Paintball and Military Training (or Top 10 Reasons PaintBall is better than MILES)
Date Published: 30 May 2006
I went out for my first experience with paintball this weekend with some friends. We had about 30 people, probably 2/3 of them teenagers, there at one of the players’ family’s country homes, with about 50 acres of land, probably half of that wooded. We started the day off with a few rounds of Speedball, which I was not terribly good at and which has really no resemblance to any military tactics, at least at the level at which we were playing. A bunch of the kids were really into it, but most of the adults decided pretty quickly that it was pretty much an exercise in how quickly one can burn through paint and CO2, preferring to play woodsball, which is the main point of this blog entry.
Woodsball is basically the real-world tactical game of paintball. The exact rules and scenarios can vary, naturally, but the underlying theme is that you’re playing a tactical game of small units engaging one another in a (typically) natural setting (or at least, not on a game field). We played several variations. There was a three-sided “fort” in the woods with some cuts made in the sides for shooting points. The whole thing was only about 10’ square, and was open on one side. The first game we played was “The Alamo” and required 6 people to hold the fort against everyone else. The rules dictated that the defenders could not leave the fort, and the attackers could not circle all the way behind the fort (to the side without a wall). This was the least enjoyable game we played, since the defenders were heavily outnumbered and the fort was so small that you could easily be engaged from behind while shooting out one side. The net effect was that the defenders were easily suppressed by the “Mexicans” outside the Alamo, and eventually all were picked off. Historically accurate as this may be, it wasn’t the most exciting game and didn’t really offer much in the way of squad tactics.
Next we played a few quick games of equal teams attempting to reach and secure a briefcase placed in the fort, while starting about 100m away on opposite sides (in thick woods). These weren’t the best scenarios either since one team tended to have a much cleaner shot at the fort and a good sprinter could just get there and grab the case before the other force could even get into position to engage.
However, later in the day we played a couple of games that I really enjoyed, and which really drove home to me the value of paintball as a training tool for military units (which the Marines at least are already using). One problem we struggled with throughout the day was identifying friend from foe, since there was no consistent uniform and we were switching up teams frequently. So I proposed an adults vs. kids game, which pitted the 7 or so players of high school age and higher against all of the junior high teenagers (of which there were close to 20). This made friend-or-foe identification much easier. The scenario was again to retreive the case, but this time the old folks would set up in the woods and the kids would start about 200m from the treeline in the house’s back yard, and would have to enter the woods. I ended up getting picked off pretty early (despite having a nice position and the drop on 3 people, but my shots didn’t break on impact – doh!), but the adults ended up winning largely because the kids had no cohesion and refused to commit to a single strategy. They also had no concept of being quiet.
Feeling emboldened by this, and not wanting to hear about the fact that the defenders only won because of their tactical advantage as ambushers, we played again, this time with the 6 adults attacking the 14–15 kids that were remaining at this point in the day. Again, the adults won (and I lived and got the case! woohoo!), because we were sneaky bastards and flanked as far around and through as deep and dense of vegetation (and mud) as possible, rather than simply walking straight into the woods from the house. We also used stealth and (in my case, anyway) a fair bit of low crawling to advance without detection to as close to our objective as possible.
Which brings me to my point. I’ve used the MILES training system numerous times in my military training career. I’ve never once been impressed with it. I’ve only played paintball for one day, and I’m by no means an expert (or for that matter, a zealot or addict), but I can easily say that it far surpasses the training experience provided by the MILES system. To drive this point home, I’ve come up with my Top 10 Reasons Paintball Provides Better Training Than MILES:
10) Paintball Markers (guns) Can Shoot Through Bushes! MILES Laser beams cannot penetrate even minor cover — paintballs can and do.
9) No Sensor Gear To Wear and Maintain. Paintball doesn’t require the target to be wearing any special gear. It also doesn’t care if the target’s batteries are dead (intentionally or otherwise) or if the target’s sensors have been mysteriously covered by camouflage or 100MPH tape…
8) Paintballs “make a distinct sound when fired at you”. You can hear them zinging past through the air, impacting in the tree you’re cowering behind, or thudding into your buddy. You can tell that someone firing through bushes nearby is firing at you, and not just firing in some other direction. With MILES, if you can’t see the firer, it’s difficult to know what direction they’re firing in, and you certainly don’t hear (or see) the laser beam impacting near your position.
7) Paintball markers don’t lose accuracy every time you low crawl or set your weapon down on the ground. MILES equipment is huge and bulky and horribly inaccurate due to the way it is attached to one’s weapon. Hours are wasted attempting to zero the MILES gear, which is pointless since the first time the MILES-equipped weapon is jostled the laser’s point of aim changes (not to mention the effect of full-auto recoil on the laser’s zero).
6) Paintballs can’t be faked with a little sound. MILES lasers are basically triggered by the sound of the weapon they’re attached to going off. The microphones used are not very sophisticated, and are mounted on the front of the laser emitter, which attaches to the barrel of a weapon. Most soldiers who’ve used MILES know that you can trigger the laser manually by simply tapping the microphone, an illegal activity in training settings but an easy way to silently engage enemies or continue to fire once out of ammunition.
5) You can see where paintballs land! It’s very easy to walk your fire into your target with paintballs because you can see them hitting obstacles or brushing past trees. With live ammunition, you’ll see dust puffs or splinters. With MILES, you see nothing. You have no idea whether your shot missed left, right, high or low, or if you were dead on and your target’s batteries are dead.
4) Paintball has a growing fan base. Recruiters could easily attract a lot of young people by leveraging this fan base (and in fact many are already doing so). Being able to point to the use of paintball in training activities would be a big win for recruiters when taking this approach.
3) Paintballs come in different colors. One could easily detect fratricide based on the color of paint used, for instance. I’m guessing something similar could be achieved with MILES through the use of different frequencies, but nothing like this was ever done in my experience. With paintball it would be stupidly easy to accomplish, and would be an excellent training tool since fratricide occurs far too often.
2) Paintball is cheaper than MILES. You can get a decent gun for $100. You can get a weapon that looks just like a US military M4, like the BT-4, for around $250. Paint is cheaper than blanks, and CO2 could easily be refilled by organic elements once a few hundred dollars was spent for the necessary equipment.
and the number one reason why paintball would make a more effect military training tool than MILES is…
1) Paintballs hurt! Not a lot, mind you, but a little bit of negative reinforcement can provide a huge conditioning (in the phychological/training sense of the word) benefit when trying to impress upon soldiers the importance of getting their ass down or using proper cover.
In summary, after only a single day of experience with tactical paintball (woodsball) I’m thoroughly convinced that it would provide a much better training tool for military operations than the MILES system with which I trained. I sincerely hope that TRADOC and/or individual unit leaders will consider paintball for their training needs and evaluate the results for themselves.
Steve is an experienced software architect and trainer, focusing on code quality and Domain-Driven Design with .NET.