Shooting the USMC Pistol Qualification: Combat Pistol Program (CPP)

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Shooting a firearms qualification course is a great way to benchmark your proficiency.   Pistol qualifications are among the easiest to replicate on your own.  Typically taking places at distances of 25 yards and less, the qualification experience can be simulated at most facilities.

As a former Marine, I qualified with the M9 pistol in what was known as the Entry Level Pistol Program, or ELP.  The ELP was adopted by the USMC in the mid 1980s with the introduction of the M9 service pistol (Lamothe, 2013).   Shot on a bullseye target pasted to an “e” silhouette, the qualification course at the end of the ELP had the shooter start with the pistol at the low ready position and included a slow fire stage.

This is what the ELP qualification looked like:

25 yds – 15 rds slow fire (10 min.)

 7 yds – quick reaction drills (1 shot in 3 seconds, pistol is pointed down at a 45 degree angle, not in holster) 5 of these, each shot is double action.
7 yds – quick reaction drills (2 shots in 5 seconds, pistol is not holstered, pointed down at 45 degrees) 4 of these for eight total shots.
15 yds – magazine change/sustained fire (3 shots from first mag, 3 shots from the second mag, all in 20 seconds) two of these for 12 total shots.
40 shots and 400 possible points. Use a standard NRA 50-yd pistol target.
345-expert
330-sharpshooter
290-marksman (minimum)

 

While the ELP qualification does have some merit- to the modern pistol shooter, the use of the low ready position, no holster and slow fire, indicate a dated course that’s readily in need of an upgrade.

According to the United States Marine Corps (USMC) Training Command, “since 1992 the Marine Corps has made continuous efforts to improve pistol marksmanship training.  Each attempt was met with friction due to time or resources restrictions. A renewed effort, begun in 2008 resulting in the recently approved Combat Pistol Program (CPP) in 2013”.

The CPP utilizes a new silhouette target (MPMS) and is designed to train the Marine to “deploy his pistol against a common threat” (USMC Training Command).   Unlike the ELP, the Marines shooting the CPP start from the holster or tactical carry (what most shooters would refer to as high ready or CQB ready).

USMC pistol CPP target

While the CPP refers to the entire program used to train Marines with the pistol, this post will focus primarily on the qualification table shot on the last day of the course.  The CPP qualification course is shown in the table below.

USMC CPP COF

Expert is 364, Sharpshooter 324, and Marksman (qualified) 264.

Comparing the CPP to the ELP, you’ll notice a newer, more modern course of fire.  Additionally, you’ll note the focus on controlled pairs, speed reloads, and the use of the holster.

target with scoring areasUnlike most of the qualification courses encountered in the law enforcement community, the CPP target has a series of scoring rings (above), making this target harder than most.  It also encourages accuracy, something the Marines stress in all of their marksmanship training.

Marines paticipating in the EOTG Urban Sniper Course fire at designated targets as the students fire at targets aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., December 4, 2014. Pistol qualifications are essential for room clearing and close-quarter shooting. After students fire the pistol they search and assess the area making sure the perimeter is safe. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Pfc. Immanuel M. Johnson)

Marines participating in the EOTG Urban Sniper Course fire at designated targets as the students fire at targets aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., December 4, 2014. Pistol qualifications are essential for room clearing and close-quarter shooting. After students fire the pistol they search and assess the area, making sure the perimeter is safe. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Pfc. Immanuel M. Johnson)

In the spirit of the CPP (or reliving my past), I grabbed my M9 and headed to the range to shoot the Marines CPP.  I used Winchester 147 grain JHP and a Safariland ALS paddle holster.  I didn’t want to drag out the portable turning target system, so I use a PACT Club Timer III from Brownells to keep track of par times.

first run at cpp with M9 360

Not bad for a first attempt, 370- Expert- with a pistol I don’t shoot a lot.

M9 close up

I headed back a couple weeks later and shot it with my Glock 19 and did a little better:

CPP with glock 19

Overall, these are my thoughts on the Marine Corps CPP:

  1. The CPP is a needed improvement over the ELP.  The use of a holster and high ready bring the Marines pistol training in line with current best practices.
  2. Big target; however, it has a relatively small 10 ring.  A friend of mine is an instructor for a well known federal agency, when we discussed the CPP, he said, that’s a great course of fire for my daughter.  I think he meant it as an insult, however, if you take into account the scoring areas on the target, as opposed to shooting a far larger target, this course of fire does become challenging.
  3. It’s a basic course of fire, it does not have the shooter fire from a barricade, kneeling, from the support side, etc… as is common place in some of the most advanced law enforcement qualification courses.  I would suggest that the use of pistols in the Marines is different and for units that have the need for more advanced training do receive it.
  4. Par times are on the long side, however, keep in mind that the Marines are shooting from a tactical holster, with the safety engaged, and double action.  That slows things sown immensely.  When shooting the CPP with an M9 I felt the times were comfortable, however, when I switched to a Glock 19, I felt they were long.

Next time you head to the range, give the CPP a try, I think you’ll enjoy it.  MPMS targets are available from a number of sources online, these came from Law Enforcement Targets.

To learn about the FBI qualification course, check out Shooting the FBI Pistol Qualification Course

Get paid to shoot the CPP, join the Marines.

References:

Lamothe, Dan, “Corps rolls out new pistol qualification program”, Marine Corps Times, February 4, 2013

CPP Overview”, United States Marine Corps Training Command

Marine Corps Order 3574.2L