Airsoft Team Roles: Gunner
An Automatic Rifleman provides support and security for his fire team.
When you say gunner, automatic rifleman, or machinegunner to most people, the classic Rambo image pops into their head. One man, firing an M60 from the hip at close range, and yelling incoherently.
Except for a few untrained morons, this just isn’t what being a gunner is all about.
Read on, and learn more about what it takes to man the pig and be serious about it.
Role: First off, we need to consider the role of the gunner in a squad. An average US infantry squad has 2 automatic riflemen, or SAW gunners. The job of these gunners is to provide a base of high volume suppressive fire for their fire team, and advance with the patrol. A US infantry squad will usually also have an M60 crew assigned to them as well. Due to the weight and complexity of the medium machinegun, this crew is usually used to provide support fires for the entire squad under the direction of the squad leader or platoon leader. Gunners also end up being the base of most security halts, firebases, and patrol bases. In an ambush the gunners will be massed toward the center to put maximum firepower into the kill zone.
A Russian squad maneuvers with their RPK armed AR.
Equipment: Equipment varies depending on whether you will be a light or medium machinegunner. A light gunner (or automatic rifleman as they are commonly referred) will generally carry an M249 or RPK, or possibly an L85A1 LSW. This is a one man weapons system (except in the US Marines, who assign a 2 man team to each SAW), and does not include a tripod. The AR will generally have 1-2 additional drums for his weapon, and a night sight. ARs will remain relatively lightly loaded, since they are required to advance, assault, and maneuver with their fire team.
A medium gun team, on the other hand, has a lot of special equipment, and at least one assistant gunner. The gunner usually carries the weapon, and a few hundred rounds of ammunition. The AG will carry the tripod, traverse and elevation connection, as well as a spare barrel and several hundred rounds of ammunition. An AG generally only carries a sidearm if in a 3 man crew, or a standard rifle if in a 2 man crew. When a unit has enough manpower to field a 3 man crew, the third man is known as the ammunition bearer. This crew member will carry many hundreds of rounds of additional ammunition, and a standard rifle.
US and Soviet machineguns
Deployment: In standard drills ad practices, the automatic rifleman will deploy along with the rest of his fire team, and move and act as they do. When the team is engaged, the AR will deploy the bipod on his weapon, and assume a prone firing position for greater stability. The AR will then set about placing bursts of 7-10 rounds onto enemy positions in order to suppress them while the other team members maneuver for a better shot at them. When the team is ready to move out, flank, or bound, the AR has to rise and maneuver with them without falling behind.
Tactics for deploying a gun crew differ greatly. The squad leader or platoon leader will emplace a gun crew while the remainder of the squad performs maneuvers on the enemy. The gun crew will select a location that gives them a wide and long sector of fire on the enemy, and preferably slightly above the remainder of the element. The AG will emplace the tripod, the gunner will attach the gun to the tripod, and then attach and adjust the T&E. If present, the AB will turn 180 degrees and provide security for the team.
When the squad begins to engage the enemy, the gun crew will provide support fire on enemy positions, and grazing fire to prevent enemy movement. Once the squad has completed their maneuver, and moved to a security position, the gun crew can unemplace, and move forward to join the rest of the squad.
Training: An AR has to train to be able to move as fast as his fire team, carrying a heavier load and assuming a lower position. Therefore an AR will be chosen for their strength and endurance. ARs are trained in maintaining a steady volume of fire in 7-10 shot bursts, so as not to overheat their barrel, or rapidly deplete ammunition. Shorter bursts also allows an AR to keep his weapon on target better.
Gun crews have to train and drill together to choreograph their movements. A well oiled gun crew is like a Russian ballet. A poorly trained gun crew is more like a Chinese fire drill. Gun crews are also chosen for strength and endurance. The equipment is very heavy, and a gun crew has to keep up with a lightly loaded squad to be of any effect. Even though a gun crew does not have to maneuver and assault with the squad, they have a heavier combat load to bear.
ARs and gun crews alike train in the various types of fire and targeting, to be able to use their assigned weapon to it’s greatest potential, and provide the best possible support for their comrades.
An exploded view of the inner workings of an M249 SAW
Conclusion: Whether you choose to be an automatic rifleman or a full gun crew, there is a lot more to consider than just what weapon you choose. The tactics, combat load, and mindset of a gunner is quite different from the riflemen and grenadiers in the squad.
To be a truly effective gunner, and not just some Rambo wannabe requires training, coordination, planning, and discipline.
The next time you are out, and a gunner joins your team, make sure you appreciate their role, and help make their job easier. The thanks you get in return will be an enemy unable to withstand your support fires.
SAW gunner draws a bead on a distant target and prepares to engage with accurate controlled bursts of fire.