Simulation Technology

Traditional crime prevention and response have long been seen as community-oriented public safety measures. Today, the implications of social media and instantaneous reporting of officers’ actions, in some cases throughout the world, before formal inquiries can even begin, has led to a greater appreciation of the value of simulated training.

Effective training solutions, more so than ever before, rely on a holistic and judgmental regime that can replicate, to the best possible degree, the tactical challenges of response, the ­fluidity of operational changes on the ground, and the importance of informed decision-making strategies that keeps the safety of the public at the forefront of all policing actions.

The market for immersive training materials – in the form of both hardware and software – is very much the result of a highly competitive and demand-driven niche sector of the economy. 

Simulation companies seek to provide combination training for law enforcement clients – to equip clients with the tools needed to create the most relevant, adaptable, immersive, and judgmental training that will prepare officers for the realities of day-to-day duties. 

This report looks at the products and services of two pioneering simulations companies whose innovations have already benefited the public interest in equipping officers with the most advanced training possible to prevent and respond to public safety risks.

A follow-on article, to be published in the Summer edition, will look at how major Canadian law enforcement agencies at the municipal, provincial, and federal levels have already begun to make extensive use of simulations technologies, both for weapons training and other duty requirements.

Meggitt Training Systems 
Bridging the gap between the virtual and the practical
Meggitt Training Systems (MTS) is a leading supplier of integrated live-fire and simulation weapons training systems. Headquartered in the U.S., Meggitt maintains a permanent office in Montreal with some 60 employees working on R&D tailored to military and civilian law enforcement. The company has deployed more than 200 simulation systems across the country.

A spirit for disruptive innovation is nothing new for Meggitt. They invented the world’s first target system in 1926, the first bullet trap in 1935, the first rubber bullet trap in 1989, and the first wireless 360-degree target retrieval system in 2011. Today, they are pioneering innovations for both live-fire and simulations training, even going so far as to bridge the gap between the two spheres to energize immersive training to new levels of realism and synergy.

At the heart of Meggitt’s simulations technology, is the Firearms Training System (FATS). This line of virtual hardware and software products have seen extensive use in militaries and police agencies across the globe. These products can either be permanent, fully immersive, 300-degree training simulations (like the FATS 300 system), or they can be portable, lightweight, and easily accessible for remote, rural detachments or even for purposes of public outreach (like the FATS 100P).

Both products enable a client to fully customize videos for landscape, scenarios, and decision-making capabilities – all while reinforcing the basic elements of marksmanship, less-than-lethal tactics, escalation of force, and responding to emotionally disturbed persons, to just list a few. 

These tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) are replicated in a video library of pre-programmed scenarios as a starting point. Considering the unique demands of every police agency, jurisdiction, and the community at large, clients are able to customize these videos or create entirely new videos using the provided software. Officers can tailor their TTPs to best fit the operational realities at hand, based on the collective experience of the officers who know that jurisdiction best.

In the case of the FATS 300 immersive training system, once a scenario file is uploaded, up to five trainees at a time (equipped with different classes of weapons platforms from patrol carbines to OC spray) can step into the simulator field of five 150x84-inch borderless flat screens. Ultra short throw projectors, designed to maximize freedom of movement within the training space, project the video feed while 5.1 surround sound plays out the scenario, all of which provides for an immersive augmented reality experience.

The FATS 300 system includes three sets of training courseware to focus on effective decision-making and de-escalation of force procedures. First is marksmanship – the universal elements of effective police response. The second, judgmental training, comes with pre-loaded scenarios but are highly customizable, to be unique for the operational realities of the jurisdiction in question. The third software is collective – the use of third-party game engines for squad-level instruction for training and mission rehearsal.

The FATS 300 can support up to 20 different simulated weapons. These platforms are real in almost every way. They were built and operated as live firearms and are converted to fire air within the simulations. Five trainees within the simulation can use any of the four different programmable weapons classes – rifles, pistols, shotguns, and less-than-lethal equipment (including OC spray and Tasers). Realism is assured through the use of BlueFire technology that allows the weapon simulators to be wireless. Weight, centre of gravity, and range of motion are otherwise identical to their real-world counterparts. Alternatively, Meggitt also enables tethered weapons, which display handling data to the evaluating trainer. Both methods can be used by different officers within the same scenario, can be outfitted with optics, and can be controlled by the software to simulate the volatility of real-world police response as deemed fit.

These technologies enable scenarios to play out in a much more fluid and ultimately unpredictable way than conventional classroom or range training methods. Misfires and stoppages can be programmed at random by the instructor, forcing the trainee to stay on their toes, take cover, and perform immediate action drills, all while maintaining constant situational awareness.

The Meggitt scenarios highlight the unpredictability of the scenario programs. For example, a hypothetical domestic dispute is taking place, and officers are called to respond. In one case, the scenario is more straightforward – the male brandishes a knife and is subdued by the officers. The next time the scenario plays out, it is the female who is armed – or, in another case, she picks up a weapon once the male threat is neutralized. This is called “branching” or “sequels” off the basic video library, and it gives the trainer the capability to ensure that the scenario evolves just as quickly as it might in real life and that the operational reality is never simple or convenient. 

Meggitt proudly states that the sales of its portable FATS 100 have already exceeded forecasts. A gaming laptop, projector, screen, and speakers that can easily be transported anywhere and set up by one person in 15 minutes has already proved to be an invaluable tool to instruct officers in isolated, rural communities or to quickly dispatch training equipment within urban jurisdictions. For community engagement exercises, police can set up the simulations equipment to showcase their capabilities and spur public interest and awareness.

In discussing the future trends of their product line, Meggitt lauds the potential for augmented reality (AR) to enhance the already advanced nature of their training simulators. With the other half of their operations focused on live-fire shooting ranges, the company has already begun forging synergies between the two complementary schools of thought. In short, police agencies no longer have to choose between them.

In the case of the FATS 100LE (law enforcement), for instance, an indoor live-fire shooting range can be equipped with a self-healing membrane screen upon which a scenario is uploaded from the library for judgmental training. Live ammunition is shot into the screen, which is designed to withstand a total of 50,000 rounds before it needs replacement and repair. Projection equipment is positioned behind protective baffles in the ceiling and the software is able to compute, to a much higher degree of accuracy, the “guard time” (the minimum required by the system to differentiate between two successive shots) relative to other available live-fire screens.

This holistic system was showcased in October 2017 to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and represents an innovative and even disruptive technological advancement in ensuring that agencies have the best “bang for their buck” in equipping officers with tried-and-tested knowledge, conditioning, and equipment to execute their mandates under some of the most demanding operational circumstances.

Mobile Police Training Structures
Configurable and immersive training architecture 
Another company breaking new ground in providing its law enforcement clients with customizable and immersive training equipment is Barrie-based Mobile Police Training Structures Inc (MPTS). Founded in 2009 by 30-year police veteran Scott Giovannetti, MPTS markets “mobile, configurable, cost-effective, and immersive training experiences” through a system of customizable architecture to construct any environment from small single rooms to multi-building complexes.

Mr. Giovannetti says that law enforcement trainees instinctively learn to make the most of their otherwise staid and unchanging scenario training. Exterior structures, interior features, and the corresponding threat environment ultimately become matters of muscle memory for the trainees in question. Naturally, this defeats the point of judgmental, real-time training whose purpose is to equip officers with the rapid and informed decision-making capabilities to execute their mandates in unknown environments with any number of equally unknown threats in any possible form. His product closes this gap by being designed to constantly challenge trainees, provide flexible learning objectives, adaptive environmental constraints, and foster creativity and customizability for each client. 

MPTS equips agencies with the tools needed to vary training requirements by replicating the element of unpredictability and volatility that so often could not be accurately recreated in the training environments of yesterday. For all intents and purposes, the only limitations are in the imagination of the client. Any number of configurations can be easily assembled – all without the use of tools – using the provided wall panels, doors and doorway panels, windows (designed to be punched out and re-used), commercial grade hardware for furnishings, and recyclable furniture. For disassembly, the wall and doorway panels stack easily into compact units for storage and transportation.

Mr. Giovannetti reports that each collapsible wall panel, weighing 100 lbs, is so sturdy and reinforced that the company has had no structural integrity failures since they opened for business. The modular panels are connected by means of patented wall brackets that come in 90° and 180° variants. Mounts for camera/DVR options enable real-time and recorded observation of training for reinforcement of skills and effective after-action reporting, while directional sound systems can be installed to enhance the immersive training experience. 

The system has seen extensive proliferation throughout North America for usage by law enforcement, military, justice studies programs, as well as private sector security. A benchmark demonstration facility was constructed at an advanced training centre for the Toronto Police Service and an extensive complex of approximately 140 panels is being installed for training military police at CFB Borden. Almost every law enforcement agency in the Greater Toronto Area makes use of these training structures. The architecture allows for new innovations in existing TTP curriculum or it can be used as part of a wholly novel training regime that views such costs as an investment for future gains, rather than simply as unilateral and short-term expenses. 

The company emphasizes the bottom-up dynamic that puts agency in the hand of the client – capable and experienced trainers empowered to customize and tailor their training regime based on the unique operational realities of their jurisdiction. Learning outcomes evolve constantly based on those demands and dynamic training allows for the reinforcement of the basic skills of marksmanship, room clearing, and escalation of force procedures, while the scenario-building element tests judgmental decision-making in real-time.

Within the industry, MPTS has partnered with Simunition – a renowned small arms training system developed in the late 1980s by General Dynamics-Ordnance and Tactical Systems-Canada Inc (GD-OTS Canada). Used extensively to train both conventional and elite units in the military and law enforcement, one of the two leading Simunition products is a system composed of FX marking cartridges, weapon conversion kits, and personal protective equipment. Simunition marking cartridges come in six colours and leaves a toxic-free, detergent-based, water-soluble, colour-marking compound on the impacted target, simulating lethality up to 25’ feet for a 9mm handgun and up to 100’ for a 5.56mm rifle. 

The other Simunition product is called SecuriBlank – a form of blank round for training purposes indoors and outdoors that, when discharged, has no flash or noise – only the sound of the weapon cycling through the rounds. SecuriBlank, like FX marking cartridges, do not need to be treated as hazardous waste and contain no unburnt propellant and ejected particles, and they do not need a Blank Firing Attachment (BFA). They are ideal for weapons handling training, firearm familiarization and retention drills, dynamic force-on-force training exercises in close proximity, and for general training purposes in sensitive areas with sound restrictions. 

In what MPTS calls the “total solution,” the company also showcases their comprehensive approach to training that involves active collaboration from other innovative Canadian companies. Orillia-based Apple Athletic Products makes foam furniture to replicate a limitless number of possible interior design combinations that also serve to minimize officer injuries from dynamic training, FitLight of Aurora provides a system of wireless RGB- and LED-powered lights that measure and track attributes from reaction time to decision-making, while Winnipeg-based Setcan markets DTS Tools – rubber recreations of common improvised weapons, such as machetes, hammers, and wrenches.

In the words of Mr. Giovannetti, this comprehensive approach to training represents a “one-stop shop” in testing operational skills and enlisting the agency of the client at hand, while also instilling induced stress into the trainee(s) by constantly shifting the scenario demands – be they the role players involved, the mission objectives, or the environmental constraints. 

At the core of this training regime, the company emphasizes, is empowering instructors with the agency to freely adjust training parameters to fit their unique jurisdictional circumstances and ensure that the “unknown” factor so representative within daily law enforcement is never dismissed for complacency. These diverse products used in tandem with an experience-driven TTP curriculum make for highly realistic, infinitely customizable, and relevant training solutions as an answer to law enforcement challenges both old and now. 

Casey Brunelle is an intelligence and strategic studies consultant with extensive experience in both the public and private sectors. A serving member of the Canadian Army Primary Reserves, Casey is a graduate of the School of International Development at the University of Ottawa, as well as the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Cambridge.