Enhancement of Army combat techniques through non-ballistic ranges and man marking rounds in high accessibility training systems

By Dan R August 10, 2021

This article is written in the interests of opening discussion about training methodologies in use within other partner nations (UK, US) which could significantly contribute to the Australian Army’s soldier lethality through increased training time and improvement of martial skills.

Current problem set

Existing combat shooting within infantry battalions and the Army is comprised of the Enhanced Combat Shooting (ECS) package. This package is, by all accounts, highly effective and is based on the combat shooting techniques refined from Australian Special Forces training packages; however, there are limitations currently in the training that have been identified by soldiers and other contributors to The Cove in regard to the ongoing maintenance of these critical martial skills (Bowles 2020).

Bowles (2020) identified that in infantry battalions the skills learnt during the ECS package were degrading and suggested that this was due to extended time (months or years) between visits to the live-fire range to train this skill, further attributable to a limited number of ranges and limited training time. Bowles (2020) identified an alternate method of training (Blocked vs Interleaved) that could reduce the loss of skills without reducing the time between range visits.

This article seeks to further expand on Bowles’ discussion through the use of additional training tools and systems which could be utilised to improve not only the critical skill of ECS, but also complex urban warfare for infantry units by systems that are already in use by other countries.

In Bowles’ (2020) article it was identified that shooting is a perishable skill, that repetition is the key to learning and developing new skills(2) and also that training more consistently over longer periods of time will enhance shooting and combat skills and reduce degradation. This enhancement of shooting and combat would lead to increased lethality and martial skill levels throughout Army.

We could seek to increase our training and repetition through more accessible and realistic training systems such as non-ballistic ranges and improved, accurate ‘non-ballistic’ man marking rounds.

Upgraded Man Marking Rounds

The ECS standards currently require live-fire shooting to undertake training and live-fire to conduct a pass/fail assessment on the tests. The ECS cannot be shot with the current in-service man marking (paint) round due to its low accuracy, even at close ranges.

Current in-service man marking rounds accuracy are (Taken from manufacturers website specification sheets):

  • 15cm at 5 metres (9mm); and
  • 20cm at 10 metres (5.56mm).

ECS standards are a good indication and test for what needs to be achieved and being able to achieve this standard is a good indication whether a system is able to realistically replicate live-fire at these close combat ranges.

An upgraded man marking round (there is another system in the market, in-use with US SOCOM which is markedly more accurate) would allow soldiers to shoot and train the ECS package and other combat shooting within an environment that accurately replicates, but that is not, a live-fire ballistic range facility.

This would improve the accessibility to training for units as they could internally, easily and efficiently run basic to advanced shooting and urban warfare training, including opposed training. This could be done at home units in open space outside (with a designated 360-degree distance gap as a safety zone), in an empty warehouse or Q-store, or in a non-ballistic range facility (discussed further below).

Non-Ballistic Ranges

Non-ballistic range facilities are already utilised internationally, with facilities used variously throughout the United Kingdom and in Fort Bragg, USA.

Non-ballistic ranges utilise accurate man-marking munitions to replicate live-fire warfare and complex scenarios and have been designed to 'reduce the training to operational reality gap'(5), improving a soldier’s ability to deal with similar complex scenarios at a later date due to a reduced cognitive load.

By only training in sterile, live-fire environments with heavy restrictions due to safety, we are risking reducing combat effectiveness in operational situations, which are highly dynamic and require high cognitive loads.

Overwhelming soldiers cognitively has been shown to impair physical, mental and fine motor performance, but most importantly Head et al.(3) showed it significantly affects marksmanship decision performance. Soldiers being overwhelmed during complex combat will create poor target engagement decisions leading to decreased combat effectiveness or potentially dangerous situations for other friendly forces during training or operations.

Non-ballistic ranges (with accurate man marking rounds to replicate realistic training) would also allow us to train more broadly and realistically, without the heavy safety restrictions that are required for live fire. Safety in live firing is highly important for participants but the safety requirements create ‘rangeisms’, ie. range only restrictions that are unrealistic. For instance, live firing restricts where targets that are to be engaged can be placed to ensure that safety is maintained. This restriction on target placement leads to predictable targets and easily ‘solved’ scenarios for soldiers.

Whilst we train to win, training without complex scenarios is going to lead our soldiers to being overwhelmed when they first find themselves in combat, in a complex scenario.

These same ‘rangeism’ restrictions do not exist for non-ballistic ranges and the realism and effectiveness of training can be improved when utilised with accurate man marking rounds. These systems together could allow us to replicate live-fire at close, urban ranges whilst improving our training capability through both increased repetition and more advanced scenarios. Leading to soldiers with better martial skills in close and complex urban combat in an environment that is forgiving to participants, should errors be made, allowing soldiers to learn from mistakes in a complex environment, rather than either not conducting complex training or creating higher than required risk levels found in complex live-fire training.


Future wars for Australia are likely going to require us to fight adversaries that are numerically larger than us and we should look to find areas of warfare where we can create a significant advantage. Utilising non-ballistic ranges and accurate man marking rounds as additional training tools would allow us to conduct more repetition of close combat and basic combat shooting, simple but essential skills, and complex close combat scenarios that would allow units to quickly gain an advantage over adversaries at close quarters and in urban environments.



2. Hae Jin Lee, M, Yong Won Park, M, Dae Ho Jeong, M, & Han Young Jung, M 2012, Effects of Night Sleep on Motor Learning Using Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, Annals of Rehabilitation Medicine, Available online at:

3. Head J, Tenan MS, Tweedell AJ, LaFiandra ME, Morelli F, Wilson KM, Ortega SV, Helton WS. Prior Mental Fatigue Impairs Marksmanship Decision Performance. Front Physiol. 2017 Sep 8;8:680. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2017.00680. PMID: 28951724; PMCID: PMC5599781.

4. Jensen, E 2008, Brain-Based Learning: The New Paradigm of Teaching, California: Corwin Press.

5. Taylor, R 2019, ‘You don’t win by not losing; decentralisation, smart facilities and the OODA loop’,
Available online at:'t%20win%20by%20not%20losing.pdf



Dan R


Dan served within the Australian Army and has an extensive background in training and training systems. 


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.


Hello Dan, Great to see this input and the well considered points you have made here. This approach is definitely a step in the right direction. When we last corresponded, you asked if I could put some thoughts into this article. So hopefully for you and the other readers there are some things to consider here going forward. Army has made some great leaps forward in this area, for example 8/9 RAR are now using Airsoft and are trialling paint. They have turned their old transport shed into a Reality Based Training hub, which looks excellent and there are some young soldiers there paving the way, along the lines you have described in your article. We need to keep in mind that mindset, shooting, RBT, and learning that surrounds this is a continuum. We need to positively set up our new soldiers with the right mindset for combat - this includes the language we use, the approach and the introduction to weapons as a positive experience. When we conduct flat range shooting, this is to set a strong foundation of base line skills (this can be done with live ammo or paint). However, as you suggest once this is done we must move onto more complex skills. These can still be done on a normal range - including moving and shooting, decision making exercises during live fire as an example. However, we must then move that to interleaved training such as basic scenarios to test our thought processes our TTPs and SOPs to ensure we do not take rangisms to our scenario based training. However, the beauty of RBT is we can then move to 'Open skills' training by utilising slightly more complex scenarios. You mention accuracy of paint based weapons systems, and it is difficult to dispute the manufacturers comments. However, I am going to go out on a bit of a limb here and say the paint I systems I have used for over 25 years perform much better than those quoted in the article. At 5m you could pretty much teach 80% of the combat shooting course utilising paint, appropriate targets (10 - 16cm CQB circles) but most importantly the right attitude and instructors. You would save a mountain of time from live range requirements to paint. Also, a consideration is the cost of paint rounds vs live. Paint is far more expensive so keep an eye on the budget, even though this should not be a factor...! I truly believe that RBT done correctly is the most effective combat training we can do to prepare our soldiers for future conflict, cognitively, practically, tactically, psychologically and physiologically. You can probably throw socially in there as well as it is immensely rewarding to soldiers when done well. The biggest limitation to paint is the correct PPE, if we get that wrong we could lose the best training system in the world. Incorrect eye, neck, hand, or groin protection could lead to serious injury and this is the last thing we need. The next biggest limitation to paint is RANGE of the projectiles - so this needs to be a strong consideration when setting up your training. Nothing worse than trying to engage a role player 80m away and not having the effect you need due to the technology and poor setup of the scenario. There are other technologies and techniques that can assist here. If you are able, I would strongly suggest utilising RBT and paint technology to enhance our war fighting skills as part of our continuum. However, ensure you have a very good instructor that knows how to set up, run and facilitate your training to gain the optimum outcomes. All the best WW

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