Systems Thinking and the Shot Process: Why the ‘Fundamentals’ Don’t Work


Recently, I’ve been exposed to Peter Senge’s ‘The Fifth Discipline; the Art of the Learning Organization. Senge (2013) asserted that there are two types of complexity: dynamic and detail (p.71). Before 2015, the United States Army had been using detail complexity to help explain what is a dynamically complex task: Firing a weapon in combat.

Headquarters, Department of the Army (2011) contended that there were four ‘fundamentals of marksmanship’: steady position, aiming, breath control, and trigger squeeze (p.4-16). These ‘four fundamentals’ were presented in a 418 page book that was the epitome of detail complexity. FM  3-22.9 presents the material in a very linear format, which encourages the soldier to perceive the ‘integrated act of firing’ (as it is called ) as a linear process with a start, middle, and end. As outlined in FM 3-22.9, the Soldier starts with a steady position, followed by aiming, focused on their breathing, and then practice a good trigger-squeeze. Headquarters, Department of the Army (2011) then implies that that the act of firing the weapon is done at that point, because it starts to address the detail complexity of ‘dominant eye training’ (p. 4-23).

As our Casual Loop diagram of the ‘Fundamentals of Marksmanship’ illustrates, two reinforcing loops and one balancing loop are created as a result of  strict use of the fundamentals as outlined in FM 3-22.9.  These side effects create delays in the fundamentals when addressing shooting as a whole combat system, rather than just the act of firing the weapon in isolation (which is never done in combat). Since the Fundamentals do not address engaging multiple threats, assessing whether the shot had the desired effect on the threat, malfunctions to the weapon, or how to engage while moving, delays are incorporated to the causal loop diagram which makes it much more challenging for the Soldier to efficiently assess whether that shot had the desired result.  

In contrast,


This post currently has one response

  • The fundamentals do work. They only don’t work if you are not proficient and only consciously competent or worse consciously incompetent. If you are unconsciously compentent with your firearm those fundamental precesses happen quickly and deliberately to perform under those conditions. The amount of training invested in infantry units are not adequate to get those soldiers to that level.

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