Airsoft — The Ultimate Training Tool?


Law-enforcement officers and civilians have discovered the advantages of training with airsoft guns — even at home.

By J.I. Galan

The last few years have witnessed an unprecedented growth in the rise of airguns in the role of firearm trainers. At the forefront of this training wave are the so-called airsoft guns. For those who came in late, airsoft guns are amazingly realistic look-alikes of many modern firearms. However, instead of shooting traditional metallic projectiles such as lead pellets and steel BB’s, airsoft guns shoot 6mm plastic BB’s at relatively modest velocities, hence the “soft” part of their designation. Thus, as opposed to hard metallic airgun projectiles that can cause serious injury or even kill in some instances, these comparatively lightweight plastic airsoft BB’s generally lack the potential to inflict death on human beings.

The airsoft SIG Sauer comes with a removable Picatinny rail system for sighting accessories.

In the case of airsoft handguns, some of the models currently available can reach 400-plus fps of muzzle velocity, with the average falling in the 250 to 350 fps level. Rifle models — a misnomer, as all airsoft guns have smooth bores — are a bit more potent, with most models falling in the 300 to 450 fps level, although some specimens can fire those plastic BB’s at velocities well in excess of 500 fps.

Incidentally, 6mm airsoft BB’s come in various weights, with the lightest at .12 gm (1.85 grains) and running all the way up to .43 gm (6.63 grains). The most popular weight for plinking and combat training is .20 gm (3.08 grains). There are a small but growing number of airsoft guns available in 8mm caliber. Their larger BB’s usually weigh .34 gm (5.24 grains). However, for close-combat training activities 6mm softies reign supreme for the most part. There are also “marking” airsoft BB’s, but these are not widely used, as they tend to give unsatisfactory results in many cases.

This Umarex GLOCK 17 GEN4 airsoft pistol is a dead ringer for the real thing — apart from the orange muzzle. Its blowback slide operation replicates the operation of the real thing.

Although airsoft guns are not generally regarded as lethal, their plastic 6mm BB’s can still cause a serious eye injury, and a hit on an unprotected part of the body can really hurt and leave a distinct red welt, although skin breakage is rare.

The general non-lethality of airsoft guns is one of the principal reasons for their huge popularity in force-on-force shooting activities. Civilians, as well as law-enforcement personnel, have discovered the advantages offered by airsoft guns and in most cases have ditched paintball guns for most training programs. Although paintball offers a most vivid (and messy) way of judging who gets tagged in force-on-force training, airsoft guns force participants to use the honor system and acknowledge hits whenever the shooter and other participants are not sure whether the shot connected with the intended target.

Suitable eye protection is mandatory in any shooting exercise.

Mechanics

Currently, there are almost exact look-alikes of most of the self-loading pistols used by law-enforcement, civilians and even the military. The most realistic employ stunningly faithful blowback actions powered by either “green gas” — which employs propane as a major component — and CO2. Green gas comes in large pressurized cans that provide enough juice for thousands of shots in many cases. Most CO2-powered airsoft guns employ standard disposable 12-gm CO2 cartridges. Certain gas-powered airsoft pistols are capable of operating with green gas as well as CO2. There is also a wide selection of gas-powered repeating handguns that lack the blowback feature. Revolvers are also fairly well represented among airsoft guns, but they usually pack less punch than semi-auto look-alikes. In fact, most airsoft wheelguns employ the spring-piston power plant and generally work in single action only.

Both of these potent gas blowback semi-autos feature all-metal construction.

In their beginning, airsoft guns generally employed the spring-piston power plant, which meant they had to be manually cocked for each shot. While this type still remains popular, it is less suitable to force-on-force and general CQB training because of its limited firepower as far as quick repeat shots, and lack of realistic blowback actions are concerned.

There are battery-powered airsoft pistols incorporating blowback action. However, these are generally of rather low power and are more suitable for very short range use. These also don’t generally stand up to the tougher demands of realistic combat training.

Law-enforcement personnel have, in many instances, adopted airsoft guns for realistic force-on-force training. Many of the semi-auto airsoft pistols now available almost exactly mimic the weight, looks and “feel” of the real firearms carried by these folks. The same holsters used to carry the service and/or off-duty pistols usually work perfectly with airsoft pistols.

airsoft 4

Airsoft guns that replicate specific firearms can also fit standard holsters.

Training Concepts

In addition to law-enforcement personnel, many civilians have discovered the benefits of training for real-world defensive situations with firearms by employing airsoft guns. To that end, some training schools have also adopted airsoft as a cost-effective and much safer alternative to basic firearms handling and safety. Tactical courses involving airsoft handguns are also offered on a regular basis, and since they are not “real” guns, a simple warehouse or even an office or building complex can be used. You could actually practice “clearing” your own home or place of business using airsoft!

One such school, located in my own neck of the woods in South Florida, is called Technon Tactical. Their main training facility is located in a large warehouse complex. At the time of this writing, an Israeli-type “kill house” where various close-combat shooting scenarios can be developed is nearing completion. When fully operational, executive protection, hostage rescue and other types of force-on-force training with airsoft guns will be offered on a regular basis.

The WE Tech Caspian 5.1K Dragon can work with “green” gas as well as CO2.

The main instructors are all former combat instructors with the Israeli Defense Force. In addition to combat with guns, they are also highly qualified instructors of the Russian Systema method of unarmed combat. I have attended one of their day-long seminars on Tactical Mindset for Pistol Owners and can vouch for the no-nonsense approach to combat training displayed by these instructors, beginning with lectures on basic firearm safety all the way up to force-on-force shooting exercises — all of it using airsoft guns exclusively.

Take-Down

Another plus when dealing with gas blowback airsoft pistols is the fact most of them can be field-stripped like their real center-fire counterparts. This is another important feature adding to their value as no-nonsense trainers. Airsoft ammo, even premium-grade BB’s, are relatively inexpensive; however, serious airsoft shooters should refrain from re-using fired BB’s as they can acquire scratches and other impact defects causing jams in many airsoft repeaters. Premium-grade airsoft BB’s are made to exacting tolerances and have glass-smooth surfaces, ensuring reliable feeding through all types of airsoft actions.

In the final analysis, it looks like airsoft guns are fast becoming a serious choice as firearms training tools on several levels. Their cost-effectiveness and extreme realism rank high in their favor. The cost factor alone is crucial, in terms not only of the guns themselves but their ammo and safety equipment too, such as safety masks, goggles, etc. So if you are looking for an ideal choice in top-notch firearms training equipment, the airsoft gun may be the answer.

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