September 23, 2010: All U.S. Army and Marine Corps troops are now getting infantry grade combat training by using paintball bullets. Not paint balls, but faster moving bullets containing paint. As a result, the training for non-combat troops and infantry is much more effective than what troops received a decade ago.
In addition to the 1980s era laser tag systems, the more expensive Simunitions are bringing an even greater degree of realism. These are low powered, paintball bullets. Users often refer to them as "soap bullets". To use Simunitions, troops take apart their M-16s, and replace the barrel with a $800 Simunitions barrel and receiver that can handle the Simunitions rounds. When fired, Simunitions bullets make a loud "click" sound, rather than a "crack" of a regular bullet. Simunitions will sting if they hit you, and leave a dye mark. With seven different dye colors available, it's possible to find out who shot who, and how much friendly fire there was.
Actually, the Simunitions hurt a lot more than paintball ammo, and those participating in Simunitions exercises have to wear goggles and groin protectors. The protective vest will take the sting out of a Simunitions hit, but for arms, legs and other exposed parts, you will have a nice bruise to remind you that more care should be taken to find cover on the battlefield.
Simunitions rounds contain less propellant than regular rounds, and leave the barrel at about 177 meters (550 feet) per second, less than a quarter the velocity of a lethal bullet. A major problem with Simunitions is that it is expensive, costing three times more than real ammo. But for realistic and effective training, it's worth the cost. The U.S. Army has recognized that after 2003. The Simunitions bullets have the same accuracy as a real M-16, up to about eight meters (25 feet), and a maximum range of about ten times that distance. Thus the Simunitions are most useful for training for fighting in urban areas. But this is the most difficult and nerve wracking form of combat, and giving troops the most realistic training for this would be a real life saver down the line.
But the success of Simunitions has made troops aware of the fact that many other weapons are not accurately represented in training. This is especially true of grenades (both hand and 40mm), RPGs and AT-4 rockets (and similar systems.) In Iraq, it was a jarring experience for troops who had practiced with Simunitions to find that, in real combat, there were all these other weapons they had to contend with. In training, the use of PRGs, roadside bombs and hand grenades is improvised with smaller explosives and umpires, who tell troops who has been hit with what, and hurt to what extent.
Developed in the 1990s, Simunitions were initially used by commandos and police SWAT teams. These groups are still heavy users, but now even non-combat troops get to use Simunitions, and learn how to stay alive in a firefight.