Course Review: Civilian Response To Terrorist Threats, Force-on-Force

Back in July, I reviewed a two day class that I had attended at the SIG Sauer Academy, “Civilian Response to Terrorist Threats.” The class was designed and is taught by Todd Rassa of Tactical Defense Readiness Concepts.  The curriculum focuses on the methods and motivations of Islamic Fundamentalists in the hopes of preparing the students to survive an encounter, should one happen here in the United States. The class I attended this past week is intended to put the lessons taught during that two day class into practice with nearly all the time spent in force-on-force scenario training . . .

Regular readers of this blog know that RF is a big fan of force-on-force training and having now taken one such class, I’m on board, too. Proper force-on-force training scenarios aren’t like anything you’ve likely experienced before. Even if you’ve dodged paintballs, you are likely ill prepared for what force-on-force delivers…and consequently ill prepared for a real life gun battle.

The main reason: force-on-force uses guns that are frighteningly realistic. They look and feel like the real thing, which isn’t too surprising in that they essentially are the real thing with some slight modifications.

Don’t let the color of the gun fool you. Sure, this particular one is blue indicating that it’s a training piece, but depending on the kind of gun you have, switching your gun from firing lethal to training ammo can be as simple as swapping out your barrel. The Simunitions guns look, feel, and fire like the real thing right down to using your duty mags to hold the special Simunitions rounds, which come in different colors and calibers to fit many mainline weapons.

The second big difference between proper force-on-force training and something like paintball is that if properly designed and executed, when you are in a force-on-force exercise, you feel like it’s the real thing. You are hyper-sensitive to all sorts of stimuli, things like tunnel vision and auditory exclusion kick in and a lot of your careful training goes right out the window.

Each of the scenarios that we ran through was videotaped and reviewed with the class after the fact. It can be downright embarrassing to see all kinds of mistakes being made during the encounter ranging from massively jerking the trigger to accidentally killing an innocent bystander.

The day began with a review of the 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai, India. In that situation, there were only 10 combatants, but they had been well trained, had excellent intel and were guided during the mission by agents of Pakistani Intelligence. They were able to kill a good many people and do a fair amount of damage as the authorities were ill prepared to deal with such a fast moving, well trained and heavily armed threat. Intel gathered in the aftermath of the raid suggests that cities in both Europe and the U.S. are likely to be targeted with similar style attacks in the coming years. With that heartwarming possibility as our backdrop, we proceeded into the scenarios.

Force-on-force training can be tailored to specific subjects and tactics. Todd, for example, also teaches an Extreme Close Quarters Battle course in which hand-to-hand, knife, and point blank weapon usage is part of the training. As this course was focused on terrorism, the scenarios were designed around situations in which we could find ourselves facing armed jihadis. No taking down muggers or midnight home defense. Instead, all of the various exercises happened in public places with loads of innocent bystanders.

Todd asked that we not discuss the details of the scenarios we experienced. This is for a couple of reasons. First, we wouldn’t want a potential bad guy to know what tactics we have learned to counter standard jihadist attacks. Second, Todd and his partners spend a lot of time developing and testing these scenarios and they remain his intellectual property.

If you want to find out for yourself exactly what the experience feels like, you’ll have to sign up for a class. Todd teaches the course in a number of different locations, the SIG Academy is only one of them. What I will say is that the day consisted of five different scenarios and included some light vehicle work as well as at least one no-shoot situation where the correct approach is to de-escalate and not draw your gun (although one of my classmates ended up ventilating the unarmed antagonist and an innocent).

If you want to get a taste of things, the video below is a trailer for a film that looks at some of Todd’s training. Some of these scenarios are very close to what we experienced.

The movie isn’t yet out – its currently being shopped around at the festivals looking for a distributor.  Hopefully they’ll find one and we can see the whole thing.

What you take away from this type of training is truly something extraordinary. You get a glimpse of how well you might very perform in a life or death situation. Do you trust yourself to carry a gun and, more importantly, draw it? If you do, will you react in time?

I didn’t start off too well. I took a round in the forehead during the first scenario (got the first terrorist, but the second one tagged me), I got blown up in the next scenario (I ddn’t kill the terrorist before he detonated his explosive vest) and I learned to be a lot more careful about the use of selected profanity because there are always witnesses and you want them to have a favorable memory of you (screaming “get out of the bus or I’ll blow your f-ing head off is not recommended).

Fortunately, as the day went on, I got better and managed to avoid getting shot again, but questions still remained in my mind. Could I have moved faster? Could I have saved more people (besides myself) if my gun came out and was on target sooner? Did I kill the terrorists who were threatening my family in in time?

One of the most interesting outcomes was that while many of us train to deal with the lone robber, maybe a carjacker, possibly even a couple of seriously deranged kids who try to kill their classmates or a movie theater full of people, in most cases our preparation doesn’t factor in the possibility of facing people who have received military level training and who are so fanatical that they can’t be reasoned or bargained with. To stop them, you have to kill them.

When you find yourself in one of those scenarios with an unknown number of attackers that are better armed than you are, the decisions you make and how quickly you make them and take action can be the difference between life and death for yourself or those you care about.

It also causes you to rethink everything. Do you carry enough ammo on you? Maybe think again. In the final scenario, we had five bad guys that needed to be taken out and we only had two magazines of 10 rounds each. Twenty rounds goes pretty fast when you’re making sure that the guy with the suicide vest you just put down stays down.

I made a stupid error early on. I expended about half a mag nailing a head shot on a moving target, then swapped out for a fresh mag leaving a half full one behind. That left me with 10 bullets for four bad guys. I was damn lucky that the slide lock back happened after two center mass hits on the last bad guy, but what if he’d been wearing a vest or had a buddy? I would have been dead.

One other thing that was funny was how few people actually picked up a dead terrorist’s weapon to increase their firepower. We all watch movies where the good guy shoots a bad guy and we are screaming at the protagonist to get the gun…which of course he ignores.   Guess what — when the action is happening, most of us didn’t grab the gun either.

Is that person running towards you a foe or just an innocent caught in the crossfire? You only have a second or two to decide and the wrong decision could land your ass in jail or the morgue. When you’re focused on the room you just cleared and hear a voice behind you telling  you they are police and to drop your weapon and show your hands, do you comply or do you make the mistake one guy did and turn towards the voice with your gun (he got some cop-administered chest surgery for his trouble).

The biggest takeaway is that you quickly learn how most of your square range training goes out the window. You have threats at 360 degrees that must be engaged. All those nice practice drills you did with neat head shots and tight groups open up dramatically when you’re under fire. One of the things you learn quickly when dealing with the terrorist angle is that you likely don’t have the luxury of taking too much time to assess the situation before acting. Terrorists plan to die and want to take as many people as possible with them. Every moment you hesitate means more deaths and it could be your loved ones doing the dying. On the other hand, act too hastily and you risk getting plugged yourself, killing a bystander or worse, a cop.

One of my adages has always been that if you plan to carry a firearm, you need to practice and you should get some training in the tactical use of that weapon. To that I’m now going to add that a force-on-force training class is an absolute necessity if you want to increase your certainty of how you will likely perform when the excrement hits the air moving device.


  1. avatar jwm says:

    How realistic can any of these scenarios be? Those of us that are blessed enough to live in a zip code that’s not constitution free are still hampered by the fact that day to day civilian permit holders are packing handguns. Regardless if they’re full size 1911’s or J frame snubbies they’re handguns and the real terrorists are likely to be packing explosives as well as some variation on the AK.

    You try to John MCclane a trained and equipped team of terrorists and the best you can hope for is to get 1-2 before the other 8-10 get you.

    Understand, if you have the time and money to take one of these courses, feel free. just don’t delude yourself into thinking that you’re going to tangle with a group of terrs and come away untouched.

    This is not a mugging or home invasion. It’s a full on battle and one thing I learned from my military experience is that in a battle both sides get bloodied. And if you’re the only one on your team, guess who gets carried out instead of walking out.

    1. avatar Jim says:

      Couple of things. First of all no one could have imagined a 9-11 style attack in the US until it happened. If you really don’t think that a Mumbai style attack could ever happen here, you are deluding yourself. In fact it’s probably a question of when not if. That is why a lot of police forces are starting to incorporate anti-terror training into their programs.

      The training is not intended to have you go looking for trouble. Rather, what are you going to do if you are in the mall when the shit goes down. You may have the military experience, but most of us do not. I’d rather have a taste of what it feels like as opposed to finding out the hard way should I ever be unlucky enough to get caught in something.

      The other thing is that regardless of the scenario, in f on f training, you get a taste of the real thing. Plugging a “terrorist” with a gun is not much different form plugging the armed nutjob. F on F is just one more link in the training and prep chain and it works. If it didn’t work, the Marines and many police forces wouldn’t use it.

      Take one of these classes, then come back and criticize if you still think they are a waste of time and money.

      1. avatar jwm says:

        K, let’s talk deluding. You have better odds of hitting the lottery than you do of getting involved in a Mumbai style attack.

        Now let’s suppose you do get caught in the mall that’s targeted. You paid for what, a 1-2 day F on F training session with an instructor who may or may not have ever been in a real shitstorm.

        And then you went home to your real job having learned what? You want to survive a full on terrorist strike at a mall? Did he teach you how to get into the maintance passageways so you could un-ass the place and stay out of the line of fire?

        How many weekend training camps does it take to qualify you to scoop up your kids and run for cover?

        If you’re that worried about such an incident take the money you would have paid your instructor and buy body armor for you and the kids. That would be more usefull than those Walter Mitty training week ends.

        1. avatar Michael B. says:

          +1 for jwm

  2. avatar إبليس says:

    Wouldn’t lone spree-shooters be a more practical threat to train against? Holmes, Page, that Korean kid in Virginia, Harris + Klebold, Hassan, Omar Thorton, that kid at a mainly Korean college, etc. Much more common.

    There’s nothing wrong with training for a new scenario. But given the lack of Beslan style events in America I think defending against mentally ill loners is higher up on the priority scale.

    Consider the wider historical contexts of Beslan and Mumbai. Both terrorist acts were extensions of border conflicts concerning Chechnya as Pakistan respectively. It’s easy to find poor, angry, teenage cannon-fodder in both countries. The 16-19 crowd does most of the dying in war anyway. Affluent Canada to the north and cartel ridden Mexico to the south…not exactly hotbeds of ethnic/religious hostility with America.

    You’re more likely to defend yourself against a gang or cartel….one that isn’t exactly lily-white. Maybe Islamic Fundie is a PC way of saying something else. Whatever. But truly dangerous religious nuts (in our hemisphere) are located in Washington and patches of Kansas.

    1. avatar ST says:

      The problem with training against a spree killer is that there is no neat definition of one.

      Hassan was an army member who trained with his Five Seven before the incident. Holmes bought his gear and didn’t bother training.
      Cho went so far as to toss his hard drive and mail a video to the press before shooting up his university.

      A spree killer with practice & preparation is exponentially deadlier than some punk with an AR15 and 200 rounds in his backpack, and is thus a different threat entirely. The first guy you shoot in the head at the earliest chance. The second will probably surrender at the sight of a good guy’s gun. Two different outcomes , two different training approaches for two different threat types.

    2. avatar Steve in MA says:

      One of fred phelps’ kids had a really good AMA on reddit. luckily, he got out at 18.

  3. avatar irock350 says:

    That seems like fun, completely impractical and utterly useless scenario based training. Still looks fun though.

    1. avatar Jim Barrett says:

      I’m not sure why you consider the scenarios useless. Are you willing to bet your life that something like this would never happen? Granted, they may be far fetched, unlikely, etc., but any scenario that gives you a taste of what it feels like when bullets start to fly is hardly useless. I would argue that static range training is a lot more useless than any F on F scenario because no matter what happens, the bad guy is not going to stand there calmly 20 or so feet away not moving while you line up the perfect head shot.

      Real Life is dynamic and some portion of your training should be as well.

      1. avatar irock350 says:

        May be useless is a bit harsh to describe civilians training to take head shots on suicide vest wearing terrorists on buses. I often find myself on public transportation wishing I had spent the time and money to train to shoot the many terrorists that attack Matro lines in and around Houston. I guess any sort of mall ninja training is useful, I just see how that specific scenario justifies the money spent on it. Do you spend you free time moon lighting for the U.S. Special Forces, because that would be a justifiable tax write-off. But like I said, it looked fun.

  4. avatar Jordan says:

    Questioning the scenarios is silly – the benefit of any of this training is obvious simply because of the way our brains work. We experience new situations, analyze and learn from them and we are then able to improvise and adapt to differing scenes in the future. Maybe one day of training won’t make a big difference. But it’s easy to imagine that getting over nerves, dropping mags and standing still like a dumbass is your MAIN objective at first, not worrying about whether you are training against a real “terrorist” or “lone shooter.” Wouldn’t it make sense to practice not making stupid mistakes that get you immediately killed? Sure, this isn’t the real thing but I can easily imagine that doing a few of these courses would dramatically increase the likelihood of making a difference in a real scenario.

  5. avatar aj says:

    This training sounds awesome, exciting, fun, and to a point, useful. But to extrapolate that the every day concealed carrier should consider carrying enough ammo to take on a well armoured squad of jihadists is ludicrous. Seriously? Let’s think back to Foghorn’s post a day or two ago. VAST majority of ccw use is one perp within a few feet.
    Imagine the GZ story if he’d been packing 4 spare ˝high capacity˝ mags. Let’s not encourage Rambos.

  6. avatar Henry Bowman says:

    “killing a bystander or worse, a cop.”

    Why is killing a cop worse than killing a bystander? An innocent life is an innocent life, regardless of occupation. I think it’d suck either way.

    Totally agree on the rest of the post. Force-on-force training is invaluable!

  7. avatar ensitu says:

    I think the term Spree Killer is self-defining

  8. avatar JAS says:

    Fun? Yes. Practical? No. It comes as no surprise to me that at the range I frequent the very large majority (most all) of the shooters are all over the target. They have no idea what it takes to make a good shot. Learning how to make a good shot is what all these people need to learn first. And center mass is not good enough, by the by, Shrink that to grapefruit size and then you have something.

    “Aim small, miss small” – There is no substitute.


  9. avatar KKK says:

    People in the states are way too paranoid, how about stop invading countries and cleaning them out of their resources and you won’t create war upon yourself. Leave the opium and petrol to the locals.

  10. avatar Joseph says:

    Force on force training is the very best thing you can do. It is the closest you will ever get to a real gunfight,I’ve done both, and still get the adrenaline dump, though not as intense, with force on force training. It also opens your eyes as to why things happen in gunfights that maybe you didn’t understand before while sitting behind your keyboard. Get the training if you can find it.

  11. avatar TeamTrio says:

    I love how all these internet “experts” jump on to declare what other could do, could never do, etc.

    It’s a common expression of insecurity – “since in my heart I know that could do little more then soil my shorts, I’ll poo poo other peoples preparations in the hopes I can bring them down to my level.

    People who train the least always seem to have time to insult the training other people do. That’s ok though, because if the shit ever really hits the fan all you keyboard warriors will be food for the machine 🙂

  12. Here’s hoping the ‘cop’ telling you to drop your weapon isn’t a savvy terrorist instead!

  13. avatar RoyBoy says:

    The training looks exciting, fun and first rate. I watched 9/11 unfold live from my office window in Newark, NJ. The idea of a terrorist attack happening and me being stuck in the middle is very real to me now. Being in an urban setting and riding public transportation every day (the train), I am concerned that I might not be able to run for any cover. So any training that gives me an advantage and some hope of surviving is worth it’s weight in gold.

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