Inside a new technology for Marine marksmanship training

Live-fire training is not going away.
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MantisX Blackbeard
Marine recruits Parris Island are using the MantisX Blackbeard system for marksmanship training. (Pfc. Ayden Cassano/U.S. Marine Corps)

Recruits at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina, are using off-the-shelf technology for marksmanship training to better prepare them for the more advanced rifle test they must pass when they join the fleet, Marine Corps officials said.

Officials at Parris Island initiated a pilot program for which they purchased about 700 MantisX Blackbeard systems for simulated rifle training as part of a test pilot program, Corps officials said. The system electronically resets a rifle’s trigger so that recruits don’t have to pull back on the charging handle. The system includes a laser pointer to indicate where rounds would hit with each trigger pull.

The trigger reset is aimed at getting Marines ready for a new test in which they must fire more rounds in less time than on legacy marksmanship test that recruits take at Parris Island and San Diego, said Marine Chief Warrant Officer 4 Josh Grayek, the gunner for the Corps’ Weapons Training Battalion.

“In order to properly train to do that, a trigger reset device is ideal,” Grayek told Task & Purpose. “It speeds up training. The other part of Blackbeard is the analytic tool. It basically gives you some keys on, hey you’re pulling the trigger, you’re jerking your shot.”

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The use of the new equipment, which is not a program of record, is part of a Marine Corps effort to experiment with new training techniques that can make Marines more lethal shooters, Corps officials said. That effort resulted in the Corps adopting the Annual Rifle Qualification in 2021, or ARQ, a test that Marines must pass once they join the fleet that is intended to better simulate combat conditions than the legacy test, which has remained mostly unchanged since 1907.

Recruits can use the MantisX Blackbeard system to get more repetitions  to hone their marksmanship skills, said Grayek, who explained that reserving a rifle range for training requires a lot of preparation, and live-fire training can be delayed due to bad weather.

With the MantisX Blackbeard system, Marine recruits can essentially “train in the barracks,” he said.

The testing has shown that the MantisX Blackbeard system can reduce the time it takes for recruits to qualify on their rifles from 14 to 12 days, said Col. Gregory L. Jones, commanding officer of the Weapons Training Battalion.

As a result, those recruits can use the extra two days to conduct advanced marksmanship training, Jones told Task & Purpose.

“We believe that 21st Century technology can provide a training advantage to both entry-level students and Marines in the fleet that will allow them to be more proficient, more lethal when it comes time to conduct their annual rifle qualification in the FMF [Fleet Marine Force]. It’s a hypothesis and we’ve seen some positives.”

The Marine Corps has spent years looking at new ways to improve its marksmanship training after a 2018 analysis found that Marines did not do a good job of shooting while moving, shooting at moving targets, and shooting at night, Jones said.

Ultimately, the Marines introduced ARQ, he said. Since then, Marine Lt. Gen. Kevin Iiams, head of Training and Education Command, has issued a directive saying that he wants all Marines to become more lethal shooters.

“Really what we want to do between now and probably November of this calendar year is to continue to optimize what we can do and what opportunities that use of the Mantis system provides,” Jones said.

The Marine Corps may decide by the end of the year whether to adopt the MantisX Blackbeard system for all recruits at Parris Island as well as Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, said Jones, who added. “Time really doesn’t have a priority here; the outcome does.”

Although the MantisX Blackbeard system is a useful tool, Grayek said he doubts that it would ever replace live-fire training entirely.

“On my staff for the advanced marksmanship training program and the shooting team here, we have Marines that can pull the trigger accurately faster than the MantisX can reset itself,” Grayek said. “So, that’s a small example of why it could never be a true training replacement. I would emphasize that it’s a training aid to increase learning.”

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