Airsoft guns are full-size 1:1 scale replicas of real firearms. They feature a propulsion system utilizing a small amount of air to accurately fire a 6mm plastic BB at 200-450 fps with semi- and fully automatic action.
Airsoft guns are essentially of three types. There are spring powered guns in which you must pull back the slide for each shot. Most practical Airsoft pistols run on a gas driven mechanism. “Green gas” is the most popular gas used. The gas is usually injected into a reservoir chamber within the gun or magazine. The latest Airsoft gas guns incorporate a “blowback” effect which causes the slide of the gun to cycle.
Airsoft long guns tend to be Air Electric Guns (AEGs) in which the stock houses the battery and circuits which activate the gun’s propulsion. Electric guns are fully automatic and can push out over 800 rounds in under 60 seconds.
The 6mm BB is the standard Airsoft projectile. It is made of various composite materials which differ in mass and density – the most common being ABS plastic. The weight of Airsoft BBs range in gram measurement from 0.12 gram to the heavyweight 0.5 gram BBs. The effective range of Airsoft BBs is 25 to 75 yards (for long guns.) Biodegradable BBs made of starch are also available.
The advantages of Airsoft are many, but the main five are the following:
- There is little injury potential – even at close quarters. Airsoft BBs do indeed hurt, as they should, but they do not injure (except when striking the eyes). They hurt a little less than SIMUNITION®, but that’s OK since that allows the same pain level to be achieved with less padded clothing, making the whole scenario more realistic;
- Airsoft guns can be inexpensive. At less than $100 for a decent pistol, a couple of hundred dollars for a long gun and, with gas inexpensive and BBs too cheap to count, Airsoft equipment is many times more affordable than alternatives;
- True replica guns (amazingly lifelike) are the norm, meaning that your standard holsters and other gear can be used;
- The nonmarking/nondamaging projectiles mean that you can use actual deployment environments for training – your actual office buildings, schools, cruisers, etc. You don’t need a dedicated or specialized training environment. This has never before been possible with force on force training and it is absolutely invaluable; and
- Because you can use any environment to train in, you negate the necessity of travel to a special facility and the scheduling problems that creates. Airsoft equipment, therefore, actually allows spontaneous, short-term and/or roll call type training. Basically, it allows anywhere/anytime force on force training.
What’s the Catch?
Some critics have pointed to the nonmarking characteristic of Airsoft projectiles as a disadvantage. (Actually, there are marking Airsoft BBs available, but they have a reputation for being unreliable.) I disagree. A law enforcement (or any deadly force) simulation should not be a bunch of teenagers playing paintball. It should be a controlled, realistic enactment of a possible situation. It is the instructor’s responsibility, as the person running the simulation, to keep it realistic and prevent it from degenerating into a game of “shoot ’em-up.” An instructor doing that job professionally will keep the number of rounds fired to a realistic number and should be keeping track of who’s been hit and where (which is not hard to do). Hundreds of rounds do not get exchanged in the situations for which most of us are training our people – it’s more like a handful.
Besides, the participants do indeed know where they’ve been hit because the BBs hurt!
Actually, I can think of only one disadvantage. It is not a good idea to drop Airsoft magazines, as the lips can get bent easily by so doing. This means only tactical reloads (or no reloads in my simulations, since I don’t really believe in tactical reloads). This limitation is tiny compared to 1) the necessity of reloads in most real situations (i.e., none), and 2) the severe limitations of competing simulation technologies.
The Matter of Certification
Until recently, there had been no certifying body for Airsoft simulation instructors. But the Massachusetts Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors and Armorers Association (MLEFI&AA) has recently released their Airsoft Simulation Instructor certification course. The MLEFI&AA Airsoft Simulation Instructor course is a one day (eight hour) course designed to insure that airsoft simulations are run safely and in a manner which achieves learning objectives. Certificates are issued by MLEFI&AA to those successfully completing the course. The course is open to all law enforcement, military and private sector persons who are firearms instructors with certification from a recognized body.
In the course, safety is covered in the first block in a thoroughly comprehensive way, but also in a way which is designed to be practical to implement. While some simulation instructor courses specify impossibly high safety protocols – which are, of course, never followed fully in practice – MLEFI&AA, as an organization of working cops, decided to specify truly safe, but realistic, protocols (one is always free to exceed them, of course). The safety protocols are grouped into two areas: staying safe from the airsoft projectiles themselves and staying safe from real firearms accidentally introduced into the training area. The safety block includes a written test.
The second block is devoted to an understanding of how to design and run simulations which actually impart learning. Too many simulations are simply scenarios which are loosely set up and then allowed to somehow unfold, and then students are then critiqued on their performance. In these nonobjective orientated simulations, officer/student learning is usually a random event. The MLEFI&AA course spends time on how to isolate learning objectives and on designing a simulation to impart them. Students are led through simulation designs meant to impart very simple and complex learning objectives.
During the third block, each instructor/student actually runs a simulation, choosing safety officers and role players from among other instructor/students.
Just about every firearms manufacturer licenses their guns’ designs to one or more Airsoft manufacturers. There are low-end manufacturers, mid-quality ones and high-end manufacturers, with quality differentiated by price – as in all things. (I’ve been using mid-quality KSC brand pistols and been satisfied.) Which Airsoft manufacturer(s), in which quality bracket(s), licenses a particular (real) pistol’s or rifle’s design will differ by make and model.
Do a search of “Airsoft” with any Internet search engine and you’ll find hundreds of vendors. Airsoft has been a Far East thing (Airsoft is the paintball of Japan) and, until recently, most of the manufacturers and retail vendors are located there. They do a thriving Internet business here in the States, though, and many of them have excellent reputations and are solid vendors. When dealing with the Far East vendors, you’ll have to do it all over the Web and pay with something like PayPal, but that’s not hard. In addition, there are U.S. based vendors – some Web-based and some storefront-based – often selling the same equipment as the people in Hong Kong. Actually, in the last year, there has been such an increase in the popularity of Airsoft that most local police suppliers and Army surplus stores now carry the equipment at competitive prices. I bought my equipment two years ago from Hong Kong, but I plan to buy locally at retail in the future.
I suggest buying a couple of pistols of the type that you (or your department) use, as well as possibly a long gun of the type you typically use to start off with. All of your other equipment will be compatible with these lifelike Airsoft guns.
Specific Airsoft products, brands and vendors are beyond the scope of this article. Besides, this information changes so rapidly that anything I print here is subject to immediate change. The best way to learn about the pros and cons of competing products, and to learn which vendors are reliable and trustworthy, is to spend a few hours on the various Web discussion forums devoted to Airsoft or to link up with an Airsoft league. Airsoft weekend war game leagues are literally exploding all across this country (here, in little Massachusetts, there are already quite a few, and growing). At one of these events, you will meet many friendly people all too happy to exchange E-mail addresses and to share their experience and knowledge with you. That knowledge will be more up-to-date than any printed information since the products and vendors are changing as rapidly as the game is growing. One caveat: The war gamers spend a lot of mental energy on their long guns and the alterations which will increase their range. As law enforcement, by contrast, we are concerned with simply buying factory pistols and basic LE rifles in reliable form from reliable vendors – alterations are not advised to Airsoft guns used in LE simulation training because alterations often increase the velocity and, therefore, the danger posed by the projectiles.
Safety concerns with Airsoft simulations are of two types: staying safe from the airsoft projectiles themselves and staying safe from real firearms accidentally introduced into the training area. The MLEFI&AA Instructor course specifies that each role player in a simulation wear face fitting goggles around the eyes and a full face Lexon shield (in addition to neck protection). Women must wear breast protection. Role players are the people likely to have projectiles shot at them and, thus, are the likely participants to be hit with them. While weekend war game players wear only eye protection as a rule and no serious injuries have occurred to my knowledge, MLEFI&AA specifies additional face and neck protection for role players to avoid even slight injuries to these vulnerable areas. All other participants (instructors, safety officers, observers, etc.) are required to wear only face fitting goggles to protect the eyes. They may, of course, wear more protection, if they want to. Heavy or padded clothing is optional in this course for all participants, although any department or instructor is free to mandate them.
Maintaining safety from real firearms or other weapons introduced into the training area is accomplished in a two step process. First, the safety officer clears the training area in a two step protocol; then the safety officer clears each and every person entering that training area with a three step protocol. This turns out to require significant discipline in practice; it is not as easy as it sounds! Students in the MLEFI&AA course discover that is is shockingly easy to get distracted by normal events and have a safety slipup.
The Future Is Here
Airsoft technology has so many advantages over competing simulation technologies that it will without a doubt sweep law enforcement training. Too many officers now are demanding more than the static or nonexistent training which they have been getting. Airsoft is too easy and too inexpensive to implement to have it be ignored. The courts are now absolutely demanding realistic training. And, most important, it will save the lives of good guys!
Getting started with Airsoft is easy. The price of a couple pistols and supplies can be found in even today’s stretched budgets. Experimentation with its introduction into training can be done in short time bursts anytime, anywhere. Instructor certification is easily available.