Professional athletes train and practice for the big game. They work hard to become proficient at split second decision making that unites with their body’s physical actions. Sports athletes perform almost without thought when they throw a football, hit a baseball, or shoot a three pointer. In law enforcement, we may train and practice with our firearms routinely, but for most police officers, we never actually “play the big game.”
Most of us would be content to complete a 30-year career without every firing a shot. But, if a life and death situation presents itself, we want to be well prepared. Police officers need to be more than just good shots on the range. We need to make sound decisions quickly and we need to unite our decisions with the physicality of firing on a threat.
The newest version of the Firearms Training System (FATS) is much more than just shoot/don’t shoot. In 2007, FATS was acquired by Meggitt Training Systems
. Meggitt is a one-stop shop that provides turnkey, full spectrum, virtual through live training capability with complete mission planning and situational awareness tools.
I recently attended a Meggitt instructor’s course to become a trainer for the new FATS. The course is included with the purchase of a FATS system. A local, multi-regional law enforcement training board had purchased two of the new systems to be shared by numerous police departments, including mine. I took receipt of the system and then spent two and a half weeks training my fellow officers with filmed scenarios projected onto a huge screen. The Hardware
The basic system consists of a projector-computer, a laptop controller, a 16- foot by 24-foot screen with two stereo speakers, a SCUBA tank/air charging system, and a handgun modified by Bluefire to accommodate a laser barrel insert. All of the hardware is securely packed for repeated transport in quality, protective hard cases with close fitting foam protective interiors.
The training system must be operated in near darkness. Exit signs may need to be covered temporarily with cardboard and duct tape, and all windows will need to be completely darkened. A basement training area is the least complicated setting. Once the system has been properly set up and calibrated, it is best to ensure it remains stable in a secure training room.
The projector-computer rests on the floor and has built in adjustable legs for adjusting elevation for the images projected on the easily erected screen. It’s a smart idea to place a portable table over the projector to prevent it from being accidentally kicked or otherwise knocked around.
Setting up the training system laptop on the table above the projector works well. The instructor can then sit behind the projector while controlling it with the laptop for an instructor’s eye view of the scenarios. The trainees can move to cover during the scenarios, but they cannot step directly in front of the projector or they will interfere with the projected images.
A 3000 psi SCUBA tank hooks up to a charging station to fill custom magazines with compressed air. Each magazine will cycle the action of a semi-automatic handgun approximately thirty times, simulating shots fired from even the highest capacity magazine. The charging station uses a handle to securely hold magazines while they are being filled. Most firehouses have their own fill stations to charge the FATS tank when it runs low and compressed air does not require any special licensing for use.
The handgun used for training was a Glock Model 17. The pistol was converted by Bluefire with a barrel that projects a laser beam. The pistol functions the same as a standard duty sidearm. Inspecting the inside of the magazine well reveals the tiny computer electronics housed inside the gun.
When a fully charged (with compressed air) magazine is inserted, the computer recognizes its presence. The computer knows the gun is still not loaded until the slide is retracted to simulate stripping a live round from the magazine. Racking the slide informs the computer that a round has been chambered and the gun is ready for use.
Bluetooth® wireless technology allows the pistol to interact with the computer inside the projector. The laptop control unit lets the instructor set the magazine capacity of the firearm. After the Glock has fired 17 rounds, the slide locks back as if empty. Ejecting the magazine and re-inserting it or a fresh magazine and then letting the slide go forward imitates a proper reload. Again, the computer knows what the trainee is doing. It’s an impressive system.
When fired, the recoil from the compressed air is enough to cycle the action and disturb the sight picture. The speaker system provides the sound of gunfire. Working together, the recoil and Hollywood quality sound combine for a genuine experience simulating live gunfire. Officers were impressed with the authenticity of the non-tethered system. The Glock drew from and returned to their holsters just like their duty gun.
The Bluefire firearm comes with its own wall plug charging wires. The pistol’s internal battery system remains powered and ready for action through an eight hour training day. After a four hour recharge, the battery is ready to tackle another eight hours of training.
Several other weapons are FATS compatible through Bluefire, including rifles, shotguns, electronic control devices, pepper spray, and batons. Their use allows officers to realistically respond to each scenario with an entire range of use of force options. The Software
Once the Meggitt FATS was set up, its operation was simple and straightforward. The laptop and projector powered up and the Bluetooth found the wireless Glock. The laptop’s main screen offered the choice of Marksmanship or Judgment with icons of a target or branching arrows respectively.
The Marksmanship aspect of FATS offers a department the ability to install their own qualification courses for various firearms. Tech savvy operators can even download digital photographs of their own firearms range and targets to recreate their own department’s range facility up on the big screen. Various simulations can be created by firearms instructors to mimic actual courses of fire. State qualifications, including various distances and number of shots fired can be programmed. SWAT courses, rifle courses, and just about anything other law enforcement training can be entered into the computer system.
The Judgment aspect of FATS first offers a series of shield icons to choose a category. Hospital/Campus, Anti-Terror, Vehicle Stops, VIP Protection, Officer Down, In Custody (Police and Jail Guard), Airport & Checkpoint, School/ Workplace Violence and SWAT categories are all new.
After a Judgment shield category is chosen, star icons are labeled with numerous scenarios to choose from. Once a star scenario is selected, the screen displays “Load your weapon” and the trainee inserts a fresh magazine, retracts the slide to simulate chambering a round, and then holsters the weapon in preparation for a narration prior to the start of the scenario.
As each scenario unfolds on the screen in life size proportion, trainees use verbal direction and treat the scenario as if it was the real thing. The darkened room and the realistic actions and words used by the actors (most must be law enforcement officers since they’ve really got it down) create a simulation that promotes lively interaction. The instructor can branch each scenario via the laptop in reaction to the officer’s verbal direction. An officer may give the command to, “Drop the knife!”
The instructor then has the option of clicking the mouse to cause the scenario to branch so that the offender drops the knife. Other choices are usually available to ignore the officer’s command, attack with the knife, or even drop the knife and instead pull a gun. The branching ability of the FATS means there are several hundreds of possible scenarios to present to trainees.
After each scenario, the instructor should ask the trainee to recount what happened. After the response, the scenario can be replayed and the sidearm’s muzzle is tracked by a crosshair on the screen. The lack of a crosshair shows the gun to have remained holstered.
When drawn, the gun’s muzzle direction appears on the screen and may show a “low ready” position or it may show the muzzle directly on target. Each shot fired displays on the screen as a green miss, a yellow non-lethal hit, a red lethal hit, or a purple hit on an innocent subject. The Training
Law enforcement officers become enveloped in the FATS training. The realism brings out true reactions in the trainee. Escalation of voice in both pitch and volume provides evidence that the training is being taken seriously. Officers will sweat and experience elevated heart rates. The scenarios impart stress when the actors refuse to comply and continue to shout back.
Because we want to train as realistically as possible, each officer should be alone in the training room with only the instructor. An audience can cause self awareness which can lead to unrealistic verbal and physical actions. The training should also not be conducted while fellow officers or supervisors are present.
Several instructional concepts present themselves besides just shoot/don’t shoot options. During live fire on a range, it can be difficult to explain faults and even more difficult to convince an officer that the faults are occurring.
At shooting distances beyond just a few yards, instinct or point shooting can fall apart a fail. During playback of a scenario, officers can see the speed of their draw and the time it takes to get on target. Officers can learn by seeing several green missed shots when perhaps one well placed shot using their sights would have ended the scenario quicker. The first three missed shots accomplished nothing when the time may have been better spent on sight alignment prior to pressing the trigger.
Correcting an officer who is jerking their handgun’s trigger can be difficult, especially when the trainee doesn’t realize or accept that he is actually jerking the trigger. The laser inside the Bluefire handgun is constantly on. The FATS offers a program that replays where shots hit on a standard silhouette target. However, this program goes one step further and will actually show exactly where the muzzle of the gun was pointed during the draw and subsequent firing of the pistol.
A colored line will come up from the bottom of the screen as the officer draws the weapon. The line will show the muzzle arriving on target. The color of the line changes as the officer presses the trigger. The line then changes color again when the pistol is fired and recoil jumps the muzzle upwards.
The changing of the line’s color can show the trigger being pulled and the muzzle being pulled down and to the left for a right handed shooter who is jerking the trigger. An officer can then practice pressing the trigger straight back and the replay can display the colored lines of the muzzle to show improvement.
Explaining tunnel vision with words can be challenging. The FATS demonstrates tunnel vision better than any words can convey. Several officers focused their attention on an armed subject in the middle of the screen. The subject moved to the right and fired at the officers. The officers returned fire and the scenario ended. When asked, “How many shots did the second offender fire?” the usual response was, “What second offender?”
During the replay and no longer under stress, the officers clearly saw a second offender on the left of the screen firing a handgun at them. The teachable moment demonstrated by the simulator was, “That’s what we call tunnel vision.”
The same goes for muzzle awareness or “sweeping” another officer. Some scenarios included a fellow officer and the crosshair during the replay displays exactly where the muzzle of the trainee’s pistol is pointed. It’s reassuring to see officers not sweep their backup.
Scenarios further demonstrate that shots fired through car doors, glass, and drywall can still register as red lethal hits. If an offender already had a gun out, the FATS expressed the necessity for officers to have their weapons drawn as well. After many scenarios, officers articulated their concern that they didn’t have their gun out fast enough. They learned from the experience and did not make the same mistake again. Realistic Training with Traditional Shooting
The Firearms Training System is not designed to replace live fire range training. However, it is an outstanding way to teach several aspects of firearms training that are difficult to showcase with real bullets. The new FATS is much more than the old system from a couple decades ago.
Officers complimented the FATS for its realism and took away countless benefits from the training. Officers wished they could spend even more time on the FATS. The training and practice definitely prepares them better for an armed encounter.
We all hope that law enforcement officers will never have to “play the big game” with their lives on the line. But if they do, the newest version of Meggitt’s FATS offers the next best thing in place of actually being there. FATS is an outstandingly realistic training aid that supplements standard live fire range training.Steve Tracy is a 22-year police veteran with 20 years of experience as a firearms instructor. He is also an instructor for tactical rifles, use of force, less-than-lethal force and scenario-based training. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.