Central War Gaming Blog

Central War Gaming Blog


Monday, February 20, 2017

War Gaming for Education, Training, and Fun

Ardean attendees participate in an After Action Review, just after ENDEX (End of Exercise) discussing events of the weekend, what went well and what could be improved in the future. 

Many of you coming to CWG events are doing it for fun. And we're all good with that. Once the boring and frantic administrative tasks are done, we enjoy coming out into the field with you also.

But I also come out to train, to confirm my training or equipment works, or to prove I have training biases or bad habits. Much of how we've set up the events is designed to make them better simulations of combat—so much that we also call them Field Training Exercises (FTXs) just like the Army does. Because if you come to the event with the right mindset, you can getting training value out of them as well.

While we use several simulation systems, the fact that we use airsoft makes a lot of people giggle about the paragraphs above, and dismiss the events entirely. I mean airsoft? That's for fat kids on the one day a year they aren't playing video games in the basement while covered in Cheeto dust, amirite?

Well, no. Airsoft is a tremendous simulation system with otherwise unachievable cost, flexibility, and safety. Range is the biggest issue but can be worked around by selecting good environments, and understanding the value of scale in design of the scenario, and events. I'll discuss scale in detail in a separate post later on.

Getting Off the Range

Think of the other thing that is often looked upon with disdain by the shooting community. Taking too much of a lesson, or having training handicaps from time on "the square range." We all know you can only learn so much about how to fight, work together, communicate and explore the use of your gear while pointing one way only, and staying in your lane.

This is important for safety when there are real bullets, but in the real word there's no real downrange, but the enemy can be anywhere. You do try to not shoot your team mates, but sometimes you do have to shoot over or around them.

At CWG, all of our war gaming events are in the field, creating this complete environment. The enemy isn't standing still across a flat gravel lot, but is moving, and hiding behind trees, and hills. You have to use microterrain to maneuver yourself into position.

Airsoft is not just some toy but is part of the range of systems that provide what is called a force-on-force simulation. That is the term used for the ability to shoot at other actual people without killing them in training environments.

All FoF systems have their upsides and downsides. Often a key downside is safety, with many of them requiring hearing protection, and firing much more dangerous projectiles, which require lots more protective equipment. Some use real guns as the host, which requires a lot of safety checks and can encounter legal and regulatory issues. Many systems are restricted to certified end users, so are not easy to use.

Anything that fires projectiles has to consider where they go, so has to be done on a range of some sort, with restricted access and a backstop or enough room for the projectile to run out so it doesn't hit anyone or anything outside the range.

Some systems are insanely expensive to acquire or the consumables are too expensive, so are clearly out. Many organizations, even military forces, still train at least in part with blanks. Just blanks. Or even empty guns and saying "bang," both for cost, and safety reasons.

Airsoft is cheap, quiet, and safe. The short range means you need few range safety precautions to protect bystanders. At very close ranges, airsoft can hurt a lot, but rarely injures anyone as long as minimal precautions about power (speed) of the guns are enforced. Eye protection has to be worn all the time, but for me, it's the same eyepro I wear when shooting for real, so isn't really a burden.

A Full Engagement Suite

The other thing I really like about airsoft is how broad the weapons selection is. No, not that you can get all sorts of guns, but that you can get hand grenades, and grenade launchers, land mines, and rocket launchers, even mortars.

Many simulation systems simply do not offer these, and for the rest they are again wildly dangerous or expensive, so even military units rarely encounter anything but rifles and machine guns.

As a civilian enterprise, open to the public, we also cannot easily give you even machine guns in MILES; blank firing guns are guns to the regulatory agencies, so that's out.

Airsoft lets you work with a team for real. Not a bunch of guys running around with rifles, but coordinating the different resources; setting the base of fire with a machine gun, using grenades to try to distract and drive the enemy, and maneuvering on the enemy with your riflemen.

Living in the Woods

Most other events, and the use of practically all FoF systems, are run as brief exercises. A few minutes or a few hours of shooting and running around, then the exercise is suspended and everyone leaves the field, removes safety equipment and takes a rest. 

The lower safety requirements for airsoft also mean we can safely and effectively make you all live in the woods for days at a time. 

In my time at many FoF events and on the range, I've seen far more injuries arising from the protective equipment than I have from the simulation systems. Armor, helmets, gloves and groin protectors make you hot, so we get heat casualties. Full-face (paintball-style) protective masks reduce visibility so people run into branches, fall into holes and trip on things. 

Airsoft just requires the eye protection. And if you cannot handle that full time, then the pellets are so light they are stopped by even the thinnest layer of nylon, so simply set up a tent, go inside and zip it up. Even if the enemy assaults your camp, we don't allow them 

It's fun and educational to go through a shoot house, get charged by a robot to demonstrate the 21 foot rule, or have a shootoff with other students. But being immersed in the environment changes entirely how you act, and what options become available to you. 

Getting The Most Training for Your Time

Our rules and equipment requirements are partly to promote a safe environment, but partly to encourage you to get the best experience and the most training value out of is.

For one example, we don't use white BBs. Why? Because you can see them. I rarely can see bullets in flight, so we issue you dark BBs. You have to use your sights, just like on a real gun. Better zero that AEG.

Oh, you can see tracers? Good point. Our machine gun ammo is white, with glow in the dark at about 1 in 5 so you can see them, day or night.

How can you get the best training bang for your time with CWG? Almost any way you want. As long as you stay reasonably within the equipment requirements, you can use the uniform, web gear and equipment that you use for other events, own already for self-preparedness, or use for work in the military or police.

Myself, I bought hardly anything specifically for CWG events except the unit shirts. I make sure that my weapons are as similar as possible to my real guns. For example:

  • I use realcaps so I make every shot count. I mostly fire semi-auto, also. 
  • My slings are already modified to be modular so I don't have to buy a dozen $50 slings. I have the attachment hardware on all my airsoft guns as well, so just click one on. 
  • Sights are decent knockoffs, but the magnifier is my actual EOTech G.33 as it clips onto any rail and doesn't need to be zeroed. 
  • I use my actual IR laser. It's not re-zeroed so I don't mess it up for my real rifle. But it's close enough for typical night fighting ranges.

Talk to your team about your plans. Use actual hand signals, radio prowords and codebooks, or try out a tactic you never get to try alone, on the rifle range.

And I think, talk to the community. Plan in advance, talk about what happened afterwards so you

We will have a brief after action review when the event is done, but keep on thinking about what you learned or what surprised you. Keep discussing, and asking questions about it so you are better prepared for the next event, or the next time you go shooting for real.

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