Sports - Air Force

Apr 4, 2012 7:53 PM by Andy Koen

Academy's virtual shooting range proves safer, more efficient

Cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy now have access to improved weapons training without ever needing to fire any bullets. The Academy recently purchased a Firearms Training Simulator that mimics real life.

The system uses a computer and video projector to display life sized scenes and guns that have the same look and feel of real firearms. Carbon dioxide cartridges cause the firearms to recoil and the firing mechanism can even be intentionally locked up forcing the cadet to improvise.

Cpt. Matt Rottinghaus is the Chief of Operations for the simulator. He says the technology can quickly improve the marksmanship of novice students thanks to the feedback the computer it gives to instructors.

There are two styles of guns used, an M-9 handgun and an M-4 automatic rifle. The weapons can relay in realtime the position the student is holding the gun as well as how much pressure is put on the trigger and the butt.

"It's really the kind of feedback that you don't get at the range unless you have a really trained operator that's there to tell you what you're doing right or wrong."

Cadet 2nd Class Aaron Kerkhoff's and his colleagues used the simulator for the first time Wednesday. He said there are a lot of similarities to live fire training.

"The recoil is still a little bit lighter but still you have that feeling of the weapon cycling and an induced jam so actually have to address those issues when they come up."

The simulator costs $240,000. With an unlimited supply of bullets, it could easily pay for itself in a year or two. But Rottinghaus says the greatest advantage is logistics.

"It's in their dormitory they can walk downstairs to use it," he explained. "We don't have to get a truck or a bus to take them out to range and also there's a lot less man power required here."

One safety officer is required for every 3 cadets in training at the live fire shooting range. Meanwhile, the simulator can handle up to 8 cadets at once with only one operator on site.

The Academy actually purchased the simulator six months ago, but it took time to move it from a temporary home in Jacks Valley to the Vandenberg Hall dormitory.

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