Airsoft. The term by itself has a near-punchline connotation of cheap knockoff gear and fat wannabes shooting at each other. To suggest that there can be a place for legitimate professional training is hard to take seriously. Bear with me.
About ten years ago, I tried to incorporate Airsoft weapons into training at a school I was running, with unimpressive results. The gear at the time was not built to stand up to regular rough usage and there wasn’t enough juice for the proverbial squeeze. We quickly abandoned the experiment.
However, the size and scope of the Airsoft market is vast, and the makers have ridden the recent interest in all things AR to increasingly higher quality guns. I saw several that were getting good feedback from serious shooters and decided it was time to try again.
The KWA brand Auto Electric Guns (AEG) are marketed as professional training products.
In weight and appearance, the KM4 SR10 is a near match to several of my most used mid-length training carbines. The feel is solid and the rifle weighs in at 6.5 pounds, with a similar balance to the real deal. The Crane SOPMOD style buttstock accepts rechargeable batteries in the stock’s battery tubes, while the normally hollow A2-style pistol grip houses some of the operating parts. The safety and magazine release function as expected, while the bolt release and charging handle do not function. The rifle fires high-grade 25g 6mm Airsoft BBs from AR dimension magazines—available in either 30-round or a high-cap style that holds a quadruple handful. The factory specs the velocity at approximately 400 feet-per-second (fps).
The ten-inch Picatinny rail seems to be sized at the appropriate spec, as does the flattop upper receiver, allowing all “real” optics and accessories to interchange with no issues. The SR10 ships with detachable iron sights.
The trigger breaks remarkably similar to a middle of the road milspec pull weight, with a nice tactile reset to follow-up shots. Accuracy at ten yards averaged about an inch and a half, with best groups tearing ragged holes at an even inch.
Reliability across the first 8,000 rounds has been 100 percent. In speaking with the knowledgeable folk at Florida’s Airsoft Barracks—the nation’s largest across-the-counter Airsoft gun store—they confirmed that the gear-boxes and sundry internal parts that are often problematic in low-end Airsoft are all good to go from the box in the KWA rifles.
This is not the clear plastic toy that you see in big box stores. Aside from the orange painted A2 flash hider, you have no visual cue that this isn’t a live weapon. Handing it to several buddies who carry M4s for a living, the reaction was universal: surprise followed by genuine interest and pointed questions about cost and performance.
Sustaining skill can be a real issue as life “happens.” I see skill atrophy in as little as three weeks between good training sessions and real degradation with every week beyond. This isn’t competition ready, but rather the ability to run and drive the gun to confident results. The challenge is that work schedules often do not allow shooters to get to a range at the interval required by their skill level.
If you are constantly rebuilding back toward the last attained skill level, it is hard to get any better. An ideal niche for the AEG is to allow a shooter to sustain some basics, mechanics and fundamentals in between range sessions and live fire. This requires the Airsoft carbine to be a close surrogate to the work gun, so that mounting the gun, breaking the shot and working positions are building transferable experiences. The KWA worked exceptionally well in this role. The balance and overall feel of the carbine are so close to its live-fire cousin that it felt like dry fire with feedback from the target.
The sharp-minded skeptic at this point is likely thinking about the lack of recoil and how this must surely be bad. There are plenty of trainers who emphasize that the shooter should not rehearse recoil or simulate it in dry fire. The KWA takes that to the next level because there is virtually no recoil present, and the shooter can focus on cleanly pressing the following shots while staying “on” the dot or front sight.
However, the shooter must have the discipline to stay aggressive on the rifle and hold it in position with the same tension as the centerfire AR requires. Lackadaisical plinking is not training and does not count as stretching out the sustainment interval!
THEN ANOTHER IDEA
As the KWA proved itself a worthy training tool, I decided to expand its application. Many shooters know this story: my local range limits what a shooter can do with a carbine—no rapid fire, no multiple targets, no movement, etc. Of course, these things are vital parts of any training program. Over a period of months, I worked the KWA into a backyard program designed to maximize what many shooters can’t do at the range. Run with the gun? Check. Drive the carbine to wide multiples? Roger. Pouring multiple shots into closing or lateral targets? You bet.
The trajectory of the BBs is such that the usable training “window” is from the muzzle to about 20 yards in order to maintain hits in a nominal eight-inch vital without compensating holdover. I suspect that many shooters have yards that may not practically allow much more than that distance anyway.
Targetry is wide open for the shooter’s imagination. I used old sheet metal cut into 5×8-inch rectangles for a while, which reacted with movement and a nice “ping.” The best solution I found was faux fancy stainless steel serving platters in ten-inch circular and rectangular shapes from the Dollar Tree. They were thick enough to withstand regular hits and had a nice rim for a binder clip to grab onto in order to hang them from nails pecked into trees.
The most addictive targets were hollow plastic practice golf balls thrown randomly out in pairs or threes at about ten yards. The resulting target approximates a good silhouette hit at 100 yards, and each BB impact drives the ball six inches or so like billiards depending on the impact location, requiring the shooter to shoot well and drive the gun to work multiples and keep the balls moving. Each hit makes the target more challenging, as the golf ball rapidly shrinks in relative size.
The object of this drill is to emphasize the acceptable minimum in sight picture to rapidly apply a 50 meter/vitals level of precision across standing, kneeling and prone. The drill is meant as a ten-yard deal with the shooter engaging a two-inch target with ten shots each from the three common positions in a limit of 60 seconds, hence 3/60.
The entry level is to start standing, deal the ten BBs out and proceed down into a kneeling position for ten and down into prone to complete the drill. As the shooter begins to comfortably get all the hits, add difficulty by starting kneeling and moving to prone, then getting up under time pressure to the hind legs to finish it off from standing. It sounds easier than it is.
Place three targets at random intervals of at least six feet edge to edge about ten yards downrange. Using a timer set for a par of three seconds, attempt to place a pair on each. The focus is on making the eye lead the carbine into the next target and breaking the first shot just as the dot/ front sight post crosses the 3 or 9 o’clock edge of the target. To make the par, the shooter simply will not be able to turret the rifle while looking through the optic or wait to center the dot on the plate.
This is a great drill that really allows the shooter to learn how to “drive” the gun from target to target. Watch for overs winging the plate—this is a sure sign that the eye is not leading the fight. The eye should “snap” to the next target, allowing the rifle to glide in. The shooter is picking the dot back up just as it begins to cross the edge of the target and he presses, tracks to an immediate follow- up shot, and commands the dominant eye to dart to the next plate.
The drill starts with left to right or right to left until the results begin to come, and then moves to center/right/left.
Dynamics: 20-Yard Dash
Running with the rifle is something many haven’t done. It gives a perspective of stance and practical capability when the shooter sprints into position as in running to cover or to gain positive ID of a threat.
Using the same three targets as in the previous drill, the shooter begins 20 yards away, relaxed and with the timer set to nine seconds. On the buzzer, sprint the distance and put a BB on each target. Variations include engaging from kneeling or prone to golf balls after the run.
Dynamics: Shooting On The Move
Many drills and qualifications call for targets to be engaged with a pair on the move (closing) from various distances in set times. Only firing a pair allows the shooter to stutter step and awkwardly get by in the given time due to a lack of familiarity with firing on the move.
This drill forces the shooter to smooth it out and just drive in to the target, staying on the dot and trigger. The shooter begins at 20 yards and has six seconds to press at least six shots enroute to the ten-yard line.
At ten yards, the shooter gets four seconds to ping the plate with six and then has three seconds to drive in from the five with six more hits.
On the last stage, the shooter should have a steady stream of little BBs pinging back around him as he closes, so eye protection is a “gotta-do.” A little time spent doing this with Airsoft has awesome transfer back to the work gun.
ICING ON THE CAKE
The final plus to the whole Airsoft experiment is the “for the children” aspect. Since having the KWA on hand, I’ve had a chance to quickly provide some initial training and exposure to an AR-style rifle to no less than nine kids ranging in age from “too young to go to the range” to teens. The low risk environment, lack of noise and recoil, and off the charts “cool factor” has allowed some real learning to occur, and the KM4 SR10‘s collapsible stock sizes it down to cricket-like proportions.
The low-mounted Leupold Delta Point simplifies the aiming process and the kids are quickly breaking saltine crackers and attempting to knock golf balls into soup cans. Once they earn their way by applying some sound marksmanship, I throw the lever onto full-auto, which results in some of the biggest smiles you’ve ever seen. Worth the price of admission!
I am extremely encouraged by what the KWA rifle offers. After spending months with it, I am seeing improvement in some skill areas and easily maintaining the edge in others.
The Airsoft market is widely represented with products that are toys, but the KM4 SR10 is, as advertised, a professional training product. The line is expanding and will be worth watching for other useful tools.