Failure Drills: Understand What It Is & Why It’s Important
By: Rob Orgel, Emergency Response Tactical
Most of us who have had training would find ourselves in a position where we have been on a firing line being instructed to conduct a failure drill. This signifies to each shooter that they're going to fire two rounds to the chest and one to the head of their target. But this isn't actually what the drill is for.
Your First Two Shots
Let's first understand what the first two shots look like. There are two methods of engagement we would use in contact with an enemy threat.
The first one would be a "controlled pair." This is where we sight with our rifle, press the trigger, feel the trigger reset, and re-engage the target. This is a semi-slow but accurate fire.
A "hammer pair", is when we would present our rifle, align our sights, and fire two rounds very rapidly. This would suggest that we often don’t see our sights on the second shot. With good recoil management, this is a very effective technique.
The individual operator would decide if he’s going to do a controlled pair, or a hammer pair based on his knowledge of the skill that he possesses. In addition, the distance to and/or the size of the target may limit you to the slower method of the two.
Failure Drill Methodologies
If the method of engagement, being the controlled pair or the hammer pair did not stop the threat, we would then conduct a “failure drill”. A failure drill is where a threat is still present after shooting your weapon the first two times and now need to move on to a shot that will bring the enemy to a halt, e.g., a headshot.
There are two methodologies here. One of them is the shot for the pelvic girdle. If you can shatter their pelvis, they’re unlikely to continue driving toward you in their attack. This is also known as taking out the drive train.
The other method is moving to the headshot. Depending upon what time you joined the military, or from what years you were in the military or law enforcement, one would have been more prevalent than the other for several reasons.
One thing stays consistent, the headshot is always acceptable while the pelvic shot in some cases is accepted, and in other standards is not. The reason is that a brain shot is very final, while the pelvic shot might stop you from charging toward me; however, if you’re holding a weapon, you might continue to use it against me.
I lean in the direction of the headshot.
Keys to a Good Headshot (or Brain shot)
Let’s understand what makes for a good headshot. Even saying headshot to me seems inappropriate as this would suggest that if your bullet lands somewhere around the basketball shape of a person ‘s head that you are successful. I, from personal experience, have seen this be unsuccessful.
In the military, it’s said to shoot for the “T" Box. The "T" Box is the eyes and nose of the enemy. This is good in theory on a two-dimensional, stagnant target, but in a real-world application, it has its problems. The first is that you’re anchored to the eyes and nose. As someone turns their head, your site moves with their nose and does not deliver a stopping shot.
I much prefer to look at the head as an anatomical x-ray of the brain. If I can get a bullet into the brain area, it will overpressure the cavity. This means regardless of where in the brain, the bullet goes in all of that energy and will have the effects I want. Think of it like shooting a soda can or a water bottle.
Maximizing Stopping Power
Now that we have a better understanding of the controlled pair and hammer pair, we decided to move into a brain shot. We now understand that we cannot take our weapon out of the holster or take our Carbine off safety thinking that we’re going to do a failure drill.
Instead, we’re engaging with a control pair or hammer pair, identifying if the threat is still a threat and choosing to re-engage without continuing to shoot more rounds into the chest.
There are several reasons why a round to the chest would not complete the task. One of which would be quality body armor, like anything Spartan Armor Systems® has to offer. If someone is wearing body armor, the two rounds to the chest do not stop them from being a threat. Repeating this process would be considered the definition of insanity.
So, knowing how you would defeat somebody who’s wearing body armor after you’ve assessed and identified that the two rounds failed as being one of many reasons why we would use a failure drill. You must also know what it would take to be stopped if you were the one wearing body armor.
Receiving two rounds to your chest, even in body armor, is not going to feel good. However, trained fighters can fight through that pain and continue to protect themselves, complete a mission, and defend their family.
So, it’s going to require a higher level of understanding and accuracy to make a headshot or brain shot as I prefer to call it. Some other reasons might include drugs, very large attackers, poorly placed shots, and a few other considerations that all allow your creativity to play a role.
Incorporating Essential Failure Drill Techniques into Your Training
The big takeaway. If a failure drill is not simply to fire three rounds, then how do I incorporate it into my training? The easy answer is to engage your target as you normally would with a controlled pair or hammer pair. Then have your buddy or an instructor inform you that the target is still a threat. This would simulate you assessing that the target has not stopped attacking and you must now move to that headshot or pelvic shot.
Check out our other article about other drills you can do at your local range.
Let’s understand that when our weapon comes off safe, we already have a number in our head for how many rounds we will disperse. That number most often, and correctly so, is two rounds. It’s a decision after the two rounds to add a third and this is what is called a failure drill. Now it seems quite obvious that the two rounds failed to stop the threat and why we must add a third round.
About the Author:
Rob joined the USMC in 2004 with a military occupational specialty of 0311 (Infantry Rifleman). Assigned to 3rd Bn 1st Marines, Rob participated in a deployment to Iraq (OIF-3) as a point man followed by an assignment as Team Leader for the 13th MEU Special Operations Capable to Iraq (OIF-6). In 2007, he joined 1st Marine Regiment and reenlisted to deploy to Afghanistan. InJanuary 2010, Rob was promoted to the rank of Sergeant & continued to serve 1st Marine Regiment for a year-long deployment in Afghanistan. On return from Afghanistan, Rob was assigned to School Of Infantry West to work as a Combat Instructor (CI) for the USMC where he trained thousands of Marines to gain the skills necessary to survive. Rob exited the USMC in 2014 & was immediately picked up by Securing our Country (SOC). As a private military contractor, Rob was responsible for training the specialty teams of operators at the American Embassy in Iraq. Shortly after leaving Contract in 2018, Rob became the Chief Instructor of GPS Defense Sniper School. Rob now gives 100% of his attention to Emergency Response Tactical training all levels over 320 days a year as his passion & full-time job.
You can read his full bio here.