Training with VirTra
I recently had the opportunity to experience a virtual training simulator from the good people of the Artemis Defense Institute (interview and more with them later). I had heard about these simulators, specifically the VirTra Firearms Training Simulator, and was interested in trying one out. Artemis happens to have three of these trainers that include a 100 (straight on screen), 180 (180 degrees of screens) and the 300 (300 degrees of screens). After I got the invite, I brought along two buddies to run the course with me (they will be known as BR and PS in this article.)
Before we jump into our experience I’ll give you a brief overview of what VirTra is. VirTra is a training simulator that teaches the use of force (when to use it and not to use it), situational awareness, threat assessment and most of all decision making under stress. There’s also a military version that uses the same fundamentals but in a combat situation.
We were lucky to get a private session that gave us a broad overview of the system. Artemis offers a series of different training modules. Whether you’re an agency looking to train or a military contractor, they have something that can be tailored to fit your needs. They also offer CCW and other civilian-based training programs. This private session wouldn’t dive into any thing specific but more or less gave us a taste of all three simulators and a sampling of what’s available.
Even though this is a virtual simulator (no live ammo) we still were encouraged to follow normal range safety protocol (hell, I follow it playing with water guns). The firearms we were using were a Glock 22 and Colt AR. The barrel on the pistol and the bolt carrier on the AR were switched to the VirTra laser. Then the mag was replaced with a compressed air cartridge (still looks like a mag) to simulate blow back. Steven (co owner of Artemis) gave us a brief overview of the training, emphasized that it was more about stress management than standard firearms training, and explained that it primarily focused on defensive shooting. Of course, you can tailor the training to your needs, and the system has a variety of drills.
The 100 screen is a giant flat screen where the perspective is straight on. Steven (Artemis) set up a simple steel plate course so we could zero weapons and get a feel for the simulator. BR noticed how strange the firearm felt during the zero process. What felt strange was the lack of recoil even with the blowback and of course the missing “bang”. But one thing that impressed us though was the playback of us shooting the course. This immediate feedback allowed us to make the necessary changes to perform better. With firearms zeroed, we headed to the 180.
The 180 is compromised of three screens, simulating 180 degrees of view. Steven told me how certain law enforcement agencies use this simulator for vehicle stop training and VCQB tactics. The “lab” at Artemis is a giant warehouse so you can drive cars right into the space. He also told us the screens were used for rifle marksmanship. For our backdrop, we chose Montana and set up steel targets (virtual steel that is) as well as standard paper. The operator of the simulator can adjust wind, weather, time of day and all sorts of other factors that might affect the round. The three of us (BR, PS and myself) each lined up at a screen and took shots at the targets with the Montana backdrop. Then we were able to analyze how we did under the different simulated environments. The system allowed us to see where we were aiming and where the round actually landed. We then looked at various analytics to understand how we were performing. Yeah, I know it sounds like some nerd fest fit for a geek but it was actually cool to get an understanding of how we were doing. We then had some fun with moving targets, and the last iteration was shoot/don’t shoot. It was a true eye opener, and we realized Steven was gearing us up for what we really came to see: the 300 simulator.
It’s 300 degrees of screens designed to test your skills as a negotiator, your situational awareness and most of all how you react under stress. To make matters more intense we all wore devices that delivered a decent electric shock. Just putting these on raised everyone’s heartbeat. The controller can monitor your stress levels and heart rate as you go through the course, and also control the interaction you have with people on the screen. Think “choose your own adventure”, but more seamless and with more options.
The first scenario we chose was an active shooter in an office. BR decided to be the first one up. As he went through and got information from the actors on the screen he made his way through the building checking his corners and asking questions. It was great to see virtual people react to questioning and we wanted a bit more interaction, but the scenario moved quick. When BR encountered the gunman, he ordered him to drop his weapon. The shooter began to aim at a hostage, so BR took the scumbag down. Then without notice, BR let out this yelp and we realized there was a second gunman hidden behind him. Steve told us if BR listened carefully he would have heard one of the people say “THEY went back there”. Apparently, that was our tip that there could be more than one gunman. Always check and secure your surroundings, which BR learned via the shock treatment to his lower back (I mean ass).
Next up were myself and PS. We decided to tag team the next active shooter scenario, which took place at a school. After seeing BR get shocked I was determined not to get that morning jolt. Doing the scenario as a team added to the stress and confusion. As we made our way through the rooms we made sure to move and take cover. I was pretty amped and so was PS. PS engaged what felt like the last showdown but after seeing BR get burned I made sure to cover PS as he engaged the threat. And what do ya know, in comes a second gunman, who I quickly dispatched. PS had no idea what was going on cause he was preoccupied with the other gunman. The one thing we failed to do was communicate better with each other. I should have let PS know I was covering and once I spotted the threat I should have announced it.
We thought we were done until a person came into the screen saying there was a hostage. We made our way to the room and tried to talk the gunman down but apparently, we made the mistake of talking too long and missed opportunities to neutralize the threat. Granted, none of us had military training (well PS does) and we’re not law enforcement so maybe someone with more training would have handled it differently.
Overall the 300 was really intense and exciting. We all definitely had adrenaline running through us afterward. We learned that we needed better situational awareness and that communication is critical. Working under stress can cloud your judgment so what better way to train than on simulator built just for that. After the session BR shared his thoughts with me about the experience:
“The Virtual simulator is pretty amazing. Especially the stress of the 300 screen. As being shot in the ass by the second bad guy in my scenario, it was very intense.
As the instructor said prior to trying out the system, people sometimes forget that bad habits here can transfer into their real life practice. The lack of consequences is a blessing and a curse. When at the range and shooting real ammo, it is very visceral. The sound, smell, recoil, and possible consequence are a constant when shooting at the range. At a Virtual range, it isn’t a factor. You can shoot a ton more and work on fundamentals, scenarios, and train a ton. This is incredible and with the right guidance and vigilant correct technique, it can be an amazing training tool.
Unless you don’t look over your back and you get shocked in the ass, that shit is real.” -BR
“Wouldn’t you rather play a nice game of chess?”
Overall the training was very interesting. We definitely missed some of the visceral experiences of live fire training as BR mentioned. How ever if you mix your training with live fire and this virtual training, it could be a winning combination. Check out Artemis Defense Institute for more info and VirTra to learn more.
Since Artemis is a “mom and pop” business I asked Steven a few questions to learn more about Artemis and virtual training.
1) What inspired you to open up Artemis?
Artemis was a compromise. I wanted to open up a gun store and Sandy wanted to focus exclusively on training. As she was researching a training school we realized that a live-fire range (both in cost as well as the product) would just not cut it based on what we wanted to achieve. She became fascinated at the training opportunities of simulation based training. I was less than convinced. She began looking at the various simulator companies and came to the conclusion that VirTra was far and away from the most advanced platform out there. She began developing a business model that incorporated multiple VirTra simulators and pitched the idea to VirTra. She took me on a trip to Tempe, Arizona to try out the system and after getting my butt kicked on the 300 I was convinced.
2) What are some of the benefits you see with using VirTra or virtual training models? Any disadvantages? How do you work around the disadvantages?
The advantages are numerous. First and foremost is cost-effective and time-effective training. Our rounds are quite cheaper than traditional ammunition, and standing around packing mags is not necessary during our training sessions. The most important thing though is “stress inoculation” and judgmental use of force. Having the trainee forced to deal with actual painful consequences to poor tactical decisions, or forgetting to scan for secondary or tertiary threats is difficult if not impossible to achieve in a traditional range training session.
The biggest disadvantage involves the instruction itself. The simulators are spectacular, but in the end, they are essentially interactive powerpoint presentations. Without proper instruction, during debriefs the trainee loses a tremendous amount of valuable training points. To make sure that we have the best instructors available we seek out not just the best tacticians and “gunfighters”, but also non-traditional members of the training community. From medical specialists to psychological experts and legal counsel, we look to constantly expand the training personnel we have available to us.
3) What do you see as being the next big innovation with virtual training?
There are a number of people that are seeking to use VR in training… things such as goggles, and multi-player type stuff. It is interesting, and with a much higher degree of reality, there might be some benefit. Right now the push seems to be to use gaming engines as base platforms. This might be problematic in a training environment though. The value of force on force training is the hyper-reality that video-based production provides. The last thing that we would ever want is for the training platform to transfer to a gaming platform.
You ever train using a VirTra simulator or other virtual models? Share with us your experience in the comments.