Force-on-force training has become widely used and greatly appreciated among the law enforcement community for providing realistic training for shooting scenarios without creating unacceptable risks to participating officers. The force-on-force concept is that pain is a great motivator to learn the necessary shooting, and movement skills required to survive a deadly force encounter.
Officers are not shooting “live” weapons at paper or steel targets but are instead able to engage each other or volunteers, assigned to be armed perpetrators, in mock gunfire. The firearms used are usually made to the same or very similar specifications as real firearms, but have a highly visible color marking to indicate that the weapon is for training, and do not use live ammunition.
Some of the most common force-on-force weapons use Airsoft or Simunition rounds instead of actual ammunition. Airsoft guns are usually made mostly of heavy-duty plastic and have clearly color-marked barrels or muzzles, but mimic the actual firearm they are designed after. Simunition guns are much more realistic in feel, and come with highly visible color-marked grips and frames. Due to firing an actual cartridge they are made of metal slides and barrels just like a real firearm.
Airsoft rounds are basically rubber BB’s that are fired through the use of compressed air, hence “air soft”. Simunition rounds have an actual brass casing with a primer for discharging the projectile, however the “bullet” is not lead or copper but instead is made of plastic and filled with a colored die material for marking hits.
These tools allow officers to practice entry techniques, active shooter responses, and other tactical or patrol responses where members could confront an armed subject and at the same time face the real-life adrenaline response from actually being shot at with something that hurts. The pain from an Airsoft or Simunition round is a real attention-getter, but usually only leaves a minor bruise or abrasion on the “victim” along with some hurt pride.
Because of this, force-on-force training has allowed officers, particularly on tactical teams, invaluable training tools to enforce good shooting and movement drills and to expose areas that need review or correction. Participants are required to wear eye and face protection and are usually required to wear clothing that covers the participant’s extremities, but otherwise those involved are exposed to the pain stimulation that lets you know right away if you’ve exposed yourself to a threat.
Obviously the Airsoft guns provide a much safer tool to use because they do not accept standard magazines or ammunition, and the weapons have a distinctly different weight due to their construction. The Airsoft BB’s are fairly accurate and easy to reload, but sometimes the weapon will malfunction due to low air levels. Some even claim that Airsoft rounds don’t hurt as much as Simunition rounds, but I personally believe that depends on what type of weapon system is being used.
However, Simunition guns are often chosen for the fact that the weight of the gun is realistic, there is a near-realistic discharge sound, ammunition can be loaded just like live ammunition and the magazines are the same as duty magazines. This allows officers to practice all of their weapon’s malfunction drills, magazine reloading drills, and perhaps even individual cartridge loading, all while still in the training evolution.
Regardless of the training weapon chosen safety precautions have to be religiously followed to ensure the safety of officers in training.
In what must be chiseled into the concrete of law enforcement’s training rules and policies, ALL participants in a force-on-force training exercise must be checked AND double checked for live weapons and ammunition prior to participation in the training cycle. Checks should be performed by different safety officers to ensure something was not missed.
A best case policy, if vehicles can be properly secured, is to have training participants secure live weapons and ammunition in their vehicles before entering the training area. If that is not feasible or against Department policy, a “safe room” or “safe area” must be established to allow officers to properly download their duty weapons and ammunition away from the training area. This area should be constantly monitored by a safety officer to ensure an officer does not inadvertently enter the “safe area” to reload his force-on-force weapon and use live ammunition instead of training ammunition.
The September 15, 2010 training death of St. Joseph, Missouri police officer Dan DeKraai shows all too clear, law enforcement professionals cannot and must not let their guard down on safety procedures simply because the training exercise is using Simunition or Airsoft rounds.
In DeKraai’s tragic circumstance, a fellow SWAT officer had left the training site for beverages. Upon returning that officer failed to download his duty firearm and a safety check was not completed. Officer DeKraai was new to Simunition rounds and asked the returning officer to shoot him in the back so he would know what it felt like to be hit by a Simunition round. The resulting shot pierced Officer DeKraai’s heart killing him instantly.
This should not and cannot happen again. Check your gear! Be safe!
Aaron is a sergeant with a midwestern police department, where he serves as a trainer, supervisor and SWAT sniper. In addition to his broad tactical knowledge, Aaron has experience in DUI, DRE and undercover narcotics investigations.