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Airsoft Force-on-Force

The U.S. Supreme Court’s 1989 ruling in Canton v. Harris added a new dimension to law enforcement training. A municipality may, in certain circumstances, be held liable under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for constitutional violations resulting from its failure to train its employees. The court also stated the inadequacy of police training may serve as the basis for 1983 liability only where the failure to train in a relevant respect amounts to deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of people with whom the police come into contact.

Because of this landmark ruling, law enforcement managers and trainers could no longer take a minimalist approach to training their police officers. The courts ruling forced law enforcement trainers to take a close look at their training curriculums and to make some major changes. As part of these changes, law enforcement trainers are challenged to provide more realistic training that incorporates decision development skills training. For firearms trainers, the court ruling meant that the previous training regimen of “static” training utilizing silhouette paper targets was no longer acceptable.

In the area of firearms and decision-based training, the current course format incorporates some form of “force-on-force” scenario-based training. Force-on-force training certainly is not new in that the military and specialized law enforcement units have been conducting scenario-based force-on-force training for years. What is relatively new is the application of this training on a wide scale, i.e., all police officers and economically.

Airsoft Weapons

One of the lowest cost, and cost-effective options involves “airsoft” replica firearms. While airsoft products are not new, the technology has advanced to the point where it is a viable training option. Currently, the airsoft industry offers two types of products that meet law enforcement training needs: the “blowback” green gas pistols and the automatic electric guns (AEG’s).

Blowback green gas pistols have come a long way over the previous spring-powered guns that can be purchased at your local superstore. Current offerings from most airsoft manufacturers include full-scale 1:1 metal replicas. These replica weapons are virtually identical to the real firearm, both in size and weight. The new metal components used in the manufacturing process gives the airsoft replicas more durability, especially in comparison to the previous replicas, which where manufactured almost entirely of plastic materials.

In addition, the replicas function like the real pistol. All of the quality replicas have removable magazines, slide releases, de-cockers or safeties. The slides fully function, cycling with each shot. In addition, the green gas blowback pistols add to the realism by the simulated recoil as a result of the slide cycling.

The AEGs are the choice when looking for a carbine or patrol rifle. As with the blowback pistols, the new AEGs are being made with metal bodies and function virtually the same as the real weapon. One major difference is that AEGs don’t need to be “charged” to load a round. As such on many airsoft replicas, the charging handles are inoperable. Although on quality brands such as Combat Arms, the charging handles are fully operational for realism but don’t actually charge a round.

Both the blowback green gas pistols and the AEG carbines are ideal for conducting realistic force-on-force training. The cost is relatively low at $100 per pistol and $300 for a quality AEG. Ammunition is roughly $15 for 5,000 rounds. Additional cost would be for green gas, ($10 per bottle for 1,000 shots), batteries ($20) and safety gear.

Selection Criteria

When picking out airsoft replica weapons, it is recommended that the instructor contact a qualified airsoft dealer who can recommend manufacturers whose weapons would be best suited to the training program, i.e., KJ-Works, KWA, KWC, Combat Arms. In addition, the dealer would be able to provide the instructor with information concerning batteries, green gas, ammunition weight (.25 grams is the recommended weight for reliable function in the green gas pistols) and airsoft weapon hop-up. A great source for airsoft information is 21st Tactical, an airsoft company that specializes in providing equipment and training to law enforcement and military.

When considering whether or not to enhance the performance of your airsoft weapon, it is suggested that you do not hop up the performance to the point where the 6mm pellet is traveling at a speed greater than 320 feet per second. That increases the risk of injury, especially to exposed areas of skin.

Additionally, instructors need to be aware that the 6mm plastic pellets have the potential to damage drywall, vehicles, light fixtures, and other fragile items such as computers or glass. Use the plastic pellets in buildings where the walls are made from concrete block. Otherwise the 6mm marking rounds should be used indoors or when conducting vehicle / felony stops training. 21st Tactical makes marking rounds in a variety of colors. These rounds are made with vegetable oil and clean up easily.

Force-on-Force Courses

When designing a “force-on-force” reality-based simulations course, the instructor should also have two course outlines. The first outline contains the classroom portion of the course and any objective that needs to be completed before moving on to the simulation scenario program, the practical application of the classroom work. The second outline should contain the following objectives: a clearly defined set of safety protocols, a list of equipment and personnel requirements, and scripts for the role players.

Of the objectives in the second outline, the safety protocols are the most important for the completion of a successful training course. Safety protocols for an airsoft simulation course should include the following aspects: a designated training area; a designated safe area; designated entry and exit areas; a safety officer; an equipment inspection safety officer; an equipment “technician” (optional); as well as required safety equipment.

Instructors should also write scenario scripts for the role players to follow. By providing the role players with a script, the instructor can better ensure that the scenarios will be more “realistic” by conducting some research and basing their scripts off actual incidents. By utilizing scripts, the instructor can help ensure that the scenarios will run smoothly and there will be less down time.

Instructors should go through a structured force-on-force simulations instructor certification course. These courses can provide the instructor with more detailed information concerning the formulation of a safe airsoft training program. Such a course was taught at the last ILEETA conference.

Additionally, 21st Tactical also has an airsoft instructor course available. Instructors can also take a force-on-force simulations instructor course through the Police Officers Safety Association. Instructors taking the online course can achieve certification through the Massachusetts Law Enforcement Firearms Instructor and Armorer’s Association.

Safety First

When conducting a simulations course involving some form of projectile-firing replica firearm, the instructor needs to be 100% sure that no one will walk into the area with a loaded “real” firearm. The area to be used for the training should be clearly marked. For instance, if the instructor is going to conduct a Response to an Active Shooter course and is going to use a hallway in school or college dormitory, the instructor should block off all entries and exits except one—the designated entry point for the exercise. The instructor should use barricade tape and post signs on the doors that state police training is in progress and to stay clear of the area. If possible, the instructor should also lock these doors as an added precaution.

The instructor should also alert anyone working or living in the area that training will be conducted. To use the dormitory example, the instructor would alert the floors above and below. This serves a two-fold purpose. First, it keeps anyone in the area from panicking when they see “armed” men and women walking about, and second, it helps to get across the message to stay clear of the area. Better yet, conduct the training on a weekend when no one will be around.

After the training area has been designated and cordoned off, choose a room or area that can be designated as a safe area. Make sure all of the exercise participants understand that no training activity is allowed in the safe area. This area can be used for debriefs, breaks, or in case of an emergency. It would be a good idea to post signs at all entry points to the safe area, which clearly identifies it. Additionally, the safe area should be equipped with a first-aid kit with the standard band-aids for minor injuries. It also would be a good idea to include a “blowout” trauma kit in the first-aid bag in case of a major injury. If all of the safety rules are strictly enforced, the chance of a “real” firearm being brought in the training area should be nonexistent, however, it is best to be prepared for the unexpected events that are beyond the instructor’s control.

Depending on what type of training program is being run, only one entry point should be used so that the safety officer can control and ensure that no “real” weapons are introduced into the training environment. Depending on how the designated training area is set up, there may be more than one designated exit area, but if possible, the entry and exit points should be one and the same. In other words, enter and exit at the same point. Understandably, some training programs require more than one exercise to be run simultaneously and as such will have more than one entry/exit point. In these cases, there should be additional safety officers and equipment inspection safety officers assigned to each exercise.


Equally important to the safety personnel is the safety equipment used for the class. At a minimum, each participant should be issued some form of mask that protects the eyes, ears, and face. Paintball masks that adequately protect the eyes / ears / face can be picked up at Wal-Mart for $20. Also, some form of throat protection should be used. A throat guard designed for corrections use with riot gear works perfectly for an airsoft program at about $15. All participants should be required to wear long-sleeve shirts and long pants, and every participant should wear gloves, groin protection for men and breast protection for women. Instructors and safety officers should wear some form of colored identification, such as an orange vest, to identify their role to all participants.

An additional safety requirement is some form of identification mark on the simulations weapons to make the weapons easily identifiable as training weapons. The airsoft weapons should already have an orange muzzle per federal regulations, but these can be difficult to see, especially when a weapon is holstered. Some form of identifying band should be placed on the pistol’s grip to make it readily visible to anyone in the area (also to make the safety officer’s jobs easier). A cheap easy option would to be to wrap colored tape around the pistol’s grip. Use either yellow or orange tape, which are highly visible colors. On the AEG long guns, place the same tape around the magazines, stocks, and forearms or barrels.

Safety Officers

The safety officer is a critical component to the safe, successful completion of the training program. The sole role of the safety officer is to ensure that all safety rules are being followed by all parties, including the instructor, at all times with no exceptions. As the instructor will be busy ensuring that the students properly apply the techniques that they learned earlier in the classroom portion of the course, the instructor will not be able to keep an eye on all the events that are playing out during the exercise. The safety officer also has the ultimate say over any safety issue and can overrule the instructor and prohibit any exercise / scenario if he believes that the exercise places the students or instructor in danger.

The equipment inspection safety officer has an equally important role. The equipment inspection safety officer is stationed at the designated entry / exit point. The most important function of the equipment inspection safety officer is to ensure that no “real” firearm or any other “real” weapons (knives, OC, Tasers with live cartridges, etc.) enter the training area. The equipment inspection safety officer should check each participant (instructors, safety officers, students, and role players) visually, physically, and interrogatory (ask if they have any weapons).

The secondary function of the equipment inspection safety officer is to ensure that each participant is wearing all of the required safety gear and has all of the equipment that is required to participate in the exercise. As each student enters the designated entry point, the safety officer will conduct a pat down to check for “real” weapons. Students may participate in multiple scenarios throughout the day. The equipment inspection safety officer must check each participant every time for weapons, even if the individual had just come through the area only a few minutes earlier. There can be no exceptions to this rule.

When conducting a training program with a large number of students, an equipment technician is highly recommended. The equipment technician’s role is to issue and service the equipment. This includes issuing safety gear, weapons, and extra magazines. In addition to issuing the equipment, the technician would reload the replica weapon’s magazines with 6mm plastic pellets (marking rounds are also available), recharge the green gas pistols with gas, and change out batteries on the AEG long guns as needed.

While the addition of this position is not critical to a successful program, it certainly makes the program run more smoothly and a lot more quickly. The equipment technician would be stationed at the designated entry / exit point with the equipment inspection safety officer. The equipment technician would issue the students their equipment prior to entering the designated training area.

Additionally, students who have completed the scenario exercise would turn in their equipment to the equipment technician as they leave the designated training area to be reissued to the next group of students. This procedure is based off the premise that the training program is on a limited budget and as such only has a limited number of weapons available to issue to the students.

Daniel Roudebush is a 13-year law enforcement veteran who currently works as the town marshal for the Clarks Hill Police Department in Clarks Hill, IN. He is also the president of the Indiana Town Marshal’s Association. He can be reached at

Published in Tactical Response, Mar/Apr 2008

Rating : 10.0

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