The Smokeless Range, now in version 2.0, is the flagship of Laser Ammo's interactive dry fire training systems. It is a Windows-based video simulator that uses, depending on the modules purchased, digitally generated images or actual video footage to recreate good quality sporting, hunting and LE/Military only training scenarios.
The starter kit essentially consists of a special USB camera with mini tripod bundled with the framework software; the minimum requirements to run the package is a relatively recent PC with at least 8GB of RAM, Windows 10 and a fast processor (i5 or better), as well as a video projector capable of at least 2000 real lumens, with a 1280x720 pixels native, not interpolated, resolution.
The system can use SureStrike laser cartridges, firearm laser barrel conversions or bolt assemblies (such as the BCG Flash Bolt for AR15), or Recoil Enabled replicas – CO2 airsoft pistols with laser barrels that simulate a minimum of noise and recoil upon firing, also offered by Laser Ammo. The system can also work with third-party lasers, but operation is only guaranteed using Laser Ammo's microprocessor-based lasers, both IR and visible red.
Obviously, you need an available room with either a clear white wall or a screen on which to project the images.
Video: Laser Ammo Smokeless Range 2.0 Shooting Simulator
How the Laser Ammo Smokeless Range 2.0 Shooting Simulator works
The camera frames the projected video feed and filters the images, detecting the laser’s impact (IR or visible) in relation to the virtual position of the targets; the software then records the impact and adds it in real time to the video stream for display and interaction with the shooter. Conceptually very simple…
The laser inside the replica or gun can be also used as a "mouse" to fully control the software, to select options and navigate menus, without having to touch the PC again.
The best results, for performance and pervasiveness and immersion, can only be had with a video projector; avoid the sub-100-euro toys found on Amazon as they do not work. In our experience you need at least 2500 real lumens, and systems with LEDs do not even reach a fraction of this value.
A good, brand new video projector with these features can cost as much as 800 euros, but we can always look on the used market: we found a good Optoma with DLP and lamp at 50 percent of its life (2k hours out of 4.5k life) for about 200 euros.
It is possible to use a TV set, but apart from the small screen size, the glossy surface of the LCD does not allow for reliable POI detection: depending on the TV used, the results can range from acceptable to unusable. There are adhesive films that can be applied to the glass to make laser shot detection more reliable, but honestly, why complicate life? Just get yourself a projector.
The special wide angle, high speed camera that is the heart of the system connects via USB to the PC.
There is a super-wide-angle version of the camera called the Short Throw, which essentially can be placed much closer to the projection screen. It is used with the latest generation of video projectors, which, just like the camera, can be placed very close to the screen forming the same a very large image – the cost is almost double that of the standard camera.
The basic software of the Smokeless Range 2.0, which costs about 870 euros, includes the standard camera, 10 rather varied shooting drills ranging from the classic range shooting silhouette at distances between "point-blank" and 100 meters, to a pure video game entertainment with jumping cans shooting, passing through moving target, clay and speed shooting.
The basic drill set can be expanded with specific packages, including those for sports and competition training (such as IPSC shooting, Steel Challenge and OWSS Western shooting), a hunting simulator – which includes wild boar, waterfowl and small game shooting, recreational shooting packages – and even zombie arcade shooting!
Of course, there’s a very serious and complex professional LE and Military package, with certification drills for police officers, tactical and super realistic real-life video scenarios that are editable with the Video Scenario Trainer Pro 2.0 expansion.
This pro expansion, reserved for LE and Military users, deserves a separate note: it is not based on computer-generated digital images, but rather on prerecorded video footage, with the interaction driven by a trainer who can control the actions of the characters on screen (each scenario can have multiple possibilities, character behaviors, and endings).
It is possible to produce proprietary video scenarios that to the user (LE department or military unit) procedures, rules, and behaviors, with scenarios – for example – set at checkpoints, or car stops for traffic officers, as the software and all included video simulations are just demos in English and set in the U.S.
Laser Ammo Smokeless Range 2.0 Shooting Simulator
Once set up, the Smokeless Range simulator can be assembled for use in a few minutes. The first installation, however, takes some time and should be done with care to avoid any problems. First installation of the software – and any add-on packages – should be done with a web connection, since it needs to be registered online. It is also worthwhile to have already connected the video projector and the USB camera to check operation.
For best results, the camera needs to be calibrated every time the system is turned on, and it needs to be set for the type of laser used, such as Laser Ammo’s SureStrike cartridges and Flash Bolt for AR, or specifically for Recoil Enabled replicas. The procedure is super simple and fully automated, but if you really want to lose a lot of time with no discernible difference in the result, you can also do it manually.
The ideal backstop for projection should be a uniform white wall, and should not be reflective-in fact, many slide screens, which have a silvered surface, do not work well with the Smokeless Range. The ideal screen size is 370x250 cm -- basically the whole wall of a room, for those who have the space -- at a user shooting distance of about 3.5 m. This is to keep the apparent size of the standard projected targets consistent with the distance selected in the software, but nothing detracts from the fact that it is possible to use it as I did, scaling all distances to about half the size if home space is an issue.
I tested a Recoil Enabled Glock 17 replica with CO2 cartridges, my 9mm Beretta 92 with a SureStrike cartridge, and the Flash Bolt system, mounted in an AR DR15 Custom 300BLK pistol, using the Smokeless Range simulator with the competition sports and professional modules. In a future article we will explore the hunting module, which promises more refined graphics and interesting scenarios.
The Recoil Enabled pistol I received for testing was a gas (no pun intended): the idea of using CO2 replicas is a winner, upon firing the pressurized CO2 vent creates a convincing report in the confines of a room and the slide movement influences the line of sight just enough to make the experience far more engaging. The accuracy of the Recoil Enabled replicas is excellent. Using instead a real firearm converted with the Flash Bolt conversion gives a completely different experience: the shooting accuracy in the simulation is absolute, but of course the only feedback is a measly click from the trigger (which doesn't even “break”) and at best the simulated sound effect of the shot coming from the software through the tiny PC speakers.
One note: a CO2 cartridge in the Recoil Enable gun doesn’t last very long. In an hour or so I used up nine cartridges, even letting them rest between shots – the gas cools a lot shooting and loses pressure quickly, just reheat the cartridge briefly and it regains pressure. In this regard, it pays to have at least a couple of magazines to swap, and coincidentally, train in magazine change.
The various modules and drills in the software have different perceived qualities and time flow management. I found the relatively static scenarios in the simulation to ironically be much more engaging as they excellently reproduce classic IPSC shooting stages. The Tactical Targets module presents the simulated shooter's movements in an overly mechanical manner. Still, the overall quality is high, as is the accuracy of fired shots tracking. Some scenarios, obviously designed for recreational shooting, "forgive" a lot in accuracy, such as canister shooting, while accuracy becomes almost surgical in the IPSC/IDPA and professional training modules.
Conclusions on the Laser Ammo Smokeless Range 2.0 simulator
By using the Smokeless Range 2.0 simulator, I was able to recover from how "rusty" I was from the compulsory absence from shooting ranges due to various lockdowns without spending a fortune on ammo, given also the current shortage and reloading supplies – especially primers – that we are experiencing. After a month of use, I have returned to a level that I can call satisfactory, confirmed by a few sessions with my Glock at the shooting range, sometimes taking advantage even of a simple half-hour break for training with the Smokeless Range, that I would never be able to use for range time. The simulator is not a substitute for live fire range time, but it allows for optimal and safe training, anywhere – not to mention that the Smokeless Range is also particularly fun to use. Performance is tied to the PC and video projector quality: the better and more powerful the machine, the better the experience. The system is purchased once and all subsequent upgrades are free. The immersiveness of the system, especially with the video simulations in the VST Pro 2.0 package, is very engaging.
The possibility of expansion is considerable, although the MRSP of individual add-on packages on top of the 864 euros of the basic software is not cheap, in fact it is between 200 and 710 euros each, with the professional Video Scenario Trainer (VST) Pro 2.0 package costing 1342 euros. However, nobody says that the cost can’t be shared in a small group of organized shooters – after all, the performance rivals that of ultra-professional systems such as the FATS of a few years ago at a fraction of the cost.