Simulation: Live-fire Training

The current generation of simulator is a technological marvel – putting lone officers or groups onto realistic firing ranges or into a selection of the hundreds of interactive, video-based scenarios to confront a range of threats with a variety of resource options. Training systems can be packed into one travel case for delivery to remote locations, and set it up in a matter of minutes for training or qualifying. However, simulator-based training systems, especially for law enforcement officers, are on the brink of taking a giant step into the future as enhanced computer power and better display graphics bring artificial environments even closer to the real thing...

“Until now, the scenarios that were used have all been video-based,” explains Peter Longstaff, president of Meggitt Training Systems of Quebec. “The next generation will be basically computer-generated imagery.” Current video scenarios, with actors ‘responding’ to officers’ commands, may have a hundred paths to choose from, but are limited in the number of situations it can present. Computer generated scenarios, on the other hand, are more moldable, enabling organizations to customize the program to their own training needs. “With computer generated imagery there is much more flexibility in terms of the scenarios that will become available, at much less cost,” Longstaff remarks as he details some of the nuances that are being created to improve the realism of training. “We are looking at things like gesture recognition, so in other words, how does an officer react? You can automatically feed that information into scenarios and affect the outcome.”

Will the next big ‘wow’ factor for simulations-based training be in computer graphics? “As good as computer graphics are these days, it is still not there for interfacing with the officers in training,” says Vince Greiner, VP business development for TI Training Corp. of Colorado. “I need to see the fear in your eyes or the aggressiveness in your face” he says. “Those avatars are not there yet, but they are soon going to be, and once that happens, that will be the next level of full interaction, where you can talk to the screen and they are going to react back to you in real time. It’s not there yet, but it is coming.”

Especially in firearms training, simulations have evolved over several decades from the basic operation of a weapon and marksmanship to the point where they are being used to teach and rehearse split-second decision-making in various situations. The key is to find effective means to train officers to use the correct judgment, suggests Longstaff. “Simulators can be a controlled environment, which allows that training to take place very effectively.”

Led by young, tech-savvy firearms instructors, new generation police officers are embracing simulations training to hone and maintain skills. Beyond that, trainers can measure and compare individual performance over time, which will help in refining training techniques. “Generally over the years I think it has been proven that simulation in the law enforcement world is a very effective training tool, and a testing tool as well,” Longstaff says.

The biggest push right now is to augment or supplement qualification training. Major customers in Canada have been comparing control groups, some training on simulators before live fire qualification, and other groups doing only live fire training. According to Greiner, “they are finding that the simulation is a good stepping stone for qualifying, so the biggest thing now is, can we qualify on the simulator?” That is a big question for police forces, and the answer can only come from their training sections. Simulation companies provide the tools, but it is up to the policing sector to find the most effective means to utilize the technologies, which is why feedback to the developers is so critical to enhancing innovation of simulation products.

“Marksmanship is the basis of all simulation and live fire training, particularly in judgemental scenarios comprising the potential for collateral public damage,” says Meggitt’s Director Business Development, Paul Romeo. “Law enforcement agencies are placing an even greater emphasis on this skill within their force, with a view to understanding simulation accuracy, consideration of realistic weapon performance, ballistics and the impact of environmental conditions – elements that have always been a key basis of requirement in military training systems.” To that end, Judgemental Scenario-based simulation permits individuals and teams to challenge themselves in a safe environment that otherwise cannot be replicated on the indoor range. It provides law enforcement services with the opportunity to verify their lethal and non-lethal ‘Use of Force’ procedures, to develop new procedures, and to confirm the suitability of their procedures in specific situations.

The advent of gaming engines, computer generated imagery, artificial intelligence, gesture and voice recognition will lead policing down a path where the confidence placed in a force will be even more sound and well documented from a liability perspective. Force leadership will better understand what their officers have fulfilled in terms of training, where challenges exist, and where greater emphasis is required to assure the confidence of the public.

Simulation can enable the law enforcement officer to train in a mentally demanding and physically challenging environment, which he could otherwise not experience until the time of a real event. In choosing a system, they measure factors like realism, cost and portability in their purchase decisions. “One thing we have to realize is that, obviously, budget is a huge concern, especially at the municipal level,” says Longstaff. “And that is understandable, but I think when people look at the return on investment, it does work out.”

Affordability definitely comes into play, agrees Greiner. “Right now they look at ammunition costs but we remind them that it is not just their ammunition, it’s logistics. You have to get to the range, you have to pay people to run the range, you have to maintain the range, so there is all that involved with doing your training and firing your guns.”

Although budgets continue to tighten, demand for personnel and equipment is growing, and so training requirements are driving demand for cost-effective simulation solutions. Militaries and policing forces are all looking for solutions to train more efficiently. At the recent CANSEC defence and security trade show in Ottawa for instance, Meggitt demonstrated the FATS M100 system which is designed to support multiple, simultaneous simulation and training modes using flexible systems architecture.

With increasing active or threatening conflicts in today’s world, the use of simulation training solutions not only improves officer training, it can reduce costs associated with live fire training exercises.

Richard Bray is FrontLine’s senior writer.
© FrontLine Security 2014