The Coast Guard Aims For The Future Of Weapons Training

by Petty Officer 1st Class John Edwards

In the darkness, the sound of automatic weapon fire and directional commands being passed from coxswain to gunner make up the only sounds.

“Target on the left, target on the left,” directs the coxswain.

“I see him,” replies the gunner.

A burst of weapon fire rattles out its jumpy and sporadic rhythms. Minding the recreational boaters and commercial vessel traffic, the gunner dispatches his target as quickly and accurately as possible. As he does so, an enemy vessel creeps up from the starboard side carrying explosives. Just as the enemy vessel collides with the side of the Coast Guard small boat, it detonates its deadly cargo. A flash of white and images of the vessels breaking apart are visible on the screen as a voice in the darkness plainly states, “Your dead, reload the scenario.”

On Nov. 6, 2007, members from Coast Guard Station Curtis Bay, Md., and Coast Guard Station Washington, D.C., were the first in the nation to test their shooting skills with the newest tool in Coast Guard weapons training. The prototype Exportable Weapons Simulator made its inaugural stop at the Coast Guard Yard in Baltimore, Md., where it began its tour of Coast Guard units in the fifth district. Its mission is to get feedback from members who have the unique opportunity to use it and to begin tracking member’s baseline understanding of the Coast Guard’s use of force policy. “We are simply gathering feedback at this point,” said Chris Doane, Coast Guard Atlantic Area’s Chief of Operational Planning.

Development of the project began more than four years ago with the assistance of Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, D.C., the Naval Air Systems Command in Orlando, Fla., Coast Guard Atlantic Area in Portsmouth, Va., Coast Guard Special Missions Training Center in Camp Lejeune, N.C., and FATS Incorporated, out of Atlanta, Ga. The current intent of the project is to provide Sector Commanders and Station Commanding Officers/Officers-in-Charge with an onsite means to assess the ability of their boat crews to properly apply Coast Guard use of force requirements in port security settings. The ultimate goal is to use the system for mounted automatic weapon judgmental qualification once these requirements are established.

“The Firearms Training System (FATS) will be able to reduce the amount of down time for the stations who can’t really afford to send members to extended training schools,” Doane said. “We bring the training straight to them.”

Besides being a training tool used to evaluate a member’s judgment and reaction to a live-fire scenario, FATS is also a way for trainers to explain the Coast Guard’s use of force policy to members and to accurately gauge their understanding of that policy through the decisions they make during the simulations.

“Members need to be made aware of the policy and become familiar with the potential for collateral damage during a real-world situation,” said Chief Petty Officer Bill Wilkinson, a Coast Guard Gunner’s Mate who is currently touring with the system.

“By evaluating our people’s use of force decisions, we will be able to look at what decisions they made and why,” Doane said.

The Coast Guard’s use of force policy is based on escalating and varying levels, which range from simple verbal commands to the use of deadly force in some instances.

Currently, the Weapons Simulator is only capable of useing the M-16 and the M-240B machine guns.

“Eventually, we will have the ability to train with all Coast Guard standard weapons,” said Wilkinson.

The system currently contains 15 scenarios to choose from, all of which are designed to test the user’s judgment and reaction. Another aspect to the evaluation is how the coxswain of a boat and the gunner communicate with one another to neutralize a threat.

“It’s a great tool to use when you can’t actually train where you work,” said Senior Chief Petty Officer James Clarin, a Port Security “A” School instructor in Yorktown, Va. Although nothing compares to actual live-fire exercises, according to Clarin, the system does have its benefits. “The system is great as far as weapons handling and communication goes,” boasted Clarin.

The future of the system remains unclear now, but hopes remain high the feedback they get from the field will be able to quantify the need for this traveling, on-the-water, dog fighting simulator.

“Our vision is to see one of these portable training systems in every Coast Guard District,” said Doane.

BALTIMORE - Lt. Sean Cashell and Fireman Edward Richardson work together to neutralize a threat inside the Firearms Training System (FATS) simulator on Nov. 6, 2007. FATS inaugural stop on its tour through the Coast Guard's 5th District was at the Coast Guard Yard in Baltimore, Md. USCG photo by Petty Officer 1st Class John Edwards.

Lt. Sean Cashell and Fireman Edward Richardson work together to neutralize a threat inside the Firearms Training System (FATS) simulator on Nov. 6, 2007. FATS inaugural stop on its tour through the Coast Guard’s 5th District was at the Coast Guard Yard in Baltimore, Md.

USCG photo by Petty Officer 1st Class John Edwards.

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