An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Home : News : Features : Display
NEWS | March 25, 2013

Marksmanship simulator trains Soldiers without spending ammunition

By Airman 1st Class R. Alex Durbin 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Snaps of rifle safety levers clicking into the "fire" position broke the silence as the Soldiers rested their rifles on the sandbags before them, positioning themselves to fire. The range went still as the Soldiers tensed, aiming down their sights.

"Fire!" yelled the instructor, walking between the rows of shooters.

The sound of muffled rifle fire rang out, drowning out the instructor's words of advice as the Soldiers took their shots.

As the last few shots echoed, the Soldiers removed their magazines and ensured their weapons were clear before looking at the screen for their results.

Most would envision this scene on an outdoor rifle range, but in fact, it was a typical day at the Engagement Skills Trainer 2000, or EST 2000, at Fort Eustis, Va., as local U.S. Army Soldiers refined their marksmanship skills March 12, 2013.

The EST 2000 is a virtual, computer-based trainer that uses modified, retrofitted weapons to provide initial sustainment marksmanship, advanced marksmanship with stationary and moving targets and reactionary-firing training. The trainer offers versatile, customizable training regimens to suit units' specific needs.

"The goal of simulators is to seamlessly merge the virtual, constructed and live environments into a viable training environment," said Keith Jones, Army Support Activity Training Division simulations branch manager. "The EST 2000 is a safe, immediate and cost-effective training apparatus that benefits Soldiers greatly."

Military simulations have a long history, dating back as far as 25 B.C. with the use of stones and drawings to review battle plans. Over the course of history, constantly-evolving technology paved the way for more realistic simulations.

The Department of Defense introduced modern simulators based on their need to integrate live, virtual and constructive training to meet Soldier's needs, and to prepare them for the rigors of combat situations. The development of the EST 2000 began with the Weaponeer, an arcade-like shooting trainer that simulated live-fire conditions.

The EST 2000 is continually evolving, and may eventually offer dynamic, immersive three-dimensional training environments. Simulators like the EST 2000 allow Soldiers to train in a controlled environment, and offer immediate feedback on skills that translate directly to the live-fire range.

"This simulator is effective and gives realistic training, increasing the effectiveness of my Soldiers," said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jimmy Reeves, 5th Aviation Battalion maintenance supervisor. "This trainer is a simple and economic way of engaging targets. It provides a live feel, without the logistics and time needed to set up a live range."

As testament to this, the 40-lane trainer is focused on providing realism by mimicking the actual bullet trajectory, providing the same shooting experience a Soldier could receive on a real-world situation. The instructors can even control wind direction and speed to offer the most realistic experience possible.

For the younger generation of Soldiers, the EST 2000 is a tool that uses familiar technology to teach necessary skills. For older Soldiers, it offers a unique training environment to refine skills under the watchful eyes of highly-skilled instructors without using supplies or putting them in harm's way.

"Young Soldiers have grown up using similar technology to the trainer," said Reeves. "It keeps them engaged while teaching them the necessary skills to survive in a combat zone."

The trainer employs three prior-service, National Rifle Association-certified instructors that provide flexible hours to accommodate Soldiers' schedules. These weapons experts paired with the trainer show Soldiers where their deficiencies are with immediate feedback, saving time that can be used for additional training.

"Soldiers can go into these training environments to learn and get instant feedback on their performance, without the pressures of live-fire ranges," said Jones. "The skills honed at the trainer are a cost-efficient alternative."

Since opening in May 2006, the EST 2000 instructors have trained more than 90,000 Soldiers on weapons including small arms, machine guns, grenade launchers and simulated Humvee-mounted machine guns. In seven years, shooters have fired nearly 15.2 million simulated rounds, saving the Army nearly $22 million.

Army units from across the country come to Fort Eustis to use the trainer, and it has supported all branches of the military, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency, local police officers and Reserve Officer Training Course cadets.

"In the environment our Soldiers find themselves in, it is very important to be flexible and highly adaptable. The 'one shoe fits all' philosophy doesn't always work," said Jones. "The EST is an important trainer that can keep Soldiers fit and proficient on the live-fire range - ultimately saving lives."