Theory and fundamentals for safe and effective simulations in firearms training

This article deals with the training of police officers and military conscripts in the use of firearms from the perspective of northern Europe. In times of peace and in the threat of modern hybrid war, legitimate use of force, especially the use of firearms, are approaching each other. Police and soldiers should understand each other and speak the same language.

Some experienced trainers may share my thoughts: instruction and its purpose no longer meet. Society and the world around it have changed. Should training methods and techniques be re-evaluated? Should training techniques be emphasized in simulations? If such a solution is reached, what should be known?

The theoretical basis of firearms simulations

Weapons handling skills can be improved to the level of automation, but situation assessment and decision-making related to the use of weapons are situational and discretionary within the framework of the rules of force and assigned tasks.

The decision-making of the individual trainee principally follows Colonel Boyd’s OODA principle.

OODA loop: Observe, Orient, Decide, Act

a. Observe: A trainee patches his environment makes observations of factors influencing action and looks for threats

b. Orient: Orientation: The trainee focuses on the threatening targets he has detected, an assessment of the severity of the threat, and the consequences of the opening of the fire (”identify the target, secure the background”)

c. Decide, decision: the trainee decides on the use of the weapon, as well as on any pre-fire and related activities (command, warning shot, firing position/protection, aiming point, minimization of side damage, firing order, etc.)

d. Act, action: The trainee commences action within the framework of the regulations and orders he has received and, in accordance with the effect of his measures, continues towards the desired result. At this point, the loop speeds up, and the importance of feedback increases. The progress of the situation may not always lead to fire!

At the heart of the image are personal factors that influence decision-making and action, such as heredity, culture with its values, new information, analyses performed and to be done in the situation, and previous experiences.


Past experiences can be influenced by simulated exercises in which a person has to make decisions under pressure and still act in a safe and reproducible way. This artificially produces experiences and the ability to face a stressful and threatening situation and creates a so-called Stress vaccination effect. (Compare the effect of martial arts training in a self-defense situation)

Stress vaccination is a cognitive-behavioral therapy method developed by Dr. Donald Meichenbaum to improve psychological flexibility and stress tolerance. In this method, the subject is safely exposed to stressful situations. The method has been used successfully, for example, to treat a traumatic stress reaction.

Lieutenant-Colonel (retired) Professor Dave Grossman has become known as an advocate of proactive ”stress vaccination” for soldiers and other authorities facing stressful and dangerous situations.

According to Grossman (Grossman, Dave: On Combat), realistic training based on color bullets can significantly improve a fighter’s ability to survive a firefight. For example, the ability to continue working with a wound is improved when those who have been hit in training are also encouraged to continue working.

Ken Murray, experience police and armed forces trainer, co-founder of Simunition®, and author of Training at The Speed of Life: Advancing Reality -Based Training, quoted by Grossman as emphasizing in particular that trainees should be encouraged to continue working would have hit in practice. One essential part of this type of training is that none of the trainees may be removed from the situation after being hit. The practice must not end until the hit trainee has hit the sparrer, reached shelter, called for help, and will be able to fire his opponent, if necessary. This will strengthen mental and mental resilience to withstand potential injury and increase the will to survive.

The case of Los Angeles Police Department (USA) Officer Stacy Lim is often cited as an example. Constable Lim was returning from sports training when he encountered a group of gang members who had followed him with the intention of hijacking his car. He was shot in the chest as he got out of the car and a bullet hit his heart. Despite this, he responded to the fire and after a short chase got shot by a gang member who shot him. The other participants had fled at this point. He then fumbled down the driveway of his home, called for help, and even before he lost consciousness, removed the cartridges and the magazine from his gun and threw them in the bush so that the gun could not be used against him. Limi’s shooter died, Lim passed away twice at the operating table but was resuscitated and he returned to the police force for patrol duties.

In his interviews, Lim emphasized the spiritual survival brought about by realistic training and the readiness to act despite the injury as the root cause of his own survival.

Military perspective – urban vs. traditional warfare

The military doctrine in northern Europe has changed. The image of traditional warfare has been substituted by preparation for urban warfare, the so-called hybrid operations war, as we have seen recently.

The following facts are typical of the urban warfare environment: the speed and surprise of situations, short observation, and firing distances, and a higher risk of incidental damage and civilian casualties, than on a normal battlefield.

The increased use and risk of hybrid operations and methods of warfare are likely to blur the picture and make it more difficult to identify enemy fighters and justify the use of armed force. This places even greater demands on the individual trainee’s ability to judge and evaluate the use of force, for example in target defense missions.

Many IT-based simulators, developed since Millenium for military combat training, are based on laser systems as well as sensor panels in vests and helmets. The laser beam transmitter is attached to the barrel of the rifle, which uses blank firing cartridges.

According to present preventive statements for firearms simulations of using blank firing cartridges, which may send dangerous pieces of material in the direction of the barrel.

Typically, blank cartridges of assault rifles must not be fired closer than 50 meters per person. If, in accordance with the exercise leader’s order, in exceptional cases, shots are fired from distances shorter than 50 meters, the barrel of the weapon must be pointed upwards. Pointing the barrel upwards prevents the laser beam from hitting the sensors and also allows fighters to shoot past at a close range

After receiving a hit from the laser beam, the system will start alarming and the transmitter of the hit the trainee’s weapon will be locked and will no longer be able to shoot. The lock can only be removed with a separate referee transmitter. Thus, the system supports the notion that a hit automatically renders a fighter incapacitated.

Consequently, these types of IT-based simulators disable realistic two-sided training for short distances of 0-50 m that are relevant to urban warfare.

It is widely known for a long that simulation-type training is extremely effective. If such a training method is used, particular attention should be paid to the training of both police officers and military conscripts, first to the rapid achievement of safe weapons handling skills and, subsequently, to the ability to make the best possible decisions under pressure. If either aspect is wrongly emphasized, the outcome of the training cannot be acceptable.