Military Weapons Used in Basic Combat Training

The M-16A2, M-4, M-9, and P229 Are the US Military's Primary Guns

Soldiers during weapons training

 Timothy Hale/

It wouldn’t be the military if it didn’t involve firing weapons. Members will get their first crack at firing actual military weapons during the last few weeks of basic combat training, and the ability to handle a weapon is crucial for service members—although the importance of each weapon differs depending on the service.

Military Training Guns

Weapons training differs greatly among the different branches’ basic training programs. Without a doubt, Marine Corps recruits fire the most rounds during the basic training programs, followed by the Army, the Air Force, the Navy, and finally the Coast Guard. Regardless of the branch, a recruit can’t graduate from military basic combat training/boot camp without proving that they can handle a military weapon without shooting themselves, their classmates, or the instructors.

There are many types of weapons used in the U.S. Armed Forces, but in military basic combat training, a recruit is only required to learn about a few. If the military job requires one to know about additional weapons, and how to use them, more training will be given during military job school.

M-16A2 Assault Rifle

The M-16A2 rifle is the standard military rifle used for combat. It's carried by pretty much every military member in a combat zone. Most people simply call it the “M-16."

The M-16 has been around in one form or another since the Vietnam war (the first version, the M16A1, entered Army service in 1964). Its longevity is creditable to its usefulness as a general assault weapon. It's considered by many to be one of the finest military rifles ever made, although advocates of the M-4 Carbine may argue with that assessment. The rifle is lightweight, simple to operate, and puts out a lot of lead.

The M16A2 5.56mm rifle is a lightweight, air-cooled, gas-operated, magazine-fed, shoulder- or hip-fired weapon designed for either automatic fire (three-round bursts) or semiautomatic fire (single shot) through the use of a selector lever.

The weapon has a fully adjustable rear sight. The bottom of the trigger guard opens to provide access to the trigger while wearing winter mittens or chemical protective gear. The upper receiver/barrel assembly has a fully adjustable rear sight and a compensator which helps keep the muzzle down during firing. The steel bolt group and barrel extension are designed with locking lugs which lock the bolt group to the barrel extension, allowing the rifle to have a lightweight aluminum receiver.

In basic combat training, recruits of the Army, Air Force, and Marine Corp will fire this weapon. In Navy Recruit Training, recruits fire a computerized simulator of the M-16 rifle. This simulator is almost like firing the real thing (the computerized rifle even kicks and makes a loud noise). The Coast Guard is the only branch that does not fire the M-16 rifle during basic training. Recruits who receive classroom training, though, are given instruction on how to fire the weapon, as well as practical training for disassembly, cleaning, and reassembly. If a member of the Coast Guard gets a job that requires him or her to carry an M-16, that member will go through additional training, including actually firing the weapon.

M-4 Carbine

The M-4 combat assault rifle first entered Army service in 1997. The rifle is the standard weapon used by some Army units such as the 82nd Airborne Division and special operations units, such as Army Rangers. With a shortened barrel and collapsible stock, the M-4 is ideal for close quarter marksmanship where lightweight and quick action is required. Firing a standard 5.56-millimeter round (the same as the M-16), the weapon weighs a mere 5.6 pounds when empty. A revised rear sight allows for better control of the weapon out to the maximum range of the ammunition used. With the PAQ-4 (Infrared Sight) mounted on the forward rail system, the M-4 can be fitted for increased firepower.

The M-4 Carbine can also be fitted with the M-203 40-millimeter grenade launcher. The M-203 is a lightweight, compact, breech-loading, pump-action, single-shot launcher. The launcher consists of a hand guard and sight assembly with an adjustable metallic folding, short-range blade sight assembly, and an aluminum receiver assembly which houses the barrel latch, barrel stop, and firing mechanism. The launcher is capable of firing a variety of low velocity 40-millimeter ammunition. The launcher also has a quadrant sight that may be attached to the M-4 carrying handle and is used when precision is required out to the maximum effective range of the weapon.

Some Army recruits (usually those in infantry training) will get a chance to carry and qualify with the M-4, instead of the M-16. Many infantry Marines will be trained on the M-4 during Marine Corp infantry training, following basic training.

M-9 Pistol

In combat, it's mostly officers who carry handguns—most enlisted don't. Notable exceptions are military police and special operations forces. The M-9 pistol is the primary sidearm for all of the armed services, except the Coast Guard. It entered the services in 1985 (1990 for the Army). The adoption of the M-9 pistol was the result of a congressional mandate to equip all U.S. services with a standard handgun. The M-9 meets the strict requirements for functional reliability, the speed of the first shot, rapidity of fire, the speed of reloading, range, penetration, and accuracy to 50 yards.

The pistol's components are interchangeable, allowing this weapon to be pieced together from the parts of others. Those attending Army basic combat training will fire the M-9 before graduation. The Air Force previously had those attending fire the M-9 pistol during basic training, but they’ve since removed this requirement, as few Air Force enlisted members are required to carry a pistol in combat. The other branches do not fire this weapon during initial training.

Sig Sauer P229 DAK Pistol

While the other branches use the M-9 as their standard issue pistol, the Coast Guard belongs to the Department of Homeland Security, not the Department of Defense, and therefore uses the standard weapons used by DHS. The P229 DAK .40 S&W pistol is the standard sidearm for the Department of Homeland Security and Coast Guard and is a compact, double-action pistol. The pistol weighs only 6.5 pounds and fires double action only, meaning it is a safe and reliable weapon. A key feature of this pistol is quick and easy disassembly for cleaning. All one has to do is lock the slide back and remove the magazine. The DAK model also includes a double strike ability.