Many of my formative years took place during the 1960s. It was a simpler time. If I acted up in public, I suffered a consequence meted out swiftly in the form of a smack on the behind from my omnipotent father. No one from the ACLU or Child Protective Services was going to jump in his way to save me. When I was 3 years old, I stuck my finger in an outlet. In 1962 there was no Consumer Protection Agency, no child-safety devices but there were penalties for doing stupid things. There was behavior, and there were consequences. And I learned. Boy, did I learn!
Animals learn through consequences punishment and reward. You can talk all you want to your dog about the necessity to do his business outside, but until he is conditioned to do so often through unpleasant consequences for doing otherwise you remain the transport mechanism for his leavings.
Humans also learn through conditioned behavior, and like it or not, we learn through the promise of reward for proper behavior and the threat of unpleasant consequences for improper behavior. Simply stated, pain improves the memory of the slow learners.
Using Pain to Train
David Luxton and I discovered the power of this simple concept when we developed our FX Marking Cartridges in the early days of SIMUNITION. Getting hit with a projectile that imparted a bit of pain during a simulated gunfight changed the way realistic training was done forever. Our little low-tech training system outshone many of the high-tech/high-price systems due to three basic features: low cost, realistic functionality and a consequence for tactical error. Other technologies, such as video systems and LASER vests, presented some interesting training possibilities, but they were (and remain) extremely expensive and often provide no unpleasant consequence for tactical error.
Some video-based systems now employ a shoot-back option by which the operator can fire projectiles at students if they remain exposed during the scenario. (As discussed in my September/October column, the effectiveness of this type of training device greatly depends on the operator's training psychology.) The LASER vest world, however, remains a consequence-free environment. The MILES system, widely used by the military, simply beeps if you are hit and issues casualty cards to participants who, upon being hit by an opposing force weapon, open up their packet to discover their degree of inflicted trauma. It's probably great for large-scale tactical-deployment training, but it fails miserably at the small unit and individual soldier training level.
Years ago, I tried to implement changes to the LASER vest community, but alas, it was not to be. One of the companies that developed an excellent training tool called LASERTrain ignored my urgings to add a shock module to its receiver vest. LASERTrain included a vest with fiber-optic cables running through it. A firearm module permitted training participants to use actual guns permanently converted to safely fire blanks that activated a LASER pulse with every blank fired. At my request, several prototype vests were manufactured that, when hit with a LASER from a converted gun, delivered a one-second jolt from the attached shock module to the LASER strike recipient. Unfortunately, the company's leadership just didn't get it. They cancelled the program, and eventually the company was absorbed by a larger military contractor. LASERTrain is no more, and the Shocker Vest is the stuff of distant memory.
I believe electronic modules have a place in future training technologies. My force-on-force training system under conceptual development uses such a module in lieu of the strike of a projectile. Wealthy investors are invited to call me for details, but until then, let me give you a few examples of how and where the use of electricity is, or has, proven useful in military and law enforcement training.
Years ago, Frank Repass used simple stun guns to "put a spark in training," as he termed it. At the time, Frank was the range master for the Orlando Police Department. He had an interesting drill in which he would walk up and down the firing line and randomly plug a hand-held stun gun into the thigh of various shooters. He would have shooters start from a holstered firing position, and upon receiving their jolt, the shooters would have to draw and fire. This was intended to simulate taking a hit from an opponent and then getting into the gunfight. As he would walk down the line, Frank would activate the device in the air. The "zap-zap-zap" of the stun gun certainly focused the mind and elevated the heart rate, and participants learned to stay focused on decisively engaging an opponent despite the pain of one or more hits. Programming the midbrain to continue fighting under adverse conditions is the stuff survival mindset thinking is made of, but until you have actually experienced it, it's merely an abstract concept that may or may not be accessible during a fight for your life. I think Frank's drill was a great idea. Timid administrators may disagree.
I personally experimented with juiced-up electronic dog collars and blank firing weapons during force-on-force training exercises. If students exposed themselves to incoming gunfire, they received an electronic "correction" to simulate incoming rounds. It was moderately successful, but a device specifically built for the task would have been much better. (Once again rich guys, call me; let's talk!)
Today, two interesting new technologies incorporate an electronic penalty for tactical error. VirTra Systems introduced a new video simulation system at this year's IACP conference in Miami, Fla. Unlike the current offerings from FATS, AIS, IES, etc., this system features five screens instead of the conventional single screen. Training scenarios are filmed in surround video, so when standing in the center of this system, you can't see everything going on without looking around, and threats can come from almost any direction.
The best feature, in my estimation, is the consequence module that consists of a belt with a receiver on it. (Finally, a company that gets it.) This belt fastens around students' waists, and if the controller believes students are exposing themselves to hostile gunfire, they can send a signal to the belt to administer a "correction." You can program the intensity and vary it throughout the scenario. The weapon modifications are also quite innovative, providing some measure of recoil. The cost for VirTra's various systems ranges from $50,000 $125,000 depending on options and weapons, but you can get a fairly robust system for about $100,000 quite reasonable.
The second technology I recently had the pleasure/pain of coming in contact with (pun intended) comes from a company from my hometown of Winnipeg, Canada. The ShocKnife is the brainchild of two Canadians: a police officer and an entrepreneur. The ShocKnife has an electrified edge, which, when placed in contact with bare skin or even light clothing, imparts a memorable sensation. Heck, let's call it what it is it shocks you good!
I've witnessed many edged-weapon scenarios in which dull simulated blades were used. I've also seen innovative marking knives, such as those manufactured by VirtualBlade and PDT Tech's PRO Blade. While these marking knives permit students to see they have been "cut" by the training knife, they have no real incentive during the encounter to avoid the blade. Not so with the ShocKnife. After the first encounter with this device, most students do their best to avoid more contact. A variable-intensity screw allows trainers to dial it up and down from mild to wild, and at its strongest setting, most find the "cut" extremely unpleasant. As such, realistic avoidance responses are observed in the student behaviors.
I've worked in the reality based training (RBT) business for 20 years, and I'd have to say this is one of the more innovative technologies to come along in quite a while. Some might find it a bit pricey, but it isn't much more expensive than a single SIMUNITION conversion kit sold for use with marking cartridges, and in my estimation the ShocKnife is a must-have for those with an active RBT program.
At this time, the ShocKnife will not penetrate some of the protective equipment often worn by some agencies during projectile-based training exercises. However, many of these agencies often use too much padding, thereby negating much or all of the value of projectile-based training by eliminating any possibility of the pain penalty imparted by a projectile strike. Agencies that use the right amount of protective clothing would experience the desired effects from the ShocKnife. It will not penetrate any of the existing defensive tactics suits, but again I don't see a big problem here, since most of the time the role player wears these suits rather than the student, and it's the student who ultimately receives the ShocKnife's pain penalty. The possibility of adding a marking edge to this device exists, but it's not available at this time. Such an improvement is desirable but not absolutely necessary to achieve excellent training value from this product.
All in all, I've always strongly believed in the use of a pain consequence for tactical error. If used properly, such technologies permit well-trained instructors to observe many of the deficiencies in their students that might not otherwise be evident. As I have said in previous articles, however, there's a fine balance between the potential benefits of pain-consequence technologies and the potential for misuse. Any technology that permits a pain penalty must be used in an educated and professional manner by mature and competent trainers.
Unfortunately, some trainers use these valuable training technologies frivolously or for student hazing. In such hands, they do more harm than good and will often give the technologies a bad name. Just as there is a difference between effective corporal punishment and child abuse, trainers must know the difference between effective use of a pain penalty and student abuse. Much of it hinges on the training staff's intentions and maturity.
Training technologies that employ the use of electricity as a consequence are important additions to a trainer's tool belt. They provide many of the benefits of a marking projectile without the mess or some of the potential dangers of projectiles. I believe we will see more of these technologies in the future, and I look forward to the resurrection of this sadly overlooked concept. It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "getting current in use-of-force training."
Until next time, train hard and train safe!
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