0900: The suspects in the house were reportedly drug dealers and possibly heavily armed.
I was the last man on the SWAT team when we began the penetration. Just as we entered the house, some of us still in the foyer, one of the suspects jumped out from behind a wall and killed the man in front of me. We returned fire with our M4s and brought him down.
1000: We entered the same house again, but this time no one was waiting for us just beyond the foyer, and we were able to move stealthily down a staircase and into a basement recreation room where several suspects were drinking beer and shooting pool. One of the suspects began shooting his pistol. We neutralized him.
1100: A group of heavily armed persons—no way to tell how many— had seized control of a public facility and were holding hostages who were bound and helpless. The decision was made to go in before the perpetrators began killing the hostages. Everything happened all at once, perpetrators coming from this side and that side, hostages in the way, bad guys opening fire with automatic weapons as we returned fire and tried to avoid hitting hostages or our own people. It was a rough morning at Meggitt Systems’ enormous training facility in northeast Georgia.
The Meggitt training system is a high-tech video system that allows students to train in realistic scenarios. The system supports marksmanship and judgmental training for the full spectrum of tools available to the officer today including less lethal and non lethal options such as verbal commands, baton, chemical spray and TASER® in addition to hundreds of different firearm types. Marksmanship training encompasses the basic fundamentals of individual marksmanship and sustainment training. Judgmental training includes force escalation/de-escalation, use of force and shoot/no shoot. The key to Meggitt Systems’ training effectiveness is that it seems real as you’re doing it.
Years ago, when the company was known as FATS (Firearms Training Systems), and wasn’t nearly as technologically advanced as it is today, I spent a day with them. I got to lie in ambush for an enemy patrol that was coming out of the woods into a clearing. Waiting there, prone, my M16 cheeked, the enemy emerging on a screen big enough for a Hollywood blockbuster, the sense of reality was undeniable. When the battle started, I fired my M16, staying on semi only because I prefer fast trigger action to bursts, and emptied the weapon while the battle raged. I bounced the 20-round magazine, reinserted it as if it were a spare one and my rifle was freshly loaded once again. We won!
Later, I stood on the swaying deck of a harbor patrol boat off a Far Eastern port city, the smugglers we’d been looking for suddenly coming into view. As the vessel rocked beneath my feet, I clung to the controls of the deck gun—if memory serves, it was an M60—and we were off in pursuit of the smugglers. As we came in range, we started trading shots with the smugglers.
All of this, whether you’re wearing night vision equipment on a military operation or holding a pistol against an armed felon while responding to a call concerning a suspicious prowler, feels very, very real. Without mentioning the agency involved, this true story illustrates how real the simulations are.
Meggitt’s technology allows not only for programming required reloads when the gun runs out of ammo, but also creating malfunctions, such as feeding failures, so students can learn to react to the full range of conditions which they may encounter in reality.
Meggitt instructors were always painstakingly careful—and became even more so after the following happened— to make certain that there were no firearms in the instruction area, other than those rigged to work with the instructional system. During a gunfight, one of the police officers became so caught up in the realism of the scenario that, when his rifle malfunctioned, rather than clearing the malfunction, he threw the weapon down, snatched his backup gun off his ankle and kept firing.
This unauthorized hot weapon in the instructional area wasn’t very good for the screen and of course neither was it good for the nerves of anyone around the officer.
This shows how participants can’t help but get caught up in the scenarios, falling into the screen, as it were. And the dozens upon dozens of variations that can occur in one single scenario make for amazingly realistic training. When I visited FATS the first time, all of the weapons were tethered into the system, connected into the computerized controls for the system with cables.
Although this system is still in use, Meggitt has gone a giant step beyond with its BlueFire Wireless Weapon Simulators, utilizing Bluetooth technology as the means by which the weapon and the system communicate.
The idea behind Bluetooth technology is to get rid of cables, inexpensively and reliably. Basic Bluetooth technology is, in its most easily understood form, radio. Using a frequency hop transceiver to minimize interference and fading, the radio channel is used in common between the individual unit and the master for the system.
Just like with the original FATS system, where the M16 was connected to the computer by a cable, the Bluetooth technology (small, low-cost chip devices) is built into the modified M4 that I used in my most recent visit. The BlueFire system allows the master computer for the system and my rifle to talk to one another just as if a cable connected them.
Couple this Bluetooth technology with a gas magazine that goes into the weapon to simulate perceived recoil, and you have the perfect system for realistic training. Because it is wireless, the training options are much more fluid and diverse.
At the Meggitt facility in Suwanee, Georgia, you enter into what amounts to a large classroom that is wider than it is deep. On the far wall, there is an enormous screen. At the center rear of the room is a massive control desk which houses the equipment that runs the scenarios. Participants in the scenario position themselves, their modified weapons at the ready, to the right, left or front of the control desk. A test target comes up on the screen and you fire a few sighting-in shots, to make certain that your weapon is in sync with the system.
The M4 that was handed to me when I visited this second time was a bit temperamental. Jimmie McCoy, law enforcement training manager, had checked the weapon. As luck would have it, however, a glitch revealed itself during our first scenario, when I was aiming at a bad guy hostage taker and instead ended up shooting the hostages. (Seriously, it was a technical glitch, not operator error. I’ve got one hand on a stack of Bibles as I type with the other hand.) The weapon was adjusted and sighted in again. All was well and away we went with the scenario.
The room is dark, which helps to focus your attention toward what happens on screen instead of your actual surroundings. The scenario in which you are participating is filmed with a shoulder-mounted camera, all from what would be your point of view. The result is that you really are experiencing what is happening and you lose yourself in the scenario. You don’t have the time or opportunity to plan when you’ve just walked into a house with your fellow team members and the bad guy pops out from behind the refrigerator, firing at everyone in sight. There’s no time to do anything except return fire in such a fashion as to not hit your own personnel.
Meggitt Systems is a diverse company, and you could say that this division of Meggitt specializes in saving the lives of good guys. An example of this is how they developed a system for our GIs that helps them deal with improvised explosive devices (IEDs). We all know that one of the greatest hazards our heroes face is the roadside IED. Meggitt has a simulator that allows our good guys to practice spotting and maneuvering around these deadly devices. Saving lives once again.
BlueFire weapons include the M4, Glock Models 17 and 19, SIG Models 226 and 229, and other regularly encountered weapons, with more custom modifications being worked out on a regular basis.
Whether BlueFire or the older cable version, only real guns are used, though of course permanently modified with the appropriate electronics. Modifying the weapons isn’t cheap— especially some models—and the work required has to be done perfectly. At the time I attended, Meggitt’s tech people were at work on everything from machine guns to a British assault rifle.
Meggitt adapts to the situation’s requirements. There was an ordinarylooking tractor/trailer rig out back. The trailer itself was a multi-position handgun range that could be used with the BlueFire modified weapons or the real thing.
If you find yourself wishing you had one of Meggitt’s systems in your basement, I’d wager you’re not alone. This beats a ping-pong table any day of the week. Training for life-saving shooting skills aside, the Meggitt system is the ultimate gunny’s video game!
Meggitt Training Systems
296 Brogdon Road
Suwanee, GA 30024