Many trainers today will say, there isn't time to think, just get rounds on target, which means shoot center mass and don't give it another thought. About 30 years ago those words were the best advice we could give shooters. But, everything evolves and the science of performing in combat is no different. The phrase is no longer, there isn't enough time to think, but how fast can you see where to shoot?
Back in the middle 90's, it was preached by different shooting instructors that the human brain would take 1/4 of a second to understand what it was seeing. That was the science of the day.
In the 2000's it became commonly accepted that the human brain could understand what it is seeing in just 100 milliseconds, which is 4 times faster than previously thought and a significant jump. One tenth of second, that's fast and most would say that's good enough to begin fundamentally changing the way we train ourselves in order to take advantage of new scientific data.
Incredibly, in 2014, neuroscientists at MIT determined that humans can understand what they are seeing in just 13 thousandths of a second, which is nearly 8 times faster than previously thought. We may actually be able to process images even faster than the MIT study determined because the study did not take into account the effects of many hormones like epinephrine which are released during acute stress response. During moments of fight or flight an altered state of consciousness exists which is overwhelming to some, but fuel for optimal performance for others.
New breakthroughs in neuroscience allow us to understand that there is enough time to think, but we have to train ourselves to do so. Shooting a blank cardboard silhouette does not allow us to practice seeing where to shoot. Likewise, a target that with lines and zones is teaching the shooter to pick a zone and maintain a shot-group within that zone. There is another phrase often used on the range, you can't miss fast enough. Shot placement. (Author) this is the reason I switched from .45 to 9mm, it's all about shot placement. There are two locations to think about penetrating, the heart and the cerebellum of the brain. Because people hold various body positions and at various angles, thinking about bullet travel through the body is required. Again, this can't be practiced on the standard targets, a 3D image is required, preferably on paper so the shot group can be assessed. Many of the current 3D targets are made of plastic, rubber or foam and they standup to a 1000 rounds and you won't know where one of those rounds landed. If we don't have shot accountability we are just fooling ourselves as to the quality of our training.
Image Processing Training™ (IPT)
IPT™ entails training ourselves to see where to shoot. Through repetition this happens almost instantly. For example, the shooter sees that the threat is holding a weapon. Importantly, the target must depict the hands so the shooter may ingrain the FIRST STEP before taking a shot, which is to ensure that the threat is actually wielding a weapon. The second step entails seeing the most optimal shot location. If the threat is wearing a Rhodesian vest, or plate carrier the eyes simply move north to the head, which is the next best viable shot location.
The pelvic girdle is about the same size as the head and does not ensure the threat will be eliminated or neutralized. So, IPT entails understanding what you are seeing, simple. Then, seeing the optimal location to place your shot. These two steps can be performed in less than a tenth of a second, but you have to be intentional about the manner in which you train and have training aides that facilitate this practice.
Image Processing FAIL
On June 25th, 2013, at approximately 6:30AM two vehicles occupied by Haqqani Network operatives initiated an attack upon the Embassy Annex, CIA compound in Kabul, Afghanistan.
The two vehicles containing a total of 8 highly trained Haqqani Network operatives were involved in the attack. The attackers were wearing US Army uniforms and carrying authentic DoD ID cards. However, they also chose to carry AK's, which may have been their undoing.
The second of the two cars was detained at Bravo gate leading into the Green Zone. The second vehicle containing the other 4 attackers was granted entry into green zone and passed another check point to enter the CIA compound for inspection. The Local Guard Force (LGF) was suspicious of the vehicle occupants and delayed their entry pending higher approval. Meanwhile, the vehicle occupants detained at the Green Zone gate became impatient and dismounted the vehicle. They came under immediate attack from the CIA guard tower overlooking the check point. The driver's suicide bomber vest detonated upon impact from the machine gun rounds.
Upon hearing the gunfire and explosion at the Green Zone gate the attackers awaiting inspection in the CIA compound also dismounted the vehicle. In a well-rehearsed move, they simultaneously stepped out and engaged 7 LGF, killing all 7 in less than 3 seconds. The attack was on. However, the attackers now faced a dilemma which was finding a way over the 20 ft high cement T-walls with razor wire, so they may gain entry to the inner compound.
Minor and Pirate, two former Special Operations soldiers and GRS officers were the first to respond to the attack. Minor was a former Army Special Forces soldier and Pirate, a former Navy SEAL. Upon exiting the inner compound and making entry into the outer compound they encountered what appeared to be an active duty US Army soldier. Call sign Minor, was the #1 man and not convinced by the uniform; He aimed in on the head of the unknown person with intentions to confirm his ID.
However, Minor could not see that the Haqqani Network operative had partially concealed his AK-47 by his side. In the fractions of seconds that followed the highly trained operative presented his AK and fired two rounds, which impacted Minor's ballistic plates. Minor maintained sight picture and pressed trigger, penetrating the cerebellum of the brain which resulted in a no-twitch response. The body immediately dropped to the ground. Minor stated later, the body fell so fast that all the subsequent rounds fired went over the top of the falling body.
The Haqqani Network Operative Was Truly A Product of His Training.
The crucial lesson to be learned from this incident is that the Haqqani Network operative could plainly see that Minor, the #1 man was wearing a ballistic plate-carrier. In that moment, the terrorist operative responded in the exact same way he had repetitively trained himself hundreds, if not thousands of times before.
Although the plate-carrier was plainly visible the Haqqani Network operative shot Minor squarely on the plates. He could potentially have won the gunfight and killed two CIA officers, but he's dead because his training failed him.
In Figure (above) we have DJ and Cole from GBRS two elite operators who are testing the HVT Terrorist target. The shot group shows they did not consider the target image itself target, which is evident by the location of the shot group. Both operators maintained the same aiming point on the target over the "high thoracic cavity" region. They could have thought about shifting the aiming point up to the head, but they didn't.
What these two Operators are showing us is that they are truly products of their training. This is the purpose of training. It's not a bad thing, in fact, this is what we strive to become, is products of our training.
So, why would these two super-highly trained operators shoot the suppressor depicted on the rifle instead of the head? The answer is indicative of their training, which entails aiming center mass with no further thought. This behavior is reinforced through repetition, which is literally how we program ourselves to perform tasks with little or no thought. New neural pathways are created when performing a task for the first time. Repetition strengthens those neural pathways, allowing the signal to fire more quickly and reliably until the task or behavior essentially becomes a default response to a stimulus. The default response to a stimulus is often referred to as Hard Wiring.
The way we've trained ourselves is going to be the most likely response to stimulus.
When we have Hard Wired a number of responses to stimulus, such as our holster draw or transition from rifle to pistol, then we often say, we are products of our training. Over time this phrase has not only proven itself to be true time and again, but there is data and studies in neuroscience to back it up.
There may be someone reading who is thinking, yeah but those guys shooting the target would do it differently for real, which is possible. However, consider that these two operators have spent hundreds of hours on the range and hundreds of hours in the Shoot House, the studies show that repetitive patterns of thought will overwhelmingly become the default reaction. This is the essence of why we train so hard. We train to become products of our training, this frees up our conscious mind for situational awareness and tactics while our subconscious minds are performing the tasks we trained them to do, on demand.
Repetitively training to shoot center mass is akin to not thinking which is what got this terrorist killed.
In summary, we can see that targets we train with and the way we train can actually result in losing the gunfight. The terrorist lost the gunfight because he was the victim of his own inferior training paradigm, which might be referred to as shoot center mass first. The terrorist might have been a better shooter than Minor, undoubtedly he was a very proficient shooter who had the audacity to present his rifle even though Minor already had a sight picture on his head. Imagine the confidence of the terrorist under the pressure of the situation that he had the audacity to present his AK (at 25 yards) and place two rounds squarely onto Minor's plates? He did that under the pressure of the situation and in just over a second. Impressive.
Image Processing Training emphasizes seeing where to shoot. Instead of mindlessly shooting center mass. Training to WIN requires better targets which facilitate better training.
*Minor depicted top row, second from left. (Author) top row, far left next to Minor.