Virtual Reality Arrives At The Range
Imagine that you are checking the latest news on your kid’s school website and you happen upon an article announcing that due to budget cuts, the driver training program would not be using actual cars on actual roads, any longer. After an extensive study by the learned bookworms (who know more than you), it has been decided that from now on, student drivers would gain their real-world skills at the Dodge ‘Em Car ride at the amusement park.
Your thoughts immediately flash to thinking of your teenager learning anything from these egg-heads. From there, your thoughts progress to what it will be like to be a traffic cop when these new drivers hit the road.
No matter how much praise this idea receives, you know – from experience – that it’s just not going to work.
SIMULATION TRAINING ON THE RANGE
Over the years, lot of us have spent time using simulated firearm training systems. There are numerous such systems out there.
The experience a cop gets there is close to reality. Sort of like Diet Coke is close to the Real Thing®. Training with simulated weapons beats getting no training, at all. It doesn’t chew up expensive ammunition. There is almost zero chance that anyone will get shot.
This is NOT a commercial. It is information about some new technology that has arrived to help cops do better with their weapons. Much like I have written reviews / announcements in the past about computers, vests and TASERS – I want to give street cops a heads-up on some new gear.
I believe that the new products from Meggitt stands a good change of radically changing firearm training and practices. I judge that it can help a cop be a more accurate shooter AND get real-life practice with a wide array of shoot/don’t shoot scenarios.
When doing the research for this article, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to conduct an in-depth interview with an officer who has been a weapons trainee lots of times: Richard Pope, a Community Officer in Georgia. I thought that I knew what he would say to me prior to my call. I was wrong. He told me that his agency issues a Glock 22 to each officer. Understood; that’s what was issued by my agency.
Many of us have used the widely-known FATS (Firearms Training Systems). In 2007, FATS merged with Caswell International and became Meggitt Training Systems. They created and refined simulated weapons under the brand name, “BlueFire®.”
Quoting Pope, “This weapon is as close to my duty weapon as any simulation weapon could ever come. It is the best, ever.”
At a recent IACP conference in Chicago I was personally able to shoot the BlueFire® Glock 22 simulation weapon. All I can say is, “OUTSTANDING.”
Here’s the skinny: Meggitt starts with a REAL Glock pistol. They adapt other brands and models, as well. At IACP, I shot the Meggitt version of the Glock 22 – my duty weapon. Meggitt then removes much of the guts, including the magazine. Replacing it are a variety of sensors and other electronics. The gun communicates wirelessly with the computer of the range master. It immediately diagnoses what changes in the shooter’s technique are needed.
Consider the implication: using the Meggitt system, the officer can self-train. The system will identify exactly what the shooter needs to change. SAFETY MUST BE THE FIRST CONCERN. Officers learning is no longer restricted only to those times when an instructor can be there to identify and correct poor techniques.
IT’S THE REAL THING
It must be said that while the Meggitt weapons are terrific, there is only one weapon that feels exactly like your own duty weapon, that is: your own duty weapon. Period. No exceptions.
Here’s the news: Meggitt has videos that can be used for training like lots of other outfits. There are flat-screen versions and versions which latterly surround the shooter on three sides.
They change dynamically. They interact with the shooter, responding to the shooter’s moves. They have real-life appearance. Terrific.
The scenes are infinitely controllable by the range master from his computer.
HERE’S THE KICKER:
A cop can now use real ammo in his own gun with the Meggitt training scenarios. OK. I’m sure you think I’m either lying or I’ve lost my mind. Not so. Meggitt has introduced a self-healing range backdrop: the Lamella® Membrane.
The best description I can offer: it’s is a rubber-like substance that comes in large sheets. It is self-healing. Yes, holes from live rounds heal themselves. No, it’s not magic. It’s simply the latest technology. It can be used in a flat-screen or surround environment.
Not bad, eh?
Cheap? Nope. But, it’s the only way that an agency can put cops on their own range using their own guns with live ammo and high resolution video scenarios.
Are there alternatives? Yes, the Lamella® Membrane can be replaced with large paper rolls. And of course, the same setting can be used with the LiveFire® weapons.
There is more to the story. Agencies who use the Meggitt gear can ensure realism because they can also create the ambient sights and sounds of an actual gun battle: flashing red / blue lights, sirens, people yelling & screaming along with a host of effects controlled by the range master.
Think of a range with multiple lanes. There are paper targets attached to trolleys. Now, replace the paper targets with an electronic version. Each lane can have its own image – whether steady (like a silhouette) or an action video from the scenario library.
Pretty cool, eh?
I should also mention that Meggitt has folks who will help architects design a new (or remodeled) range. Meggitt also knows where the current grant money is and how to apply for it.
WHY SIMULATION INSTEAD OF THE REAL THING?
The benefits are immediately apparent. When I fired the weapon at IACP, the instructor told me after firing two rounds, “You anticipated the first round and you are pulling to the left.” The weapon wirelessly tells the instructor a whole bunch of other stuff. In short, the instructor has all of the information needed to immediately tell the student what needs to change (if anything) to improve performance.
Guesswork is minimized. The instructor doesn’t have to stand at my shoulder. The repeated trying of different possible solutions to my performance problem is gone.
The student no longer feels the pressure of a hot range and of getting his chops busted for performance problems. This relaxes the student, thus improving the learning experience. Whoever thought that Make-Believe could be better than the real thing? I’m a believer, now.
SUMMING IT UP
Tom Ackerman of Gainesville, FL is one of the nation’s premier law enforcement instructors. He said, “We know that students learn by doing. Although we build a foundation in the classroom, the most significant learning takes place when trainees are engaged in hands-on scenarios.” He adds, “We’re upgrading our law enforcement and EMS training facilities to provide the most realistic training possible. Using the most common public safety events, we are re-creating those environments every day of the week.”
Most of us learn best when the environment is relaxed. Guys do especially well in group-settings where there is a common task at hand. They are less driven to compete, men are more willing to reveal a shortcoming. Others will pitch-in to help where/when needed.
EXAMPLE: Think of your partner announcing that he plans to spend Saturday building a deck on the back of his house. He asks if you’ll help – along with others on the shift. You are skilled in many ways, but carpentry ain’t one of them. You agree to be there but have the typical reluctance and fear of ridicule from your cohorts.
You show up on the appointed day and admit that you don’t know much about carpentry, but you’re willing to be the gopher or do any other grunt tasks needed by the team. If your group is typical, there will be some jokes, beer, and pizza and by the end of the day you will have learned more about carpentry that you ever expected.
Point: you were learning and didn’t even realize it. Much easier than algebra class, isn’t it? In that kind of setting, most of us will learn faster, have better retention of the details and end-up feeling pretty good about ourselves and what we contributed to the group effort. The pressure is relieved which has a positive impact all the way around.
Agencies report they are getting a very different kind of recruit today than they did fifteen or twenty years ago. In prior times, a recruit class would be heavily populated with former members of the military. That’s not the case today. Given the demographic changes of the country, attitudes about law enforcement and other societal changes, recruit training must change in order to be successful.
Academy leaders tell me that in a typical class, many of the recruits have never handled a real weapon prior to the academy. They are not comfortable around guns. Many are even scared of their weapon.
We have not yet been able to duplicate the “pucker factor” of a real gun fight on the street in simulated training. Handling a real weapon on a hot range teaches cops critical respect for their weapons and the dangers which accompany them.
Simulation has been successfully used for years by airline pilots both when new and in-service to practice their skills under emergency situations. Think back to Sully, the Captain / pilot of the US Airways flight who safely landed his jet in the Hudson River and didn’t lose the life of a single passenger. You can bet that he learned and practiced that maneuver many times in a simulated training environment beforehand.
SIMULATED FIREARMS TRAINING has changed as much in recent years as have cell phones, video games and the internet or social media. Skipping a chance to experience it is truly shortchanging your safety and the lives of those who depend upon you. I encourage you to seek it out. It is worth the time and effort.
In the final analysis, it’s all about saving just ONE LIFE.