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SIMUNITION®: A dangerously ambiguous term

by Reality Based Training columnist Ken Murray*

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While a West Coast special-response team prepared for a realistic training exercise, the trainers told the team members, "Bring your 'sims' kit, and grab a box of 'simmunitions' on your way out."

During the actual training exercise, one of the participants was experiencing chronic weapon malfunctions. When a trainer came over to investigate the problem, he discovered the team member had grabbed a box of SIMUNITION®'s Greenshield® frangible ammunition instead of its FX® marking cartridges.

Frangible ammunition features many of the same ballistic characteristics of conventional ammunition and is definitely a lethal cartridge. When asked why he brought that type of ammunition to training, the team member told the trainer, "It says SIMUNITION® on the box!"

Fortunately, his pistol had been retrofitted with a conversion kit designed to fire the marking cartridges, lessening the possibility that a frangible cartridge could chamber or fire. Although conversion kits such as this are not a fail-safe against live cartridges, in this instance it stopped the deadly cartridge from chambering, and no one was injured.
What caused this close call? Improper use of ammunition terminology led to confusion about the purpose of a training cartridge, coupled with the fact that there was no dedicated safety controller tasked with the issuance of training ammunition or conversion kit installation.

The Problem

SIMUNITION® is a company,* not a type of cartridge. Using the terms "simmunition," "simmunitions" or simply just "sims" when referring to marking cartridges is dangerous. This might sound like just an exercise in semantics, but using SIMUNITION® as a generic term for marking cartridges might someday lead to somebody getting killed. SIMUNITION® manufactures a number of different types of training ammunition, the majority of which are lethal if fired at human targets in training.

Every single box of ammunition the company manufactures carries the name SIMUNITION®. An uneducated user - or maybe a user erroneously educated by you through the careless use of the word simmunition when referring to FX® marking cartridges - may someday pick up a box of lethal ammunition and load it into a firearm to participate in a force-on-force training exercise.

It's already happened on at least two occasions I'm personally aware of. Fortunately, no one was injured. In fact, one of the cartridges produced by SIMUNITION®, the CQT® Target Cartridge, actually requires the same conversion kit necessary for firing their marking cartridges. CQT® is designed for use in unhardened training structures against conventional targetry. It has lethal potential and must never be fired at human targets in training.


Abandon the generic use of the words simmunition, simmunitions or sims when referring to marking cartridges. Instead, adopt the term NLTA, which stands for non-lethal training ammunition. This term applies to any type of training ammunition, including conventional paintball and even Airsoft ammunition, which was specifically designed for use against human targets during realistic training. Remember, NLTA, not simmunition.

In addition, use a single, dedicated safety officer who, among other duties, converts and loads any weapons the trainees use. Lastly, educate all participants about the different types of training technologies to be used and their design purposes/limitations.

Until next time, train hard and train safe.                                      

Sidebar: No threat of pain, no gain

Marking cartridges can hit you with sufficient energy to break skin, leave welts, destroy eyes, remove fingernails, etc.- you get the picture. I believe that at the minimum, protect your face, throat, hands and groin from impact. Beyond this, try to cover as much skin as possible with conventional clothing-preferably tight-weave fabrics such as BDUs because projectiles can damage loose-weave or knit fabrics.

Wrapping people up like the Michelin Man is, in my mind, too much. It completely eliminates a pain penalty, and much training value exists in the possibility a student will get a bit of an "owwie." Not because of the punitive nature of a pain penalty, but rather the psychological impact that comes with the possibility they'll get hurt. When the possibility of a pain penalty exists, many students become risk averse and exhibit behaviors they might not otherwise demonstrate.

If training staff know how to look for these behaviors, magical training moments will often occur. Skills not conditioned to the level of unconscious competence will begin to fail in the presence of risk-averse behavior. Shooting proficiency will diminish, gear manipulation will deteriorate, etc.

So, when choosing protective equipment, eliminate the possibility of serious damage to a student without removing the training value of a pain penalty. Of course, there is a whole different level of protection necessary for a role player. I don't have room to discuss that here except to say there isn't any training value whatsoever in causing a properly trained role player any pain. Disagree? Feel free to contact me to discuss it!

*Ken Murray is the original cofounder of SIMUNITION®.

Murray teaches instructor schools on how to set up and conduct safe and effective simulation training, and is considered the leading expert on reality based training. His new book, Training at the Speed of Life-The Definitive Textbook for Police and Military Reality Based Training, is being praised as the "bible for reality based training." Murray frequently writes for PoliceOne.com and is the director of training for the Armiger Police Training Institute. Contact him through the institute's Web site (http://www.armiger.net).

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