SIGHTING IN ON: Force-on-Force Training With Simunition®
Reality-based training is beneficial to everyone.
By Warren Wilson
“Come see me in a few minutes and we’ll talk about it,” my Administrative Captain replied after I asked directly for an equipment purchase. I thought it was a bad idea to ask the chief financial officer of the police department directly, but I did it anyway. A recent school I’d attended convinced me that our department needed to purchase Simunition®-capable pistols for training. My angle was to plead that we could use them for the SWAT team and also to train the new rookies. I thought I had a pretty good argument and I even completed it with a handout.
Captain CFO hesitantly agreed to hear me out, provided that I would sit through an impromptu municipal fiscal finance class for as long as he wanted. Before joining my current department, I’d been a small-town police chief and had dealt with budgeting, albeit on a much smaller scale. I was actually looking forward to the opportunity to peruse the budget, despite the fact that this particular captain was known for his, shall we say, frugality.
After the hour of edification, I left with the promise of two Glock® 17T Simunition® capable pistols and 500 Simunition® marker cartridges. I also walked out with an emotional limp from the mathematical assault I’d just endured. As it turns out, a municipality 50 times greater in population has a slightly more complicated budget than I was accustomed to. Still, I appreciated the lesson. I fully recovered a few days later when I placed the order for the Simunition®.
For the purposes of this article, I’ll mostly be referencing Glock ® and Simunition ® brands due to their popularity, but others do exist. As departments increasingly recognize the value of marking pistols, the market will continue to expand.
Force on Force
Few who have taken part in force-on-force training would argue against its value. For the uninitiated, it’s eye-opening, to say the least. Our department’s SWAT team gets the opportunity to train the new recruits for one full day before they go into their field training. The day starts with instruction and demonstration and continues with reality-based scenarios using “Sims.” We’ve found force-on-force scenario training to be vastly superior to just observing and critiquing a student’s actions. Imagine approaching a practical scenario such as a mock alarm call or domestic without any threat of consequences for poor tactics. Now, imagine approaching the same scenario knowing that there is a role player inside with bad intentions and a loaded Glock 17T. Even knowing that the possibility exists makes miles of difference in a student’s techniques during a practical exercise. Good habits are enforced and bad habits are squelched.
Reality-based training isn’t just beneficial to new recruits. Many SWAT teams test the viability of various techniques with Simunitions. We try to send officers to other SWAT teams to train with them and come home with fresh ideas. The next step in the process is to present any new techniques to the rest of the team and then test them. Over the last few years, since employing marking guns in practice, we’ve modified our vehicle assault and room entry techniques.
Mixing “shoot” and “no shoot” scenarios in at random adds decision-making skills to the student’s toolbox. The finest marksman and gun handler is nothing without the ability to discern an innocent from a threat. Force-on-force training also helps students with their survival mindset. Role players are generally instructed to cease their simulated aggression after receiving several solid hits. Students are taught to never stop fighting, no matter how many rounds they take. I can’t remember how many times we saw a student struck with a Sim round just quit, even after he was instructed not to do so. At the end of the training day, those officers are inoculated to fight through the discomfort and win no matter what. Officers can train for low-light situations, shooting while moving, moving threats, hostage rescue and domestic disputes during force-on-force scenarios.
For a while, many law enforcement agencies used paintball guns to provide that special inoculation that comes from force-on-force training. It’s certainly better than no FOF training at all. Simunition training is substantially better, though. One drawback to using paintball guns is that there is a tendency to look past the sights at the projectile in flight to aid in aiming the next shot. That’s bad. The shooter should “ride the sights” from shot to shot just as in live fire.
When training with Sims for the first time, that bad habit, if present, will become quickly apparent. The first time I experienced it, I had an epiphany. I realized that I’d developed a bad habit after so many years of trying to do things the right way. Even though I “knew better,” I reacted as I had trained. That will invariably be the case. Another shortcoming of paintball guns is that they don’t have the same feel or function as a duty pistol. The Glock 17T, for example, is manufactured by Glock. It has the exact specifications of a Glock 17 or 22. The trigger is the same. The magazines and reloads are the same. Malfunction drills are the same. It even has a fully functioning slide. They fit in the same duty and tactical holsters that officers already carry. They have a Picatinny rail for those who prefer to use a weapon light. Except for the noise level and projectile, it functions exactly as a normal Glock pistol does. For safety, of course, they will not accept actual pistol cartridges.
For those who prefer other gun manufacturers, Simunition advertises conversion kits for many popular platforms including the Smith and Wesson M&P, Colt 1911, and Sig Sauer P226. These kits turn a normal duty gun into a Simunition capable marker pistol with the advantages of the complete units. Conversion kits are also available for H&K MP5s and AR-15 style rifles. The conversions are a little more cost effective than the complete training guns, but require breaking down the weapon before use.
Training with marker pistols requires head and neck protection. Some departments use paintball protective gear with their Simunition guns. Keep in mind that Sim rounds are much smaller than paintballs. Simunition-brand protective equipment is specifically designed by the company to keep their projectiles from penetrating to the user’s soft parts. Paintball helmets and masks may not provide the same level of protection.
Marking cartridges fired at close range on bare skin will, at least, welt and possibly bleed. It’s good practice to wear long-sleeve BDU shirts and pants for role players who may be hit repeatedly. Participants tend to be struck in the hands quite a bit, so gloves may also be advisable.
It is imperative that all students and instructors not possess any real firearms or ammunition during force-on-force training. A triple safety check is mandatory prior to training to make sure serious mishaps with real firearms cannot occur.
What’s the Catch?
All good things, no matter how beneficial, have their downside. As usual in cop work, the drawback to this equipment acquisition is initial cost and long-term maintenance. In this case, the initial cost depends on how many marking pistols your department wants to get at a time. The Glock 17T costs the same as a regular 9mm Glock 17 duty pistol. As stated above, the cost of the conversion kits are a little easier for administrators to palate, but still run about $250.00 each or more. We found it less painful to spread out the purchases over a few fiscal years. The long-term cost is how many marking rounds your department can purchase in its current and future budgets and how it wants to distribute them for classes. As of this writing, Simunition rounds are about $0.55 per round.
One way to offset the cost of marking pistols or ammo is to reallocate some money from the live-fire ammo budget. Did anyone else feel the breeze created by that collective gasp? Yes, I said it. I’m not saying it’s the first place I’d look for money, but it isn’t the hardship one might think since officers will still be getting their trigger time. There will never be a replacement for live-fire training and qualification on “the square range.” That having been said, force-on-force training with marking pistols will take a law enforcement agency’s lethal force preparedness to the next level. I recommend doing whatever it takes to make it a reality for your department. The department that makes this investment will be better preparing its officers for what’s waiting for them out there. PM
Warren Wilson is a Lieutenant with the Enid Police Department in Oklahoma. He is a former SWAT team member/leader and has been in law enforcement for 17 years.