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Live fire trends to watch

Creating space for high-tech defence and security training.

04 February 2020
Roy Henry

Australia

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When it comes to conversations about national security and defence, we are increasingly speaking in the language of zeros and ones.

More of our conflicts are being fought in the digital sphere than ever before, and much of the training that modern soldiers do is heavily influenced by technology.

Digital battle simulation has become an important part of the Defence training process. But despite the benefits that virtual combat can bring to soldier’s learning, practice in as close to real situations as possible is a vital component of true battle readiness.

Our soldiers must be educated in how to use technically advanced weaponry. They must understand how to move as a unified group and complete missions with accuracy and precision.

Members of our Defence Forces must learn to master discomfort, account for environmental variables, subvert fear and overcome stress. They need to know how a weapon feels and performs–skills that can only be developed through extended physical training.

This is where live fire ranges come to the fore.

A truly unique development type, technology is transforming how live fire ranges are designed and built in 2020. Here are some of the key trends shaping how these projects are delivered as soldiers upskill for defence in the digital age. 

Physical and digital project coalescence

In years gone by, you could argue that the biggest challenge associated with range development was finding the space to accommodate it. Targets were static, and aside from non-standard specifications like bullet traps, anti-ricochet and acoustic treatments, construction was relatively straightforward.

While traditional range designs with targets made of steel and corflute remain practical for zeroing, shot confirmation and shooter certification, they are now considered ‘basic’ targets by Defence.

Innovation has made robotic ‘enemies’ available that can move, hide and ‘counter-attack’ for a more dynamic training experience. Integration and connectivity are also key deliverables that facilitate the transfer of shooter biometric information and capitalise on technical improvements to weapons, optics and ammunition. 

When you consider these advancements, it would be a safe to say that finding clever ways to cost-effectively integrate/retrofit technology into live fire range spaces is now our biggest challenge.

As we see the digital and physical aspects of range design coalesce, it will be up to designers, project managers and contractors to bring skills and expertise from both sides of the development equation to the table.

The battle of flexibility vs cost

Technology and time are taking range development requirements in two directions.

While more advanced weapon systems have increased accuracy over longer distances–creating a need for larger practice spaces in turn–the urbanisation of modern warfare means soldiers must also train for close combat scenarios.

So, while investment is being made in training areas that allow soldiers to practice their long game (often in more regional, out-of-the-way places), users are also looking for flexible training spaces close to their main barracks or base. With appropriate real estate at such a premium, innovation is required to help balance this requirement with land and budget constraints.

In some instances, Defence has turned to indoor, no-danger-area ranges. While more space-efficient, these developments are typically more complex and costly to build and maintain, while meeting the requirements set for functionality, safety and flexibility.

At RPS, we encourage the development of range-specific User Requirements Briefs (URB) with dedicated use cases and scenarios to help Defence, federal and State government agencies better articulate what they want and need from a live fire development. This allows industry to develop innovative, cost-effective solutions as early as possible in the design process.  

By prioritising specifications, outcomes and requirements into ‘essential’, ‘important’ and ‘desirable’ requests, project partners can ensure the project’s scope, budget and design are fit-for-purpose.

Safety in uncertain times

Balancing the need for safety with the requirement for super dynamic training is a consideration (and indeed a challenge!) that range designers and builders must address.

The ultimate goal for ‘safety in design’ is ‘safety unseen and unfelt’.

In the residential sector, part of an architect’s brief is to build in features that are inherently safer, but that don’t detract from aesthetics. For example, no step showers are a standard inclusion that help protect people from slipping and falling in the bathroom.

The beauty of them is that they enhance rather than detract from a homeowner’s lived experience. Most people don’t even consider them to be a safety feature. They are merely aesthetic.  

When it comes to training ranges, safety in design requirements are always evolving. But instead of designing in features that don’t interrupt the aesthetics of a space, live fire safety inclusions must prevent accidental injuries or deaths while maintaining the experience of situational dynamism and uncertainty that is key to a soldier’s combat training.

As Defence range developments progress, designers, project managers, builders and capability branches are building knowledge about how to deliver safety and the necessary perception of uncertainty required by users.

As we document these solutions and innovate new ones through each project, standard inclusions for URBs and specifications will be developed that can streamline the design and certification process significantly.

These are just a few of the countless innovations and trends that will influence live fire development into the future. As a project manager and Army veteran, it will be exciting to see the types of ranges that result, and to contribute to the development of state-of-the-art training spaces that keep our country, and our soldiers, safe.