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#1
Old 10-15-2010, 03:54 PM
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Why does the military use tracer rounds?

I would think that any benefits in aiming would be outweighed by the face that tracers let the enemy see where you're shooting from.
#2
Old 10-15-2010, 03:59 PM
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Back in the day we used tracer rounds in the M-60 machine gun. This is not a weapon that you aim. It's purpose is to send lots of lead downrange quickly. You use the tracer rounds to see how close you are to your target. Incidentally, it's very difficult to see the tracers when they are coming toward you.
#3
Old 10-15-2010, 04:02 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by acetylene View Post
Incidentally, it's very difficult to see the tracers when they are coming toward you.
Additionally, they're not used in all weapons, so simply aren't used in situation when giving away your position is risky. Snipers don't use tracers.

In the case of something like an M-60, your general position is going to obvious whether you're using tracers or not.
#4
Old 10-15-2010, 04:03 PM
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Originally Posted by thirdname View Post
I would think that any benefits in aiming would be outweighed by the face that tracers let the enemy see where you're shooting from.
I would think muzzle flash from the types of guns that use tracers would make that point moot.
#5
Old 10-15-2010, 04:36 PM
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When I flew the enemy already knew where you were, so that want a factor. You want to be able to see where your rounds land so that way you can correct.
#6
Old 10-15-2010, 04:43 PM
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They were also used to direct other fire onto a target. If your buddies couldn't see where the bad guys were, you could show them with a nice bright streak of light.
#7
Old 10-15-2010, 04:48 PM
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Tracers are usually used in machine guns like the M249 for suppression fire, so if you're doing it right it won't matter if they know where you're firing from. Also, they are supposed to be harder to see when they're coming at you than from the back or sides.
#8
Old 10-15-2010, 05:04 PM
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If you ever have an oppurtunity to fire a 50cal from a vehicle at a target that is 2117m away, you'll see how beneficial tracers are. Especially if you then need to engage with your MK19, and he has no idea what you're shooting at.
The MK19 doesn't need tracers though, cause you will know where those rounds hit.
#9
Old 10-15-2010, 05:05 PM
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In dim light or failing light or by-god darkness it is just about impossible to tell if your shots are on target or anywhere near the target. This is especially true in the case of final defensive fires where every soldier just fires into a predetermined area or a predetermined direction. Tracer ammo in automatic weapons (M60 NATO round firing machine guns and .50 cal. MGs in the “Black Boot Army”) solved much of that trouble. Tracers allowed you and everyone around you to adjust fire based on where the tracers were going.

Automatic tracer fire can be very impressive at 2:00 in the morning, what with flares going off, mortar rounds flashing, claymores setting off and everybody within one-hundred yards firing as fast as he can feed in a fresh magazine. That streak of white/yellow/ red is a tremendous morale stiffener.

Once the automatic weapons opened up you were pretty much beyond the point that you were concerned with giving away your location..
#10
Old 10-15-2010, 05:25 PM
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Interesting to note is that the No. Vietnamese (not sure about the VC) used green tracer rounds.
#11
Old 10-15-2010, 06:20 PM
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I have orange. FWIW. The enemy seems to have mostly Red. Actually, don't think I have seen anything but red from them.
#12
Old 10-15-2010, 06:26 PM
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Originally Posted by SanDiegoTim View Post
Interesting to note is that the No. Vietnamese (not sure about the VC) used green tracer rounds.
I just happen to be reading a book about SEALs in Vietnam and the author makes constant mention of the green tracers coming from the enemy, and his engagements were always with the VC.

The one exception when when he was in a battle where they took fire from a captured M60. Then he saw American tracers coming at him.

Last edited by minor7flat5; 10-15-2010 at 06:29 PM.
#13
Old 10-15-2010, 07:03 PM
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I had heard that they were used as the last x number of rounds in a magazine/belt to let the gunner know the mag/belt was depleted.
#14
Old 10-15-2010, 08:02 PM
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Also, don't tracer rounds follow a different arc than normal rounds? How do you compensate?
#15
Old 10-15-2010, 08:02 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Spavined Gelding View Post
In dim light or failing light or by-god darkness it is just about impossible to tell if your shots are on target or anywhere near the target. This is especially true in the case of final defensive fires where every soldier just fires into a predetermined area or a predetermined direction. Tracer ammo in automatic weapons (M60 NATO round firing machine guns and .50 cal. MGs in the “Black Boot Army”) solved much of that trouble. Tracers allowed you and everyone around you to adjust fire based on where the tracers were going.

Automatic tracer fire can be very impressive at 2:00 in the morning, what with flares going off, mortar rounds flashing, claymores setting off and everybody within one-hundred yards firing as fast as he can feed in a fresh magazine. That streak of white/yellow/ red is a tremendous morale stiffener.

Once the automatic weapons opened up you were pretty much beyond the point that you were concerned with giving away your location..
Am I going to sound stupid if I ask what the "Black Boot Army" is? (Is it our army and I'm just confused because now we wear pajamas and those shoes rappers wear?)
#16
Old 10-15-2010, 08:06 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by minor7flat5 View Post
Quote:
Originally Posted by SanDiegoTim View Post
Interesting to note is that the No. Vietnamese (not sure about the VC) used green tracer rounds.
I just happen to be reading a book about SEALs in Vietnam and the author makes constant mention of the green tracers coming from the enemy, and his engagements were always with the VC.
Not surprising, since the VC supply line was from the same sources as the NVA and in fact many "VC" units were actually NVA.
#17
Old 10-15-2010, 10:00 PM
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Originally Posted by jz78817 View Post
I had heard that they were used as the last x number of rounds in a magazine/belt to let the gunner know the mag/belt was depleted.
I have a memory that this has been discussed here before. In WWII, fighter pilots at one point thought this was a good idea, so they knew when they were out. Unfortunately, it was a dead giveaway to the enemy too, so a stop was rapidly put to this practice. Even on the ground, knowing that your opponent is reloading and can't shoot for a short period might in some circumstances be a particular advantage to an opponent.

I have read that the Garrands used by Americans in WWII which made a metallic ping when the clip was empty and ejected itself out of the weapon were problematic because the enemy knew that meant the soldier had to reload. Same principle.
#18
Old 10-15-2010, 10:38 PM
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Originally Posted by Zsofia View Post
Am I going to sound stupid if I ask what the "Black Boot Army" is? (Is it our army and I'm just confused because now we wear pajamas and those shoes rappers wear?)
I'm not the guy to ask (never served), but I think that the Black Boot Army refers to the Army from around 1960 to Vietnam. Before the Sixties, the Army issued brown leather boots (the "Brown Boot Army.") Around 1960, they switched to black leather boots for general issue. In the Vietnam era, I think that they switched to green canvas uppers, and then tan around Gulf War I (I think it was around then.)
#19
Old 10-15-2010, 10:45 PM
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A more traditional placement of tracer rounds is every 5th round.
#20
Old 10-15-2010, 11:01 PM
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Hell, you try to coin a phrase and it just gets all screwed up.

The Brown Boot Army -- the US Army from God knows when up through the Korean war when the issue and regulation leather was brown.

The Black Boot Army -- from shortly after Korea when the US Army switched from a brown / kaki duty uniform to green (Army Green shade 44), and from brown boots and shoes to black.

The Tan Boot Army --from shortly after Gulf One when there was a transition from black boots and shoes to tan suede. The less I say about the abandonment of the Class A uniform to the present pixilated canvas pajamas (no size fits anybody) the better.

In the Black Boot Army if the brown showed through the black polish it was a matter of quiet pride - it showed that you were an old sweat and probably knew what you were doing.
#21
Old 10-16-2010, 05:34 AM
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Originally Posted by Noel Prosequi View Post

I have read that the Garrands used by Americans in WWII which made a metallic ping when the clip was empty and ejected itself out of the weapon were problematic because the enemy knew that meant the soldier had to reload. Same principle.
I've heard this story too; I was told the enemy would see the clip jump up (not hear it). This was recognized as a vulnerability that the enemy could exploit...This story I heard was quickly followed by the anecdote that the Americans one-upped the matter. One would have a spare empty clip and give it a little toss up to make the enemy incorrectly think that he was out of ammo.
#22
Old 10-16-2010, 06:38 AM
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Back in the day, we used to carry one (5.56mm) magazine filled entirely with tracers, for communications purposes. You could use it to direct fire ("Concentrate your fire here" - fire some tracers - "and here" - fire some more) or to call for assistance ("We're pinned down here, need some help" "Where are you?" "Firing tracers," - fire burst into the air - "got it?" "Got it.")

Last edited by Alessan; 10-16-2010 at 06:38 AM.
#23
Old 10-16-2010, 06:55 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Alessan
Back in the day, we used to carry one (5.56mm) magazine filled entirely with tracers, for communications purposes.
Still not uncommon. As a squad leader, I keep one mag full of tracers. I'm certainly not the only one.

Quote:
Originally Posted by jz78817
I had heard that they were used as the last x number of rounds in a magazine/belt to let the gunner know the mag/belt was depleted.
Never with a belt, but many people do this with their magazines. For instance, one would load tracers every 4th round, and then maybe make the last 4-5 all tracers. One M4 with an empty magazine for 5-6 seconds isn't going to give the enemy any kind of advantage, even if he knows exactly which one is out, and where exactly he is. There will be plenty of other weapon systems throwing lead his direction.
#24
Old 10-16-2010, 07:08 AM
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Originally Posted by Punoqllads View Post
Also, don't tracer rounds follow a different arc than normal rounds? How do you compensate?
I don't think they do, and I can't imagine any reason why. It would mostly negate the reason for their existence.
#25
Old 10-16-2010, 09:04 AM
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Originally Posted by kombatminipig View Post
Quote:
Originally Posted by Punoqllads View Post
Also, don't tracer rounds follow a different arc than normal rounds? How do you compensate?
I don't think they do, and I can't imagine any reason why. It would mostly negate the reason for their existence.
Wikipedia disagrees. (though they don't have a citation for this paragraph)

"Tracers can never be a totally reliable indicator of a gunner's aim, since all tracer rounds have different aerodynamics and even weight from ordinary rounds. Over long ranges, the stream of tracer rounds and the stream of ordinary rounds will diverge significantly, due to a tracer bullet's mass decreasing over time, because the tracer material in its base burns and vaporizes. Although advances in tracer design have diminished this problem, it cannot be completely eliminated."
#26
Old 10-16-2010, 03:03 PM
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The changeover from brown to black footwear (and other leather items such as pistol holsters) occurred from 1956, with many brown items still in stock being dyed black. This more-or-less coincided with the end of racial segregation in the Army (which had begun to desegregate in 1948) and so the old conspicuously white army was seen as the 'brown-shoe' army.

Dark ignition tracers exist, which do not begin to trace until a certain distance from the gun. Air-to-air fighting, and later ground-to-air, was the real impetus behind the development of tracers.
#27
Old 10-16-2010, 04:47 PM
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Originally Posted by SanDiegoTim View Post
Interesting to note is that the No. Vietnamese (not sure about the VC) used green tracer rounds.
Those were old Russian rounds, I believe.

Anyway, based on my limited machine gun experience, tracers aren't very visible at all on a sunny day, but as it gets darker, they become far more visible. Also, without puffs of dust or something, tracers are a real aid to telling where your rounds are landing if you can see them.
#28
Old 10-16-2010, 05:43 PM
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Originally Posted by kombatminipig View Post
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Originally Posted by Punoqllads View Post
Also, don't tracer rounds follow a different arc than normal rounds? How do you compensate?
I don't think they do, and I can't imagine any reason why. It would mostly negate the reason for their existence.
Tracers follow a different path. They trained pilots in WW2 to compensate for the differences in flight path. On the ground the ranges are low enough that the differing ballistics don't matter. In the air, OTOH......

Last edited by silenus; 10-16-2010 at 05:44 PM.
#29
Old 10-16-2010, 05:58 PM
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Ive always wondered why tracers so often seemed to be missing the target in videos, now I finally know hopefully.

Otara
#30
Old 10-16-2010, 06:02 PM
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Actually, most bullets miss their target, tracer or not.
#31
Old 10-16-2010, 06:48 PM
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Originally Posted by Alessan View Post
Actually, most bullets miss their target, tracer or not.
So true. Lots of waste. During Vietnam it was absurdly commonplace to see M16 magazines being emptied in the general direction of a target. While I haven't fired an M16 for 4+ decades, I do believe "fully auto" is now limited to 3 round bursts.
#32
Old 10-17-2010, 10:59 PM
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As to why tracers have differing ballistics, would it be because of the hollow where the tracing flammables are packed? I seem to remember reading somewhere that the back end of the bullets are hollowed (or simply produced with a cavity in them) for the compound that burns.
#33
Old 10-17-2010, 11:43 PM
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That's pretty much it. As the mass of the bullet burns off, the ballistics change.
#34
Old 10-18-2010, 05:01 AM
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They're also very prone to ricochet (or maybe just the ricochets are more noticeable), likely due to their instability as the trace compound burns up.
#35
Old 10-18-2010, 12:36 PM
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I yield to folks who have real world experience in these things, but aren't tracer rounds in the air only for two or three seconds?

Just how much tracer-chemical is going to burn in that short of a time?
#36
Old 10-18-2010, 06:29 PM
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Originally Posted by mlees View Post
I yield to folks who have real world experience in these things, but aren't tracer rounds in the air only for two or three seconds?

Just how much tracer-chemical is going to burn in that short of a time?
I'm back to work next Monday where I could give you exact data for US Army rounds.

Another note: current dim tracers are made in most calibers due to the proliferation of night-vision devices. High rate of fire weapons like the 7.62mm mini-gun have standard/tracer ratios of 7/1, 9/1, and 15/1. The more standard ratios and tracers would blind everyone - gunners, fellow fighters, and pilots if in a helicopter mount.
#37
Old 10-18-2010, 06:41 PM
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I recently read that they're testing new tracer rounds that have an LED on the back of the bullet. This would allow the person firing the gun to see the tracers, but greatly reduce their visibility to people in front of the bullets.

If these are deployed, it would presumably eliminate the problem at the crux of OP's question.

The concept is very simple, but it's pretty ingenious. I guess we can always count on humans to innovate when it comes to killing each other.

Last edited by SmithCommaJohn; 10-18-2010 at 06:43 PM.
#38
Old 10-18-2010, 06:49 PM
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Originally Posted by SmithCommaJohn View Post
I recently read that they're testing new tracer rounds that have an LED on the back of the bullet. This would allow the person firing the gun to see the tracers, but greatly reduce their visibility to people in front of the bullets.

If these are deployed, it would presumably eliminate the problem at the crux of OP's question.

The concept is very simple, but it's pretty ingenious. I guess we can always count on humans to innovate when it comes to killing each other.
Do you have an online source for that by any chance? Not that I don't believe you, but the technical challenges seem like they would be quite complex, and I would love to read about it.
#39
Old 10-19-2010, 07:01 AM
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Originally Posted by AmunRa View Post
Do you have an online source for that by any chance? Not that I don't believe you, but the technical challenges seem like they would be quite complex, and I would love to read about it.
Not sure how far it has been developed, but i did find a patent for it online; the patent holder is Raytheon (which is a pretty big US defense contractor), so I assume that it is an idea that has some merit:

http://patentstorm.us/patents/71...scription.html

Also found a page on tracers that references the patent, again nothing on whether there are any working prototypes:

http://reference.com/browse/Tracer_ammunition
#40
Old 10-19-2010, 11:15 AM
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Originally Posted by Spavined Gelding View Post

The Tan Boot Army --from shortly after Gulf One when there was a transition from black boots and shoes to tan suede. The less I say about the abandonment of the Class A uniform to the present pixilated canvas pajamas (no size fits anybody) the better.
I was in the Army from 2001-2005 and it was black boots the whole time at home and in the field. We only got the tan boots when we deployed to Iraq. It wasn't until they switched to the ACU (pixelated) uniform that black boots were abandoned entirely. I know because they called me back from the IRR in 2007 and I was jealous of all those recruits in basic training and AIT who didn't have to shine their boots or iron their uniforms. So I don't know if 2006 counts as "shortly after Gulf One", but by my estimates, that's when the "black boot Army" (a term I've never heard until now) ended.
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