USMC Combat Pistol Program history and development

Cpl. Ransom W. Harrist fires the M9A1 9 mm service pistol Nov. 1 on the flight deck of the USNS Sacagawea. Marines trained with the service pistol and enhanced marksmanship fundamentals. The Marines are participating in T-AKE 14-2, a maritime pre-positioned force, multi-country theater security cooperation deployed from Okinawa aboard the USNS Sacagawea in the Asia-Pacific area of operations. Harrist, from Shallowater, Texas, is a landing support specialist with Combat Logistics Detachment 379, Headquarters Regiment, 3rd Marine Logistics Group, III Marine Expeditionary Force. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Drew Tech/Released)
USMC Combat Pistol Program history and development
In July 2015 I published Shooting the USMC Pistol Qualification: Combat Pistol Program (CPP) to share my thoughts on how the USMC’s pistol marksmanship program changed from when I qualified with what was known as the ELP.  This post became surprisingly popular, turning up in search engines as the first non official USMC hit for “USMC CPP”.
Since that time I’ve been in contact with three Marines who were at Quantico at the time the CPP was adopted, two of whom offered to provide further information about the CPP.  Most of the feedback has come over a months long period before I wrote this post, as I struggled with how to present the information that was provided in a manner that provides the reader with a understanding of how and why the Marines selected the course of fire they did.
Additionally, I think some of the comments offer insight into how the USMC functions, as well as the differing perspectives of Marines who served one enlistment (such as myself) and career Marines (both of whom are referenced below).  Two of the Marines are identified by name, the rest have had their names redacted to preserve their autonomy.  These men are primary sources who were part of the adaptation process and offer insight into the implementation of a shooting program by a major military unit.
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)
Initial correspondence began when I was contacted by Mike Jacober.  At the time the CPP was adopted, Mike was a career Marine at Quantico who was part of the CPP adaptation and roll out.  Then a Gunnery Sergeant, Mike offered additional information to explain the CPP.  

The current table 1 of CPP was designed by 4 people from MPMS- an infantry gunnery sergeant, a chief warrant officer assigned as a chief range officer and 2 contractors who have about 30 years of marksmanship experience a piece. Collectively you’re looking at about 110 years of marksmanship experience- combat, non-combat, competition and standards based training & dipping into civilian experience too.

 CPP was designed the around military hand gun- any/all military handguns regardless of service. The fill plan for CPP can be adapted from 7 or 8 round magazines for MEUSOC .45 up to 15 round magazines for 9mm or any caliber. Actually, caliber doesn’t matter. CPP was also designed with 9 Tables. Table 1 is a basic qualification required for all service members to carry the issued handgun regardless of rank or billet. And tables 2-9 were designed with skills that are meant for mission specific qualifications. For example- transition, shooting on the move, moving targets, kneeling, prone, supine, low/light, night or limited visibility. There are a total of 9 tables.

CPP that was designed by GySgt V was a Table 1 and Table 2 design. Table 1 was basic qualification and Table 2 was mission driven. Table 2 required the shooter to report in their duty gear and there were basic drills to enhance Table 1. The problem was that GySgt V design was not received well because it took too long and used too many rounds- 1 week and 75 rounds. The Marksmanship Symposium voted it down; but, accepted the MPMS1 target, which was designed by 2 people.

The MPMS1 was actually designed to be a multi-purpose target for any weapon. The MPMS1 was designed based on marksmanship data for the Rifle tables and the Rifle combat optic; but proved to be useful across all spectrums of firearms training, especially with sniping. Two infantry marines came up with the design and then vetted it with the FBI ballistics lab and 4 doctors. The target is divided into zones that do not have a shot value assigned to them. The zones utilize ghost lines to prevent the shooter from offset aiming too. The scoring zones can actually be merged for shots that are at further distances too.”

After his initial thoughts, Mike agreed to provide more information about the CPP and provided the following account.

CWO4 Dankanich pretty much summed it up nicely one time- it’s just like giving birth. Not trying to make light of that process for women; but it is an apt description. To put the success of CPP into a frame will take a little bit of a history lesson.

When the services decided to move away from the 1911 it was driven by 2 major events- 1st, NATO standardization of pistol ammo- we were the only country shooting .45 and it seemed everyone else around the world was shooting 9mm. To ease the burden of logistics and custom’s procedures, it’s just easier for everyone to agree on one type of ammo and move on. The 2nd reason is (again logistics driven) that the maintenance cycle for the 1911 did not include service life extension plans. The military was not buying the necessary parts to maintain the pistol properly, specifically barrels. Let’s face it- springs and pins are cheap- barrels and slides, not so much. Never really found out a good reason behind that; but, it is what it is. Because of the lack of proper maintenance and the throughput of shooting it was wearing out the barrels pretty fast. This will impact training greatly and create issues later down the road. How many people do you know that shot the 1911 in the late seventies and early eighties? The few that I talked to always talked about having to offset aim to shoot in the black or that the gun would fall apart at the range or talk about how loose the gun felt. So, with an aging arsenal of 1911 frames, slides and barrels and NATO standardization this requires the US military to do something.

Around 1986, the US military adopted the Beretta M9. I wasn’t there when the decision was made; but, talking to Marines who have had first-hand knowledge- they told me that improper use of the 1911 (de-cocking the pistol in condition 1 to stand duty), training issues (encouraging off-set aiming), crappy qualification scores and all around other negative comments (women not being able to ‘handle’ the 1911) led to the 1911 going away from the mainstream military and adopting the M9. The reality is that poor logistics and NATO standardization was the beginning of the end and improper training and use was the scape goat and death blow. Oddly enough, women have been quoted as saying that the M9’s grip is too wide for their hands and leads to grip and trigger press issues, while the 1911’s “kick” is too hard. With proper training and a little physical training the recoil of the 1911 can be overcome easier than dealing with a small hands issue. As a side note- the Marine Corps never got rid of the 1911 entirely, they used it in competitive shooting and Direct Action Force RECON. The 1911s were built at the Precision Weapons facility, shipped to those units and returned for maintenance and rebuilding.

At the time of the M9 debuting, the Marines were also looking at re-tooling their qualification standards, training standards and even possibly a different target. All of which was created, vetted and shot down by O6 and higher. The primary reasons- they felt that the current qualification was good, lack of confidence in Marines- fear of an increase in negligent discharges and an increase in cost and time. Basically- why change something that worked for me 20-25 years ago? From 1986- 2010, Marines have attempted and failed to get a more combative course of fire into the regular Marine Corps. Direct Action Force RECON, SOTG, MSG, FAST, Competition shooting teams and PMO SRT have better luck given their mission requirements. MSG is given State Department training as their primary qualification and Marine Corps training as their supplemental training. Primary Marksmanship Instructors, Infantry Marines and Range Officers have all seen the need for a better training program for pistol, have attempted to create a program and have failed because of an officer’s decision at a higher level. Oddly enough when GySgt V was working on his version- Table 1 and Table 2, he ran afoul of that same argument too. I don’t have his Table 1 and Table 2; but I do know that it was not going to take as long to shoot or more ammunition to fire than the current ELP.

So- let’s talk about “old school” pistol shooting. When you go back in time and look over the Individual Training Standards for the Marine Corps you’ll find a few standards for fire outside of basic qualification.  You’ll see- engage moving targets, engage in low-light and a few others; but, when did Marines ever shoot that? Hardly ever. Marines looked at pistol qualification as a one and done day of shooting. In the mainstream Marine Corps, the only people using the pistol (outside of PMO, SRT, MSG, SecFor, FAST, infantry) were duty standers or ammo drivers and because they had their regular job, they couldn’t be burdened with spending all week for 2 hours a day of shooting only 40 rounds a day. Let’s face it, the pistol was seen as the bastard child of shooting, if you went to the field was the only time it was great to carry a pistol and when standing duty it was more of a hassle to carry. I think that once the Marine Corps went to war and started handing out only pistols that officers and staff non-coms didn’t want them. Who would? Why are you giving me something that only shoots 25 yards? The Marine Corps actually looked at ditching the pistol and going to only rifle and carbine. Strong proponents for the pistol were able to curtail getting rid of the pistol and the conclusion was that the M9s should only be given to certain billets and ranks. There was a Table of Equipment and Table of Organization realignment around 2006 that’ll show that. So, what ended up happening was that pistols were supposed to be collected up and sent off to be chopped up to reduce the total number of pistols- based on the TE/TO requirement. The reality is, the Marines ended up getting more rifles and the pistols stayed. You started seeing people carrying both. So, to recap- pistol qual in a post 9/11 era ended up becoming a one day and done shoot and What The Actual F#$%!!!

When I joined MPMS in 2010, GySgt V already had Table 1 and Table 2 at an 95% solution and was actively briefing it to higher with CWO4 Dankanich paving the way at the O6 and higher levels. My first day was actually on the range, shooting both quals and I gave some input.  I was assigned rifle program management- why? GySgt V was already working pistol- it was his baby.  So let me introduce you to MPMS of 2010- OIC CWO4 Dankanich, MPMS tech writer GS12 B, MPMS SNCOIC GysSgt V, FNG GySgt Jacober, Contracted tech writers- Kim and Andy, SSgt D and SSgt H. Shortly after arriving, we had a crazy request for information (RFI)- somebody wanted to know who held the record for highest expert quals with a pistol in the Marines. Well that RFI ended up opening up a can of worms that would lead to the creation of the MPMS1 and taking a harder look at qualification scores across the

Marine Corps for Rifle and Pistol Programs- basically- how do we evolve training to get shooters to ‘center of mass’. Between D and me we found that across the Marines there were certain patterns emerging when it came to qualifying with rifle or pistol. For example- pistol shooters were either marksman or expert with a slim percentage making sharpshooter and we found that same trend with rifle too. But why? Well the long and short is this- what should a shooter be awarded points for? Hitting? Nearly Missing? Hitting but in a non-vital area? At what distance does that become more important? At this point in the Marines we were starting down the rabbit hole of getting rid of iron sight shooting and sticking with rifle combat optic shooting.  We were also looking at allowing Marines qualify with their assigned weapon only and the attachments that it came with- ie. the grip pod, or M203 or even suppressors. There was a lot going on in the world of marksmanship. In another instance- I found an RPG sub-cal trainer that the Foreign Weapons Instructor Course could use because we weren’t allowed to shoot live RPGs. Not because we couldn’t afford them or knew where to get them; but, because some desk jockey couldn’t find an RPG that met a safety requirement. So- back to the creation of MPMS1- D and I conducted research on what the average sized person would look like given demographics from around the world. Once we came up with what the person would look like- we had to figure out what the scoring zones should look like. So, a trip to the range with a rifle helped that along and helped me design the chest and facial feature. D and I created the scoring zones which are based on how quickly a person can incapacitate a threat. We even had a pelvic girdle piece, until our trip to the DSU of the FBI. Once we had the target built on paper- SSgt D set out on the computer and generated the computer graphic while I looked for a logistic pipeline to create image to target and a reasonable cost. The MPMS1 went through two phases- initial concept and final design. The MPMS1 was sent out to 4 medical doctors, the FBI ballistics lab, and some ER staffers. All of which had some input; but generally everybody felt that the target and its scoring zones were accurate and the science behind it was sound. The MPMS1 was actually designed to be a multi-use target and was meant to take away the Echo, Able, Dog and B-mod targets of rifle Table 1 and Table 2.  MPMS1 hasn’t made it to Rifle Tables yet. If a person were to look at the cost savings of going to just MPMS1, you could save some money and maybe reinvest it into building and maintaining ranges.

Alright, back to CPP. GySgt V was getting ready to retire and he was the lead briefer at a marksmanship symposium. Everybody was ready to get CPP and MPMS1 out to the Marine Corps. Instead, MPMS1 was approved and CPP was canned- too many rounds and too much time. The Steering Committee for the symposium wanted CPP to only take a day and one box of ammo.  The fight was on to show that the current standards of pistol qualification were not being met and that the FMF was violating training standards by hosting 1 day ranges and allowing shooters up to 2 boxes of ammo. So, with GySgt V retiring, I took up the mantle. For a solid week, Kim, Andy, me and GySgt V’s replacement, GySgt C sat in a room and hammered out the current version of CPP. We briefed it to CWO4 Dankanich and had some heated arguments too; but we gave birth to CPP. Table 1 was only meant to be a spring board with the caveat that once CPP was out and being shot in the FMF that it was up to the Marksmanship Symposiums of the future to reduce the times to make CPP more viable. We wanted the crawl, walk and run approach. Nobody had ever shot from the holster and we couldn’t use the times we wanted right from the start. Honestly, the times are supposed to be reduced to 3 seconds for the controlled pair and 5 seconds for the fail to stop drill at the 7yard line- as an example. About the time we were pushing CPP- we hit a snag with MPMS1- whether “arm” him or not. It was something we had talked about in the initial design phase and knew would come back many times later. Let’s just say MPMS1 had guns and no guns. The original pitch to higher- we had two targets, armed and unarmed. Back to CPP- after the initial development of Table 1, we sat down and created follow-on tables as well to meet the needs of shooting for the Marine Corps.

Now, if you look at the fill plans and the yard lines and where to start and go- Look, it’s not perfect. Ideally, a range should start out with completely filled magazines and one in the chamber at the furthest distance; but we need to focus on basic marksmanship too and how in the world do you do that? It’s just like giving birth.

In addition to Mike’s account, CWO4 Dankanich offered the following:

As CPP went up for another Marksmanship Symposium the Gunner community was not yet sold on the idea. I will leave out the details as to why they struggled with the decision to push CPP forward; but without CWO4 Gunner W, CPP may not have been pushed through the symposium and into the fleet to succeed ELP. Wade really came through for us.

Early on in the development of the MPMS1 target we had struggled with including a pelvic girdle and T-box area. Between GySgt Jacober, SSgt D and CWO4 Dankanich- we had significant scientific arguments to get rid of the traditional pelvic girdle and T- box. The premise was based on the size of the targets in both areas and trying to specifically engage the ball joint of the femur and the medulla oblongata at distances further than 10 yards.  As MPMS went up the chain there was a lot of pushback from individuals in the command that absolutely wanted pelvic girdle and T-box areas. Fortunately for us, science and the FBI ballistics lab came through for us. MPMS worked diligently to prove that, while the T-box ad pelvic girdle identifies an area that is vulnerable on the face, it was not necessary and would detract; especially when a person would engage the MPMS1 from further distances.

To give another small history lesson- During the first years of the OEF and OIF the Marine Gunner community was getting stretched thin to the point of so many Gunners retiring that it created a burden on the remaining Gunners. Gunners faced back to back deployments in some cases or yearlong stints assigned to higher headquarter units. Needless to say it created a burden. Soon the Marine Corps had to reduce eligibility standards and degrade training to push more candidates through. Between the Range Officers and the Gunners there was a nasty rift- ROs focused on traditional marksmanship and Gunners focused on combat marksmanship; but they could never meet in the middle. Range Officers can come from any background in the Marine Corps while Gunners are only gleaned from the infantry community. Typically ROs are stationed only at rifle ranges and usually PCS to bases and stations overseas while Gunners go on deployments. Not saying that ROs don’t deploy; but those were far less frequent than Gunner’s deployments. Hence the growing rift- marksmanship and deploying. I won’t tell you the how or the why; but the Gunners ended up absorbing the RO community. Honestly, that is taking the Yin out of the Yang or vice-versa.

Where Gunner P is concerned, he started life as an infantry marine, but once he was a sergeant he opted to go Range Officer rather than Gunner (reason doesn’t matter); but in the Gunner/RO community absorption was offered to be augmented into the Gunner community and retain is previous CWO rank. He was a Range Officer and a CWO5 and hardly had any real infantry experience. His infantry experience laid decades away when he was enlisted. When he showed up to 2/8, he was a neophyte being trained up by a newly minted CWO3 Gunner. He was forced to adapt and choose between sinking or swimming. Oddly enough- before the RO/Gunner merger he was at a stagnated MPMS that couldn’t generate enough momentum to evolve the rifle program. After augmentation he went to 2/8 and would find his way back to MPMS.  In the meantime CWO4 Dankanich (one of three remaining Range Officers) would take over as OIC and with V, D, Jacober and B, we energized the marksmanship community and put MPMS back into the role of Center of Excellence. Thanks to Col A who was leading Weapons Training Battalion, he gave us the O6 power we needed to push these ideas through Training Command and into the hands of the Commandant.  Pretty much MPMS hit a golden era between 2010-2012. As a matter of fact, Col Armstrong got sick of seeing any of us or hearing about our science projects. A much needed change was happening and it happened at light speed. A lot of the ideas that flowed out of MPMS at that time were not just thrown on the wall to see if they stick like spaghetti. They were more like seeing blocks of steel forged and tempered- sharpened and polished. Another example of our science projects: the shotgun has so many different courses of fire because there was never a standardized basic course of fire- voila- we built one. We also tinkered with the idea of debunking the power of “00” shot and going with only slugs. 8 or 9 “00” buck shot was good for the trench guns of WWI and the jungles of Vietnam, again time to standardize and update. We also tackled development of a Foreign Weapons MCRP similar to the MCRP for rifle and pistol. We also created an informational publication into fighting with light and fighting in low-vis environments. Basically the document talked about using lasers and lights attached to weapons or held in hands while fighting with rifles and pistols. We looked at dispelling arguments that may have kept suppressors off of issue weapons. And finally we looked at creating informational publications into emerging firearms and firearms from sister services and international allies.

So to wrap up the brief history when Gunner P came back, he was not at all in love with the MPMS1 target or CPP. Come to find out MPMS1 had succeeded a target of his idea ( The target he had a hand in designing was a solid green E silhouette, that had a T-box, 12” circle in the chest and the pelvic girdle. All of those things we dispelled and got rid of with MPMS1. Honestly, I think he was insulted by it to the point that he created another target for Table 2 Rifle- he basically brought back his old target scoring rings and simply overlaid it with a real human holding an AK. Please see link provided. So instead of utilizing the MPMS1 at Rifles Table 1, 2, CPP Tables 1-9 and other small arms qualifications, Pope created another useless target that will inflate unit training cost as opposed to streamlining training cost.

The complete set of tables are shown below: