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Firing electronic bullets keeps soldiers on target

Date

David Ellery

WO1 Malcolm Greber firing at the Weapons Training Simulation System at RMC Duntroon. Click for more photos

Weapons Training Simulation System

Images from the firing range at the Weapons Training Simulation System at RMC Duntroon. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

When it comes to electronic warfare, I'm a dangerous man - and I've got the computer print out to prove it.

On my first crack at the Australian Defence Force's Weapons Training Simulation System (WTSS) at Duntroon last week, I scraped through with a pass - a 200-millimetre ''group'' of hypothetical bullets into an on-screen display at 100 metres. It was a close thing. With a final score of 195.9 millimetres, I made it with 4.1 millimetres to spare.

The 200-millimetre ''group'' is the basic standard for soldiers and cadets being introduced to weapons via a ''first-person shooter'' simulator in the ACT.

Duntroon's high-tech facility means people can be introduced to firearms safely and much more cheaply than in a target range environment, where they are shooting off live rounds at up to 60c a pop.

A highly sophisticated system that integrates laser technology, powerful computers and wall-sized video displays, the WTSS is not just the preserve of new recruits and cadets.

The addition of the M4 rifle to the repertoire means the WTSS can now also be used as a training and practice facility for special forces personnel based in the Canberra area.

Until recently, shooters were limited to the F-88 Austeyr - Australia's locally-built basic infantry weapon.

When you see the two guns that are now available side-by-side, the olive green F-88 is clearly upstaged by the dramatically black and sinister-looking M4, made by Colt in the United States.

If Darth Vader was out shopping you just know he'd pick the American product; it has serious street cred.

Smaller and lighter than the F-88, the SAS-issue M4 has additional ''rails'' that give you a Lego like ability to add on a range of deadly extras.

While I didn't have the opportunity to try the M4, Defence was happy to let me experience the F-88.

All the weapons at the WTSS are real guns that have been reverse engineered with laser emitters and other technology to integrate them into the visual displays.

Kick on the 5.56-millimetre Austeyr is minimal - as is also the case with ''the real thing'' apparently - and the safety briefings and firing techniques are identical to what would be used on a range or in the field with live ammunition.

The principal differences when I ''shot'', as opposed to what a soldier in Afghanistan would experience, were the absence of 40-degree plus temperatures, howling winds loaded with sand and dust particles and, of course, the fact nobody was shooting back.

While wind, fog and snow can all be factored into the target settings, your physical environment remains warm and dry.

My score - and this, like golf, is a game where less is more - simply means that over a distance it would take me almost a minute to run I was able to put 23 hypothetical bullets into an area about the size of a human head.

Kayelle Florent, the former soldier who operates the WTSS for Defence contractor Meggitt, regularly shoots groups of between 130 millimetre and 160 millimetres over 100 metres on the Austeyr.

She says this is an above-average result but not an exceptional one.

''I've found doctors and wind instrument players are generally pretty good [on the simulator],'' Ms Florent said.

The real surprise was that there is a defence lawyer in Canberra, whose name was not divulged, who regularly shoots a special forces-like group of 100 millimetres - the size of a small saucer - over 100 metres. That's not somebody you would want to go up against, either inside or outside the court room.

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