Every once in a long while, being a blogger has excellent perks. Getting a private demo of state-of-the-art training technology is one of them.
Two weeks ago I was able to meet up with Mark Meadows, US Sales & Training Director for Ultimate Training Munitions (UTM) for a private demo of some of their non-lethal training ammunition used in close combat training. I was blown away, but the good thing is, you won’t be.
Ultimate Training Munitions’ products are designed to be precisely that: purpose-built firearms training devices, ammunition and accessories designed for military, law enforcement, and professional training organizations. They make several kinds of blanks, marker rounds, and a target bullet round. The really cool part? You use your weapon with only minimal and temporary modifications, not an unfamiliar or unrealistic training weapon or heavily modified attachments.
Essentially, and without getting into too much detail, all UTM ammunition, works by using a two-part cartridge case, one or two primers, and a fail-safe conversion kit that prevents live rounds from being fired.
The first think Mark showed me was a 5x cutaway model of the standard UTM 5.56 Man-Marker Round (MMR). The MMR is the flagship of the UTM product line and is their number one selling ammo (we’ll talk more about that later, I promise). Mark used the enlarged cut-away (roughly the size of a 30mm cannon shell) to show me how all the UTM rounds work.
Then it was time to look at the individual classes of UTM rounds.
Silent Blank Round (SBR)
The only sound you hear with the SBR is the cycling of the weapon and a soft “pop” contained within the weapon. The 5.56 SBR is impossible to mistake for brass-cased live ammunition, the case and neck being mid-grade aluminum. The blank is used with a rimfire bolt, which is the only UTM modification to the M4/M16 family of weapons. You literally push out a pin, open the rifle, take out the existing bolt, put in the UTM bolt, close the weapon and push the pin back in. It takes longer to describe it than to do it, but doing so provides you with a weapon that cannot fire center-fire ammunition, but which gives you the opportunity to use blanks, man-marker, or future non-lethal rounds (another bolt is used for the lethal target bullet rounds, but we’ll get to that later). You retain your weapon in every measurable regard to balance, point of aim, accessory, location, etc. You literally use your weapon, with your set-up. You get to train like you will fight.
The 5.56 SBR round itself is a neat little bit of technology, cooked up by a genius British weapons designer that they keep caged except for Christmas parties (that may or may not be entirely true). It uses a two-part case (which UTM refers to as the “slide” and the “body”) with an o-ring and a rimfire primer. When the shooter pulls the trigger, the offset firing pin strikes the rimfire primer, and the gases expand. With a closed end, no projectile and the o-ring sealing off the gasses, the gasses push off the forward portion of the cartridge (slide) back against the body. The body recoils and cycles the bolt in a typical blowback fashion, ejecting the spent SBR and picking up a new one and chambering it as it runs forward.
I cannot understate how brilliant this is in terms of training.
The near silent operation of the SBR and 1″ (yes, that is one inch) offset distance means that training can take place literally anywhere, with the weapon recoiling and functioning normally. The only required safety equipment is shooting glasses or goggles; no hearing protection is needed. This enables instructors to work in a 360-degree arc around the shooters they are instructing without risk of injury, and enables “dry fire” practice and other drills without manually re-cocking the weapon, a bad habit that can become ingrained to trainees and lead to disaster in the field. Similarly, the SBR is useful for as many kinds of scenario-based training as an instructor can dream up.
One of the most interesting parts of the demo is when Mark put a 9mm Beretta M9 pistol in my hand, loaded with SBRs.
I’ve been a civilian shooter for years, and have the rules of gun safety deeply ingrained into every aspect of gun handling. Never cover anything with the muzzle you aren’t willing to destroy unconsciously shapes everything I do with a weapon. I waited for Mark to step behind me. He didn’t. He stood off at about a 45-degree angle to my right, and I had the damndest time firing with him standing there. That’s not necessarily a big deal for a civilian such as myself, but waiting for a perfect scenario could get a hesitant cop or soldier killed.
Then he did something that totally freaked me out. He put his hand in front of the muzzle, and told me to pull the trigger.
Psychologically it was difficult to do, but he of course suffered not so much as a powder burn, while being in a perfect position to observe my every action; an advantage instructors don’t have with other kinds of training, and with a system that allows the instructor and shooter to communicate freely without hearing protection.
Battlefield Blank Rounds (BBR)
Battlefield Blanks (BBRs) operate similar to the SBR rounds, but have an open tip and a secondary primer that jets a small amount of gasses forward to approximately replicate battlefield noise and make the training experience more realistic. Again, the focus is on “practicing like you play.” The BBR ups the stakes psychologically and adds another level of realism to training, but still keep the environment safe for instructors and students. The only added safety measures include increasing the standoff distance from the muzzle to 18 inches, and wearing hearing protection.
Man-Marker Rounds (MMR)
Most folks who hear “training rounds” think of Simunitions, airsoft or paintball-type weapons and ammunition, but the UTM man marker round (MMR) seems to officer significant advantages over each. Airsoft and paintball guns, not matter how realistic, simply don’t operate like real weapons. Simunitions, while being a pioneer and giant in this market, requires extensive (and expensive) conversions. Would you rather change your bolt and train with your own weapon and optics, or switch out to an altogether alien upper on your M4?
Speaking of the M4, they had one on hand, and they handed me a blue UTM magazine specifically optimized to work with UTM non-lethal training ammunition. Filled with MMR rounds, it shot accurately, and without any real need for hearing protection. At a rather typical CQB distance measured in feet (roughly 20), I keep every round in the head of the target.
Variations in velocity in “other” manufacturer’s marker rounds are said to make them a bit less accurate, and also increases the required standoff distance. UTM MMR rounds can be used as close as 5 feet from your enemy, which beats saying “bang-bang.” A couple of other neat facts about the MMR is that they use an aluminum driving band to eliminate plastic fouling in the barrel and minimize cleaning, and that the marker round can mark on glancing shots, and does not have to burst like other systems.
Just to prove that the M4’s accuracy wasn’t a fluke I had a go with a Glock 19 as well. One think I forgot to mention is that you obviously can’t change out the bolt of a pistol like you can a rifle, but it is relatively easy to change out the barrel, and that is the route UTM went with their pistols conversation.
Target Bullet Rounds (TBR)
The final kind of round UTM makes could kill you. It is called the Target Bullet Round, or TBR. The TBR uses a lightweight aluminum bullet so that trainees can fire ammunition in close quarters targeting scenarios without needing a full-scale range, or worrying that a misplaced or ricocheting round will pose a threat miles downrange.
Like all UTM ammunition, the TBR projectile and cartridges themselves are also environmentally neutral, and don’t require the kind of cleanup you would need for a lead-bullet range.
Theoretically, the various UTM technologies have really opened doors to law enforcement and military shooters to be able to train with their own small arms, which is a primary reason UTM won the US Department of Defense’s contract for the Close Combat Mission Capability Kit (CCMCK) for the M4/M16 and M249 machine gun. Primarily an Army contract, the UTM systems are also being used by the Navy and Air Force (the Marines are apparently already heavily invested in Simunitions).
I’ve already talked to a couple of law enforcement trainer friends who think the UTM system sounds interesting, and it will be interesting to see what use they will make of the technology.
As for myself, I happen to have a nice cardboard box with a UTM M4 bolt, UTM blue magazine, and a half case of 5.56 MMR rounds, just itching to be used.