By the end of their training, students should have worked with both Airsoft and marking-cartridge training weapons.Photo Ken Murray
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Those of you who have followed my regular columns will know I ve become a proponent of Airsoft over the past couple of years since the technologies have improved. They continue to improve, and I anticipate sturdier weapon patterns as the professional community continues to adopt them (along with sturdier prices, no doubt).
I believe Airsoft training weapons are ideal for what I call low-level drilling, or scenarios in which there is no real story line. They have proven extremely effective for skill building or enhancement. In line with my belief that conventional firearms qualification must be abolished in favor of gunfighter training, Airsoft provides an excellent method for teaching inexperienced shooters the basics of marksmanship and the fundamentals of tactical skills in realistic settings with very limited hazards.
However, for agencies entering the realm of reality based training (RBT), I offer the following caution: Don t think you can achieve the same results with Airsoft as you can with a cartridge-based technology.
Human beings come into this world with three innate fears: the fear of falling, the fear of loud noises and the fear of sudden approach. Taking an inexperienced shooter and putting a firearm in their hands provides two of the three a loud bang and the swift approach of the slide, with a shell casing often bouncing off their head. Add in the stress of failure in front of peers and authority figures, as well as the possibility of losing their livelihood if they don t qualify, and it s not exactly what renowned trainer Gary Klugiewicz would describe as an emotionally safe or optimal learning environment.
Imagine the following instead. A trainer uses inert firearms (e.g., blue guns, etc.) to introduce their students to firearms and associated equipment (e.g., the holster, etc.). The students learn muzzle awareness and weapon manipulation with these inert guns. Next, they practice sight alignment and trigger control using one of the laser technologies, such as BeamHit, Bullite, or any of the pricier simulators such as those available from TiTraining, AIS, IES, FATS, etc. They could perform such practice on conventional targetry.
The trainer then uses video simulations or scenarios, pausing them at certain points to discuss the force options and law/policy considerations at various intervals. Once the students minds have been conditioned, they move to exercises utilizing the non-projectile firing weapons. Next, the trainer introduces movement using the non-projectile firing weapons to improve abilities in a tactical setting against video simulations. This does not require the use of expensive video simulators, by the way. Anybody with a camcorder can create video scenarios, play them back through an LCD projector and score hits visually if the students use a visible laser.
Once the students are using their weapons effectively and comfortably, it s time to move to projectiles. Airsoft is the first step, and since the students already have a good degree of muzzle awareness, there s less likelihood for injury. The trainer begins with conventional targetry, then moves to padded-up role players who don t shoot back with projectiles. This will limit the required protective gear to full gear for the role player and sealed eye protection for the student. Remember, at this stage there are no complex or in-depth scenarios just basic gunfighting drills against a live adversary who demonstrates simple behaviors that are consistent with getting shot.
Note: If the role player will shoot at the students, the students need the same level of protective gear necessary for any other type of projectile based training face, throat, gloves, groin and any exposed skin. Do not believe any of the uneducated hypesters who try to sell you on the concept that Airsoft is the greatest training tool because you don t need all of the protective gear you would use for cartridge-based technologies. Airsoft projectiles can penetrate flesh, and with the advent of newer and faster guns, setting a protective gear standard too low will lead to unnecessary injury, lawsuits and a banning of RBT in some agencies. Beware.
OK, on to the next step. At this point I believe students must move to a cartridge-based technology. The Airsoft weapons have several drawbacks the cartridge-based technologies do not. First, they are not as resilient as real weapons. They function too well sometimes, and, as a result, won t allow trainers to see how students will deal with malfunctions under critical conditions. When Airsoft guns do malfunction, clearing procedures are different than with conventional weapons. There s something valuable to experiencing cartridge cases ejecting and smelling the powder. And when it comes to providing the best form of testing which is what you should use the higher-level scenarios for, testing all of the skills described above and integrating them under stressful conditions there is no substitute for the cartridge-based technologies.
The good news: Because the students will have received excellent skills integration and judgmental experience at this point, they should do exceptionally well in their scenarios, so the number of pricier rounds fired will not be significant. As an added bonus, for the proficiency portion of the gunfighting training what most agencies refer to as qualification, a scored target students will breeze through it because not only will they have a high degree of proficiency with a firearm, they will find shooting fun rather than stressful.
I don t believe Airsoft or any other training technology should replace conventional marking cartridges or a live-fire component. All have their place in the training continuum. But there is much to learn about the realm of RBT, and gunfighting skill-development through the use of various training technologies is only a small part of that.
Build an RBT program from the ground up that integrates all aspects of conflict resolution talking, fighting, shooting and leaving. And begin looking at technologies as various tools in your training arsenal. Just as a carpenter needs three or four types of saws to build a beautiful cabinet, you should have a number of training tools in your workshop.
Until next time, train hard and train safe.