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CATM simulates dangerous situations in safe environment

FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- Remember that old video game where you pointed a gun that shot a light beam at your television? Well, Security Forces has upped the ante with their Fire Arms Training Simulator.

Here's how FATS works: an air system is hooked up to each weapon, which then recreates the actual kick of the firearm, while a laser shoots out at the screen and interacts with an infra-red detector to determine whether or not a computer target was hit. There is even a machine which shoots foam rubber balls back at the participants to illustrate the need for cover. (Unfortunately, however, there is no laughing dog when you miss.)

So why do we need a military version of a video game? Training, training, training. The FATS system is instrumental in preparing personnel to deal with circumstances ranging from someone running the front gate to night-time warfare in a combat environment, all by utilizing programs from the Los Angeles Police Department and the Marine Corps.

Here's one example of the many scenarios: your partner appears on screen and tells you "There's a sniper on the roof -- cover my back." The view changes on the screen so that the sniper is now visible; its time to take control of the situation. The person controlling the simulation observes from behind a computer, assessing your voice commands and posture, and decides how the situation is going to branch. If you follow proper procedure and assert yourself forcefully, the controller may hit the comply option on the scenario. Otherwise, the controller may choose the resist or fight options, forcing you to quickly decide on the appropriate level of force needed to put the situation back in your favor.

Along with scenario training, the FATS system can also be used in place of the firing range. While generally used as a supplement, it is easier for the instructor to critique and correct technique on the system than on the range, and the overall cost benefit to the Air Force is extraordinary since there are no rounds being used -- only compressed air. A variety of weapons can be used at the simulator -- M-16 semiautomatic rifle, M-4 carbine, M-9 semiautomatic pistol, M-203 40mm grenade launcher, M-249 squad automatic weapon, M-240B general purpose machine gun, 870 shotgun, and even pepper spray are available to train on. Under extreme circumstances, it is also possible to qualify on the FATS.

So if you ever have an opportunity to see it in action, or perhaps use it yourself, take the time out of your day to do so. It might remind you of your childhood video games, and if you get deployed, it might even save your life.