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. He can be reached via email at [email protected]