The Cutting Edge: Practical Firearms Training While Saving Ammo
Reprinted from The Training Research Brief
By Terry N. Wollert, Rodney Burnett, Ed Sizemore & Dan Balash
Futurist, Alvin Toffler1, in his 1970 international bestselling book, described the accelerated rate of technological and social change being experienced in the world as “future shock.” Toffler coined the phrase “future shock” to explain the societal paralysis caused by rapid technological change. He argued that change was accelerating at a speed where the rate of change is disorientating lots of people.
It may be safe to say that the field of law enforcement firearms instruction is not suffering from “future shock.” That is not to say that law enforcement firearms training has not incurred change. After all, the FBI2 adopted the 38 special revolver in the 1930s and federal agencies3 began transitioning to the semiautomatic pistol in the 1990s, with most of the larger agencies completing the transition between 1995 and 2000. That is only 80 plus years after the U.S. Army’s adoption of the infamous John Browning Colt 1911 semi-auto pistol. Another example of entrenched law enforcement firearms training is apparent when one compares an early qualification course of fire to one used in 2009.
The July 1945 issue of American Rifleman4 describes the FBI firearms training course as:
The practical pistol course consists of fifty shots, and is designed to cover as many situations as possible under which the agent may have to shoot. For this course, a Colt silhouette target and the Colt .38 Official Police Revolver are used. The first ten shots are fired from hip level at a distance of seven yards from the target. Upon command, the gun is loaded with five cartridges and is holstered immediately. When the men on the firing line have all loaded and holstered their guns, the second command is given at which time the guns are drawn and fired from hip level without aiming. As soon as the first five shots have been discharged, the empty cartridges are taken out and five live cartridges are inserted and fired into the target.
The 2009 Federal Law Enforcement Training Center’s (FLETC) Practical Pistol Course (PPC) describes the course as:
The FLETC PPC is designed to simulate a variety of shooting positions and situations a shooter could be expected to encounter in the field. The course is fired from the 7, 3, 1.5, 15 and 25 yard lines. The shooter will fire 60 rounds on the Transtar II target for score. Shooters begin with a loaded weapon with 6 rounds with 2 additional 6 round magazines in their magazine pouch. The Course of Fire begins “Shooters, from the Close Quarters Bent Elbow Position, strong-hand only, when the threat appears, draw and fire 2 rounds in 3 seconds. When the target edges, scan and holster. You will do this for the next 3 facings. When the slide locks to the rear, perform an emergency reload, scan, de-cock, (if appropriate) and thumb check back to the holster.”
Thomas Aveni5, in a 2008 article on police firearms training, points out that the law enforcement community has adopted many new technological advances like dashboard cameras, MDTs (computer displays), and ECWs (Tasers). Even the traditional multi cell incandescent bulb has given way to smaller and brighter LED flashlights. When it comes to firearms training, we’ve held onto the traditional methods. Change is coming whether we initiate it or it is forced upon us.
Recent US Congressional testimony by senior officials demonstrated the push federal law enforcement is getting due to budget pressures. The exchange between congressman Mica6, at an Oversight and Government Reform Hearing, and a Department of Homeland Security official focused on the viability of simulation and the potential cost savings. Congressman Mica was asking why law enforcement wasn’t using more simulation and why we shoot more rounds per student than the military who are training people for actual combat operations.
Aveni went on to say that challenging convention is a tricky uphill battle. It is not simply a matter of coming up with a better solution, it must be proven to be better, then adopted by the majority before it can become the new convention.
The future is where technology jumps out of the computer screen and becomes part of us. The Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) is becoming a source of digital best practice using technology to enhance student learning. For example, using driving and marine simulators to teach accident avoidance and marine navigation skills and an Avatar Based Interview Simulator (ABIS) as a training tool to reinforce the five-step interview process they are taught in class. Even the Firearms Division (FAD) uses laser handguns and branching videos to teach uses of force decisions during the Judgment Pistol Shooting Course. The FLETC is taking on the task of identifying how to take advantage of available technology by challenging industry to develop simulation systems that replicate real world training activities.
For example, in 2010, the FLETC conducted a study to determine if a Laser Handgun could be used to conduct Basic Marksmanship Instruction (BMI). BMI includes basic weapons handling skills; including stance, grip, sight alignment, and trigger control. The study investigated whether the final qualifying Semiautomatic Pistol Course (SPC) score of those using a laser handgun in BMI was significantly different from the final qualifying SPC score of those using a live-fire handgun during BMI. The results of the study were published in the spring 2011 issue of the FLETC Journal, and the November 2011 issue of Law Officer Magazine.
The FLETC research team began the study using volunteers from the College of Coastal Georgia (CCGA) majoring in Criminal Justice. The volunteers were divided into two stratified groups based on age, gender, and prior experience with a handgun. One group completed the BMI training using a non-recoil Glock 17R handgun and the other group completed BMI using a Glock Model 17 9mm handgun. After both groups completed BMI they attended 14 hours of the FLETC Semiautomatic Pistol Course (SPC) which concluded with a final qualification round. The research team felt that even though the difference between the two groups was only 2.6 points, there were not enough volunteers to establish whether or not the difference was statistically significant. However, the FLETC Firearms Division (FAD) and the research team felt the results warranted further study using FLETC students.
The United States Marshals Service (USMS) had several back to back classes consisting of 140 students attending the Criminal Investigator Training Program, (CITP), that were allowed to participate in the study. The USMS students were randomly divided into two groups using the same stratification method used for the college students. The two groups matched the number of trigger pulls versus rounds fired to ensure neither group had an unfair advantage. At the completion of the SPC qualification session, the difference in the two group’s scores, using an independent t-test, were found to be statistically insignificant. In fact, the laser group, when compared to the USMS Control Group, both groups scored 275.8 out of a possible 300 points.
Using the results from the FLETC7 and Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) studies8, the FLETC concluded that the use of simulation for the BMI is as equally effective as live-fire. Coupled with the success of the simulation studies, FLETC had a live-fire range that had been offline since 2010 due to safety issues which provided an ideal location for installing virtual firing ranges. Converting the live-fire range to virtual ranges would provide substantial life cycle cost savings, while providing increased throughput of 72 lanes versus 24 lanes on the live-fire range, and students getting two to three times more trigger pulls than a similar live-fire course without increasing course length. Additionally, the simulated ranges will create less environmental impact because no live ammunition is fired.
The virtual firing range has several advantages for instructors and new law enforcement officers and agents. At the top of the list is safety. With more and more students attending the various law enforcement training programs, several have little to no firearms experience and even less with a handgun. Andria Heese9, summer intern from William Jewell College, expressed the advantage of using the virtual range during a conversation following her first firearms experience. According to Andria:
I found the virtual firing range very helpful. I have never fired or even touched a handgun in my life and this experience helped me learn to shoot in an atmosphere that was less intimidating than going straight to a firing range with real bullets.
The virtual range allows instructors to introduce pistol craft training without the hazards of an unintentional/negligent discharge. The virtual range allows instructors to closely observe student performance and through the use of the system’s After Action Review (AAR) capabilities, the instructor can provide students immediate visual and informative feedback/corrective actions. The system automatically tracks student performance for trending and recordkeeping. Because the simulator does not require the use of hearing protection, instructors are able to communicate with their students in normal conversational tone instead of trying to talk over the noise associated with a live-fire range with double hearing protection. Instructors can easily create new courses of fire or use courses in the database to provide students with drills to enhance their firearms skills. The virtual range simulator can be used to introduce students to tactical engagement skills such as reduced light, moving while shooting, shooting moving targets while moving, and threat identification to mention a few.
It was interesting watching her confidence build, during the 1.5 hour training session, as she went from not knowing how to aim to drawing the weapon from the holster and consistently hitting the target during 2 second facings. Andria was not an exception as three other new handgun shooters made the same transition during the 1.5 hour training session.
The virtual range allows instructors to introduce pistol craft training without the hazards of an unintentional/negligent discharge. The virtual range allows instructors to closely observe student performance and through the use of the system’s After Action Review (AAR) capabilities, the instructor can provide students immediate visual and informative feedback/corrective actions. The system automatically tracks student performance for trending and recordkeeping. Because the simulator does not require the use of hearing protection, instructors are able to communicate with their students in normal conversational tone instead of trying to talk over the noise associated with a live-fire range with double hearing protection.
Instructors can easily create new courses of fire or use courses in the database to provide students with drills to enhance their firearms skills. The virtual range simulator can be used to introduce students to tactical engagement skills such as reduced light, moving while shooting, shooting moving targets while moving, and threat identification to mention a few. Virtual environments also allow the practice of scenarios that aren’t practical in the real world and allow for the development of tactics, techniques, and procedures that you may not want your adversary to observe. For example, in a real life pursuit situation, the officer may encounter a pedestrian crossing the roadway. Obviously we cannot risk this type of scenario on the real driving range, but in the simulated world it is simple to introduce these types of events with no risk to life or property. The virtual range simulator, like the driving simulator, opens a whole new level of firearms skill development in a safe, comfortable environment and is limited only by the imagination of the firearms instructors.
The virtual firing range has benefits for administrators and taxpayers, as well. Using the virtual range simulator instead of a live-fire range has a cost savings of $379 thousand per year for a net savings of $1.893 million over the next five years? Most of these savings are due to ammunition cost avoidance. This savings projection is based on FLETC’s BMI training only and will increase as the virtual firing range is incorporated into other training programs. In today’s environment of increasing ammunition costs and limited availability, these savings can make the difference in the availability and quality of firearms training.
As mentioned in the beginning of this article, the FLETC is bucking the trend in the firearms training arena by introducing new technology to enhance its firearms training curriculum. That doesn’t mean that some instructors aren’t skeptics when it comes to shooting laser beams instead of bullets and we are not suggesting that we abandon live-fire training. However, we are convinced that as more and more instructors start using the virtual range simulator, the skepticism will disappear and the instructors will come up with even more innovative ways to use the virtual range to keep FLETC firearms training the best there is and the FLETC as the world leader in law enforcement training. The next trends you will be learning about are the ways to combine different types of virtual skills trainers into combined exercises to improve proficiency of our officers and agents.
1Tofller, A. (1970). Future shock, New York: Random House.
2Hoover, J. (1945). “The shooting FBI.” The American Rifleman 93(7): 10-13.
3Nester, C. (2013).
4Hoover, J. (1945). “The shooting FBI.” The American Rifleman 93(7): 10-13.
5Aveni, T. (2008). “Obsolescence: The police firearms training dilemma.” Answering the Call: 1-7.
6Mica, J. (2013). “Simulation: An incredible opportunity for savings and better training.” Retrieved April 25, 2013, from www.youtube.com/watch?v=rcmmHUtaZsY.
7STEVE HAWTHORNE, TERRY WOLLERT, et al. (November 2011). “FLETC’s Basic Marksmanship Simulator Study.” Law Officer 7(11).
8Krätzig, G. P., M. Hyde, et al. (2011). “Pistols Skills Transfer from a Synthetic Environment to Real World Setting.” The Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation & Education Conference (I/ITSEC) 2011(1).
9Heese, A. (2013). Virtual Range. D. T. N. Wollert. Glynco.
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