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Make your force-on-force training more efficient and cost-effective

Get the most out of your training time and dollars with paintball marker pistols

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Force-on-force scenarios are important for law enforcement training.


By Warren Wilson

There is growing support in law enforcement for high-fidelity training. Also known as “interleaving,” this approach consists of mixing blocks of training. For example, when we train officers in firearms, de-escalation, or defensive tactics, that’s generally done in “block and silo” training, i.e., one skill taught by itself. Interleaving training teaches these skills together in unpredictable scenarios to enable officers to learn how to quickly transition between skills depending on the scenario. The principle is much more complicated, but that’s the gist.

Force-on-force scenarios are important for law enforcement training because – when properly conducted – it allows for the interleaving of skills. The following are some tips on how to get the most out of your force-on-force (FOF) training.

Marking equipment

Simulated firearms must be used for effective FOF training. There must be a way to measure success and reinforce the negative impact of mistakes. In other words, we need to know where the “bullets” strike during simulations and there must be consequences for poor tactics. The market offers many options for simulated firearms. When I was on the SWAT team, we used several of them.

We started out using airsoft guns. Back then they were spring-loaded guns that launched a plastic BB. They were inexpensive, but they had drawbacks. Unlike many of today’s top-shelf airsoft guns, such as those from Elite Force Airsoft, they tended to break during heavy use, and their sights, trigger, and controls were inconsistent with duty-grade firearms and the only way to know where the projectile impacted was to check the trainee for welts.

The team tried recreational paintball guns, as well. The paintballs mark the impact area very well. While they tend to be better quality than airsoft guns, they operate very differently from duty-grade firearms, which can cause training scars.

Finally, we resorted to high-quality paint-marking guns. These are basically duty guns modified to only fire paint-marking cartridges. This is a great option, except for the expenditure required. These guns cost as much as actual duty guns. Their cartridges cost about $.60 apiece. That adds up quickly and limits the number of training iterations per officer.

There’s a relatively new option that might solve the problem: Training marker pistols that use paintballs. Think of them as a hybrid between expensive marking pistols and recreational paintball guns. They cost less than half what a traditional marking pistol does, and the paintballs only cost $.03 apiece. They don’t just mark where the impact of the projectile visually. They allow the student to feel the impact, which reinforces poor tactics literally hurt.

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Simulated firearms must be used for effective FOF training.



A quick online search yields several training tragedies during force-on-force law enforcement training. There can be no room for error in this regard.

Every participant – be they officers or volunteers – must be devoid of weapons, which means no firearms, ammunition, knives, OC spray, or TASERs. The environment must be completely sterile.

The only way to accomplish this is with pat-downs or a handheld magnetometer. In my experience, the best instructors use more than one person to conduct a search and someone to observe it being done. Brief every participant on the procedure and why it’s so important. It should go without saying, professionalism in this area is a must. Training is a work environment and lewdness of any type must not be tolerated. If you attend a class where this procedure is not in place, I highly recommend you do not participate in the training.

Training plan

If you’re not careful, these training events can become more entertainment than training. Let’s be honest, shooting each other with paintball pistols brings out our competitive nature and it is quite simply fun. If you’ve ever participated in force-on-force training, you know what I mean. A carefully laid-out plan and pre-event briefing keep everyone on track.

When writing the plan, think about what you are trying to accomplish and how best to accomplish those goals. For example, training SWAT members to conduct a hostage rescue will be substantially different from training patrol officers to search a building after responding to a business alarm. The role player must be thoroughly briefed on how they are to react to the trainee’s actions. There must be a designated safety officer who has the power to end the simulation at any point.


Each officer should experience multiple scenarios where their actions and tactics generally dictate the outcome. If an officer is exposed to a simulated domestic disturbance, excellent verbal de-escalation skills should be rewarded…most of the time. The role players should occasionally be unpredictable, just as are the humans we deal with in the real world.

Give detailed and immediate feedback to the students after each scenario. The paint-marked impact locations tell the story of each failure. Use them as a visual representation of how a tactic could save the student’s life. Also, do not let the student end on a drastic failure. You must run them through the scenarios again and again until they succeed and grasp whatever tactic or principle you are trying to get across. Greg Ellifritz is considered an expert on the subject and had this to say, “If we want our students to learn, we shouldn’t let them practice failing.” See the full article here at Active Response Training.


Equally as important as the initial briefing, trainees and role players must participate in a debrief. The lead instructor should go around the room and talk about each scenario with the paintball-spotted students. Point out the impact locations on their clothing and ask them what they learned from them. He or she should emphasize what students did well and what they didn’t and most importantly, how much they improved.

Role players have a unique view of the scenarios and should not be left out. They may have seen things the instructors did not. Also, don’t miss the opportunity to ask for critiques of your performance as the instructor and the scenarios themselves.

About the author
Warren Wilson is a captain, training commander and rangemaster with the Enid Police Department in Oklahoma. He is a former SWAT team leader, current firearms instructor and writer. He has been a full-time law enforcement officer since 1996.