Artifact of a Training Dream

It started as this mystery gadget...

The mystery was the identity of this gadget…

Simulators have always been the Next Big Thing ever since Ed Link conned the Army Air Corps into believing that they could teach instrument flying on the ground. (After a series of planes came tumbling out of overcasts in pieces, the ferry command that was in charge of delivering aircraft and crews to Great Britain for the World War stopped trusting pilots with an Air Corps instrument card, and started retraining them). As the ferry command found, a simulator could be a good adjunct for live training, but it was a poor substitute. 

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.”

A soldier uses the Weaponeer marksmanship training system. US Army photo from 1990.

A soldier uses the Weaponeer marksmanship training system. US Army photo from Fort Devens, MA, 1990.

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.

It was not extensively exported. These Kuwaitis being trained by an American sergeant are among the few foreigners to have used the system.

An instructor explains the weaponeer marksmanship training system to Kuwaiti soldiers during a marksmanship course. The soldiers are being trained in combat techniques in preparation for conflict with Iraqi forces presently occupying Kuwait. Fort Dix 8 Jan 91

An instructor explains the Weaponeer Marksmanship Training System to Kuwaiti soldiers during a marksmanship course. The soldiers are being trained in combat techniques in preparation for conflict with Iraqi forces presently occupying Kuwait. Fort Dix, NJ:  8 Jan 91 via the National Archives.

In any event, the artifact at the top of the post turned up recently, and with it being vaguely M16-magazine sized and shaped, its new owner turned to the ARFCOM Retro Forum for answers. He got them, including these detailed pictures that explain how the magazine insert works. Read The Whole Thread™, which also has more pictures.



An appendix to the marksmanship training manual (Appendix A-6 to FM 3-22.9) gives more information.

The Weaponeer is an effective rifle marksmanship-training device that simulates the live firing of the M16-series rifle. The system can be used for developing and sustaining marksmanship skills, diagnosing and correcting problems, and assessing basic skills.


Characteristics. The Weaponeer operates on 110 to 130 volts AC, 10 amperes, 50 or 60 Hz, grounded electrical power. (A stand-alone voltage transformer is provided for overseas units.) The recommended training area for the Weaponeer is 10 by 23 by 8 feet. The operational temperature range is 40 degrees to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The Weaponeer must be protected from the elements, and should not be subjected to excessive vibration, high dust levels, or condensing humidity. The M16A1/A2 attached to the Weaponeer is demilitarized and does not require the usual weapon security.

The rifle, with the exception of smoke and cartridge ejection, operates normally, and has the same weight and balance as the standard weapon. An infrared aiming sensor simulates round trajectory and hit point to an accuracy of better than one-minute-of-angle. The recoil rod that attaches at the muzzle end of the rifle simulates recoil. Recoil is provided in both semiautomatic and automatic modes of fire, and is adjustable from no-net force to 30 percent more than that of a live M16. Sound is provided through headphones and is adjustable from 115 to 135 decibels. Special magazines are used. One magazine simulates a continuous load; the other (used to train rapid magazine change) can be loaded with 1 to 30 simulated rounds. Selectable misfire can be used to detect gun shyness and drill immediate action. The front and rear sights are zeroed the same as standard rifles.

As you can see, that describes the magazine insert that the ARFCOM member got hold of.

The Weaponeer range can be raised or lowered to accommodate all firing positions. The target assembly contains four targets: a scaled 25-meter zero target and three pop-up targets are standard. E-type and F-type silhouettes at ranges from 75 meters can be used on the Weaponeer. Known-distance and various other types of targets can be used and be displayed in fixed or random sequences. Target exposure times may be set to unlimited or from 1 to 30 seconds. The fall-when-hit mode can be selected with the KILL button.

The operator’s console contains the system control buttons, graphics printer, and video feedback monitor. The back of the console has counters that total rounds and hours, and a storage bin for storing magazines, printer paper and ribbon, headphones, two wrenches for assembling the Weaponeer, and a small allen wrench for aligning the rifle sensor. A remote control, which attaches to the back of the console, enables a trainer or firer to operate select functions away from the console.

Feedback. The Weaponeer provides feedback to help trainers to teach and soldiers to learn marksmanship skills.

  1. Fall-When-Hit Mode. Lighting the KILL button enables the fall-when-hit mode. When the button is activated, targets fall when hit. This feedback provides the same hit or miss information as a train-fire (RETS) range.
  2.  Real-Time Aiming Point Display. When a firer aims on or near a target, his aiming point relative to the target is continuously displayed on the video screen. The aiming point display allows the trainer to teach and verify aiming techniques, and to continuously monitor the firer’s steadiness, techniques, time on target, trigger squeeze, and recovery from recoil.
  3. Immediate-Shot-Impact Display. When a shot is fired, its impact relative to the target is immediately displayed on the video screen as a blinking white dot (Figure A-12, left target).

    Fig A-12: Replay of shot.

    Fig A-12: Replay of shot.

  4. Replay. After a shot is fired, a real-rate display of how the firer engaged the target can be replayed on the video screen.
    1. The target to the right in Figure A-12 shows the type of information that can be replayed on the video screen after a series of shots are fired. To show the sequence, the dots have been numbered.
    2. To show a replay, the firer first selects the shot he wishes to replay by operating the EACH SHOT button. Then he presses the REPLAY button. Some Weaponeers record and store replays for just the first three shots.
  5. Shot Groups. The impact location of up to 32 shots is automatically stored in the Weaponeer memory and displayed on the video screen. Each impact is indicated by a white dot, which blinks when indicating the last shot. All 32 shots can be fired and displayed on a single target, or split among a combination of targets. The CLEAR button erases all shots from the Weaponeer memory
  6. Printer. A hard-copy printer is provided for postfiring analysis, for firer progress tracking, and for record keeping. Pressing the PRINT button causes the target displayed on the video to print. (Sample printouts are shown in Figure A-13.) Some Weaponeers can print the three pop-up targets at the same time by holding in the REPLAY button and pressing the PRINT button.

    Figure A-13: Weaponeer printouts.

    Figure A-13: Weaponeer printouts.

Use of the Weaponeer. In BRM, the Weaponeer is used to evaluate the firer’s ability to apply the four fundamentals. It is used throughout the program to help diagnose and remediate problems. In the unit, the Weaponeer should be used much like it is used in BRM. Concurrent use of the Weaponeer at the rifle range provides valuable remedial training.

  1. The preferred training configuration for the Weaponeer is shown in Figure A-14. One trainer operates the system while three to six soldiers observe the training. Soldiers should rotate, each receiving several short turns on the system. Where high throughput is required, consolidation of available Weaponeers may be considered.


    Figure A-14: Weaponeer training configuration.

  2. When training soldiers on the Weaponeer:
    1. Proceed at a relaxed pace, and emphasize accuracy before speed.
    2. If possible, train with small groups, allowing each soldier several 10- to 15-minute turns on the device.
    3. For remedial training, try to relax the soldier. A nervous soldier will have trouble learning and gaining confidence in his marksmanship skills. For sustainment training, encourage competition between individuals or units.
  3. In Figure A-14, five soldiers are being trained. One is firing and four are observing, awaiting their turns on the device. The video screen is carefully positioned just outside the vision of the firer, but the firer can easily turn his head to see replays and hit points. The position of the trainer is also important so he can see both the firer and video screen. This is a good position for detecting and correcting firing faults. When the firer is in the standing supported firing position, the console should be placed on a table so the trainer can see the video screen above the firer’s rifle (Figure A-15). Observers can see the targets, firer, and video screen and learn procedures that speed up training and help avoid firing faults.

    Figure A-15: Training arrangement (supported firing position).

    Figure A-15: Training arrangement (supported firing position).

Unfortunately, the Army does not appear to have released Weaponeer devices as surplus, but has destroyed them instead. It would be a fun thing to have in your man cave, if you could keep it working. For a while in the late 1980s, dozens of these things were dead in units all around the world.

Without a whole Weaponeer, the device the original poster has is of no utility, but it’s an interesting artifact.

Here is some further information on Weaponeer.

26 thoughts on “Artifact of a Training Dream

  1. DSM

    I wonder if that Weaponeer shown with the Kuwaiti soldiers at Ft Dix was the same one we used? I had all but forgotten about it. We had to “shoot” a few groups on it before BRM so the course instructors could diagnose who needed more help. It was a big deal because we had all qualified on the AF course of fire on what I think the Army called a modified course “C” only at 25m. We spent an entire afternoon swapping out people all over the PT field with Ivans pretending to be pop up targets. I missed Expert by one shot that first time (never missed it after that thankfully) but it was a bummer in that the incentive was to get to live fire a LAW instead of just the sub cal round later on in the course. Hey, for a 17yr old Airman 1st Class that would’ve been awesome!

    Later on when I retrained into CATM we had very nice weapon simulators. FATS and later CATS then the EST. We used the heck out of them, mostly for scenario training; shoot/no shoot and the like. Later versions came with an authoring station to create your own scenarios which was great to show troopers the actual posts they were working instead of borrowed LE video. Sadly, such devices were, and still can to my knowledge, be used for CONUS qualification if the unit gets a MAJCOM waiver. The only gain to this is numbers reporting for people qualified and “deployable” which was total garbage as the rule set still mandated a current, live fire qual before embark.

    1. jim h

      I’d also forgotten about the weaponeer system. man, talk about a “different” approach to marksmanship. it was used the same way for us, but we never saw any FATS stuff until I left the military and became a peace officer. now it’s used for much the same (shoot/no shoot) though I stress that one of the best uses of it is to show how quickly and dynamically a situation can change. it’s an eye opener, and I wonder if a lot of that kind of computer scripting could be derived from systems like this one.

      1. Hognose Post author

        Well, Weaponeer was the “crawl” stage and all they were trying to simulate was the Trainfire range (pop-up targets range used by the Army to qualify, for you civilians reading this — or Marines. AFAIK Marines always did and still do shoot at bullseyes in training, not Army-style pop-ups).

        I’ve seen that LE engagement simulator used to make believers out of police critics, especially media and The Reverends. Usual comment is something like. “Holy cow, I had no idea it could go so bad so fast!”

        1. jim h

          yup, that’s the exact type of thing I was talking about. seems that not too long ago
          ’round here (Atlanta) one of the more vocal police critics/BLM supporters was invited to take a series of FATS simulations, and im told he brought someone from his own little retinue to help administer it so that there would be no “cheating.”

          he did 4 scenarios…..and failed them all spectacularly. he shot folks that didn’t need shootin’, and got shot by folks who did. additionally, since the FATS simulators record shot locations, hit percentage, potential fatalities, etc, he got to see feedback he probably didn’t expect. needless to say, he is not nearly so vocal a critic, and has even begun to make outreach towards cops an active part of his public persona now.

          off of 4 simulations, chosen at random. chalk that one a “win”.

          1. DSM

            Our last EST machine had what they called a “shoot back cannon”. It fired solid nylon shot, pretty much the same size as paintballs and was video controlled, complete with a little laser sight. Could shoot semi or auto too. Those mother truckers hurt! That changed the game big time when you knew it really was coming back at you if you didn’t move fast enough or take whatever cover was configured for the scenario.

            The last gun upgrade we got included an M240B and we drilled our gunners to death on that thing before deploying ILO for convoys.

        2. Neil S.

          In re. Marines and pop-up ranges – We’ve got a couple, but they’re pretty much unicorns in terms of getting range time for the line grunts. The only two I know of are at Parris Island and 29 Palms; I assume there’s a third on Pendleton. Tremendous fun to shoot (especially 29 Palms, where it was part of the Iraq workup), but there’s something timeless about the ritual pulling of paper targets in the pits.

  2. John Distai

    Looks neat. Maybe I should have pursued that career in Aberdeen after graduating. More regrets in life. But then again, you can’t kiss all the pretty girls (or grab their kitties).

  3. KenWats

    I recall something similar we had in ROTC in the 90s, it was set up with a nintendo game system? Anyway, I, who’d never fired a weapon before ROTC, had a great opportunity to get better at shooting with it. Bear in mind we had no arms room, no regular access to actual weapons, just rubber ducks. So this was a step up from just training on range day or when the local NG unit could be persuaded to lend us some of their weapons to abuse. Show up between classes and practice a bit. I won’t say it was fun, but I know my shooting improved significantly once our NCO got it.

  4. Hillbilly

    I used one these at both OSUT and my first unit in Korea.
    In OSUT we all cycled through before BRM and guys with problems got extra training.

    In Korea we just used it to maintain skills and of course the obligatory smack talk.
    It was in the motor pool in one of the bays and easily accessible for use.

  5. Erik in Texas

    Dear Hognose,

    I was a lowly Reservist in the 90’s, and I recall our unit having something similar that used a Nintendo Gaming System. Do you remember that device?


    My older brother was in the army NG from the early to mid 80s to early 2000s. In a mechanized infantry unit. he being a mechanic. I recall him vaguely mentioning something like this. When he was in the national guard in the later part of the 80s they qualified for a few years using the M 261 conversion kit in 22 long rifle

      1. TRX

        My brother still claims he qualified in USAF basic training circa 1982 with three manually-loaded single shots of .22LR. I’m still not sure if he’s pulling my leg.

        1. DSM

          There was a spell in the late 90s into the early 80s where the zoomies shot the .22 kits but they’ve been out of use since. At one time they were worried you might damage your BCGs so you couldn’t even wear them to the range. No joke!
          Some places have the short range ammo if they have range limitations like pretty much all AF stations have. Air bases are huge but there’s hardly ever enough room when you lay the range fan overlay on the map, not to mention a lot are smack dab in the middle of towns.

          Talking about qualifying in AF basic though–get this, in basic you don’t even have to qualify on the M16. The standard is basically shoot the course of fire without killing yourself or anyone else. If you do make a qualifying or expert score it counts but if you don’t, doesn’t matter. Pathetic.
          Of course after that you have to qualify but the standards were so embarrassingly low it’s painful to even say we had people go UQ and needed a couple refires to make it. At one time 15 out of 40 meant you were considered good enough. (Different AFSCs and duties determined if you required a higher qualifying score; for a daily armed duties it was 25, still quite low but better.)

  7. Mike

    The Engagement Skills Trainer (EST) is alive and well, and just had a major update fielded. During Basic and AIT they are a regular part of the training schedule, and a little while back when I was standing up an infantry company mostly with soldiers straight out of OSUT we used the hell out of it because we didn’t have any weapons in the armsroom yet. We integrated it heavily into our crew served weapon training (I had a weapons company with MK19s, .50s, M240s, etc) to give the soldiers a better chance of qualifying the first time. It worked. We also used it to give soldiers some PMI on the M9, the shotgun, the M320 and M203 grenade launchers.

    Not as good as live fire, but a damn sight better than doing washer drills.

    1. 11B-Mailclerk

      Dime drills were the primary method of my evasion of s### details, especially in OSUT. If I was anywhere with a rifle, and slack time occurred not otherwise usefully filled, I would have an associate “dime” me and vice versa.

      Maxing the M-16 qualification course on the first go-round at OSUT had a certain halo factor.

  8. Ken D

    “The rifle, with the exception of smoke and cartridge ejection, operates normally, and has the same weight and balance as the standard weapon.”

    Seems that it would be difficult to keep the balance the same with that long rod sticking out forward of the barrel. Any insight on how they managed that?

    1. DSM

      ISTR it wasn’t attached but with an eyelet and a link of chain really. I assumed that was just to keep the rifle attached to the device.

  9. S

    Maybe LSWC might corroborate……there was once a .22LR subcal training system for the SLR at 25m, with a video shown on a backlit paper screen with another paper roll running vertically behind it. I only saw the suburban clearance vid, perhaps there were more.

    What I found more useful, was growing up semi-rural with bb, .177 airgun, .22LR, .303, and 12g. The extra incentive to excel was from the local druggies, arsonists, and general neverdowells, who’d try and outguess whichever calibre and intent was present on a given day. The local fuzz turned a deaf eye and blind ear, because they’d had enough of the crap and were happy to have a large patch where stuff didn’t noticeably happen, and the rumours were easily squashed…no evidence. Kind of hard to make a case when your best opening is with “well your honour, this guy burnt the pot plantation we planted on his land, and we shot out a window, and it went downhill because he’s a racist vicious Belgian para vet and salt buckshot really hurts and we want money because Abbo and stuff”. Judge sent them packing and wished off the record a little less salt, a little more lead, and a whole lot less talking, lawyer included, if the between-lines speech was accurate.

    1. LSWCHP

      Sorry mate, I never ran across the SLR subcal device and I spent a fair bit of time around the Singo Infantry Centre where there surely would have been one. I got out in 1988, so it may postdate me, but the SLR was on the verge of retirement then.

      The Australian Army now has a great section level trainer for the Steyr that allows for everything from individual marksmanship training on bullseyes up to section engagements of incoming human wave assaults. I shot on it a few years ago, and it’s a gem.

  10. Eric

    I know for a fact that Ft. Sill OSUT for 13 series still ran soldiers through the weaponeer as of fall 1996 and perhaps much later.

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