Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment react to a simulated roadside bomb on the improvised explosive device training lane at Hohenfels, Germany, on Thursday.

Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment react to a simulated roadside bomb on the improvised explosive device training lane at Hohenfels, Germany, on Thursday. (Seth Robson / S&S)

HOHENFELS, Germany — Nonlethal paint and wax “simunition” will allow soldiers to shoot each other during training in artificial Iraqi and Afghan towns here starting next month.

Iraq-bound soldiers from 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment will be the first to test the live-fire training at Hohenfels on March 12, Maj. Eric Timmerman, an observer controller with the Joint Multinational Readiness Center, said Thursday.

Until now, Grafenwöhr has been the U.S. Army’s main European live-fire training area, with Hohenfels restricted to blank-fire exercises in which soldiers shoot each other with lasers that set off harness alarms, he said.

Advances in “simunition” — bullets that are either nonlethal or have a much shorter range than conventional rounds — mean it is safe to start live-fire at Hohenfels, he said.

“Soldiers will be afforded the chance to fight against other human beings with the immediate feedback of pain when they get hit and things hitting around them. It gives us a much more realistic feel,” he said.

The JMRC operations group commander, Col. Tom Vandal, said it would be the first time simunition has been used by U.S. soldiers training in Europe.

The simunition will be tested at two military operations in urban terrain sites: Schwend, which replicates a small Iraqi town; and the improvised explosive device training lane — a stretch of freeway where soldiers train on tactics to defeat homemade bombs. Eventually simunition will be used at eight sites, Timmerman said.

There are many types of simunition, including the paint and wax rounds that are nonlethal; rubber and plastic bullets with reduced trajectory; and “fangible” ammunition that is nontoxic, does not ricochet or “splash” fragments back at the shooter.

Unlike paintballs, simunition can be used with conventional weapons such as the M16 rifle.

Next month’s exercise will involve soldiers firing simunition from M4 and M16 rifles, paint rounds from M249 machine guns and plastic rounds from .50-caliber machine guns. Apache attack helicopters will fire simunition — 30 mm rounds and 2.5-inch training rockets. Nonexplosive mortar rounds will also be used, Timmerman said.

“We want every weapons system we have in our inventory replicated in some form,” he said, adding that paint and wax rounds are not available for the Army’s larger weapons systems.

Lethal simunition will be fired at targets in the MOUT sites. Its advantages include not damaging buildings used for urban combat training and smaller safety zones.

Hohenfels-based Sgt. Paul Jay of Company B, 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, said he was recently shot with simunition during a joint exercise.

“I got shot with a paint round from an M16. It hurt, but it wasn’t as bad as paintball,” he said, adding the simunition produced “nasty welts” on soldiers who did not wear the right protective gear.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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