Aiming to reduce cost: Simulator produces accuracy, saves money

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Shawn Nickel
  • 345th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
As the action snaps back and the sound of the rifle cracks, the only thing missing to make the scenario real is the smell of burnt gun powder.

Combat arms instructors from the 354th Security Forces Squadron utilize an engagement skills trainer to promote accuracy while saving hundreds of thousands of dollars on live ammunition.

An engagement skills trainer is a computer based training module which uses air compression and a surround sound system coupled with specially designed weapons to produce a shooting experience almost as good as the real thing, said Staff Sgt. Seth Stinnett, 354th SFS combat arms instructor.

The system, combined with classroom-based training, provides an effective, cutting-edge learning experience before stepping foot on a live-fire range.

"This system has definitely been a huge success for our wing," he said. "It takes the fundamentals we are talking about in the classroom and turns them into safe, hands-on scenarios."

Stinnett said with the skyrocketing price of ammunition, shooting with a simulator gives Airmen the opportunity to shoot twice as much with half the cost.

"We shoot more than 350,000 rounds of ammunition a year just in routine training," he said. "We cut cost by having each student practice on a computer before getting into live fire."

While Airmen fire at the movie theater-sized illuminated screen, an instructor sits at a monitor watching each round virtually penetrate a target. As the mark is analyzed on the computer, instructors can give enhanced advice to shooters.

"We definitely see a difference if we don't use the simulated training," said Staff Sgt. Tony Johnson, 354th SFS combat arms instructor. "When we see someone failing to hit a target on the screen, we know that is who we need to give a little more advice to rather than wasting live rounds to correct problems."

The system is installed and maintained by Cubic Defense Operations. Their subject matter expert, Michael Harris, who travels the world providing similar equipment for many government and private security agencies, said the systems can last more than 20 years. This leads to more ammunition saved.

"These systems are real firearms, the more they are fired the better they work," Harris said. "The weapons require routine maintenance because they are actual weapons modified to fit electronics. We make things as real as possible; anything that takes away from realism is negative training."

After spending the day learning fundamentals in the classroom and the engagement skills trainer, students head to the live firing range to prove their skills on real targets.

"We have taken Army statistics and proven that the simulators can bring accuracy from 78 to 93 percent," said Harris.

An added advantage to operating an engagement skills trainer is weapons familiarization.

"We can practice with several different weapons that most Airmen aren't used to," Stinnett said. "Often when an Airman is deployed, they will be tasked to go somewhere and do something with units using bigger or different weapons. We can let them handle them here at almost no cost, so when they are surprised with situations, they can handle it with confidence."

Stinnett encourages units on base to use the training system as often as possible, not just during scheduled range days. An instructor can train a point of contact on the machine and Airmen can stay proficient whenever possible.

"We can be charged to deploy at any moment and it's important to stay proficient at all times," he said. "With the engagement skills trainer, our Airmen can stay fit to fight without the cost of live ammunition."