Law Enforcement Firearms Training FAQ

Table of Contents

Why is training realism so important?

One critical component of a quality training simulator is the ‘realism’ it provides. Real-world performance is often directly related to the realism and intensity of training. Said another way, the more realistic the training exercise, the more skills are transferable to a real-world situation. Thus, realism is critically important to any close combat tactical trainer.

One of VirTra’s primary missions is to make simulated training as realistic as humanly possible. VirTra goes to great lengths to recreate the real-world in the simulator: from incredibly realistic 3D audio and special effects to realistic recoil training firearms and shoot back capabilities – just to name a few.

VirTra’s attention to detail and higher standard for realism in military engagement skills simulation training leads to improved real-world skills for the trainees. Below is a chart that graphically shows the expected normal value relationship between simulation realism and real-world improvement.




















What are the differences between a live fire range and a simulator?

VirTra considers live fire range training to be irreplaceable in the process of firearm training. However, firearm training simulators are now able to greatly compliment the training on a live fire range. VirTra provides a long list of recoil kits for various model firearms which permits realistic operation of the firearm with good recoil, but without a live bullet traveling downrange. The lack of a live round enables entirely new ways to train.

The addition of a firearm simulator provides:

  1. Judgment training – Advanced judgment or critical thinking skills (decision-making is required as to if/when you shoot or with what level of force you should use).
  2. Threats during training – The stress of receiving return fire can be safely simulated with  the Threat-Fire in the simulator.
  3. 300-degree training – Due to the safety requirements, trainees are forced to focus directly in front of them on a live fire range. A trainee cannot train to shoot in different directions, shoot off-balance, or instantly spin 180 degrees to look for and engage the threat.
  4. Moving target – Most real life engagements involve shooting at moving targets.  This requires expensive and specific equipment to accomplish on a live fire range.
  5. Safety – The use of live ammunition requires extensive safety requirements that reduce the ability of real-world training on a range.
  6. Cost and access – Live ammunition is expensive and at times not even available due to worldwideshortages out of your control.
  7. Environmental agency – Many shooting ranges are closed every year due to environmental concerns; with a simulator there is zero environmental impact, zero lead in the air, zero chance of shutting down training.
  8. Operation – An indoor firearm simulator can operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, regardless of weather.


What is 300 degree training?

The next real-world engagement will most certainly occur in a 360-degree environment.  When training on a single-screen simulator, the trainee is only utilizing 60 degrees field of view, and never has to turn to face a potential theat.  A single-screen simulator further reinforces tunnel vision, “training with blinders on”.  It is difficult to maintain situational awareness throughout a real world engagement, but is critical for survival.  This type of training can be implemented on a multi-screen video simulator such as the V-180™ LE or V-300™ LE simulator.

  Field of View comparison between a single-screen simulator vs a multi-screen simulator


Why does VirTra use both video and CGI for scenarios?














For simulated training exercises to be realistic and have valid psychological impact, the trainee must consider the people in the scenario to be ‘human.’ The human brain is exceptional at detecting a ‘fake’ person when they are closer than about 30 meters (100 feet). The look and movement of people is perfectly captured by high quality video, but CGI creates ‘approximations’ of people. Even with the latest CGI technology, ‘generated’ CGI humans do not look and move like real people when viewing them at distances closer than about 30 meters (100 feet).









When dealing with potential threats at closer ranges, military and law enforcement personnel use body language, the look in their eyes, and subtle movements to make split-second life-and-death decisions – this is usually best simulated using actors and high-resolution video. VirTra is uniquely equipped to use high-resolution video or CGI based on what is best suited to the customer’s requirements. Generally speaking, most customers prefer the realism of humans using high-resolution video for closer than 30 meters (100 feet) but do accept either video or CGI scenarios for simulation of humans encountered beyond 30 meters (100 feet).


Does “3D” help or hurt firearms training?

The term ‘3D’ is all the buzz these days, as the consumer electronic behemoth is pushing 3D as the next ‘must have’ upgrade for your television. The 3D movement is really about ‘stereoscopic 3D,’ or ‘stereopsis,’ where each eye receives a slightly different image to create relative depth perception. For decades, the entertainment industry has used the 3D effect as a gimmick to dazzle consumers in theme park rides and movies.

However, stereoscopic 3D is strongest and most important at near distances where man uses accurate hand-eye coordination to make tools or grab prey, so what movie companies do is push beyond real-world 3D into a realm of exaggerated hyper-stereoscopic 3D effect so they can elicit an emotional response, a ‘wow’ from the audience. Normally, if you saw someone 3 meters in front of you, they would not ‘jump’ out at you, but by introducing hyper-stereoscopic 3D, all of a sudden the person unnaturally ‘pops’ off the screen. Of course, hyper-stereoscopic 3D is the exact opposite of the realism required for accurate firearms simulation; trainees should feel like the simulation is ‘real’ (not artificially exaggerated for dramatic effect). In fact, if you ‘notice’ the 3D effect on a firearms training simulator, it is probably because the 3D has been exaggerated beyond the real-world in hopes of dazzling a potential customer.

However, stereoscopic 3D plays almost no role in our ability to determine depth at normal firearm distances. There are many one-eyed (monocular) depth perception cues that allow us to make accurate depth judgments. These monocular depth perception cues are very familiar and include perspective, overlay, shadowing, relative motion, relative size, etc. The very minor impact of stereoscopic 3D also explains why people who have lost vision in one eye are able to match the firearm proficiency performance of people with both eyes functioning. At distances used in firearms training, the 3D effect has no impact on training effectiveness; some even consider it a dangerous gimmick as it requires the trainee to wear glasses they don’t normally wear and some companies exaggerate the 3D effect which actually reduces training effectiveness. In fact, firearm training sight picture requires the trainee to use their dominate eye so they can properly align the firearm to the target. Thus, aiming a firearm is inherently a monocular (not 3D) activity (see image below).











As the picture above shows, proper sight picture requires only one eye; 3D effect is more a gimmick than a firearms training aid.

While the 3D stereoscopic effect can create an exaggerated ‘pop out of the screen’ in an entertainment setting, it has not been shown to increase real-world skill development with firearms and 3D may actually hurt firearms training.

Providing a 3D effect and requiring trainees to wear special glasses is far more of a gimmick than a serious training tool, and, in fact, by adding 3D glasses to each trainee, actually produces NEGATIVE training.

If firearm training realism is the goal, the following items are more critical than the 3D effect:

  1. Situational awareness – trainees should practice situational awareness and turning to engage a moving target requires practice on a multi-screen simulator
  2. Performance under pressure – Threat-Fire™ shoot-back system applies REAL stress during simulation
  3. Firearms with recoil kits – the training firearm should weigh and behave identical to a real firearm


Comparison of return fire cannon to Threat-Fire™

One important item to many trainers is the ability to induce some stress into the trainees and realism into the training scenario. The trainee will have heightened awareness knowing that there are consequences to his/her actions and decisions during the training scenarios. There are two main types of shoot-back systems on the market: shoot-back cannons and Threat-Fire.

A. Shoot-back cannons

First introduced in 1999, these devices launch a ball at the trainee at about 200 feet per second (basically a paintball gun on a tripod). The device’s main use is to train the officer to seek cover. If the officer does not seek cover, the instructor takes aim at the region above the knee cap and below the groin. The instructor avoids hitting the knee cap, shin, or groin, leaving a portion of the thigh as the hit zone. Ideally, trainees would leave their thigh exposed so the instructor can hit them in this ‘preferred’ area.

The disadvantages of this method are as follows:

  1. Cannon is fixed and only shoots from one direction.
  2. Trainee must wear eye protection for safety during training.
  3. Instructors must ensure eye protection is worn by all present at all times, during the training
  4. Requires an instructor to carefully aim the cannon
  5. Instructor can miss the trainee or accidentally hit the trainee in a sensitive region (possible injury)
  6. Instructor must police the balls continually
  7. The preferred hit zone area is restricted

The shoot-back cannon is available for sale to all simulation companies (VirTra recommends the Threat-Fire™ device to its customers, but can supply shoot-back cannons when required). Another company does have a patent on an automatic tracking technique and adding a shoot-back video feed into the display of the simulation computer. These features seem to add only marginal value to the shoot-back cannon and do not negate any of the main disadvantages. When professionals compare the cannon shoot-back with the Threat-Fire™ wireless electric impulse device, they consistently choose the Threat-Fire™. If you are unsure, VirTra recommends that you observe each type of return fire device in action before making a purchase.

B. Threat-Fire shoot-back device

In early 2005, VirTra introduced an entirely new approach to shoot-back with the Threat-Fire™. The concept was to eliminate the disadvantages of the shoot-back cannon, while preserving the advantages and adding further advantages. The Threat-Fire is a wireless electronic impulse device normally worn around the mid-section and provides a momentary shock. The instructor initiated device is designed with multiple duration levels. There is also a belt and vibration only version. The system is extremely user friendly, running on an internal rechargeable battery pack that is easily charged (no balls to clean-up, no safety goggles, no aiming required).

The Threat-Fire™ device can be combined with the TMaR system. TMaR (Trainee Monitoring and Recording) permits the instructor to monitor and record the trainee from the vantage point of a camera mounted in the training area. The instructor, while monitoring the trainee can activate the Threat Fire based on the trainees actions and decisions. If the trainee disagrees, the instructors actions can be supported by utilizing TMAR to replay the scenario on the monitor. The instructor can also group trainees together and activate the Threat Fire™ based on one or both of the trainees actions and decisions.

The advantages of this method are as follows:
  1. Creates stress through consequences in the training scenario
  2. Instructor can introduce stress to one or more trainees simultaneously
  3. Instructors decisions are supported with the TMAR system.
  4. Instructor can vary the intensity levels.
  5. Very user friendly and easy to operate.
  6. No aiming required
  7. No safety goggles required
  8. No need to pick up balls off the floor day after day

VirTra has been awarded a patent on this device and is the only company offering this device which integrates with a use-of-force simulator.


How does VirTra’s tracking calibration work?

At the most basic level, a simulator is a combination of a projection on a screen (displaying a target) and a shot-detection camera (detecting a laser fired at the screen). Calibration is the process whereby the projected image is aligned with the shot detection camera.

One of the oldest approaches to calibration was to a 9 or 16 point approach. In this method, the user must shoot targets or walk up to the screen and position a wand on a dot on the screen, then walks back to click ‘next’ and does the next spot and continues until all dots have been completed. This has a number of problems:

  1. Accuracy is somewhat determined by how careful and meticulous the user is with positioning on each dot – which changes from person-to-person and from calibration to calibration.
  2. The computer, using the data with inaccuracies as described above, then ‘approximates’ or ‘guesses’ at the alignment of all other points on the screen. However, the only points the system has truly calibrated are those 16 spots where a human has tried to hold a wand in the correct position – with unknown and changing results each time.
  3. Not user friendly, must use wand on screen or use a simulated firearm as a mouse pointer.
  4. Accuracy becomes variable as it provides reasonably good tracking near the center of the screen, but is inaccurate for much of the screen space. Some companies compensate by having all scenarios keep the action in the very center of the screen so customers don’t notice the inaccuracy. However, this reinforces tunnel vision and lowers the level of challenge for all trainees. See real-world training.
  5. As the computer has no idea of where exactly the human positioned the wand, the system has no mathematical idea of accuracy; in other words, the wand could be off to the right of the calibration point and no one knows. Without numeric calibration data (and with variable accuracy as described above), the system is mathematically incapable of permitting verified marksmanship training. It can still be a helpful tool for firearms training, but to accurately qualify or to truly simulate an outdoor shooting range is technically unknown and mathematically out-of-reach for this approach.

To compound the accuracy problem, the older point-based calibration approach uses math to approximate all locations on the screen and it assumes the projector and camera are linear. This makes the mathematics much simpler, but at the cost of accuracy throughout the entire screen.

Below is an artistic rendering to visualize possible assumptions made by this point-based method; please note that as each company has their own proprietary formulas, this rendering may not be accurate to all point-based tracking methods.











Below is an actual image taken from VirTra’s unique calibration process which maps the entire projected surface to the entire active camera sensor. Yes, every pixel is accurately mapped creating the most precise and automatic calibration method in the world.










Why do you need to calibrate every pixel? Well, each projector and camera is not only unique but also surprisingly complex, usually they are composed of several lens that modify the incoming or outgoing light. Instead of allowing for approximations with simple math, they are composed of multiple 3-dimensional lens in both the projector and the camera, especially as you move towards the sides. Below is a sample diagram of the lens for a common projector, which gives some idea of the complexity of the light path through just one sample component of a standard simulator.








Even if it was possible to implement all the advanced mathematics needed to accurately calibrate the entire projected screen to the shot-detection camera with multiple lens, it is still best (as each camera and projector are slightly different) to use VirTra’s direct calibration. For VirTra’s calibration process, you simply remove the filter on the camera and then you click to have the computer start the calibration. The computer then automatically has the projector display a graphic that moves across the screen, while the camera detects the graphic the projector is displaying. It is basically that simple, no approximations or guessing, and no standing around with a wand or using a firearm to try to ‘shoot’ calibration targets. VirTra’s calibration has the following advantages:

  1. No human wand or other human-error prone approach is used.
  2. Easier for the operator (click a button) than manual calibration.
  3. Far higher accuracy across the entire screen as no ‘guessing’ or approximations are used in calibration.


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