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Train more, spend less with Training for Engagement (T4E)

When providing training for real-life scenarios, think T4E for high-impact, realistic and cost-effective force-on-force training tools

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Photo/Todd Fletcher

By Todd Fletcher

Early in my law enforcement career, I recognized the value of reality-based training. When it comes to use-of-force decision-making, there is no better training methodology available as immersive or representative of actual incidents. From computer simulators to scenarios with trained role players, this type of training offers unparalleled exposure to the realities of split-second decision-making.

Computer simulators are great because they give instructors the flexibility to stop, pause, rewind and replay scenarios. These simulators are fantastic training tools offering a variety of decision-making opportunities while ramping up the adrenaline, but they are expensive, which may prevent departments from maximizing their training benefit. And despite some valiant efforts by the manufacturers, the screens don’t shoot back.

This is where force-on-force products step up to fill the void. However, some of the marking cartridges, conversion systems and dedicated weapon systems can also quickly tick up the cost factor. Another big drawback to these systems is they use actual duty firearms that are converted by instructors or students to using marking cartridges. All too frequently, this has led to tragic results when someone introduces a duty weapon and live ammunition into the training environment.

UMAREX separates itself from the rest of the force-on-force products available for law enforcement training with its Training For Engagement (T4E) line. Some common training platforms can run as much as $1.00 per round. T4E’s markers cost under $.10 per round. The company really lives up to its slogan, “Train more. Spend less.” Even small departments and security agencies with modest budgets can afford to train more often and more effectively.

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T4E training pistols feature the same ergonomics and feel of the original duty pistol for use with .43 caliber powder balls, paintballs and rubber balls.

Photo/Todd Fletcher

Few brands are owned and operated by family-owned companies anymore, but that’s not the case here. UMAREX is a global, family-owned company that includes world-famous brands like Carl Walther GmbH Sportwaffen, the maker of Walther firearms. The United States headquarters are in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Today, they make a variety of airguns under license from various firearm brands that include Beretta, Browning, Colt, HK, Ruger, Smith & Wesson, UZI, Walther and Glock.

UMAREX sent me a Smith & Wesson M&P9 M2.0 LE Blue CO2 training marker airgun. The Smith & Wesson M&P9 M2.0 T4E platform makes for a perfect force-on-force training gun for departments that use the M&P duty handgun. In addition to the M&P9, T4E produces training marker airguns under license from other companies and includes models like the Walther PPQ M2, HK VP9, and Glock 17 Gen 5 T4E.

The Smith & Wesson M&P9 M2.0 LE Blue CO2 training marker airgun is a .43 caliber paintball pistol that uses common 12-gram CO2 cartridges and can shoot paint, chalk (dust/powder balls), or re-usable rubber ball projectiles at a velocity of 355 fps. These are accurate and fast enough that you don’t want to be on the receiving end. More on that later.

The Smith & Wesson M&P9 M2.0 LE Blue CO2 training marker airgun came in a protective plastic case, with one magazine for the paint and powder balls, spare magazine springs for shooting rubber projectiles, a comprehensive owner’s manual, interchangeable grip inserts like what a duty Smith & Wesson M&P9 M2.0 includes, and a barrel squeegee for cleaning the barrel. In addition, they included canisters of orange and blue paintballs, powder balls, and rubber balls.

When I examined the Smith & Wesson M&P9 M2.0 LE Blue CO2 training marker airgun, I immediately noticed the authentic weight and feel. The M&P9 features familiar ergonomics and controls compared to duty pistols. The interchangeable backstraps allowed me to customize the fit of the training airgun to make it feel exactly like my duty Smith & Wesson M&P9. Of course, I had to see if it would fit in all my Smith & Wesson M&P9 holsters. No surprise, it fits in everything from a level 3 duty holster to plain clothes and off-duty carry holsters.

The ammunition used in the T4E training pistols was interesting. Instead of relying on conversion kits that use ammunition similar in size and shape to live ammunition, T4E uses .43 caliber balls that absolutely cannot be mistaken for live ammunition. In the box they sent me, I found paintballs with a blue shell and light blue paint as well as some bright orange paintballs. Additionally, there was a canister of .43 caliber black rubber balls and another canister of blue and white shell balls filled with white powder.

So far, so good. But how did it function, and was it accurate enough to be an effective force-on-force training tool? After looking through the owner’s manual to make sure I was setting it up correctly, I noticed they recommend breaking it down, cleaning the barrel and using the included oil to lube it as directed. The gun is mostly dry when shipped and oiling allows for proper functioning. Once this was complete, I charged it up with a CO2 cartridge and off to the range I went for function and accuracy testing.

After loading a magazine with paintballs, my wife, Chrystal Fletcher, shot a paper target to test for accuracy. The first five rounds from 21’ put four rounds in a one-inch group with one flyer going high by about three inches. The next five rounds were shot from 30’ and put all rounds in a three-inch group. This is plenty accurate enough for realistic, scenario-based, force-on-force training. The recoil impulse via the live blowback action slide was also realistic and contributed to the shooter’s overall experience.

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Even outdoors with a light wind, the accuracy of T4E training pistols is impressive even when running the airgun very quickly.

Photos/Todd Fletcher

The T4E .43 caliber paintballs, powder balls, and rubber balls were consistently accurate. They all fed reliably and proved to fly true. The paintballs and powder balls all broke upon impact leaving a noticeable paint or powder mark on the target. T4E paintballs are fully biodegradable, non-toxic, non-irritating and not harmful to skin. The powder balls are filled with inert powder which makes it the logical choice for training where quick cleanup is a consideration.

Since I’ve never been accused of being very smart, I had to see how the T4E .43 caliber paintballs, powder balls and rubber balls felt when they hit compared to other marking cartridges. I wanted to evaluate the worst-case scenario where a ball hit bare skin or lightly protected skin instead of the heavy clothing used during training to prevent injuries. As an instructor and role player in hundreds of training scenarios, I have been hit with marking cartridges from every manufacturer, so I figured why not try these too.

It’s amazing how memory fades with time and how time heals all wounds. From about 21’, Chrystal shot me in the back with a powder ball while I was wearing a t-shirt. It immediately stung and reminded me of the other times I was dumb enough to do similar tests. But wait. There’s more. Not only was I dumb enough to do it once, I doubled down and did it again. This time, she shot me with an orange paintball. That was it. I’d had enough. Both shots left easily identifiable marks on my shirt along with a large red welt on my back. I may be a slow learner, but I didn’t do a live-dummy test of the rubber balls simply because I didn’t want to be shot again. To be clear, the T4E .43 caliber paintballs and powder balls were no worse than any other brand. In fact, the cleanup was much easier and the marks where they hit were consistently clear.

Of course, T4E (and I) recommend that everyone participating in training use goggles, face masks, throat protection, groin protection and ear protection designed specifically for use in force-on-force training. I would add wearing long pants and thick clothing to protect skin from impacts. Failure to do so may result in bodily injuries including face, eye and ear injury.

After this decidedly ill-advised experiment, I decided it was time to assess the paintballs for accuracy again. This time I used a ten-inch round steel target and the paintballs at 30’ and again at 35’. Aside from some active shooter training, this would be outside most indoor training scenarios. All rounds were kept on the steel target and within an eight-inch group. I could shoot the Smith & Wesson M&P9 M2.0 LE Blue CO2 training marker airgun nearly as fast and just as accurately as my duty gun.

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Whether you use the powder balls (left) or the paintballs (right), the impacts leave an obvious mark, cleanup is quick and easy, and they are fully biodegradable and non-toxic.

Photos/Todd Fletcher

For those departments looking for a complete system using the same platform, T4E offers its TM-4 marking rifle that can fire .43 caliber rubber balls, powder balls and paintball marking rounds and offers the authentic weight and feel of an M4 rifle. In addition, the company offers a selection of training guns for the “opposition” including a shotgun and a revolver that utilize .68 and .50 caliber rounds respectively. This would provide additional training scenario opportunities for officers and instructors.

When providing training for real-life scenarios, think T4E for high-impact, realistic and cost-effective force-on-force training tools. The security integrated into a system dedicated to firing .43 caliber balls increases the safety factor of officers and role players in training. T4E training equipment provides departments and law enforcement trainers with the ability to train more and spend less compared to other simulation training tools and marking ammunition. Less cost means more money for training and building officer proficiency.

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