^ Murph beat me to the punch while I was writing this up and he makes some great points.
I do a lot of COIN and CQB/MOUT Instruction as well as general engagment and squad tactic instructing and training for a variety of units within the US Military and we kept running into the same problem over and over.
1. Blanks. Don't cut it. any one can go "Bang bang" and as was said earlier unless you have a crap ton of OC's it becomes a huge shooting fest with no impact on training and casualities. Not realistic to any extent.
2. MILES Gear. Sucks. Period, every model available all the way up to the IMILES system doesnt cut it. It works only half the time. The other half the time its around 20 pounds of extra crap you have to hump, the lasers are stopped by just about anything that can and will block a beam.
3. Simunitions. Military grade simunitions suck. They jam more so then real fire arms, the barrel blocking caused by simunitions is crazy. One M4 Blue Barrel recently used by the Air Force here on camp had over 7 Blue tip sim rounds stuck in a Non Rifled barrel. Which leads to another point on Simunitions, They are not accurate nor near as range effective as life rounds. The barrels are not rifled for either pistol or Rifle. You have to get special upper reciever/bolt carrier groups put on every weapon your going to use. You have to use special magazines that are notorious for jamming or gumming up and don't work, even new magazines are bad. Sims Don't cut it.
4. Paintball. We tried them. Some like them some don't. With new Paintball markers on the market today you can get a more realistic looking weapon. But the big factor for more units is the mess. Now DOD has put out a non staining chalk round for Paintball guns, problem is getting your hands on them. We use Paintball guns strictly against vehicles they are excellent in noting that a vehicle is being engaged/hit.
5. Airsoft. Range, is a factor. But no more so then Simunitions, and Airsoft rifles are actually a lot more accurate when you know its engagement range. Yes They can and will break, but you can get weapons these days that have excellent repair warranties, and are actually fielded and tested for training use. And the over all cost is cheaper then actual simunitions and paintball (Did the research before even considering saying this.) They break but no more so then others, The also function a lot more realisticly then people think to include blow back capability, thirty round magazines, even jamming. Airsoft Training rifles arent the back yard kiddy wannabe models any more.
Now, I've used all of the things above in training. They have their faults and quirks as well as good things about them such as MILES gear on Vehicles is actually an awesome and effective tool in COIN training and C-IED training. Problem is cross compatability with a lot of the gear needed to simulate IED strikes and weapon strikes etc. Airsoft is now being more commonly used due to cost effectiveness across the board in the Army, from Ranger Schools, to ODA Teams, to general supply units etc.
Pain re-enforcement is about equal across the board with every system you have. Sim rounds hit with about the same force as Paintball as does Airsoft. Army Regulations are with any Sim usage, the troop is required to wear full PPE which includes Eyepro, ear pro, IBA and Kevlar. In most cases the only indiciation a Troop is hit with ANY type of sim round be it airsoft or actual sim rounds is the noise of impact. Paintball is a touch and go with training because some unit commanders demand full face masks where as others are fine with simple Issued Eye pro.
Now in consideration to training a few things to consider.
- Paintball uses typically C02 or Air, C02 in Cold climates is completely ineffective. Air a bit more so but logicists come into effect with this. You have to be able to refill tanks or purchase pre fill tanks. In some area's thats a pain in the neck.
- Airsoft, Runs typically on batteries, Extreme cold weather will effect them as well as gears inside the gear box if they are not greased properly. Rain isnt a good thing but most Airsoft weapons these days are water resistant to most extent as long as they are not completely submerged and even some new ones can be totally submerged and be just fine. Gas weapons are just like Paintball guns. Temperature effects their output.
- Blanks, Havent seen weather affect blanks outside of extreme heat causing fires when fired in dry areas of grass.
- MILES, Fog, rain, snow fall have caused them to malfunction and not detect hits from the laser system. Again it comes down to, if it can stop the laser it will.
- Paintball, readily available over the commercial market. Getting tank refills can be an issue at times if you do not have a refill station, Keeping paint on hand can be an issue as the longer its stored the more unstable it becomes I.E. paintballs stored over long times reshape themselves and fall apart
- Airsoft, readily available over the commercial market. Most kits come complete with charger, battery weapon and magazine. 30 round magazines typically come in a box of 10 for around 50 dollars. Airsoft bb's usually come in cases of 1000 for any where from $20.00 to $100.00 dollars, Most Military usage requires Bio bb's they cost a bit more and are much like Paintballs, once the bag is exposed to air they start breaking down.
- Blanks, completely dependent upon your Ammo Supply Point, and Unit Ammo Allotment and if your unit is even authorized drawing of Blanks for Military side. Civilian side you can purchase blanks but a lot of times they are far more expensive to purchase then worth. Plus getting blank adapters etc.
- MILES Gear. TSC issued / controlled Item. Most units do not have MILES gear organic to their TO&E and dont want it. When it is checked out its typically from a Training support center and even then its checked once every year for functionality then hardly works. Big compatibility issues between old MILES Gear to IMILES and MILES2000.
3. Training Intent.
Over all for every peice of equipment mentioned you have to look at them all as being Tools inside of a Tool box. If your trying to drive a screw into a wall are you going to use a pair of pliars to do that?
What is your intent for the training you want to conduct? Are you working on Engagement Skills? Are you working on Tactics and Squad Movement. Are you worried about showing effective engagement in that one stage of training or all stages of training. Does accuracy concern you in your training. All of these plus a ton more questions can and should be considered when choosing what platform to use in your training. And in most cases most people will be saying Yes more often then no to all of them. Thats fine and proper as it should be. Problem is not one single platform no matter what you use is going to anwser every demand you have for your training.
In dealing with units and their intent of training I often have to look at them and state. "I understand your wanting to work on Close Quarters Engagement, but.. " or "I understand your wanting to work on Vehicle convoy operations with engagements, but..." then explain to them the limitations presented through usage of simulation equipment. And that is literally what it is. Limitations through usage of Simulation equipment.
The Key is not just pointing out the Limitations of Equipment they wish to use but presenting a viable and sustainable method of using that equipment to meet the training objective. For Example.
a lot of people hate airsoft. Its for little kids its for wannabe's, it isnt a viable training tool. it doesnt have the proper range. In a situation I had working with an STS Team for the Air Force They wanted to work on proper fire arms manipulation, target aquirement and engagement skills at multiple levels as well as ranges. They had Sim rounds.
So I told them We can do that to some extent. They also where the ones who points out the faulty nature of the Sims rounds before I even opened my mouth. And these guys where using Commercially purchased Civilian Sim rounds by Speer LE. They wouldnt even TOUCH Military grade sim rounds. So I made a recommendation. Since they already had their weapons tuned up for Sim rounds we use them. And their OPFOR who was conducting the same training as they encompassed team members from the STS would utilize Airsoft AK-47s. Each Team would rotate during the week as OPFOR so every one would get to utilize both systems and could work on skills engagements with both systems.
I pointed out the limitations of Airsoft being its not quiet the same as real fire arms and its range limitations. They where good with it. And we went to training.
At the end of the Week the STS tried to take all my Airsoft weapons home with them.
Presenting the Limitations but also its capabilites IE Airsoft is an excellent CQB/MOUT tool due to its limited range and the fact you can engage safely with most airsoft weapons under 20 feet with proper protective gear.
During that training we also used the Paintball guns against their vehicles and they loved that concept as well. Specifically the ease of clean up and it gave immediate feed back to drivers etc when engaged, and the over all safety controls of them not shooting great distances.
So over all, I use every bit of equipment listed above to train troops on a regular basis. Some more so then others, and a lot of times Units will drop using one system to utilize another due to their preference or input from an instructor. I'm not biased in using my equipment because they are all tools and they each have an effective function to the betterment of training. So my advice on "something vs. something". Use them all, forget about the "Coolness factor" or the Public "Hype/Image".
If all you have at your disposal is Paintball guns for force on force then use it within the limitations and turn those limitations into an advantage in your training. Its no different then shooting live rounds. Not every caliber can reach out and touch some one, you know your mass effective range with your weapon and wither you realize it or not your actually adjusting your engagement tactics to that weapons limitations. Do the same with your training tools.
Today's enviroment If you want to train Long range engagement then get out and shoot live rounds. If you want to train quick engagement, CQB/Mout, COIN, or any other closer engagment ranges you have a variety of tools at your disposal as long as you look at them as tools. A Hammer has limitations and thats why they have designed different types for different situations. One is no better then another in the regards to being a "Hammer" But one does hit dry wall nails better then one designed for roofing.
This information is in now way the end all to be all, its just from my personal experiance over the years of training Military units in a multitude of operations and using a multitude of equipement and systems. Take it for what its worth and realize, The only thing I'm an expert at is being me. Don't restrict your training because of hype or limitations. Improvise Adapt Overcome and Learn.