Hitting the MarkFeb 01, 2020 ● By Stephen Hunt
General Dynamics is a longtime aerospace and defense company that helps keep the U.S. military at the forefront of technology and innovation. In 1990, General Dynamics diversified even further and started manufacturing Simunition®, a non-lethal alternative to live ammunition.
In the years since, Simunition has become the recognized leader in reality-based training for law enforcement and military agencies around the globe. The easiest way to explain Simunition is its similarity to paintball in that a round will leave a brightly-colored mark, which explains why this ammunition is often referred to as “marking rounds.”
Simunition has become popular in training because it is a safer alternative to using live rounds. The training can even help make the difference between life and death for those who have experienced the new-age method. Police and military can do basic, foundational training and then implement Simunition on the back end to fine-tune and test how they might react under stress and work through problems. “The response has been, and continues to be, overwhelmingly positive,” says Chris Wilson, the business development director for Simunition. “This is the most realistic close-quarter, situational training system that puts users in real-life situations they may encounter on patrol or in combat. Simunition trains more than 1,700 students every year and the feedback we receive is always very positive and engaging.”
In 2017, the Frisco Police Department added Simunition to its training with a group of officers taking a three-day course to become certified instructors. Officer Ryan Chandler, who has been with Frisco Police Department since 2014, was part of that initial group, an experience he remembers well. “It is something the Frisco Police Department has been wanting here for a while. There is a lot to it,” Officer Chandler says. “Obviously, the biggest thing is that you are dealing with firearms. Just because they are marking rounds does not mean anything. Safety is a big concern and that is a lot of what the instruction was about during that instructor course. The biggest help for us is being able to replicate real-life scenarios or as close to real-life as possible without using real rounds.”
Over the past three years, the Frisco Police Department has integrated Simunition into its entire yearly in-service training programs. Over a calendar year, every officer receives such training, whether new recruits, members of the department’s special operations unit or the rest of the force.
If there is one concept which defines Simunition above all others, it is safety. Great care is taken to ensure that no live rounds are brought into training sessions. Another safeguard is that firearms equipped to fire marking rounds, which are known as “blue guns,” are unable to fire live rounds, and firearms that fire live ammunition cannot fire marking rounds.
As someone who has experienced Simunition training firsthand, one big adjustment for Officer Chandler and his fellow officers when doing this type of training is all the protective equipment they don prior to a training session. “I think the hardest thing to get over is that you have a lot of protective equipment you wear. There is a mask with headgear protection – a helmet-type thing,” Officer Chandler shares. “There is groin protection and you have to wear gloves and long sleeves depending on what kind of round you are using. The initial expectation for anybody who has not done it before is that they are amped up by putting the equipment on and being in that scenario.”
However, even with wearing so much protective gear, marking rounds are painful and will leave bruises and welts when they strike certain parts of the body. For instructors like Officer Chandler, this is all just part of this type of training. “It is not comfortable by any means. You definitely know when you are getting hit,” he says. “I have definitely walked away with some bruises … some scrapes and things like that. I have been hit on the fingers, shins and arms … all over. It comes with the territory for sure. Being an instructor, you get into more of the role-playing stuff a little more often. So, we kind of get beat up throughout the year.”
The Element of Realism
The biggest and most obvious benefit to using Simunition is that it provides law enforcement and military with an element of realism in training while being able to use non-lethal ammunition. “From my own point of view, it puts you in a state of being able to deal with that type of stress. That is really the biggest thing,” Officer Chandler says. “Your heart is racing because it is painful to get hit. That is where that learning comes from.”
Mr. Wilson adds, “In a force-on-force situation, we are able to replicate the stress and adrenaline that would come from a real engagement and thus can allow users to condition and train themselves for those situations.”
This new and innovative form of training has been an overwhelming hit with the Frisco Police Department. “Those of us who have been around for a while, we would have loved to have had this for all of our careers,” Officer Chandler says. “From talking to some of our folks as they have gone through the training, we have learned they would like to have more of this. We have really gotten a positive response from it overall.”
However, Simunition training and equipment is not just available for law enforcement and military. Civilian gun enthusiasts can also participate, and there are five ranges in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex that are fully-vetted by Simunition.
In today’s ever-changing world, one where technology seems to evolve by the minute, criminals are always seeking ways to keep an upper hand on law enforcement. So, it makes sense that training methods have had to evolve and step-up the pace to keep these public servants one step ahead of those seeking to harm their communities.
After using Simunition since 2017, the Frisco Police Department has not only made training safer, but it has also made for better-trained officers. Some might even claim Simunition has been a godsend for law enforcement and military around the world.