Simulation is the fast growing method of training the military due to its effectiveness, low cost and quick training time. Africa is lagging behind the rest of the world in this area, but Laser Shot South Africa aims to change this by offering innovative game-like firearm training to militaries, police forces and security companies across the region.
Laser Shot is able to simulate an entire fire-fight using a single room, a camera and a projector that displays target imagery onto the nearest surface. The Laser Shot system works by using a special camera to pinpoint where a laser beam fired from a gun ‘impacts’ a surface. The camera can even detect the lasers fired from several different guns. In addition, by using a thermal imaging camera (Thermal Shot) the system can detect where real bullets strike and create realistic bullet impact effects. Even pepper spray and Tazers can be simulated using the system.
The weapons used in training vary from inert plastic guns that only fire a laser to recoiling laser guns and then onto real guns that fire lasers but are fitted with a pneumatic system to simulate recoil. In addition, Laser Shot has special laser ‘bullets’ or inserts than can be chambered into real pistols, rifles and shotguns, that when struck by the firing pin emit a beam of laser light. Other inert training firearms, simulated recoil weapons, and crew served weapons are available for training, such as the Browning M2 machinegun and Mk19 grenade launcher.
Some of the salient features of the Laser Shot system are its portability and ease of use, as only a computer and a projector are needed to display targets and simulations. There is a wide variety of software available for different users (law enforcement and military) and many scenarios available – for instance; the Running Man courseware is designed to prepare shooters for moving targets at various speeds, weather conditions and distances up to 300 yards.
The wide variety of options allows for a staged approach to training, which step by step gets the user accustomed to operating a firearm. This phased approach reduces the pressure of handling a real gun for the first time. “Training with Laser Shot takes the fear out of learning to shoot,” said Laser Shot’s Bruce Staples. Training starts off with a basic ‘paper’ target that is projected onto a surface and then moves on to human targets and moving targets, culminating in video-based scenarios and computer generated simulations with real people, in real time situations.
In one of the video-based scenarios demonstrated to defenceWeb, a school was being held hostage by a group of armed teenagers. The trainee’s task was to clear a hallway. Several of the armed teenagers jumped out of doorways and began firing. If you get killed by the first shooter, the scenario ends, but if you take down the first shooter you proceed to the next one, all the while being forced to distinguish between hostages and gunmen.
Such branching video-based training is one of the most realistic training systems available, as it allows for real-time video scenarios to be used, providing for several possible outcomes branching off from the original scene. Using a Branching Video Editor, the trainer can create unique branching videos by filming video clips and importing them into the editor. Branching points are set up as desired, as are target zones. Multiple scenarios can even be grouped together. Some of the standard scenarios include traffic stops, disturbances, Tazer scenarios etc.
These types of scenarios do not replace the training provided by shooting live ammunition at ordinary paper targets. Training with paper targets alone causes a problem in reality, many people are trained to never point their weapons at other people – this instinct can takes over under fire. Conventional target shooting teaches accuracy, but full simulation teaches speed and target identification and teaches the trainee to handle stress and to think laterally. “The system progressively builds up the ability to handle stress,” said Staples.
Apart from its low cost (about 0.3 cent per shot firing beams of light versus ± R3.00 for real bullets), one of the best features of the Laser Shot system is its ability to review shot placement afterwards, even with the ThermalShot system. After action reviews can be augmented with CCTV video replay of the shooter’s tactical movements.
Laser Shot teaches people in a simulated combat environment, and allows them to fire thousands of rounds inexpensively. Laser Shot SA’s Mike Mansell said that learning to shoot is like learning to drive a car and when you only train a person with less than 100 live rounds, he says it is like giving someone a driving license after only a few hours of training.
When integrated with Bohemia Interactive Simulations’ Virtual Battlespace (VBS) training environment (Virtual Battlespace 2 is the world’s most widely used military grade simulation software), Laser Shot’s possibilities become limitless. This software imports terrain – such as an entire military base like de Brug – and allows soldiers, tank crew and pilots to engage in a simulated battle. Pilots can even connect their flight simulators to the system. A whole battalion can engage in simulated combat and then review the action afterwards.
Laser Shot is being offered to the whole of Africa by Laser Shot South Africa, which already counts many domestic customers. These are mostly large private security companies like ADT and Chubb, but the system is also being offered to the police and military. In fact, the Ekurhuleni Metro Police has acquired a small and a large system as well as the live fire ThermalShot system. Laser Shot’s main market is the military, which is proving to be a difficult one, because there is a lack of leadership within the military to get and understand the many advantages of simulation training for both the military and law enforcement.
“Simulation is the fastest growing method for training soldiers because it is the most efficient in terms of costs and time” said Mansell. However, he said that the SANDF does not utilise IT at ground level nearly as much as the US or other NATO countries. “The rest of the world is moving forward, we seem to be moving backwards,” regarding simulation, Mansell said.
Mansell is offering the Laser Shot system to the SANDF as he believes their approximately 30 indoor shooting ranges are old and out-dated. They could be revamped under a public-private partnership (PPP). This would be a common system that would be offered to the police, army, special forces etc.