Law enforcement firearms training is conducted at three levels. The most fundamental is static line training in which participants fire a set number of rounds from a predetermined distance. Static line training on the “square range” allows large numbers of shooters to participate at the same time and is widely used for acquisition, maintenance and assessment of basic marksmanship skills.
Next is dynamic training, which tests the officer’s ability to fire with a degree of accuracy while applying basic tactics such as movement and the use of cover. Participants may have to discriminate between shoot and no-shoot targets. Much like real life, time frames in which to complete the exercise are compressed and officers are evaluated one at a time, which contributes to a higher level of stress.
Finally, we have interactive training. Interactive training can be done on an electronic simulator such as the FATS system or in role playing exercises using modified firearms and marking cartridges. Unlike static and dynamic level training, interactive exercises are open-ended and participants are clueless as to what is about to unfold before them. In many scenarios, use of the firearm may not even be justified. I have often noted that many officers who are great shooters perform poorly when they are out of their comfort zone and have to apply their skills in a high stress situation.
While I can appreciate the merits of electronic simulators and have utilized them, I prefer role playing exercises. Unlike high priced simulators, role playing exercises can be performed with a very modest investment. As long as trained instructors, scripted scenarios and proper equipment are utilized, this type of training affords a touch of realism that cannot be duplicated any other way.
Twenty-five years ago, my agency modified a number of old revolvers to shoot cotton balls. By adding a touch of baby powder, we were able to create a marker round. By today’s standards, our efforts were primitive. After switching to auto pistols, we got into Simunition FX marking cartridges. This enabled us to use a modified version of our service gun, and we therefore enjoyed even better results.
In 2007, I traveled to Alliant Techsystems (ATK), the former Federal Cartridge, in Anoka, Minn., to take a look at some new training technology. Marker training cartridges, protective gear and even a portable shoot house were part of the mix. Although this total system held great promise, it remained a work in progress.
That has changed, and the second generation Force-on-Force
training system from Speer LE (a sister company under the ATK umbrella) can indeed take interactive training to the highest level. Marker rounds now offer improved ballistics over the initial offerings. The Gen2 rounds have greater cycle reliability. Pain penalty from the new cartridges is slightly reduced. The marking capabilities are better.
The improved marker cartridges are entirely lead-free, an important quality when training indoors. Being lead-free gives ATK the advantage against the competition. No propellants are utilized, and the marking agent easily washes out of clothing. The six grain projectile is loaded in an aluminum case and travels downrange at 325 to 425 fps, depending on barrel length.
The 9mm size cartridge will chamber, fire and reliably cycle in weapons set up for Simunition FX cartridges. The ATK marker system does not include the slide or other components to modify the firearm. Instead, Simunition gun conversion kits must be used. Once modified or converted, these weapons are not capable of firing live 9mm ammunition. Nonetheless, extreme care must be taken that only marker rounds be allowed in the training environment.
I fired both a SIG Sauer and Glock training pistol with Force-on-Force marker cartridges. The cycle reliability was 100 percent. After the product demonstration, there was virtually no residue in either pistol that would compromise reliable function.
Expect the accuracy from the 9mm marker cartridges to be a 4-inch group at 25 feet. In other words, the marker ammo is more accurate than all but the best competition target shooters. The Force-on-Force ammo has a maximum “training” range of 50 feet, and a maximum possible range of 600 feet. Of great significance, the minimum “safe” distance is 1 foot.
When training with the Force-on-Force system, poor technique or tactics will likely result in instant negative feedback. An impact with a Force-on-Force round will get your attention, but I would categorize it as somewhat less than a bee sting.
In addition to the 9mm marker cartridges, Speer will also be bringing out 12 gauge shotgun and 5.56mm rifle marker ammo in the near future. A marking knife with a felt edge is also available for training scenarios involving edged weapons. Other future developments will include a non-marking cartridge, not intended for role playing, but for training in buildings, buses, aircraft, etc., where the discharge of live rounds is contraindicated.
Because Force-on-Force training ammunition is manufactured here in the U.S., it is less expensive than its primary competitor. Expect the ATK marker ammo to be about $0.06 per round less expensive than simunition. Obviously, prices vary.
To complement its marker cartridges, Speer LE is also marketing a full and complete, head-to-toe line of protective gear. This includes different styles of helmets, neck protectors, padded gloves, shirts, pants and groin protectors. I especially like the padded hood that covers the neck and lower part of the face, including the mouth and nose. To my thinking, each participant could be assigned their own protective hood for use throughout the training day. This enhances hygiene and reduces down time, as helmets will not have to be completely wiped down between participants.
I like to have students wear the minimum amount of protective gear (helmet with a face shield and neck protection) when participating in interactive scenarios. Getting shot in training should carry a pain penalty. On the other hand, “bad guy” role players are likely to be shot dozens of times throughout the course of the day and need extra protection. Force-on-Force protective gear literally has them covered.
Speer LE is currently turning out three different Force-on-Force portable ranges that can be utilized as a non-ballistic “shoot house.” These ranges can quickly be set up and moved and totally contain fired marker cartridges. Heavy mesh covers the top and windows and yet allows trainers to assess activity inside. Limited entry points also allow control of individuals and weapons entering the training area.
Skill with firearms is developed on the static level and further refined in dynamic exercises. Interactive training exercises, such as role playing, give further insight as to whether an officer can apply those range skills in the real world. The Force-on-Force system by Speer LE gives agencies, both large and small, the ability to make this valuable training a reality. Mike Boyle served as a captain with the New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife, Bureau of Law Enforcement. He is a frequent contributor to firearms and law enforcement journals and remains active as a police academy instructor.