Simulated training systems can provide advantages to traditional firing ranges and live training scenarios.
Law enforcement training simulators continue to evolve and can now offer several advantages over traditional training in classrooms, shooting ranges and live training scenarios. Training simulators can mimic the experience of responding to real-life incidents with full-size projections on one screen or multiple screens; sound systems providing realistic sound stimuli; and, sometimes, other atmospheric effects including smoke, smell, fog, and scent. The officers use laser-equipped duty weapons or other tools which are capable of operating much like the real thing, including recoil. Furthermore, current training scenarios offer a variety of outcomes, depending on the officer’s choices and approach to the scenario.
Modern simulators go far beyond a simple video game-style system, or even simple marksmanship training programs, providing immersive and realistic training scenarios which can elicit real reactions from the trainee.
“These systems are no longer used solely for firearms training, but used for all kinds of different force options situations, where the firearms are simply another tool that officers have at their disposal,” says Robert McCue, General Manager of MILO Range Training Systems. “Modern simulators train the officer for a wide range of encounters, and many of those will be handling domestic disputes; intoxicated and emotionally disturbed persons; subjects with mental issues; fights and crowd disturbances; crisis management; and dozens of other real-world encounters. Most officers want to have safe, mindful, respectful encounters with the public and simulators which equip them with a wide range of tools to rehearse that have come a long way from the days of simple shoot/no-shoot firearms training systems.”
Why Choose Simulated Training?
Officer training performed using a simulator has various advantages over traditional training methods. First, the training can take place at any time and in any weather. Many departments have found that having a simulator at the station allows officers to train during duty hours, in their uniforms while wearing their full duty gear. This improves the realism of the scenario, eliminates the need for overtime and keeps the personnel available to respond to real incidents should they occur. Compared to firearms training on a range, simulators allow for more dynamic and unpredictable targets and eliminate the cost of ammunition and range time.
Training with a simulator also provides the advantage of reproducibility. An officer can repeat the same scenario as many times as necessary to correct mistakes and train his (or her) instincts. Furthermore, every officer can be trained or tested on the same scenario, permitting each participant to be evaluated under the same criteria. In live training scenarios, it is difficult to ensure that actors will respond the same way every time and there is a limit to the number of times an officer can repeat the training exercise. On a simulator, a good instructor can run an officer through a dozen scenarios in an hour, building muscle memory and reinforcing skillful decision-making.
What to Look For
Before purchasing a simulation training system, departments should consider their needs. “Some departments will emphasize portability for resource sharing, while others will have the space and budget to invest in a fixed, fully immersive experience,” says Matt Cunningham, Director of Virtual Systems Sales for Meggitt Training Systems. “Other criteria to consider include the number and quality of weapons which can be used, the variety of video scenarios offered, and even the ability to create one’s own content to enhance realism which includes local landmarks and situations. This training fidelity provides the requisite realism to handle real-world conflicts.”
“Hardware technology is generally universal between different systems now, changes often, and is usually quite good,” McCue adds. “Buyers should look for systems which have a large amount of contemporary and useful default scenario content on their systems; are ready to go right out of the box; and systems which also offer onboard, self-creation tools for local scenario content creation which can be mission specific, agency specific, terrain and weather specific, or designed to address a specific training need.”
Lon Bartel, Training and Content Director for VirTra, recommends systems with multiple screens – and interactions across all screens – for maximum immersion. He also emphasizes the value of systems compatible with real weapons which have been retrofitted with CO2 for realistic recoil; scenarios produced with live actors; and a physical threat simulation device which creates a physiological change in trainees.
Safety requirements require shooters in a shooting range to stand behind a certain line in an individual shooting stall. Targets are run in a linear fashion from the trainee down a rail and usually stop at known distances and exhibit known behaviors (turn, face, etc.). This lacks the randomness and variability of real-life encounters. Simulators, on the other hand, provide interactivity, sounds, sights, and behaviors experienced in the real world and create stress similar to street encounters in a way which paper targets in a shooting range never can, McCue says. Further, because simulators are often fitted with harmless lasers in the weapons to simulate projectiles, officers and teams can practice movement and tactics in a dynamic way which would be prohibitive on most live ranges.
“Shooting in a simulator environment is completely safe and costs fractions of pennies per shot versus the dollars spent on live ammo,” Bartel says. “The simulated environment can also teach things like judgmental use of force and situational awareness which is key for law enforcement to hone their skills beyond weapon training.”
“Shooting on a simulator and on a range complement each other and one should never be viewed as a perfect substitute for the other,” Cunningham says. “Officers often start on a simulator to acquire solid marksmanship skills, then move to the range to complete their training. The advantages of a simulator include extremely detailed feedback which can help a trainer coach an officer on his (or her) marksmanship skills down to the smallest of modifications. Moreover, a simulator provides the opportunity to repeat the same exercise as frequently as needed or introduce subtle changes to push an officer’s skills to the next level.”
“Newer technology in simulation systems allows officers to take out the lasers and kits and fire live rounds with their own duty weapons on special rubber screens mounted into a shooting range with projected images and achieve the same effect they would have with laser-fitted weapons,” McCue adds.
Professional law enforcement simulators go beyond marksmanship training to train officers to make the correct decisions in a variety of scenarios. They can be used to teach an officer how to respond to specific scenarios like an armed shooter or to learn local law and department rules and regulations. “Well-designed contemporary training scenarios, developed by subject matter experts and industry professionals, are designed to elicit certain responses to specific stimuli, all aimed at achieving a particular training outcome (threat recognition, verbal commands, crisis management, recognizing mental illness, etc.). These will likely involve the use of many dynamic pathways, or scenario branches, which allow the situation to unfold according to decisions the trainee has made by what he has observed happening around him – like the real world does,” McCue says.
Key to making the most of a training simulator is having an experienced and prepared instructor who can choose the appropriate scenarios; seamlessly navigate the scenario branches in response to the trainee’s choices; and, most importantly, properly debrief the officer after the training. It is important to know why an officer made the choices he (or she) did to differentiate those who were right from those who were lucky. Talking through the scenarios helps to reinforce the lessons learned.
Product Roundup: Simulators
Meggitt Training Systems
The FATS® 180LE provides 180 degree high-definition projection on three borderless 150″ X 84″ screens with a 16:9 aspect ratio. A 5.1 surround sound audio system with directional sound effects allows instructors to incorporate unsettling noise from any direction to elevate situational awareness. The FATS 180LE supports up to 20 simulated weapons, including wireless BlueFire® ones. Up to four simulated weapons can be assigned to a single user. These include rifles, pistols, shotguns, and less-lethal OC spray and TASER®s. Current FATS 100 systems can be upgraded to the FATS 180LE. The system comes with both marksmanship and judgmental training programs.
The MILO Range M-SATS offers advanced features in a portable, use-of-force and tactic judgment training system. Based on the same software and technology as the full-featured MILO Range PRO system, the M-SATS provides fully interactive video scenarios, graphics-based firearms drills in a compact, all-inclusive design which is easy to transport and set up in less than ten minutes. It is a turnkey, self-calibrating solution which is deployment ready: easy to transport, set up and use.
The MILO Range PRO is an advanced interactive use-of-force and tactical judgment training system which provides a realistic, adaptable training environment. In addition to hundreds of ready to train scenarios, an extensive library of interactive graphics-based firearm drills and exercises are included, ranging from simple plates and poppers to user-defined course of fire and marksmanship drills. The included MILO Course Designer software empowers instructors to create new, fully interactive video scenarios and graphics firearm drills in minutes.
The TLEX 180 Interactive Use of Force Training Simulation System allows the customer to customize its footprint to meet the specific needs of the training syllabus. With the movable three screen design, the angle of the “wings” or side screens can be moved to create a 180 degree training environment or move to any angle, ultimately allowing for a 33 foot wide projected surface which can be utilized for marksmanship or other lane-based skill builders.
The TLEX 180’s Pin Point® Sound System is a dynamic, amplified, surround sound program which directs precise sound to the trainee. Additional sound cues have been added to the scenarios to create a more immersive experience, so that officers can be better trained to understand and react to their surroundings.
The TLEX 180 also accommodates a full line of recoil weapons kits, TASER, OC, baton, and less-lethal options.
A new multiscreen capable training solution from Ti Training is the Ti RECON Simulation Environment. Starting with the RECON CORE, up to ten additional screens can be added to create a training environment which takes the trainee from first contact to resolution. The RECON CORE includes all force options, editing software, low light training, over 800 branching scenarios, and over 200 shooting drills.
The RECON-EX features three screens which can be moved in or out to allow for different training objectives. The screens can create a 33 foot wall of projected image or brought in for a wraparound style.
V-VICTA™, which stands for VirTra-Virtual Interactive Coursework Training Academy™, enables law enforcement agencies to effectively teach, train, test, and sustain departmental training requirements through the use of simulators. The newly developed and nationally accredited coursework, when combined with the new VirTra Virtual Instructor™ (V-VI) and training scenarios, bolsters trainers with immediate training program improvements. V-VICTA provides law enforcement instructors with complementary accredited training components, including a master manual, student handouts, pretesting material, and final exams. V-VICTA offers a unique alternative for a higher level of in-depth review at each training point. Additionally, throughout the simulation training, a Virtual Instructor is available with the relevant curriculum included within VirTra systems.
VirTra has also recently launched its Subscription Training & Equipment Partnership™ (STEP) program which allows agencies to utilize VirTra’s certified simulation training on a subscription basis. STEP provides a comprehensive and customizable training solution to departments of all sizes and is the only subscription-based law enforcement training program of its kind. STEP allows an agency to select a combination of equipment, software training solutions and tools which best fit its training needs and budget.
LE is VirTra’s top of the line decision-making simulation and tactical firearms
training system. It features five screens and a 300 degree immersive training
environment. The judgmental use-of-force training mode supplies a library of
realistic scenario training taken from after action reports in a challenging
300 degree training platform. The optional stage and audio system provide over
2,000 watts of audio, creating sounds which feel real. Full Force Options
Training includes support for officer presence, verbal commands, OC, TASER ECD,
beanbag shotgun, pistol, shotgun, and rifle. Firearms training mode supports up
to 15 individual firing lanes at one time with special installation
requirements and fully configurable firearms training courseware.
Product Roundup: Shooting Range Technologies
Action Target’s Genesis™ target retriever was developed to streamline system control and reduce maintenance. Genesis utilizes Action Target’s Strike Watch™ software to detect bullet strikes to the target carrier. Genesis also integrates with the new SmartRange Axis™ range control system. This allows ranges to apply unique permissions to each lane, create and store shooting programs, manage lane time, and run synchronized trainings across multiple lanes. Other features include the ability to turn targets 360 degrees which allows for dynamic target presentations, including teasing, spinning and timed exposures. An integrated camera displays the target on the control screen, eliminating the need to bring the target up range for assessment.
Action Target’s redesigned Rubber Berm Trap can be free-standing or wall mounted. It facilitates simple maintenance and servicing and the rubber can also be treated with a Class A fire retardant which is free of harsh chemicals, curing agents and pungent odors. This fast drying fire retardant may be easily applied with a standard paint sprayer.
Meggitt Training Systems
The XWT ProImage™ projected target system is a compact video projector and camera which attaches to Meggitt’s XWT target carrier. Wirelessly connected to a ten inch lane control unit mounted behind the firing line, the XWT ProImage projects user uploaded digital videos and images onto white paper or cardboard targets. The onboard camera provides a constant close-up view of the target for instantaneous feedback.
The XWT GEN4 wireless target carrier is a 360º turning system. The XWT GEN4 uses a lithium ion battery which provides a 50% increase in battery watt hours. Programmable distraction lighting now integrates red, blue and white LEDs with four times the brightness of previous models. The chassis features a side cover design for wheel overhead protection and prevention of brass drivetrain damage. Antistatic wheels eliminate grounding tinsel and reduce electrostatic discharge.
Range Systems has partnered with Ti Outdoors to release the PerfectFit™ Range, an all-in-one range designed specifically for smaller spaces. With ten lanes of live fire range fitting into a 35′ x 39’ space, it is the ideal space saver. PerfectFit pairs Ti Outdoors’ V23 technology with Range Systems’ ballistic rubber, shooting stalls and baffles to help those who operate firearms ranges get the most out of their space.
One important range safety feature to consider is effective sound abatement which is ideally addressed in the range design stage.
Over the ear sound reduction methods, such as earmuffs, only protect the outer ear, but the repeated loud noise from gunfire can be a full body problem. Gunfire reverberation affects the brain, inner ear, heart, and other internal organs. The result can be added stress, fatigue and potential disability.
Aside from noise concerns for LEOs, environmental noise into adjacent spaces and neighborhoods is another important area of concern. Again, addressing noise control at the design stage is the most effective solution.
Ranges which include a Portland Cement-based wood-wool wall, ceiling and acoustic baffle design are cutting edge for noise reduction. Products such as those provided by Troy Acoustics Corp. offer a system which meets the US Army Corps of Engineers’ design guideline of a Reverberation Time (RT60) of 1.5 seconds at all firing points in a range.
Formerly the Editor-in-Chief for Forensic Magazine, Rebecca Waters is a freelance writer and editor.