threats.

  3. Moving allows you to close distance to the threat and dominate while engaging.

Those are the three theories that support the idea behind the concept which, like most others, presents sound principles and makes sense in theory. However, when its put into practice against the backdrop of practical facts and statistics, it will not lend to optimal efficiency in a real life combat engagement.

Going in order of the above list:

  1. Theory: You're a static target if you don't move while shooting.

Fact: The only thing in a real life gunfight that will keep you alive is terminating the threat that is trying to kill you and immediately stopping the life threatening action being sent your way.

Moving in an attempt to avoid fire is the equivalent of focusing on getting behind cover while under fire instead of focusing on terminating the threat. This is a principle I refer to as attempting to manipulate your environment to alter the physical elements as opposed to addressing the root source of the problem – the metaphorical equivalent of bailing the water out of a flooded canoe instead of plugging the hole.

Two factual factors kill the 'static target' theory dead in its tracks. I'll put it in the context of a drill (which I recommend you try to see the proof in tangible practice):

Take a shooter who not only believes in the theory of moving and shooting but who is also proficient at it and set up this simple drill: have them stand in a designated area on the range floor (execute this drill at various distances to the target, ranging from five to 30 or 40 yards out). Have a running target as the focus which will begin at one lateral side of the range and then 'run' to the other lateral side (left to right/right to left).

It's best for the target to move at various speeds, although most ranges only have running targets that move at one speed, usually equivalent to a fast walk or slow jog.

Have the shooter begin to walk around the range, weapon at the ready (he knows what the drill is, there are no surprises) and as the target begins to run from side to side, effectively engage it.

Even experienced shooters who practice moving and shooting will often change their pace. Almost everyone immediately slows while engaging the target because there is a sudden shift in priorities, from moving to shooting. Even while under cognitive control (meaning the absence of real survival stress), the majority instinctively realize that when they bring their weapon up to fire, that becomes the priority. To ensure they are effectively hitting the target, they instinctively slow down to minimize excess body movement, which hinders effective shooting.

The sole principle of moving and shooting is to only move as fast as you can effectively hit the target – and all humans can move only at a limited pace while balancing effective shooting. During this drill you will see shooters reach that limit, which is generally approximately two steps per second. Move faster and you compromise effective shooting.

Second, even those exceptional shooters who force their muscle memory to overcome instinct (which only happens when your stress level does not surpass your level of cognitive reasoning, which essentially means you're not under survival stress), you will see that they will effectively hit their target! Every shot!

After running this drill, perform the following test drill as a follow up:

Find a range that has a lateral running target that can run fast, as close as possible to a sprint. Have the shooter stand at a medium range of 15 to 20 yards from the target line, in the center of the range in a ready position.

When the target runs from one side to the other, have the shooter engage it. Most will hit the target effectively with most of their fired rounds. This is significant because a running target usually moves at a quicker pace than two steps per second!

These 'reality check' points mean that if you want to ensure you are hitting your target in a gun fight, you have to drastically limit the pace at which you are moving. Based on the fact that almost every shooter can hit a target moving exponentially quicker than the pace a shooter moves while shooting, we know that moving at the pace of 'not quicker than you can effectively hit your target' is useless and will practically guarantee that you are as easy a target as if you were standing still!

If the concern for moving in a gun fight was to reduce your risk of being hit, you would have to (at a minimum) sprint and also move in a pattern that induces movement of the threat's line of fire, such as in a zig zag pattern.

Moving in a straight line towards the threat makes you the same complexity, or ease, of a target whether you are standing still or sprinting, since the threat does not need to move his line of fire in any direction to acquire you.

The more you adhere to any of those principles, which augment your possibility to not get hit over the standard move and shoot principle (which won't reduce your ability to not get hit!), the more you diminish your ability to effectively hit your threat.

The 'hit ratio' is another important factor that relates to this principle. The average for North American police officers hovers around 19 per cent (approximately one out of every five shots fired hits the intended target).

One report puts the hit ratio average at 28 per cent. The NYPD ESU put the ratio at 11 to 17 per cent in 2010, which makes sense given the rash of new ambush type attacks on US police officers over the last five years; despite this, police 'shooting' training remains unchanged.

We'll give police the benefit of the doubt and go with 28 per cent, which is still a huge problem. Seventy two per cent of rounds officers fire miss their targets – and these officers are shooting static!

So now people are grasping hold of this moving and shooting theory, which wasn't widely known or practiced until the US war machine was reactivated in Iraq and Afghanistan and returning vets began running courses all over the place.

The theory has a strong perception of effectiveness; it makes sense theoretically, it's dynamic, relatively more complex than other shooting tactics and special forces practice it so therefore it must be effective! It suddenly became an integral concept in police training across North America.

It's also important to note that moving and shooting has no combat proven basis! You cannot attribute a win in a gunfight to a factor that you do not control, such as the chance possibility that you stepped out of the way of a bullet. It's just as possible that you could have avoided a round by staying still!

The combat proven gun fighting factor that can be measured is that shooting your threat will effectively, in most cases, terminate that engagement and keep you alive. Either way the fact remains that police officers already have a difficult enough time hitting their targets while not moving. There is much focus in police training on how to remedy that problem but now trainers want officers to shoot while they are moving.

This concept will do nothing to improve officer survivability during a deadly force engagement and will also cause the officer hit ratio average to decline even further!

  1. Theory: Moving while shooting will open up visual acuity of your environment, allowing you to further visually assess your surroundings and possibly identify additional threats.

Fact: As every police instructor already knows, the number one negative physiological side effect of survival stress is tunnel vision, which all officers experience during a deadly force engagement.

It would be negligent and tactically counter productive to ask officers to take their eyes off the threat while engaging, which is why no one teaches this. Therefore it simply becomes a contradictory point to profess this theory for moving and shooting.

Even if you attempt to train officers to scan while engaging, it would be physiologically impossible for them to do so. They will experience tunnel vision, which will keep their focused vision on one thing only – the threat they are engaging. This will continue until they no longer perceive the person as a threat.

It's also important to not confuse the idea of scanning while shooting with scanning while moving upon ceasing to engage.

Moving and shooting will not contribute in any way to visual dexterity while in a gunfight. It is practically impossible to speak commands while shooting – actually focusing on your sights/line of fire and squeezing the trigger – never mind trying to look somewhere else. That is why, no matter how much you profess you want your officers to shout commands while shooting, the reality is they will actually be delivered before the trigger is squeezed or after the last round is fired!

  1. Theory: Moving while shooting allows you to close the distance to the threat/dominate the engagement.

Fact: Dominating the engagement is the only move and shoot principle I agree with. However, the physical end result usually dominates the attempted psychological process. If your shooting is compromised and the threat can effectively hit you because you're busy trying to 'psychologically dominate,' your effort is futile at best.

Additionally, your survival instincts will dominate over tactical training cognition under stress. If you're face to face with a threat actively trying to kill you and you have a firearm in your hand, your body will not move forward towards the threat! Instead you will plant yourself, raise your weapon and focus on unloading rounds as fast as possible!

Another point that shows the unintentional contradiction in training practices – police officers today are trained to shoot in the isosceles/Israeli stance and no longer in any other shooting platform. It has finally been realized that under stress your body will square off to the threat and drop; your legs will base out wide and you will not move anywhere or face any direction other than the direction of the threat.

So – given this recognition, how are officers expected to move while engaging?

Israel has been engaged in endless violent conflicts for 65 years. Our tactical methodology for deadly force engagements/gunfights is to stop, establish a strong shooting platform and focus on shooting. Once the threat is down or has dissipated due to running away, etc., then you sprint as fast as possible to close the distance, allowing you to dominate safely, have less distance from the threat and maximize effective shooting during the next volley if the threat re-engages.

The hit ratio average for Israeli soldiers and police officers in violent gunfights hovers around 70 per cent. We do not move and shoot! When you move and shoot, you are executing movement, which cuts your shooting potential by 50 per cent.

Our philosophy is to be 100 per cent effective when it's time to shoot and 100 per cent effective when it's time to move! If moving and shooting actually provided tangible and effective results, Israel would be the first fighting force to implement it.

Practical applications

There are three predicaments when moving and shooting can be physiologically and tactically advantageous:

  1. The most common application is during open field or urban combat environment where you suddenly come under fire and have only a general idea of the direction enemy fire is coming from, or know where it's coming from but do not have effective access to directly engage the threat. In this predicament, your natural and tactical inclination will be to run out of that area or for cover as fast as humanly possible (which is the correct response). While moving out of the line of attack, it may (and I emphasize may) not hurt to raise your weapon and fire off some rounds in the direction of enemy fire.

The focus is not on the conventional moving and shooting platform or concept, since you do not have a target to focus on. The focus is on quickly getting out of the danger area. By blindly shooting in the direction of enemy fire, you might get lucky and distract them, buying time to safely get to cover. Cover is the emphasis in this predicament only because you can't identify or effectively engage the source of fire.

  1. Another potential example is a 'stalking' situation, for example during a covert, stealth approach to a position when the enemy is not aware of your presence. Another example is during a hostage rescue operation where you are moving covertly and stealthily to a certain position (usually a final approach point before the breach), again without the enemy being aware you are there.

In both cases, an unsuspecting threat might calmly appear, such as walking out of a room while you and your team are stalking down the hall. Before the threat has the chance to face you, point their weapon and engage, you can raise your weapon from the low ready (the position it is already in during stalking) and engage the threat while continuing to move.

You will be able to execute moving and shooting in this predicament because you have not begun to engage, are not under the effects of survival stress and both you and the threat are moving at a pace that allows for balancing an effective application of shooting while moving.

  1. If you are playing the role of a cool guy in a Hollywood action movie, because moving and shooting will not only look really cool but is absolutely guaranteed by the director to actually work!

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