Using Airsoft as an Effective Training Tool

With regard to training tools and techniques, there are a plethora of options available today. From simunitions and MILES gear, to inert training guns, there exists something to fit every need. Choosing the right tool for the job can sometimes be a daunting task. Expense as well as education become a prime factor in determining what may work best for your particular situation and needs. Here we will examine some of the prime advantages that Airsoft can bring to your training.


Cost

Initial costs are fairly low in comparison to other types of training aids. Ammunition costs are a primary consideration for many individuals and this is one area where Airsoft can really outshine the competition. Most quality Airsoft ammunition can be purchased for as little as $0.003 cents per round. Quality ammo is often sold in bags of 1000 - 5000 rounds per bag, and can usually be purchased at an average price of $12 per bag. In comparison to other forms of training, such as paintball, simunitions, or live rounds, Airsoft is exceedingly cheap to invest in - especially with regard to ammunition. Moreover, it is among the safest for Force-on-Force training.

Here are a few comparison examples:

Airsoft vs. Simunitions
Airsoft
Simunitions
Gun (Glock Type)
$145 - $165
$486 average
Gun (M4 / M16 Type)
$250 - $385 on average
$393 - $700+
Ammo (1000 rounds)
$6 - $15 on average
$426 - $600+
Safety equipment required
ANSI rated eye protection.
ANSI rated eye protection, hearing protectors, and/or protective garments such as gloves, neck, chest and groin protectors.
Realism
1:1 scale replica with functional controls and recoil.
1:1 scale replica or real firearm with functional controls and recoil.
FPS / Velocity

Typically 280 - 400 FPS

Lower velocity + Lower mass = increased user safety and an overall more pleasant experience.

Typically 390 - 400 FPS (9mm based).
5.56mm simunitions are 600 - 650+ FPS.

Higher velocity + heavier mass = increased chance of injury and an overall more painful experience.
Does it leave a mess?
Non-marking - will not stain or damage clothing. Can damage glass or other sensitive items.
Offered as detergent-based water soluable cleaning - however, experience has shown it can stain and damage clothing. Can damage glass or other sensitive items.

Airsoft vs. Paintball
Airsoft
Paintball
Gun (M4 / M16 Type)
$250 - $385 on average
$120 - $350+
Ammo (1000 - 2000 rounds)
$6 - $12
$65+ (2000 rounds)
Safety equipment required
ANSI rated eye protection.
ANSI rated full face mask w/ear protection (do not deviate from this.)
Realism
1:1 scale replica with functional controls and recoil.
Similar looks and feel - but not functionally accurate controls, nor 1:1 scale.
FPS / Velocity

Typically 280 - 350 FPS

Lower velocity + Lower mass = increased user safety and an overall more pleasant experience.

Typically 280 - 320 FPS

Much heavier mass = increased chance of injury and an overall more painful experience.
Does it leave a mess?
Non-marking - will not stain or damage clothing. Can damage glass or other sensitive items.
Offered as detergent-based water soluable cleaning - however, experience has shown it can stain and damage clothing. Can damage glass or other sensitive items. Often reported to have a "fishy" smell.

Airsoft vs. Real Firearms
Airsoft
Firearms
Gun (M4 / M16 Type)
$250 - $400 on average
$800+ on average
Ammo (1000 - 2000 rounds)
$6 - $12
$300+/- (1000 rounds) on average
Safety equipment required
ANSI rated eye protection.
ANSI rated eye and hearing protection. NOT SUITABLE FOR FORCE ON FORCE TRAINING.
Realism
1:1 scale replica with functional controls and recoil.
N/A
FPS / Velocity

Typically 280 - 350 FPS

Lower velocity + Lower mass = increased user safety and an overall more pleasant experience.

EXTREME RISK OF INJURY OR DEATH.
NOT USABLE FOR FORCE ON FORCE TRAINING.
Does it leave a mess?
Non-marking - will not stain or damage clothing. Can damage glass or other sensitive items.
Obviously...


What about future costs?

Future costs for Airsoft are also very low as maintenance is minimal and resupplying your inventory of ammunition will also not cost you very much. Parts are readily available, abundant, and purchaseable from a plethora of US-based resellers. There is little need for ancillary support equipment, an on-site armorer, nor is a dedicated training facility required. In comparison to real firearms, Airsoft is the least likely of the two to face strict regulation or prohibitive use from political or legal rulings. This is also why Airsoft has seen very widespread use in countries where firearm ownership is prohibitive or banned altogether.


Safety and Realism

With regard to Airsoft, it is absolutely required that one have current ANSI rated eye protection. You can also use stamped steel mesh goggles that are explicitly designed for Airsoft use as well (woven mesh style - however, are not recommended due to their propensity for failure.) A dedicated paintball mask can also be used if you desire full face protection, but it is not wholly necessary. In contrast, paintball training aids require dedicated full face masks as the risk for eye, ear, and mouth injury is greatly amplified. If a paintball hits within 1" of your eye, you can suffer permanent blindness - this is due to the mass, velocity, and size of the paintball projectile. Simunitions also carry greater mass and velocity and user feedback is that they are by and large "painful" to be on the receiving end of. Additionally, the higher FPS simunitions, such as 5.56mm rounds, require the use of full facial protection and possibly groin, chest, and neck protectors - all of which will have a cost to be factored into your training budget. Real firearms obviously cannot be used whatsoever for Force-on-Force training as the risk of injury or death is extreme.


What about effective range?

Most Airsoft guns are highly capable of engaging targets within CQB ranges - that is to say 50 yards or less. A well tuned Airsoft gun is capable of attaining 100+ yard accuracy. Pistols typically have an effective range of 25 yards or so - although with careful tuning, one may extend that range further. Within room sized CQB environments, it is recommend that your Airsoft replicas shoot 350 FPS or less. Whereas in an outdoor environment you can safely shoot up to 400 FPS. Most fields will allow even greater velocities - up to 600 FPS for dedicated sniper rifles - but generally require the user of such rifles to obtain safety certification from that field or organization in order to use them and / or restrictions on the type of rifle used.

Simunition rounds from a pistol have reasonable accuracy out to 15 - 20 yards, while rifle rounds perform best within 30 - 40 yards. Beyond these ranges, accuracy tends to degrade dramatically.

Paintball guns unfortunately suffer many long range drawbacks - due in part to technology limitations within the paintball projectile design itself as well as FPS safety considerations (it is not recommended to shoot beyond 300 FPS.) Most paintball guns are useful within 25 - 30 yards at best. Beyond that, accuracy degrades considerably and you are having to significantly "arc" the gun to extend its range.


Compatibility

All of your current tactical gear is fully compatible with Airsoft replicas. Unlike paintball, for example, you will not have to purchase dedicated equipment and clothing to be able to effectively use your Airsoft replica. Additionally, the 1:1 ratio and realistic controls, recoil, and handling characteristics mean you can gain increased familiarity and proficiency with your real weapon which is beneficial from a training standpoint. From a logistical standpoint, the choice is obvious.


Low maintenance

When properly configured, only minor occasional cleaning is required, as opposed to heavier cleaning needed for simunition or paintball based training aids. Overall, Airsoft is relatively maintenance free provided you don't go out of your way to abuse it and purchase quality items upfront. This goes the same for any other training tool, actually.