Targets from Militaries Worldwide – WIRED

Wired has published a fascinating photo essay on the targets used by the world’s militarys. German photographer Herlinde Koelbl worked with militaries around the world to gain access to their shooting ranges and explore their target systems.

Some countries, such as those in the Western Sahara still use tin cans for target practice.

Some countries, such as those in the Western Sahara still use tin cans for target practice.

Koelbl faced significant bureaucratic hurdles in her quest for the images. In fact, many militaries were surprised that she was interested in their targets and not their weapon systems. However, the results, and their commentary on resources, training, and future wars is telling.

A target from the United States. Koelbl noticed that many targets were darker skinned or Asian complexion. What does that say about who we think our future enemies are?

A target from the United States. Koelbl noticed that many targets were darker skinned or Asian complexion. What does that say about who we think our future enemies are?

The Wired piece includes on a few photos, but all of Koelbl’s images are available in the book, Targets. The back-cover description is below:

With a provocative series of images rarely captured on film, acclaimed photographer Herlinde Koelbl offers us a unique glimpse of what soldiers around the world are trained to see as they learn to take aim at the enemy.

In a career spanning nearly three decades, Herlinde Koelbl has firmly established herself as Germany’s most acclaimed photographer. From intimate scenes of private life, to the corridors of power, Koelbl’s eye for detail allows us to see the world we think we know in ways we never imagined. In her most recent book, Targets, Koelbl has focused her lens on the phantom battle scenes used by armies worldwide to train their soldiers to shoot to kill. In the vast expanse of barren deserts, in labyrinths of concrete bunkers, and in mock Arab villages created by Hollywood set designers, soldiers are being taught to take aim at a great range of targets, all for the same deadly purpose. Over a period of six years Koelbl has visited military training camps in more than 20 countries across the globe, to see how soldiers learn their trade. The result is a compilation of portraits—surprising, disturbing, and fascinating—of the lifeless targets used in practice to simulate an enemy in order to prepare for wars yet to come. Accompanying the photographs are texts from Koelbl’s conversations with soldiers along with insightful essays on the increasingly diverse and perplexing conditions confronted by military populations throughout the world.


Nathan S

One of TFB’s resident Jarheads, Nathan now works within the firearms industry. A consecutive Marine rifle and pistol expert, he enjoys local 3-gun, NFA, gunsmithing, MSR’s, & high-speed gear. Nathan has traveled to over 30 countries working with US DoD & foreign MoDs.

The above post is my opinion and does not reflect the views of any company or organization.


  • Jeff S

    German Customs uses a vertical rectangle outline with a circle on top… The reverse side of the target is a narrow rectangle placed at about a 60 degree angle. It’s for practicing leg shots – no joke.

  • 11b

    “Today, American military targets have darker skin and headscarves…”. What branch/unit uses these, other than high-speed/secret squirrel types? I’ve only ever seen green Ivans, or featureless silhouettes. Cool article, nonetheless.

    • Yellow Devil

      Well those black paper targets are obviously racial. Even worse is that some of them are only half the size of a full silhouette, so that we viewed them as “sub-human”.

  • Ed

    “Today, American military targets have darker skin and headscarves…”. Face it we dont fight Europeans any more liberal idiots must get over it. Face it our future potential enemies we fight are either commies in asia or Muslim killers in the mid east

    • Marshall Price

      Because there is no threat of military action in Europe anymore eh? Well I’m glad we’ve got that all sorted out…

      • Gallan

        Real reason is American shooters cowered in fear when faced with an angry russian target.

        • Zachary marrs

          When have we ever faced a Russian target?

          • Bill

            1918-1920 as part of the Allied expeditionary forces sent to help the White (non-Communist) Russians defeat the Reds during the early days of their civil war. Not only did doughboys face Russians, they did it looking through the sights of American-made Mosin-Nagants.

          • Zachary marrs

            Wow, I guess since 1918 was like, last year or something. Even then, they said they preferred the Springfield- not that that has anything to do with gallans post

          • Bill

            Don’t be a douchebag, okay? You made a snarky comment that was historically incorrect and I corrected it. Now you are simply marking yourself a fool.

          • Zachary marrs

            Its the Internet, if you cant handle snarky comments, I recommend turning your computer off and take up knitting

    • sid jewstein

      Check for cRAzY mOoSLimS under your bed tonight.

  • Chickenbutt

    There was a time when most military targets were the simple Bullseye set-up, they changed it to human silhouettes because they found soldiers were unprepared to shoot at real live human targets, often shooting well over their enemies’s heads

  • Michael

    No pregnant women, children, old folks in wheelchairs!!!!!!!!!!!

    • sid jewstein

      That’s just for DHS and various US domestic “Suppression Of The Discontented Masses” agencies- dehumanize the subject- like the Israelis teach our LE.

  • Bill

    Federal TranStar targets come in green or blue, which ought to be useful for those of you afeared of the police. I think the Coast Guard went radical and ordered theirs in gray; they also have an official target depicting an outboard motor, which probably terrifies someone for some reason too. Seriously, they aren’t coming for your bass boats, but horsepower limits are horsepower limits.

  • billyoblivion

    “What does that say about who we think our future enemies are?”

    Dood, SRSLY?

    Where have you been since…1991?

  • ER

    In the 60’s military targets were white paper with a black circle, and later when I was a IT in the Navy and later a DI in the Army the targets were green Ivan’s. I have never seen the one’s poster above.

  • smartacus

    Our military’s future enemies will be the ubiquitous militarized police ruling class who will stage a coup d’etat.

    • Bill

      I think you just said that the military will be fighting a coup against itself.