Weaponeer: A US Army Rifle Simulator from a Bygone Era

It’s an unfortunate fact that the amount of training needed increases disproportionately as higher and higher levels of proficiency are sought. In other words, the better you are, the more and more (and more) you’ll need to train to get even better than that. It’s also an unfortunate fact that training is expensive; every round fired costs a substantial fraction of a dollar, and on top of that instructors (and trainees, too, in military and LE training) must be paid, ranges and weapons maintained, and a whole host of other costs. There simply isn’t a way around it; if you want better riflemen, you need to pony up for more training.

But what if there was?

This mental arithmetic is what makes training simulators such an attractive idea, and one such device that was tried in the 1980s by the US Army was called “Weaponeer”, as explained in a recent post on WeaponsMan.com:

In the 1970s, the Army followed the siren song of simulation and developed a training device called the Weaponeer. The dream was: rifle training without rifles. Or ammunition, or ranges; and it worked, to a degree — like that 1940 Link simulator. Weaponeer was a very robust arcade game built around a modified rifle (then, an M16A1) that tried to simulate the experience of firing a rifle. It actually “kicked” with a fairly accurate recoil. It also simulated the accuracy of the weapon pretty well, its cycling, and even magazine changes with bolt lockback on an empty mag. The gadget shown above was inserted in a modified magazine shell and could be “loaded” with zero to thirty “rounds.”

Weaponeer was invented and initially debugged by 1973, and widely adopted and fielded in the Army by the early and mid 1980s. In some places it worked well (for instance, as a mechanism for instructors to observe green trainees that were struggling with basic rifle marksmanship, and break them of bad habits, or for members of an element that needed to maintain proficiency in a non-permissive overseas environment in which they could not go to military ranges). In other situations it did not work as well. Some service support units, never fond of going out to messy rifle ranges, used it to “qualify” in shirtsleeve conditions.

Do go ahead and click through to read the whole thing.

Ultimately, the conceptually simple problem of a soldier training simulator has proven decidedly tricky to execute; Weaponeer, although useful for some things, didn’t prove to be the next generation training system so clearly seen in the dreams of Army planners. To date, any system sophisticated enough to serve as a realistic training device isn’t substantially cheaper (or cheaper at all), than just hitting the range – especially since instructors are needed in either case.

Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He is also the author of the original web serial Heartblood, which is being updated and edited regularly. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


  • Gary Kirk

    Yeah, we had the “video game” on Parris Island.. Was all I could do not to laugh when put through that

  • OptimusDerf

    We actually used this for a day in Basic at Ft. Leonard Wood in 2001…

    • Joe

      Ft. Benning 2001 here…

      • DorfMeister

        Ditto… Sand Hill FTW!

  • iksnilol

    I kinda want one.

  • 11b

    We used this a couple times in infantry basic in 2008. They’re still around!

    • HB

      Wow. That’s amazing; I thought it complete had gone.

  • Ranger Rick

    I remember well the “big deal” that was made over the Weaooneer trailer being parked in the battalion and companies only had so much time to use this unscheduled training. It was ok, but nothing special.

  • Patrick R. – Senior Writer

    Ha! I remember being shuttled through that damned thing in 2002. We had maybe 3 minutes on it per soldier, not exactly saving much money for the taxpayers. Hell, I still have my Weaponeer printout. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/6450bd66c16d98be991343e5bb1a9867172fc077695eb7114b98fde677956fdf.jpg

    • David Harmon

      We had one in our bay during basic/OSUT. We used it all the time, because it really was the only thing to do during our down time.

  • A primary flaw of simulators like the Weaponeer were/are there aren’t enough of them around in routine use to make an actual difference. The Army’s EST 2000 suffers the same problem. Dry practice remains the best “simulator” based on availability and price, but only if you can get people to actually do it regularly and care enough to pay attention when they do.

    Improvements via training require regular, programmed, on-going sessions. Instruction serves as an introduction, and may be adequate for tasks/skills that aren’t time-critical, but this ceases to be training after ideas are introduced.

    Even lousy physical fitness programs commonly found in military and police PT programs recognize that about 3-6 sessions each week are needed for improvement. Skill development for tasks that must be trained – like shooting – are no different.

    The Weaponeer could have accomplished the designer’s intent if trainees used it 3-6 sessions a week for the duration of basic training. Instead, recruits get shuttled through it once and that’s it.

    • SGT Fish

      yep. most units only use EST for gas mask and night qual. but the system is actually very useful for situational training and weapons familiarization. it is very under-utilized and used for the wrong reasons. which is a shame

  • HB

    I used this during 1994, when I served in the army… Only a very short time(a few minutes), and the atmosphere of the “range day” was far from serious. I think if it was seriously upgraded(in terms of machine itself and the way to use it) it could be more helpful for training, but again the cost-effectiveness would be the problem.

  • Chris DuBois

    We had one in the day room in infantry OSUT ’90 for the duration if BRM/ARM. We could use it on our hour of personal time. I tried to get on it for three rounds of simulated qual each night. I think it helped me considerably.

  • stephen

    When I went in the Army at age 16 (delayed entry) then shipping off to basic at age 17, we got to use the Weaponeer during basic and after at a couple of units. Not realistic but it was used to help non-expert qual’d soldiers. It worked well to identify those that slapped and or pulled the trigger.

    Of course they don’t compare to the 180 degree shooting simulators with programmable scenarios today but back then it helped a lot.

  • rob in katy

    You had to lift that long tube, didn’t it weight the front a lot?

  • Uniform223

    That brings back memories…

  • Madcap_Magician

    We had it in F Co 2/19 IN on Sand Hill in 2006. There was one in the closet and we pulled it out and could use it during any personal time we had. Even back then before smartphones, for us it was still like I imagine my kids will be when I show them a tape deck.

    That being said, it was pretty nifty in its own retro, old-school-tacticool way.