Nothing Beats Using Training Munitions!
Ok, I’m about to give my age away here but it is a risk worth taking, so here goes: A long time ago, in a land far, far away (Kentucky) I joined the US Army’s 101st Airborne Division as a Military Policeman in a Combat Support unit. As fate would have it, from time to time the division went about its business and engaged in what the Army used to like to call Field Training Exercises (FTX for short). We would get all dressed up in our finest battle rattle gear, get issued blank adapters for our M-16 rifles and boxes of blank ammunition, and crawl around the woods in the back end of some military installation some where and shoot these blanks at one another doing our best to “simulate” the combat experience and hone our war fighting skills. While a great time was had by all, I’m sure, there was no real way to determine who “won” these “battles” without using Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs) as “Umpires” and/or “Controllers” and their evaluations were subjective at best.
This is probably best illustrated by an experience I had as a Squad Leader during one of these FTXs later on in my life at the Lamperthine Training Area in a country that used to be known as West Germany during the Cold War era. There we were, all gussied up and doing a low crawl approaching the “enemy’s” perimeter when I heard a single blank round go off. Walking up right beside my squad of soldiers (read: giving away our position) was this NCO wearing white engineer tape wrapped around his US Army issued baseball cap and he said very clearly and very loud: “You, you and you are dead!” as he pointed to those troops he was giving directions to. I remember thinking that if the Russians had those bullets and decided to come through that Fulda Gap, we were all going to be in a big hurt.
Well, a lot of folks must have recognized that there was limited training value in such an approach, where no one knew for sure who shot who, so they came up with a solution called MILES. The Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System was born in the late 70’s and early 80’s and improved the ability to conduct and evaluate force on force training because soldiers got to wear a harness that had sensors embedded in it and those sensors would detect an eye safe laser beam that hit them when fired from an opponent’s weapon and a neat little buzzer would go off. That was a great step forward because it pretty much ended the “You, you & you are dead!” thing and it did increase the objectivity by which such force on force training scenarios could be evaluated as well as giving rise to neat games of “Laser Tag.” However, while improving the training experience, it still lacked a bit of reality when dealing with individual based training issues. It is about the most realistic thing that can be done when simulating the use of crew served weapons or long range targets such as tank battles, but when it comes down to people who carry guns for a living, the state of the art has evolved a bit more since then.
The advent of training munitions such as Simunition® and Ultimate Training Munitions™ really brought some things home. These munitions replace the lethal rounds or blank munitions that can be used in guns. They travel at less feet per second and are not designed to penetrate when they impact. They generally have a plastic capsule as a projectile that carries a paint or lipstick type compound that leaves a colored mark where the round impacts its target. There is no mistaking if one got hit or not or where the wound would have been when using these kinds of training munitions and this brings much more objectivity to the training evaluations. There is even room for paint ball guns if used appropriately, though I prefer they are used in some scenarios by “opposing forces or trainers” than by students who should be using the weapons they carry on duty.
A couple of years ago, we had a wonderful opportunity to assist with the training of a US Army Scout Platoon from the 3rd Infantry Division that was about to deploy to Iraq and who had been given a bit of an unusual mission for Scouts. Their mission was to support the division by providing personal security for dignitaries and selected individuals who would be visiting the division’s area of operations. The Army has a school for this kind of protective operations mission but they restrict attendance to that school to members of the Military Police Corps and Special Agents assigned to the US Army Criminal Investigation Command. While sister services can sometimes attend those courses, soldiers possessing other Military Occupational Specialties cannot. Our tax dollars at work, thank you very much.
So they sought training opportunities from within the private sector and we were awarded the contract. During this kind of training event, it is our normal practice to include force on force scenario based training using training munitions while practicing response to various ambush situations. Using a building block training approach, once our students demonstrate an understanding of the concepts and an ability to execute the techniques, we’ll gear them up and go at it with training munitions. In this case, we had approximately 25 hard bodied young soldiers who had really done a great job in preparing for their deployment from the training standpoint. Their morale was high and the discipline was evident – they had a new mission and they were going to master it.
We set them up with stationary vehicles and gave them a scenario that basically said “your motorcade just encountered a roadside Improvised Explosive Device (IED) and the vehicle your protectee is in became disabled by the blast.” Their task? Get their protectee and others out of that vehicle and get off the “X” in other words: get out of the kill zone of this ambush. They had complete confidence in their ability to do so. Unfortunately, there were some training shortfalls that became evident once we began using these training munitions. Three old retired guys ate them up for the first four or five scenarios and they were unsuccessful at accomplishing their mission. However, through the use of After Action Reviews, constructive criticism, and good old “leadership” that this crew’s NCOs were beginning to exhibit, the story changed.
It seems that while all of these soldiers had studied the use of cover and concealment, they hadn’t really understood how to use it sometimes. The NCOs didn’t realize that they could give orders while using it. When they would stand up to give their troops directions, one of our old retired guys would “pop” them right between the running lights. Ouch! Those things hurt! When the troops would expose themselves moving from position to position they’d get a welt or two. When they got fixated on hanging near the vehicles too long (vehicles in Iraq are commonly known as “bullet magnets”) we’d maneuver on them using cover and concealment and flank them. Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!
But it seems that this aspect of immediate feedback and tolerable pain made them realize some things like nothing else ever did: They could do what they needed to do while being shot at. They could give orders from behind positions of cover. They could aim when shooting back while being shot at. They could still move quickly even though they were carrying M-4s. They could use their bounding over-watch techniques, keep us at bay through the use of effective suppressive fire, and they could get off the “X” of that kill zone; thereby, accomplishing their mission. All of this while using sound tactics, techniques and procedures as a TEAM. Every one of these soldiers knew all of this stuff but this was the first time it was all being brought together for them through the use of training munitions.
As all training schedules do, we came to a point where we had achieved the training objectives for that session and it was time to move on to a live fire session we had planned for these soldiers. Then something happened that brought the value of such training home for me like nothing else ever did: As I told these young men that we were glad to see that they were getting much more effective and that we were now going to move on to the live fire range – I noticed the unit leaders gather and have an animated discussion on the outskirts of this group of soldiers. Then one of the NCOs came up to me and said, “Dave, can we ask a favor?” He went on to tell me that they were in the Army and had done all kinds of live fire exercises in preparation for their deployment. He was also pretty sure, since this was to be his second tour in country, that there would be plenty of “live fire” exercises that they would get to do once deployed. But he went on to tell me that this training we were doing, with the training munitions we were using, was making them more effective in combat. They readily recognized that and asked me to forget the live fire training exercise and do more of this with them. They really wanted to take more advantage of this opportunity to prepare themselves for the task they knew they were going to face.
While I would like to think that we do a pretty good job when training folks, there was no mistaking this: The aspects of immediate feedback plus the consequence of a bit of pain when you make a mistake combine to equal something in force on force training that no other tool can provide. It is one thing to play laser tag and have your buzzer go off. It is another to get smacked by something that gets your attention. We continued this training for them until we ran out of training munitions. But that NCO got my attention. There is nothing better and nothing will make you better than using such munitions if you carry weapons for a living and have the potential for facing someone, whether an enemy or a criminal, that may well be shooting back at you. Since then, we have used them in every training session where it was appropriate to do so and the feedback remains constant – it works like nothing else does.
We have learned some other things along the way that are worth sharing. If you are doing this kind of training or are considering it – here are some things that you may want to evaluate:
Safety is Paramount!
When considering the selection of training munitions systems, look for those that have inherent ability to prohibit the introduction of lethal munitions into the system. I prefer those systems that let you use your duty weapon – it is a “train as you fight” desire – but you sure do not want the tragedy that would be associated with the inadvertent introduction of a live round into a “training weapon” by mistake. UTM™, for example, produces their training munitions with projectiles that are smaller than 9mm for 9mm pistols and this requires you to replace the barrel of the hand gun with a UTM™ specifically designed barrel.
The barrels themselves are clearly identified both by their blue color and markings as being training barrels and this enhances the trainer’s ability to visually insure that mistakes are not being made.
However, one should not simply trust that lethal ammunition cannot or will not be intermingled with training munitions. The area designated for force on force training events using such training munitions should be sanitized of all lethal munitions prior to the start of the training event and all participants should both be searched and verbally declare that they are not in possession of lethal ammunition.
The next aspect of safety pertains to individual safety equipment such as eye protection, gloves and padded clothing. Especially when dealing with force on force training involving handguns, you’d be amazed at how many times folks get hit in the hands. It passes the common sense test though: A lot of folks use an Isosceles or Weaver Stance and opponents taking “center of mass” shots at them have a tendency to hit them in the hands from time to time, which points out the need for knowing and practicing wounded reload drills…but I digress…and that is another article.
There is nothing wrong with considering the use of elbow and knee pads either. The one item of equipment that does seem to hinder the immediate feedback and pain consequence benefits of training munitions though is body armor. Once the session gets going, people will become involved in it and may not know the difference between hearing the training round impact their body armor or thinking that it hit something nearby them, if they hear it at all. Since we prefer to “train as you fight” we always encourage that you wear what you’ll fight in and if that includes body armor then we have a tendency to aim at unprotected areas during the training scenarios if such opportunities present themselves.
Using full face shields such as the one depicted at right is advisable, though sometimes the projectile can penetrate vulnerable areas such as the space where the goggle strap passes through this style of mask. Addition of a balaclava will assist in insuring the skin doesn’t get broken by projectiles penetrating this area. Obviously good eye protection is a must. Sometimes all you will see of your opponent is their head, or a small portion of it if they are using their cover and concealment correctly and it is all you will have to aim at.
Throat / neck protection and cups for the groin are also very useful.
Use a Controller / Safety Officer
People will experience the adrenaline rush, get tunnel vision, lock up and trip over things when doing this training. Recognize that once you don protective masks and goggles you will loose some of your normal peripheral vision. Someone, preferably equipped with a megaphone, should be assigned to provide oversight to the exercise and monitor it from the safety stand point. No one gets paid enough to get hurt and it is sometimes better to holler “Abort!” than it is to let potentially dangerous situations play themselves out. Have the ability to stop the scenario if a dangerous situation begins to develop and then hit the re-wind button once the issue is resolved. There is learning value in that as well.
Everyone should be a “safety officer” and should be able to stop the training if they see something potentially dangerous developing. Like calling for a “Cease Fire” on the firing range, “Abort!” can be used in this situation and everyone who hears it should immediately stop what they are doing and repeat the command.
Set Rules and Expectations Up Front
All safety rules for handling weapons should be in force and enforced during these training sessions. No one should point their weapon at anything they do not intend to “destroy.” Be cognizant of and critique participants if you see them crossing lines of fire, “lazing” their team mates or Principals, or doing anything else with that weapon which would be considered a safety violation. Advise participants how “kill shots” are to be defined: Is it a head shot? Is one round to the center mass enough to take someone out of play? Probably not. Unless you are watching pay per view television people do not always die when hit once, even in a number of eventually lethal strike zones. We use a single head shot or 3 shots to the center mass area as our standard but that is a purely subjective call on our part. Just make sure everyone who “plays” knows what rules to go by.
What do you want them to do when they have been taken out of play? Drop in place or turn their backs, raise their hands into the air and walk off the playing field? One thing that gets annoying really quickly if you are the guy who has been “taken out” and that is to stay in the area and continue to get shot by folks that do not know you are out of the game.
“Danger Close!” is another command worth mentioning. Even though we are wearing safety equipment and using training munitions you can get too close to one another with these things. Often when people are maneuvering they can even “sneak up” behind their opponent and flank them. Five feet with hand guns and 10 with M-16/M-4 variants is probably too close to let folks shoot one another with these kinds of munitions. So your safety folks ought to be on the watch for this and have the ability to stop that from happening.
Develop REALISTIC Scenarios
When you are the one setting up scenarios and managing the opposing forces, it is really easy to put students or participants in “no win” situations. Personally, I have no respect for trainers who do that – what lessons are being learned there? Make sure your scenarios are based in reality. Study of modus operandi pertaining to assassination and kidnapping attempts help us to craft realistic training scenarios in our field of endeavor. By the way, I have yet to analyze any assassination or kidnapping attempt that did not have some “out” available other than driving over a huge IED or stopping next to a VBIED (Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device – commonly known as a car bomb).
The whole purpose of this kind of training is to provide people the wherewithal to develop solutions to tactical problems and survive the gun fight, is it not? So make sure your scenario has both realistic conditions and a solution you intend for the participants to achieve. Whether you are looking at military operations, executive protection operations, SWAT or response to active shooter situations, they all have appropriate tactical solutions and potentially survivable outcomes.
Having said that, do not get into lock step with your scenarios – provide multiple scenarios and alternative solutions. Do introduce unexpected events. Real ambushes can be designed that channel their victims from diversion situations into the intended Kill Zone. We can do that in training as well and it really begins to bring out the best in tactical response from the participants.
Scenarios abound in which you can provide variety, including introduction of non-combatants or innocent bystanders into the mix. They will be there in real life, why not in training? At this point we are really limited only by our imagination and this can keep the training event both viable and interesting to the participants.
Conduct Professional After Action Reviews
After Action Reviews, also known as AARs, are an effective means of enhancing the training value and reinforcing training points or objectives. After the scenario is over, get the group together, let them take off cumbersome safety equipment, catch their breath and cool off a bit. Then the Controller / Safety Officer should start the process by asking each participant in the group to go over what they saw, what they did and how they think it went. They should be encouraged to provide constructive criticism about their performance, their team’s over all performance and even the performance of other individual team members. This should be done in a professional manner and should not be allowed to deteriorate into a “he said/she said” disagreement match. The purpose of this effort is to provide maximum benefit from the training event and the training objectives should be paramount in guiding this review process. At the conclusion of the participants’ self critiques, the Controller / Safety Officer can chime in and provide an overall assessment confirming evaluations, countering points when necessary and reinforcing the training objectives concerned.
At this point, there is more to do than clean weapons and equipment and police up all the expended rounds. From the trainer’s perspective seek critique from your students on how it went. Be just as open to constructive criticism as you wanted the students / participants to be when critiquing their performance. It will enhance your ability to provide such training events and you will find some useful suggestions to help you improve.
By the way, that Scout Platoon we mentioned successfully completed their tour in Iraq and won accolades from their chain of command for how they approached and accomplished their mission. They too are all believers and advocates of using such munitions in training events and we are grateful to have been a small part of their experience and thankful that our country has such young men who are still willing to stand up and serve when duty calls.
David L. Johnson is President of ITG® Consulting Services. He has over 30 years of experience in providing executive and personal security services in both the US military and private sector on a global scale. He is the author of ADVANCE: The Guide For Conducting A Protective Security Advance. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Image courtesy of tigger11th at FreeDigitalPhotos.net