TacTalk: Training Tools, Methods and Facilities

Please visit the official Opsgear website to see past TacTalk articles.

By David “Jager” Burnell
Founder and CEO, OPSGEAR®

We have been operating the Urban Warfare Center® since 2002 and have used virtually every kind of marking gun projectile or product that can hit another human being without killing them in a shoot, move and communicate training environment. We have trained in the woods, desert, mountains and high speed shoot houses. We have used a variety of gear and guns over the years and exhausted thousands of dollars and man hours finding the best stuff. This article will break down our best gear and practices so that you can shorten the learning curve and get some excellent force-on-force training going now.

The premise of this article is human-versus-human training and not live fire.

We are often asked which technologies perform the best and which ones hold up well. It is clear from some of our media that .68 caliber paint rounds have been the predominant technology used in the Urban Warfare Center® and is highly promoted by our company OPSGEAR®. The reasons are very simple and clear but before we get into the attributes or specific reasons I would like to break down what we feel are the hard requirements for a dynamic force-on-force training environment and why.

Top Ten Force-on-Force Training Requirements:

  1. Contained environment that will stop projectiles or limit penetration.
  2. Proper rated safety gear (.i.e paintball masks are not rated for simulations).
  3. Guns that perform in dirt, dust and can go to ground if needed without breaking.
  4. Ego absent Opposing Force that understand training is NOT competitive or play time.
  5. Principle based instruction that can survive the great SWAT debate.
  6. Understanding that tactics are an art and a science.
  7. Realistic achievable scenarios. This will give credibility to the tools and methods.
  8. An element of perceived risk or pain that will stimulate the middle brain.
  9. A completely safe environment that replicates the reality of chaos and stress.
  10. A facilitation approach which enhances learning through debriefing success/failure.

1. Contained environment that will stop projectiles: The Urban Warfare Center® is a small town within a confined space, but with proper range controls and distant safe zones and safety gear force-on-force training can be done anywhere. It is critical that eyes and face are always covered and basic range methods of communicating “range HOT/COLD” are used. Often the greatest risk is in between missions or evolutions when the guards come down and someone strokes a trigger. Racking or laying weapons down between missions is one way to mitigate this risk outside of proper muzzle control and safety of weapon systems.

2. Proper safety gear. As stated it is important to use the gear rated for the system. Paintball masks often exceed air soft standards but the pellets can still make it through the wider ventilation. Air soft masks do not stop the spatter of paint or clear rounds etc. we always where possible have units or agencies where the same battle rattle they will on the streets or down range. This normally provides them with long sleeves, some armour and a little more protection. Bottom line and we have all heard it: “train how you will fight.” If you wear gloves in a fight then train with them one. Having said that you wont find me without gloves in a dynamic force-on-force fight inside the Urban Warfare Center®.

3. Guns that perform in dirt, dust and can go to ground: We are not in this to debate the recreational markets and what is “fun.” We are in this to increase the war fighting capability of men and women in harms way. While there is some cross over and we have a strong following in all categories this is for the force-on-force training mindset only. Thanks to my brother, founder and owner of SG FIVE and force-on-force training company that has the contracts for the Idaho Police Academies, we have adopted .68 caliber as our “primary” tool for our training. Below is a chart that summarizes our experiences with the mainstream marking/projectile force-on-force solutions.

NOTE: If we don’t list it here it is because we don’t think it made the cut for our purposes.

PROs and CONs of Force-on-Force Marking/Projectile Solutions

  • 68 caliber paint rounds: For years we used paint rounds but the cost of maintaining the guns, gear and facility caused us to switch to .68 caliber rubber balls. A little silicone and some water to wash the balls and the rubber balls are reusable. These rounds hurt cause they don’t break but they stimulate the middle brain like nothing else we have ever used. The benefits of .68 caliber guns is that for a few hundred dollars you can get a rifle or handgun that is easy to use, maintain and when using paint or clear rounds gives you the feedback you need regarding the fight. Rounds for this solution are a few cents each and you can get the guns and rounds at most sporting goods stores. We have innovated an entire line of metal fabricated modifications to standard off the shelf Tippmann A5 paint guns. We have the SAW, BMG .50, 416, AK, G36 and many others. These were made to such a high standard that we have had our kits in use for many years. The extra weight, mounting options for lights, lasers, bipods and optics gives the user the form and feel of the real thing. We also recommend the Tippmann ALPHA series. They are cheap and hold up well for training. For us .68 caliber is our mainstay and wont be replaced any time soon. On this note we have tested many magazine fed systems and some smaller marking calibers and have found them to be to complex and unreliable for training use. When you spend most of your time fixing the gear it does not meet our standards. Shooting compressed air from our guns versus the CO2 has increased its effectiveness and reduced maintenance overall. You can also fill most compressed air tanks for these weapons off SCUBA tanks with a $50 adaptor. For advanced team tactics and training you can combine a select fire semi – full auto trigger that will have a positive impact on the training experience. These weapons in full auto mode can fire 15-30 rounds per second and about 200 MPH. We set the velocity for close contact fighting to around 250 FPS.
  • 6mm Air Soft: We love this technology and use it along with .68 caliber for training. the gas blowback handguns are great solutions for a one to one replica of the real thing and the 6mm pellets still teach the lessons. There has yet to be any stable marking round come out in this size and we have tried many. When you have to fire lots of rounds to teach we shift to the more robust .68 caliber stuff. The rifles we use are the electronic versions and not off the shelf. We recommend the higher end AEG style rifles as these will outlast the cheap stuff many times over. Air soft requires that you know the gear and can be maintenance intensive. Shooting the heavier porcelain rounds is recommended as the cheaper plastic pellets will jam up the guns. The benefit here is that you get mag changes and a one for one replica of the real thing. Having said that it is my opinion that mag changes are a range skill and should be done live fire. Force-on-Force is shoot, move and communicate. Most folks we deal with have a hard enough time getting that done without worrying about how they reload yet. Nevertheless it is a plus plus to have one for one in training. For advanced teams Air Soft will give you the one for one feel and reload which you may want. The plus of this solution is that you can train in standard buildings as damage is limited because of the smaller round. Make no mistake either, this 6mm stuff hurts good when you get hit.
  • Simunitions: Of course the premier solution and if you have the money and the guns get it. Cost per round can be .50 cents a round plus or minus .25 and the marking side of the round is not that visible at times. Having been shot by the FBI at the Urban Warfare Center® with this solution I have great respect for the permanent marking of my skin 🙂 Safety with this solution is of paramount concern as many agencies use of the shelf paintball masks which are NOT rated for simunitions. Also the opportunity to slip a real gun in on accident is always a concern and most agencies we deal with at the Urban Warfare Center® WAND all their folks when they come in from the outside creating a safety barrier for training.

Summary of weapons: .68 caliber is cheap and easy to use and can be found everywhere. It does not give you a one for one weapon but with our kits and some recent innovations it is getting closer. There is no reload that is identifiable to a magazine. Excellent force-on-force solution and we recommend and part of your training platform. .6mm air soft is perfect for the department that needs a moderate cost projectile based system that can determine the outcome of a fight. One for one with mag changes is a plus. Simunitions is the premier solution with a premier price tag.

A little bit of all of these is what we use and see out there with many agencies. The .6mm stuff would never hold up in the hard dirt of a Combat Stress Program but the .68 caliber always has. Most effective training only a few rounds should be fired anyway so that is only a concern with perhaps that program or military assaults on fixed positions.

4. Ego absent Opposing Force (OPFOR): Perhaps one of the most important aspects of effective force-on-force or human-vs-human training is the bad guy. If done correctly the bad guy can teach while doing in a way that instructors can only white board or de brief. Effective Opposing Force (OPFOR) know when to apply pressure, how to take commands from the Senior Instructors and can lay their ego down to teach a lesson. On more than one occasion I have assaulted large groups of soldiers or police in behaviors that may replicate an extremist of desperate fugitive. Because of this I got shot a lot. This is just a simple example of how we don’t look at training as a competitive environment but as combat preparation. Fast, fit and smart opposing force try to establish the TEMPO of the fight. Good soldiers and Police will try and take the tempo and make it theirs. This interaction has made some of the best training I have ever been part of.

5. Principle based instruction: The great SWAT debate often arises because some folks are stuck on a tactic or method of doing things. We are open to all things that work… period. We try and instill this flexibility in the visitors of the Urban Warfare Center® and find most are receptive. As Standard operating Procedures (SOPs) are tested under fire in a force-on-force environment we see what works and what does not. Good teams adjust and as we suggest use principle based approaches to solving problems. An example of this would be the principle of not paying for real-estate twice. Could this be debated… yes we have seen and heard the debates. The fact remains most folks who have bought the place twice have also bled twice. Experience says that it is a better idea to keep what you pay for until the place is secure. While this is not always possible in shorted teams or very large spaces the principle is. Perhaps maintaining an active “SIX” (rear) watch while moving is how you keep the terrain you pass by. Nevertheless, the principle is to not pay for it twice. Another example would be “Two Into Danger.” Never go anywhere without two operators. Are there exceptions to this? Yes, but there is also a potential risk with that exception that must be weighted. These are just a couple of examples of principle based instruction. perhaps our favorite is Surprise, Speed and Action of Violence. If you lose surprise the principle would be to increase speed and action of violence.

6. Tactics are an art and a science: Cornering is a tactic. How you apply it individually is a science. The book “The Art of War” illustrates this concept plainly. Help your students know that they must blend their own self with the principles and tactics taught or realized. This will made great operators and solid tacticians. We are not all trying to look the same, but to perform effectively at our own level for the same purpose.

7. Realistic achievable scenarios: There is a tendency in some training environments to make the scenarios so hard that they are rarely achieved. We use this as a valid tool in our Combat Stress Programs and the Urban Warfare Center®. On one training day one team took 8 minutes to complete a mission under fire and another took 40 minutes to do the same scenarios. What was the difference? Simple… the 8 minute team was more flexible under stress and used principles of battle instead of hard tactics. The only way from one side to the other that day was a window that the 40 minute team went by at least three times. They got shot lots and finally went through the window and accomplished the mission. This tunnel vision is a common problem but it also goes to show one team was ready for the “window only under stress” scenario and the other team was not. Making the scenarios short and achievable will increase confidence and build cohesion, they must however been challenging and stretch the team.

8. An element of perceived risk or pain that will stimulate the middle brain: This is the core of what effective force-on-force training does to an individual. Even though they are working in a team each person has to deal with the receptors in the brain stem moving data under stress to the middle brain and all struggle to reach higher level thinking aspects located in the frontal lobes. This stress inoculation is key to creating an index card of permanent memory and the source that they will eventually draw upon in a real fight. In order for this to happen we use controlled chaos and assault the five physical senses of taste, touch, sight, smell and sound. The scenarios present a “real” challenge in a controlled environment. Through this type of training immersion we can stimulate the parts of the brain that create permanent memory.

9. A completely safe environment that replicates the reality of chaos and stress: As stated above in the previous paragraph, safety is paramount but the environment need to have an element of perceived risk. Marking guns or projectile based shooting systems facilitate this. Pain is an excellent teacher and will inspire stress and produce the decline in performance needed until they get the concepts.

10. Facilitation which enhances learning through debriefing success/failure: One of the key components of our teaching methods is a complete debrief of each scenario. It is critical to get the students to share personally success and failure. We learn from mistakes but good behaviors are re-enforced by success. Verbalizing these wins and evaluating our losses helps participants learn that it is ok to rise through the day to success even if you started at the bottom. One of the key ingredients to this is to keep the student focused on their individual evaluation. We encourage the avoidance of them or they. We ask them to say I or me. This prevents deflecting failure and accountability and focuses on the lessons learned personally. If everyone participates like this we see huge success at the end of a force-on-force training day.

Through this force-on-force method of training warriors we have seen the fruits of our labors through returning units, individuals and agencies from high risk missions, operations and deployments. For more information on this style of training visit the Urban Warfare Center.

TacTalk is a bi weekly publication which can be found at the official Opsgear website.  Visit the official Opsgear website to browse the archives for past articles.



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