Simulation training has become a staple of firearms training in the 21st century. As noted police trainer Tony Blauer says, “It is our job to give the good guys experiences before the bad guys do.” And simulation training in it various forms is the key for growth through experience. We know that simulation training has to be stressful, job relevant, repeatable and diagnosable. In the end, the trainer and the simulation medium must give positive feedback to the trainee.
Various force-on-force methods are great for being truly job relevant and stressful, but they have some downsides. Force-on-force marking cartridges require a permissive location that can allow for the noise and mess. To run a force-on-force scenario is personnel intensive with role players, trainers, safety officers, and trainees needed to run a good scenario.
Another issue is controlling the stress level. This is especially true for young officers and academy recruits. The pain penalty and all the variables in the scenario can be overwhelming for a young officer. Audio-visual firearms simulators address many of these issues and are a piece of the firearms training puzzle.
Electronic firearms simulations give students outstanding feedback through the fact that virtually all of them have video playback, allowing a trainer to break down the scenario with the trainee. The scenarios are repeatable and yet still have variables. The training can be set up in a department training room for ease of use with little disruption.
But firearms simulators have not been without their own issues. Although the investment will last many years, the biggest issue is the initial cost of investing in a simulator system. The basic systems are tethered to air tanks to produce recoil or give feedback information that limited the movement of trainees. Early systems did not have any stress inducers other than the stress of performance and decisions making, lacking a “pain penalty.”
Finally, and obviously, the limitation of interacting with a virtual element takes some getting use to and is limited by the current technology. Luckily, many of the current offerings in virtual firearms simulators address these issues to one degree or another. Here is a look at what is new in the world of firearms simulators. AIS-PRISim
PRISim™ offers everything from driving simulators to shoot-back options in its line of virtual training. PRISim is unique in its force options. Besides having the common TASER and OC spray modules, it also supports less-lethal shotguns and the popular PepperBall system. This can be a major factor for agencies that use those systems. PRISim weapons can be tethered to the system, allowing the instructor to control malfunctions and reloads.
Another option for weapons is a tether-free PRISim weapon, powered by the PRISimRecoilRound, an air cartidge round that is 100% clean and safe to use in non-ballistic environments. The RecoilRound allows freedom of movement and multiple students into the scenario. The PRISim systems allow for the use of flashlights in any scenario with the instructor controlling lighting in scenarios and using PRISim modified flashlights.
PRISim offers a mobile trainer that includes a laptop and portable projector. This allows agencies to group together and share a system or for any room with controlled lighting to be used for scenario training (removing the need for a dedicated room). The mobile trainer can use any double-action handgun or a Glock with an available drop-in trigger group. This is done with a drop-in laser unit. While this loses the recoil (you in essence are dry-firing with instant recordable feedback) it makes it easier to get in virtual judgment training. The mobile trainer supports the flashlight and chemical spray laser devices and expanded branching options.
On the other end of the spectrum, PRISim offers installed systems that can integrate a full driving simulator with the PRISim Suite Judgmental trainer. The installed driving simulator is a three-panel video simulator with a full driver’s seat, radio, and driver controls. It is just like sitting in the car. You can drive in a pursuit or to a call then step out and response to the call and make force judgments. For regional training centers or academies, this can give a chance to ease young officers into both high-stress driving and use-of-force decision making in one training session with just one instructor.
IES has been involved in simulator training for more than a decade. The current basis of the IES system is the MILO system. The MILO Range Pro is the main system and is designed as a dedicated training system in a training facility. MILO Range Pro is capable of HD quality video and 5.1 Surround Sound, which enhances the training experience. The MILO Range Pro supports handguns, carbines, shotguns, OC, batons and TASERs. It is one of the few systems that has a PepperBall simulator.
To support these many force options, IES has developed what it calls 16 firing lanes or 4X4. The 4X4 capacity means up to 16 individual weapons can be registered in a scenario. While there are no expectations that 16 individual officers would be in a scenario, it does give multiple officers multiple force options. Imagine an active shooter scenario. Four officers would all have a carbine, handgun, TASER and OC active and available for use as force options. The MILO Range Pro also has complete flashlight / low-light training capacity, including a courseware developed in conjunction with Strategos International.
IES also has two lower cost options for agencies as well. The first is the MILO Range Classic a laptop-based system that uses can use a handgun, long gun, TASER and OC force options. It does not have the other force options and does not have the 4X4 system, but it is completely portable. It can be set up in about 20 minutes. Another option is the MILO Elements system. This is for agencies that have a dedicated training room with desktop or laptop, projector and screen already in place. The software and courseware can be installed on the department computer and linked with the IES camera to register shots. The laser inserts can be installed in working guns and officers are ready to train.
IES also has teamed up with Dvorak Instruments to provide air recoil to weapons. Unique to this system is that fact that it is not a permanent conversion. Weapons can be pulled out of inventory and converted for the needed training. When the weapon is needed to go back into service, the weapon can be converted back. The laser insert works on vibration, and the recoil insert is tethered to a small CO2 tank that clips to the belt. Currently the system is available for carbines and shotguns.
Laser Shot has been well known for its affordable, easily portable LE Pro training system. The company has continued to upgrade and expand the system. The latest versions of the courseware allow the instructor to adjust the lighting of any scenario. The courseware now allows for qualification course to be designed with a variety of targets by the instructor. Laser Shot offers a great variety of weapons simulator options. Agencies can just get drop-in lasers that allow the officers to dry fire their duty weapons in the scenarios. Agencies can have dedicated, battery-operated dry fire versions of the M-4 carbine, Remington 870 shotgun, and the Glock pistol. These have functional safeties and the same weight and balance as the real gun. Laser Shot offers recoil conversion kits for a variety of weapons that allow for air-powered recoil during the training. The air is supplied to the gun through a magazine insert attached to a small CO2 tank that can be clipped to the belt. This is used in conjunction with rest of the recoil kit, which includes the barrel, laser insert, and recoil springs.
Laser Shot also introduced a live-fire system trainer, which can be incorporated into a shoot house or mobile range trailer, both of which Laser Shot can supply. The LST shoot house can include a variety of breaching options all the way up to explosive breaching. The house is completely modular and can be multiple stories or have moveable walls. The system uses a thermal detection camera that detects when a round penetrates the self-sealing screen, and the computer correlates it to the scenario to determine if it was a good hit or not. All multiple walls can have screens on them for 360-degree scenarios.
The introduction of scenario-based video interaction in a live-fire facility gives trainers a new level of training. In virtual non-ballistic firearms simulation, the student usually has limited mobility but a great deal of target interaction. In live-fire shoot houses, the students are very mobile but have limited mobility targets and little target interaction. In the LST, the best of both worlds come together. Students can operate in a dynamic team environment with interactive, mobile targets. While this option is not cheap, it very well could be the apex of dynamic virtual training.
Meggitt Training Systems
Meggitt acquired FATS, an industry leader in firearms simulators. Meggitt Training Systems now offers live-fire range solutions and virtual training. Meggitt’s virtual training system can be a use-of-force simulator with TASER, OC and baton options in scenarios. Flashlights can be integrated into any scenario with the light level being controlled by the instructor and a filter attached to a duty light. This can include weapon lights. The effect of the light on scenarios can be adjusted in real time by the instructor based on the actual beam of the flashlight.
To further add to the realism of a scenario, Meggitt offers a shoot-back system to return fire at trainees with soft foam balls. The shoot-back cannon has a low-light camera on it and is controlled by the instructor’s joystick for aiming. Because FATS has a long history in the industry, Meggitt has a huge courseware catalog from which to choose. In addition, an agency can purchase an authoring station. The station allows users to produce their own scenarios, including developing their own branching, hit zones, etc.
The weapons can be tethered to the system, which allows the trainer to control the round count, monitor muzzle movement, monitor trigger control, and provide air-powered recoil to the weapon. While a tethered system does inhibit movement for the trainee, it is historically the most efficient way to get all of the above in a system.
In 2003, Meggitt / FATS took on the problem of giving all of that feedback in wireless recoil-operated weapons and introduced Bluefire weapons. Bluefire weapons use wireless Bluetooth interface to allow for all the sensory feedback as the tethered system (monitoring muzzle direction, trigger control, etc.) and allow a full range of movement for the trainee.
Recoil operation is achieved through the use of a patented rechargeable gas canister magazine. A rechargeable gas magazine means that you don’t have to track expensive individual compressed air rounds, which was the previous alternative to tethered weapons. In 2007, Meggitt received several patents related its Bluefire weapons. Currently Bluefire is offered in OC chemical spray, X26 and M26 TASER, Glock 17/19, Sig 226, Beretta M9, Colt M4 and M16, Sig 229DAK, H&K G36E and Walther P99QA.
As it becomes tough to find space for ranges and as ammunition prices continue to rise, using virtual use-of-force training systems needs to be examined more closely. Officers in the 21st century live and work in a virtual world and can adapt to virtual training as well. The small sample of virtual training listed here should give administrators some idea of what is out there to enhance training for their officers.
MPRI may not be the most familiar name in the area of firearms simulators to the law enforcement community, but it has a strong background with the military. MPRI uses Beamhit for laser training in the real world against a variety of targets. Using training blanks or just dry firing the weapon with an attached laser module, users can train in a variety of environments.
MPRI has the Sniper Trainer System, a mobile system that can be set up anywhere and which factors in environmental conditions in the shot placement. Targets are properly scaled for range estimation, and the system can be upgraded for multiple targets with timed presentations. The instructor can input the weapon information, ammunition information, wind estimation, humidity, angle, range, etc. into the target system, requiring the student to adjust for the conditions to make the shot. The feedback includes a tracing of the muzzle movement, and playback on the instructor’s laptop. The STS allows snipers to train in any environment and in any conditions.
MPRI offers another virtual training option in the real world with its LCCATS, Laser Convoy Counter Ambush Training System. Originally designed to train the military in convoy operations, there are several applications for the law enforcement community. It would allow the use of any facility as a non-ballistic shoot house. The LCCATS is based on the military’s “E” target and “F” target with pop-up function. The targets are 3-D with receivers registering the hits for the weapons laser module. The system can be hardwired (out to 600 meters) or wireless (out to 300 meters) and one system can control up to 21 targets. The instructor can set the number of hits required for the target to fall (1-99 hits) and can control when and where targets are presented. The hits can be reviewed on the control panel by the instructor and student. The LCCATS offers the ability to have multiple target 360-degree shoot house, open field movement training in almost any environment.
MPRI also has an indoor judgmental training simulator, the 390 system. The 390 system comes with scenarios, or agencies can create their own, or it can be used for basic marksmanship. It has a drop-in internal laser to use with existing duty weapons or an optional non-tethered recoil laser and barrel set. Shot placement and movement trace can be tracked by the instructor and shown to the student. The system is completely transportable and designed for easy breakdown and set-up.
Ti Training has a variety of virtual training aids from DVDs to the use-of-force simulator called the Training Lab. The Training Lab is a total use-of-force simulator, allowing the use of TASERs, firearms, batons, OC, and flashlights in officer decision making. To enhance the learning experience, the Training Lab uses 5:1 surround sound and High Def digital video in a 16x9 ratio wide screen.
A standard feature on the Training Lab is picture-in-picture playback, a great teaching tool. The student is recorded during the scenario, and both the scenario and the student can be reviewed. Another unique training tool on the Training Lab is the Datafile feature. This allows the trainer to introduce any document supported by Microsoft Office on the screen. During a scenario review, the trainer can pull up and refer to written policy, relevant case law, or articles.
The Training Lab can enhance the training experience with a trainer controlling the environment through add-ons such as a fog machine, flashes, lights, focusing sound, and a shoot-back modules. Any scenario can be darkened, and the trainee can use his duty flashlights to light the scenario with the screen reacting to the flashlight.
Weapon add-ons include a telemetry module in which the heart rate, breathing and trigger control is tracked throughout the scenario. The heart rate and breathing is monitored through a wireless chest band. The trigger control module is monitored by a device attached in the rail of the weapon and is hard wired to the computer.
Air-operated recoil weapons can be added to the system. Ti currently has a kit that attaches to the belt and tethers to the gun. This lets the student move anywhere and the shot count can be controlled by instructor. Another option for Glock pistols is for the CO2 to be contained in the magazines (similar to airsoft) so there is no tether with speed reloads and full recoil possible. Ti Training’s Training Lab offers trainers multiple options for providing simulation experiences.
Ti Training also has introduced 3-D visuals in its videos as an add-on feature. The officer wears 3-D glasses just like at the movies, and certain images project out. This adds realism to the scenario and reportedly does not require the student be perfectly square to the screen. In addition to this 3-D visual affect, Ti has introduced a “3-D” audio effect to its six speaker set-up. Using a control panel on the control screen, the instructor can direct which speaker he wants to project a particular sound. This helps immerse the student in the scenario, adding a 360-degree dimension to the training.
Mick Williams is a sergeant with the Bloomington Police Department. He is a member of the department’s tactical unit in addition to his assignment as a patrol supervisor. He is a certified instructor in firearms, defensive tactics and emergency vehicle operations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.