The AirMunition projectile is plastic with small holes in the front and filled with a lipstick-type marking substance. Photo courtesy Simunition
ATK’s new Force-on-Force training round is fired from duty weapons equipped with conversion kits. Photo courtesy ATK Ammunition Systems
FEATURED IN TRAINING
- 5 Reasons to Further Your Education
- Time for a Simulator?
- FBI Hostage Rescue Team Agents Killed in Training Exercise
- 10th-Anniversary Conference Shines Brighter than Ever
- Pro Tips for the Firing Line, Part II
- ASIS International to Host Transitioning Program & Luncheon for Law Enforcement & Military Professionals
- 5 Reasons Not to Miss ILEETA Conference 2013
The world of projectile-based training in military and law enforcement scenarios has come a long way from where David Luxton and I began our journey toward what would ultimately become SIMUNITION s FX Marking Cartridge, the de facto standard for realistic training.
Over the years, a number of me too companies have made a contribution to this field. This article will bring you up to speed on where the world of projectile-based training is today.
AirMunition & UTM
One of the cartridges we looked at during our developmental process was the Saxby and Palmer Tandem Air Cartridge (TAC). Mike Saxby, an engineer from England, developed the TAC s interesting cartridge design that used a specialized pump to charge the cartridges with compressed air. Later, after taking a good, hard look at our telescoping cartridge design, Saxby conceptualized a cartridge that mimicked the telescoping design but utilized compressed air as the propellant, and started Crown Air Cartridge Company. Thus, AirMunition began its foray into the training cartridge world.
The AirMunition projectile is plastic with small holes in the front and filled with a lipstick-type marking substance. The rear of the projectile contains a metal plunger that causes the marking substance to extrude from the front of the projectile upon impact with the target. Although only a small amount of substance is extruded, the mark is sufficient for after-action review of hits on participants. In the height of its popularity, AirMunition offered its marking projectiles in 10 different colors.
Although the cartridge itself is a technological marvel, it s extremely expensive to produce, and the company went under. It later was revived and changed hands on a number of occasions, most recently to Widec S.A., a Swiss company that acquired AMI, the last producer of the AirMunition products. I don t believe the marking cartridge system is currently available, but last I heard AIS stepped in to secure the U.S. rights for AirMunition products in late 2004 to ensure security of the supply of the blank to its customer base for use in their simulator system.
With the experiences of AirMunition behind him, Saxby continued innovating and developed yet another cartridge system, marketed under the trade name Ultimate Training Munitions (UTM). Following the basic design idea of a telescoping cartridge, Saxby came up with a cartridge that utilizes a dual primer system. The first primer imparts energy into the system for cycling purposes, and it imparts energy to a hard ball that will act as the firing pin to fire the second primer. The energy from the second primer is used only for propelling the projectile. Through the use of a dedicated primer for imparting energy to the projectile, it was believed that velocities could be more carefully controlled.
The UTM cartridges require specialized conversion kits just like all the other telescoping cartridge designs. The .22-caliber projectile for the UTM cartridge is substantially smaller than other marking cartridges. It was originally designed to work with M16s and variants without the necessity for changing out the whole upper receiver as was previously required for the SIMUNITION products. By making the conversion kit a simple bolt change, UTM quickly captured the interest of the U.S. military.
The marking projectile builds off the concept originally designed for the AirMunition markers in that it has an inertial dispersion system for the marking substance. The projectile has an aluminum base to engage the barrel riflings and a plastic cage that contains a small puck of marking substance behind a small steel sphere. When the projectile hits a combatant, the sphere moves forward and extrudes a small amount of marking substance.
Although the military has purchased substantial quantities of the UTM conversion kits and munitions, reports from the field have caused concern. First, there have been excessive velocities reported on the ejecting spent casings. Because the casings are metal and quite heavy, they have reportedly inflicted injuries on people being hit by ejected casings.
Another reported problem revolves around the use of the 5.56 version with M16 variants when users swap the weapons back and forth between operational use and training use. Apparently, aluminum shavings can strip off the UTM rounds into the riflings of the barrel and also block some of the gas ports, causing some weapons to experience catastrophic failures due to the aluminum residue and resultant narrowing of the bore or closing of the gas ports when they are returned to operational use. Some agencies have since banned the use of the technology. As long as training staff dedicates the use of the weapon to training only, this problem will likely be eliminated.
There have also been a number of reports of projectiles breaking open and allowing the small metal sphere to separate and embed in the skin of training participants. Velocities of the projectiles have also ranged between safe and acceptable ranges to outside the accepted safety range. And due to the projectile s small diameter, not all protective facemasks currently in use for projectile-based training are suitable for use with UTM.
PDT & GunPro
Two relative newcomers to the marking cartridge arena are Practical Defense Training Technologies (PDT), recently acquired by Alliant TechSystems (ATK), and a system emerging from the Netherlands by GunPro, which has licensed the AirMunition patent and started a program to revive the PyroSafe round. I ll discuss both.
Rick Huffman started PDT in the late 1900s. He had corresponded with us during the early days of SIMUNITION, and he developed a training structure and various pieces of protective equipment and specialized targetry as a means to enhance realism in training. Huffman s P.R.O. (Practical Realistic Operations) cartridge and various pieces of training equipment under the trade name of P.R.O. were acquired this year by ATK. It appears that ATK will change the name of the cartridge system from P.R.O. to Force-on-Force.
Much like all the other cartridges, Huffman s design utilizes a telescoping piston. Although it does not seem as though ATK will maximize the feature, the cartridge was originally designed so it could be fully reloadable by clicking the cartridge closed from its expanded configuration and replacing the power unit (a self-contained primer/propellant module that resembles a conventional primer).
Velocities can be altered through the use of various power units. The marking projectile, originally called the HydraMarker, has a solid-front nose cone. Unlike the SIMUNITION projectile that features longitudinal split lines on the outside, Huffman s projectile has split lines on the inside, providing a smooth surface on the outside of the projectile, which Huffman claims will improve the projectile s accuracy. When the projectile hits a target, the nose cone is pushed back into the body of the projectile, causing the split lines to break and pushing the marking substance out in a hydraulic fashion around the nose cone. Straight-on hits look like bullet holes on the target.
During the final developmental phase of Huffman s system, he and his partner met Renier van den Berg, an extremely talented gunsmith and inventor. During the AirMunition days, van den Berg was brought on to solve a lot of the conversion kit problems AirMunition was encountering. He worked with Huffman to supply conversion kits to PDT as the PDT system continued to evolve.
Van den Berg s company, GunPro, was going to be the European distributor for the PDT product line. That is, of course, until ATK bought the whole thing. Rather than sit around and curse his misfortune, van den Berg was able to license the AirMunition design for the PyroSafe round and has now developed his own line of marking cartridges scheduled to be released some time in 2007. The cartridge will use the identical projectile that AirMunition used, but the design has been optimized, and it appears this will be the first cartridge that can reliably use a non-toxic primer an option that has eluded all of the other cartridge manufacturers to date.
In the world of marking cartridges, here are the currently available (or soon-to-be-available) offerings:
FX Marking Cartridges
(SIMUNITION, www.simunition.com, 450/581-5999);
(ATK, www.atk.com , 763/323-2300);
Man Marker Round
(UTM, www.utmunitions.com , 877/886-7233); and
(GunPro, Web information not available).
Note: Virtually all of the manufacturers of projectile-based force-on-force training systems also produce a version of their product designed for shooting at conventional targetry and not human targets. Because of the possibility of confusion between cartridges designed for force-on-force training and those that could prove lethal, take extreme caution when choosing any of the marking cartridges. Agencies thinking of adopting these technologies must attend training on the safe use of these systems and munitions.
That s it from the field. For a comprehensive idea on how to properly employ these technologies in a training setting, pick up the book Training at the Speed of Life or get into a training program. Officer safety doesn t come in a box.
Until next time, train hard and train safe.