Failing a training exercise brings consequences: pressure from a commander, ridicule from peers, a sense of shame and, potentially, a few jolts of electricity to the thigh.
Ti Training, a small business in Golden, Colo., that creates simulators for firearms and other uses of force, has developed an IED trainer called the Lm - Land Mine Simulator. The device shocks troops when they detonate the system during training.
The small black mines, made of PVC, are pressure-activated and can be buried or hidden. When triggered, the mines emit a radio frequency (RF) signal that activates a shock on a thin paddle worn by troops on their belts. It’s essentially a painful pager.
The shock is adjustable and ranges from 7 to 40 milliamps, meaning it can feel like a pinch or something far more unpleasant — though nowhere near the level of a taser.
“It changes the psychology of how you train,” said Greg Otte, president of Ti Training. “If you go in knowing nothing is going to go wrong, you have a tendency not to be as focused.”
Instructors can also detonate the mines by remote control. Because the RF signal will set off all active shock pads, instructors can turn off troops’ equipment using a tablet computer if those infantrymen are outside the blast range or protected by terrain.
Mines can be detected by standard devices such as the Goldie, Beachcomber and Minehound, which are IED detectors sent overseas by the thousands in 2010 as part of the U.S. military’s “Defeat the Device” initiatives.
“There’s a tremendous amount of money being set aside for this kind of training because it is such a hot topic and the level of casualties,” Otte said.
Between 2006 and 2010, the Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) dedicated $16.6 billion to counter-IED initiatives and equipment. Thousands of IEDs are found or detonated every year in Iraq and Afghanistan, making counter-IED training essential for troops heading for a deployment.
After a returning regimental commander recommended introducing a pain stimulus to IED training, the U.S. Marine Corps approached Ti Training to develop a land mine simulator. The prototype was demonstrated for the Marines in November, but it was not wholly satisfactory.
Maj. Gerald Roeder, branch head for the Explosive Obstacles and Hazards Branch for the Marine Corps Engineering School, tried the device and said it “just didn’t function as required.”
The primary obstacle is how instructors must compensate for the RF signal, which activates all shock pads on all troops — even those who would not be affected by the blast.
So the Marines sent the project to JIEDDO for more development and testing.
Pain Equals Training
Pain is not new as a motivator in training, nor is shock technology. Rubber bullets have pegged many a wayward infantryman, and systems such as the Shocknife and the StressVest have been around for years.
However, the Lm - Land Mine Simulator appears to be the first IED training device to incorporate shock technology, said Vincent Greiner, vice president of business development at Ti Training.
JIEDDO’s IED training programs include a tactical site exploitation training program, counter-IED mobile assistance training teams, training with hand-held IED detectors and mobile counter-IED interactive trainers. Such programs teach service members to identify basic components of IEDs, initiating systems, and areas in which IEDs might be concealed — and how to take appropriate action during stressful situations.
Other simulated IEDs and mines emit controlled explosions, puffs of smoke or loud noises to alert troops. Ti Training calls its device a “green IED” because it doesn’t emit anything to the environment — except pain.
“If you were to use a small explosion and a vehicle ran over it, nobody might even notice it. With this, the RF signal doesn’t stop,” Otte said. “They would know they have been hit.”
Makers and buyers of shock technology products believe that increasing the consequences improves the realism of the exercise, potentially increasing retention levels and making subjects more prepared for a stressful reality.
Roeder said that adding a physical consequence emphasizes the training session is serious, not a game.
“If there’s no consequence, there’s no consequence. The training isn’t necessarily taken seriously,” he said. But introducing a pain element makes it “a little bit more realistic, without causing any kind of injury.”
But that’s not necessarily so, said Fred Hartman of the Institute for Defense Analyses.
“Research does not show many instances in which a negative physical stimulus — like shocking people when they make a mistake — has been that effective, even when it is used as part of a training or learning package,” Hartman said. “The same reinforcing effect could be had with a flashing light … a siren. There are other ways to indicate to the individual: You’ve really messed up, and you die, and those around you die.”
Ti Training’s mines and shock pads can be purchased in any combination to suit the size of the training group. Mines cost $1,200, while the RF device and shock paddles run $475.