Airsoft Roles – How to be a Support Gunner?

support gunner in airsoft

How to be an Airsoft support gunner?

The soft sound of the wind and foliage moving seem to permeate the air as you step through the grass. Watching your footing, sweeping your weapon with your head, your doing everything right, slow breath, listen, scan, move slow breath, listen, scan, move, the rest of your squad do the same each one spread out about 5 to 10 meters. Snap… great.. the new guy stepped on a twig and it popped. The snapping twigs snap fills the air around your squad as you all freeze. Your heart pumps faster, your thoughts moving a hundred miles an hour and all you can think of is the chewing out your going to give the new guy. 5 seconds pass.. 10.. then the point man motions forward once more.

You slowly pass the new guys position as he gives you a look of apology and the air is ripped apart by the sound of a beast! Rounds are flying at you from the left! The sound by itself has you frozen in spot, a hundred angry bb’s flying at you in rapid fire has just pinned your squad in place, and you move to scream out AMBUSH! The only thing that comes out of your lips is “HIT!”

Later at the rally point and every one is sitting around chewing the fat you realize.. I just faced a SAW.. how I operate in Airsoft will never be the same again..

This is the scenario many of us as Airsoft operators have faced at least once in our career as an Airsoft Milsimer/Enthusiast.

The Coveted SAW or Squad Automatic Weapon at one point in time was an Airsoft Enthusiasts dream. To own and operate one on the field held many implications. First off it meant you had a rather large wallet. SAW’s at the time where made by Classic Army, TOP and other high end Airsoft Company’s and with those names came a hefty price, at least 400 dollars or more. To field a SAW was a major step into the Airsoft world. Secondly the way you operated on the field with and against a SAW completely changed.

HOW! You ask? Its just a fully automatic Airsoft gun! My M4 can do that! Well of course your M4 can, or your G36 with a drum magazine, or any other weapons platform you decide to use, what makes the SAW so much different then the others? The simple fact it’s a SAW, a Squad Automatic Weapon. Wither your fielding a M249, M60, or an RPK the first sight of that weapon pulled out of your weapons case is going to strike fear and awe into people’s minds and hearts. You have in your hands the ability to realistically and tactically take out a whole squad by the pull of your trigger. Note.. I said Realistically. It’s a psychological advantage the SAW has over other weapons platforms in Airsoft. It’s an actual Fully Automatic weapon designed to fire with a Drum Magazine. Where as any other systems just aren’t.

Now lets look into the Strategic and Tactical use of the SAW. Having a SAW on your team is going to as already stated DRAMATICALLY change how your team and your as an Airsoft Operator move and respond on the Airsoft field. Many misconceptions abound as to how you should use the SAW and with the introduction of the Lower Cost SAWs on the market your going to start seeing a huge amount of tactically and strategically diverse attitudes on how to use a SAW. So.. with that How do you use the SAW?

By definition the Squad Automatic Weapon is to be used as a Direct Suppression weapons system. What is Direct Suppression? Simply put you put rounds on target to suppress the enemy while your squad or team moves to engage.

Firing the SAW

Something for those of you who have ever fired a real steel fully automatic weapon, recoil and muzzle climb become a huge factor. In Airsoft its hardly an issue. With the SAW the best techniques for firing at a target is the same as the real steel variety 3 to 5 round bursts. Gaining the ability to control the trigger of a SAW will extremely enhance your ability to deploy the weapon. One of the largest factors that face SAW Gunners and those who play against them is the over whelming desire to squeeze that trigger hold it and spray and pray. Wrong ladies and gents, plan wrong. Your wasting rounds, your giving away your position and your not doing any good for you or your team. 3 to 5 round bursts allow you to adjust your fire on the fly moving from target to target. In Airsoft as already stated you don’t have the recoil issue to deal with, what this does is allow you to effectively and continuously place those 3 to 5 round bursts on target. The Largest mistake made by new SAW owners is to pull that trigger and hold it down. Tactically and Realistically this is wrong and you will find yourself often shunned on the field by other players as its also unsafe, but it also puts a lot of wear and tear on that SAW.

Rule of thumb – 3 to 5 round bursts.

Deployment of the SAW

Now that we have discussed firing of a SAW System lets look into its deployment. Now every one has seen the Hollywood movies.. Rambo, Predator, Swordfish etc. In these movies you have the hero or villain as it where pulling out a large SAW Weapon system, a Man Portable Gatling gun, M60, M249 and just opening up with it and mowing down the attackers! WOW its awesome entertainment but it’s just that, entertainment. Deploying a SAW system is more about brains then brawn. It’s a support system. Not a M16 Rifleman on point, or a grenadier, the whole reason is to for the SAW System is to suppress. Suppression is an art form of tactics, strategy, cover and concealment. SAW systems should be deployed in such a way that you have a very clean fire lane, a steady platform and good cover. Hip firing of the SAW system is often extremely frowned upon but its capable of being done. SAW Gunners in the almost every Military around the world, are taught three major positions to shoot their SAW system in, Standing, Kneeling, and Prone.


Deploying in the Standing Position, the SAW gunner will raise the weapon and place it securely into the shoulder, grasping the pistol grip in the firing hand while holding the hand guard firmly in the off hand. Sighting down the iron sights and firing a 3 to 5 round burst. This position is good for quick firing engagement then moving to a more stable position and better cover. The SAW systems are often so heavy that constant engagement in the Standing position will cause extreme fatigue. A secondary method of the Standing if you have to continuously engage in this position is to move the SAW from the firing position in the shoulder to the ready position, with the barrel pointed at the ground while still holding the weapon into your shoulder, bringing it to bear on target firing then returning the system to the ready position.


Kneeling is often the most common method of firing the SAW system. Simply put you will assume the position of fire as in the Standing position but drop down on either knee supporting the weight of the weapon in your arms on your raised knee. This position is more stable then the Standing due to the more body to body contact of your arms to knee. It also provides a SAW Gunner the ability to fire from a lower profile then the standing position. The Kneeling position is often seen used in conjunction of areas that have low to the ground cover such as fences, walls, shrub lines etc.


The Prone position is by far the most stable position to fire a SAW System from. One of the major factors that sets a SAW System apart from any other weapon system with a drum magazine and the capability of firing at full auto is a built in bipod. To deploy a SAW system in a prone position, first you will deploy the bipod, on most M249 SAWs, it is as simple as reaching up to the forward hand guards pushing the metal bipod together then letting them flip out. The M60 is much the same way, as is the RPK. Each bipod is located pretty much in the same location. Once your bipod is deployed set the SAW system down on as close to level ground as possible. Lower your body behind the weapon system, placing the stock of your weapon into your shoulder, resting your cheek on the buttstock, grasps the pistol grip and pull back on the weapon so that it is seated tight into your shoulder. Your free hand will reach up and rest on the buttstock slightly forward of where your cheek is, ensuring not to block your sight picture/sight alignment. Once this is down make sure your body is low as possible to the ground, move your body slightly at a 45 degree angle from the weapon, spreading your legs for further stability laying the insole of your feet as flat to the ground as possible. This position as stated is the most stable position of the three. When used in conjunction of pre-fabricated defensive positions such as Bunkers, Fighting Holes, Portholes in walls etc. This is a devastatingly strong position and extremely safe and secure.

We’ve covered firing and deployment.. now to the meat and potatoes. Sure you can deploy your weapon in the proper position, and you can fire it.. but can you use it tactically and strategically

Tactics and Strategy for a SAW System

Often I’ve seen some one pull out a SAW load it up and walk out onto the field and use it like a rifle! I sit there and watch shaking my head as the SAW gunner pulls the trigger spraying an area. Or the Point man going out in the lead with a M60.. sure you can put a lot of fire down range but are you going to be able to sustain point for a long time?

When using a SAW System the first and foremost thing you need to remember and realize is everything you’ve ever done as a Rifleman or Sniper or any other role you have played in, Toss it out the window. The Mentality of a SAW System gunner is one of Support. Your not the hard charging, fast gunning assault man, or the stealth oriented long range, Intel gathering sniper, or the close quarters, heart pounding adrenaline building Close Quarters Combat specialist. You’re a SAW Gunner.

The first strategy/tactic you need to learn and love is suppression. Suppressing the opponent in Airsoft often times can be a taxing and frustrating event. This is due to the fact that if your hit, 30 minutes or less and your back out on the field. People who participate in Airsoft are often found to take far more risks there then in a real world situation. Suppression with a SAW System is a true art form. Suppressing an enemy with a SAW System you need to continuously keep your eyes moving and scanning for potential targets. Targets, you mean people right?! Well not always. Suppressing an opponent can be done in many ways. Lets go over a few scenarios.

1. Your moving to contact and report comes from the point man that a squad is dug in forward of you. Your squad leader orders you to provide suppressive fire while they move to flank. You set up your position in a good location with a good firing lane, and good cover and concealment, and find that the enemy squad is dug in with good defense bunkers made of tree branches, limbs and hard wood. The Opponents have one way of exiting the trench and that is backwards. Many of the branches still have leaves. So how do you suppress them?

In this situation, I would immediately start looking for portholes in the defensive position. Once you’ve located them map them out mentally. On the command to open fire if you are the only SAW System in the squad do not systematically fire at each hole, If you see movement at one open fire on it just above the hole, you may get a lucky shot and hit some one but its far more nerve racking to hear those rounds smacking into the tree branches over head, leaves falling down on top of you etc. Rotate through each hole as you see movement, rotate your shot placement, and move from shooting over the hole to shooting into the hole the back over. 3 to 5 round bursts 5 seconds at a time at each location. If you immediately start taking fire from a hole and they have your location pinned return fire. The key is to not worry about if you are actually making hits, but if the fire coming at you stops then that means your doing your job. Suppression.

2. You’re in a built up area, houses, and cars. Suburbs. The opponent is reported free roaming and around your patrol route. You spot movement to your left spin and kneel down behind a vehicle. You’ve made contact with a squad of approach opponents and immediately open fire sending them ducking for cover behind multiple vehicles. Unlike the first scenario this situation is not a contained as in one egress route for the Opponent. How do you suppress them?

This situation is a very difficult one and one that many SAW gunners will face no matter how or where you play. The battlefield is a liquid environment always flowing and always changing. Immediately upon engaging the opponent you need to call out contact and pass out information as soon as possible as to their disposition. I.E. location, how many etc. Once that is out, start your scanning and start firing as previously stated in the first scenario, 3 to 5 round bursts 5 second intervals. The largest change is now you have metal objects to shoot at as well as glass etc. Shoot them! Ping those bb’s off those objects, shoot then move targets, shoot move targets. Keep your bursts and continuously adjusts your targets, don’t worry about trying to make hits, keep their heads down. Rotate your rounds from hitting the vehicles or buildings to firing in open lanes, such as between the vehicles, under the vehicles, and over their heads. Doing this it allows your squad to move and get better firing angles as well as look for flanking positions. The key to suppression in a situation like this is removing as many avenues of movement as possible from the Opponent, while keeping your self in a secure covered location. Make it impossible for your Opponent to move any location that you do not want them to move.

3. Your set up to ambush a superiorly numerical force, you are in the center position as per your Squads standard operating procedure and set to open fire after your squad leader fires. The Opponents squad enters the clearing, good spacing, your squad leader fires, hitting one. The Opponents squad responds in good order immediately getting on line and attempting to assault through. How do you provide suppression in this situation?

This is a situation yet again you will often find yourself in as a SAW Gunner. The ambush is a tried and true tactic that SAW gunners are highly used in. In this situation you need to immediately start firing in 3 to 5 round bursts at targets that you see moving. Any Opponent that attempts to rush forward put rounds directly at them. Don’t worry about any one bunkered down. If they are flat on the ground that means they are less likely to fire at you and your other squad members can keep them pinned by accurate fire. Every time an Opponent moves fire at them, swing and scan. Keep your fire to 2 second intervals, especially right after the initial contact is made with the Opponents Squad. Increasing your rate of fire can cause the Opponents squad to seek better cover. Go off the orders of your Squad leader.

They key in all three of these situations with suppression is to continuously scan for targets of opportunity wither they be opponents or inanimate objects. Often times the mere sound of a SAW System firing at some one will cause them to hunker down to get better cover. The sounds of your bb’s banging off the wood and tin or buildings, or vehicles they are hunkered down behind often have the same effect. Continuously search for openings to fire into. A bb bouncing off a wall followed by three or four more seriously hampers a persons ability to not only get a good sight picture to fire at you, but slows their thinking process down. Increasing or decreasing your rate of fire also puts a person into a situation where they have to rapidly think and respond.

Lets touch on increasing or decreasing your rate of fire. Does it matter you ask? Why yes it does! Increasing your rate of fire causes two things in an Opponent.

1. Over confidence – If they hear you firing more rapidly they confuse this to some one who is inexperienced and easily taken out. Increasing your rate of fire masks the sound of 3 to 5 round bursts especially in Airsoft. So how do you increase your rate of fire? Decreases the time between bursts. This does not mean hold the trigger down for longer bursts but instead fire your 3 to 5 round burst every 2 seconds rather then 5. What this does is allow you to fire more often and increases the sound and rounds coming down range. Increasing your rate of fire should be done in a multiple of situations. Specifically in Ambushes, Full on frontal Charges by the enemy, or tactical withdrawals, basically any situation where you have multiple targets and clear fire lanes.

2. Confusion. Increasing your rate of fire decreases the amount of time your opponent has to respond to your fire. If your sending controlled accurate 3 to 5 round bursts towards your opponent those rounds are going to start causing them to think of a way to get out of the line of fire. Increasing that fire causes an automatic response for the body to get out of harms way. Thus increases your opponent’s confusion, to many opponents an increasing the rate of fire on a SAW System means an immediate attack on their position is to come. So be sure to adjust it keep them on their toes.

By simply extending time between your bursts you can decrease your rate of fire, just as easily as you can increase it. Decreasing your rate of fire is far less often used then increasing your rate of fire. Decreasing your rate of fire can be used when you want to keep a pinned down opponent in place for extended periods of time. Typically a siege type situation where your just swapping shots. Decreasing your rate of fire is also used when breaking from an Ambush after you’re sure the area has been completely suppressed and controlled you can slow your fire so as to conserve ammunition.

Simple tactics that will make you a better Gunner

Communication is a key ingredient to being an excellent SAW Gunner. You have to have continuous communication abilities with your squad/platoon and Squad Leader/Platoon Commander. Most often then not the SAW Gunner will be directed by your squad leader or platoon commander and you will be operating with more then one SAW Gunner. Whistles, body taps, hand signals, radio communication are all typical methods of communicating between SAW Gunners and your Squad/Platoon Leader. Ensure that you learn each and every method is not only familiar but also clearly understood per your Teams Standard Operating Procedure and if you don’t have a communications plan get one!

When operating as a SAW Gunner you are often going to be one of at least two Gunners in the field. This allows you to do a technique called “Talking Guns.” Not only is this a fun method of suppressive fire but when done properly is just plan.. Impressive.

For he “Talking Gun” method two or more SAW Gunners are needed. Starting either from center and moving left to right or right to left, or from left to right down a line or right to left, one gun will shoot a sustained 3 to 5 round burst, as soon as that gunner is finished the next in line opens up with a 3 to 5 round burst in response this continues from one gunner to the next providing a sustained amount of fire and a sustained amount of noise. If done properly even with two SAW Systems this method can cause an attacking opponent to think they are facing far more weapons/Troops then they actually are. The direction of fire I.E. moving from right to left down the line or starting center and moving out etc. is pre-determined and multiple ways are established with different signals to switch.

Lets talk about reloading a moment. In Airsoft with a SAW System most SAW drum magazines hold any where from 2000 to 5000 bb’s. A good SAW Gunner can go almost an 8 hour period with a 2400 drum magazine. Even in a heavy fire fight situation you should still have plenty of ammunition left over. For those situations where you do run out of ammunition, communication comes back into play. Tell your team that you are out of ammo. Two things should happen. 1. You start reloading, and 2. your team immediately increases their rate of fire to compensate for the loose of your SAW until your able to reload.

Now we have covered a lot of information in a short period of time. But there is something we must do. Lets look at the Don’ts of Airsoft SAW Gunners.

1. Do NOT Run and gun. You loose the suppression factor and accuracy, stop get a position and fire.

2. Do not treat the SAW system as a M16, Sniper rifle etc. It’s a suppression Machine Gun. Nothing more nothing less.

3. Do not be Rambo. Shooting from the hip can be done, but only when you cant get a good stable position and not for long extended periods of time.

4. Full auto does not mean, “hold the trigger till you run out of bb’s!” 3 to 5 round bursts!

5. Do not ever stop communicating! Communication will keep you on target!

6. Just because you are a SAW gunner does not make you a one-man army. You are there to support your team, not lead it.

7. The SAW is not about hits. Its about support and teamwork.

In closing ladies and gentleman, this simple sentence holds true with all SAW Gunners.

I will support my team, with superior accurate suppression fire, and make a lot of noise doing it!”

The SAW System is not only about high rate of fire, but psychological, visual, and auditory impact. It’s a weapon system that when deployed and utilized properly can often cause a Opponent to think twice before even engaging a unit.

What we have gone over here is just the tip of the iceberg in conducting yourself as a SAW Gunner. Having a SAW System in your squad or team will dramatically change your style of play and those who face you on the other side of the field will be in the same situation. For more information on being a capable and effective SAW gunner get your hands on any US Military Infantry Manuals to gain a better understanding of the deployment and duty responsibilities of an SAW Gunner. Or drop me a line any time!

Remember Keep that finger straight and off the trigger till you intend to send rounds down range, Eye protection on, and get to suppressing!

Lex – Airsoft Milsim Tactical Training Podcast

Airsoft Roles - How to be a Support Gunner? by

Callsign: Lex Job: Simulation Center Specialist, Camp Guernsey Wyoming, Wyoming Military Department. Prior Service USMC Infantry, Law Enforcement. Current Instructor in Weapons Marksmanship both Military and NRA, Small Squad Tactics, C-IED/HME, Military Simulation Systems to include VBS2, small airs simulators and explosives simulators, and Zombie eradicator. Started Airsoft in 2004 as a training system as a Police Officer, continued into Milsim, and now help develop standards and procedures for Military usage of Airsoft as a Force on Force Training system, as well as continue to sling the bb’s on the Milsim field any chance given. Owner/Host of the Airsoft Milsim Tactical Training Podcast. And proud Tactical Beard Owners Club Member. And any one wants to donate a Kilt would rock it!

Posted in Airsoft, Definitions, Tactics, Tutorials Tagged with: , ,
  • Laurence Brown

    Excellent article! Very clear and well written.

  • Reno Buffuz

    Hi Arthur, MilSim is very fresh in Mexico, my team wish to be MilSim example here so we have a long way to walk.

    We have very few ideas of how to use the roles of a fireteam and we are taking as guide the Ranger’s Handbook, very complete BTW, the situation is in this case How you can use a SAW in the MilSim battlefield, I mean, in real deal SAWs use heavy caliber, How you compensate this in airsoft to be competitive, have a chance to hit someone without being in disadvantage? Do you put a better inner barrel? Lipo battery?

    Great post, Congrats!