On February 21st, I attended the Patrol Vehicle CQB Instructor taught by William Petty of Centrifuge Training. Daniel Defense hosted the course in order to provide free instructor development training to law enforcement. Also on hand were Chase Jenkins of Talon Defense and John Johnston of Ballistic Radio, who acted as adjunct instructors throughout the course. There were hundreds of applications for the 20 or so slots in the course. I was lucky enough to be offered a slot. I traveled down there with my friend Matt, who has been through a number of courses with me in the past and is a solid shooter and problem solver.
I’d previously met Will through his friend and step-dad, Chase Jenkins. Will is an approachable and easy-going guy. Humor is a big part of his teaching method, but if you don’t like mom jokes you may have your feelings hurt. His program has developed from watching thousands of videos of gunfights occurring around vehicles, studying the structural makeup of all types of vehicles, and shooting them to see what stops or deviates rounds. What he’s looking for are trends, or statistical probabilities. The class opened with the following information:
· 60% of law enforcement shootings occur in / around vehicles
· Engagements last an average time of 8-10 seconds
· Engagements are generally high intensity and characterized by sudden violence at close range
As this was an instructor level class, we spent time discussing Petty’s principles of VCQB and how to apply them when building our own lesson plans. New information is coming out constantly, so a formula for analyzing videos for content is important. Who wins the fight isn’t important; the video will show the movement of the combatants, vehicle placement, engagement distance, and tactics. With a wide sampling between civilian and law enforcement shootings, patterns of behavior begin to emerge.
The next logical step is to develop tactics that work when opposed. My academy training in felony vehicle stops consisted of kneeling in the V of the driver’s door and directing the suspects out of the car and into a position between two patrol vehicles. That creates a number of safety concerns: handcuffing officer in a narrow lane between two vehicles, crossfire, and lack of good cover / mobility for the officers on overwatch. Those tactics were developed for who are already listening to and obeying an officer’s commands, not the guy who is going to resist with violence.
We also discussed the physical structure of vehicles. Topics included side laminate glass and how it behaves, how to stack pillars and points of cover between you and the threat, and times when it is better to crowd cover or work away from it. Distance, elevation, terrain, number of suspects, and a host of other factors defied the creation of any absolute rules. Everyone at the class was a high level shooter, so the content focused on tactics and problem solving under stress, rather than the mechanics of running the guns.
With the morning classroom portion out of the way, we moved on to the flat range. This was standard line-based shooting to shake people out and evaluate / confirm the minimal skill set for the class. We worked long guns and pistols, focusing on safe weapon manipulation in a crowded environment. We also acted as coaches when not shooting. The class was divided into two relays, with half the class performing the shooting tasks while the other half acted as coaches and instructors for the other. If one of the instructors caught a shooter doing something wrong without a coach catching it, they’d correct that issue and highlight what to look for.
Day 1 ended with a ballistics demonstration. We shot cars of various types and sizes in a variety of places. We shot them with pistols, rifles, shotguns, and looked for trends. Some rounds stopped, some changed course, and some went through. The takeaway from this was that bullets could never be expected to behave in a certain way, but it was always better to get some hard points between you and incoming fire. Stacking hard points between you and the threat provided multiple overlapping areas of protection that could slow or deviate the path of incoming fire.
That concept seems to be a major point of contention with instructors who are critical of Petty’s program. I’ve attended a number of vehicle classes where the tactics involve standing in the center of a window or away from the vehicle. The reasons for this range from “the car isn’t cover” to “the vehicle is the X, so you need to get off of it”. In those schools, the reasoning is that since the vehicle is not providing a 100% chance of stopping a round, it’s not useful or worth incorporating into tactics. That logic has the student abandon the vehicle completely and just slug it out in open ground. Often, these classes are filled with stories of .50 caliber engagements overseas and full auto fire, which isn’t something typical of state-side engagements involving domestic law enforcement or lawfully armed civilians.
Having attended multiple ballistics demonstrations conducted by Will and Chase, nothing is certain when you’re shooting into or around a vehicle. I’ve seen the B-pillars of different vehicles stop between 12 and 97 rounds of .223 caliber ball ammunition fired into the same spot. Petty’s concept is that the car doesn’t actually need to stop the rounds at all; the car needs to prevent the rounds from hitting you. It’s great if the bullets stop in the car, but if they don’t, missing you because they change direction when they encounter the surfaces of the vehicle is also an acceptable outcome.
When you look at the total width of the B-pillars (between front and rear passenger seats), the total width is often between 8 to 12 inches. That’s the width of a ballistic plate and runs from the floor of the vehicle to the roof. By working angles and stacking multiple pillars between you and the threat, you increase your area of coverage. Working the car in this way requires the shooter to conform to the cover, rather than finding cover that supports their shooting stance. This means that you need to conform to the cover, so you may find yourself in a non-traditional stance, leaning, or squatting. Until .50 caliber engagements become commonplace, these tactics are excellent.
Another theme of fighting around vehicles is rapid movement and constantly working towards a better position. Again, these confrontations are violent, close range, and high intensity. The bad guy tends to shoot where he thinks you are. Moving away from that point and taking the initiative gives you an advantage – a concept that held true when we fought each other around vehicles using marking rounds towards the end of the class.
With the ballistics demo complete, Day 1 was over. Everyone went to clean up. Some of us headed out to dinner together with Will, Chase, and John. It was a solid day. As we were leaving, Will made some offhand comment that it wouldn’t dare rain on us.
Of course it rained. It rained a lot. The fact that the range had been freshly bulldozed two days prior to the class and was made up of red Georgia clay and sand was pretty important at this point. For the next three days, we ended up working in four or five inches of soupy, watery, sandy mess. I can honestly say I’ve never encountered worse range conditions in 20 years of shooting. This was the first time I’ve ever brought myself to submerge firearms in a bathtub to remove dirt and debris. At some point on the second day, we began dunking our pistols and magazines in a bucket that was set up on the range. We found that guns with stock parts performed much better than guns with competition parts installed.
Day 2 was pretty horrible, truth told. It alternated between cold and rainy and hot with humidity. The mud was everywhere. Throughout it all, some sort of mutant super-gnats continued to bite. This is usually the type of environment that can bog down a course if the students start complaining, but that never happened. Will was the first person to get into the mud on every demo. Puddle of soupy water behind the vehicle? He’d dive in and demo it without a hitch. The instructors’ dedication to modeling their program meant that nobody got off task or sideways because of the range conditions. I’ve been to many classes where that hasn’t occurred. I’m still highly impressed with the attitudes of everyone who was involved in the instruction.
We worked with our pistols and rifles for two days in those conditions. We shot from within and around vehicles placed at different angles, incorporating movement drills individually and then again in pairs. Each exercise increased the complexity and required application of the previous skill sets. Muzzle discipline and awareness was crucial. We used both temple index and Sul around the vehicle as it became appropriate. When working in teams muzzle orientation needs to take into account your partner’s position and height. The retention position is based on the safest position, which can change between up, down, and towards the threat rapidly.
On Day 3, we had a tour of the Daniel Defense facility (awesome) and some additional classroom material / video review before heading back out to the range at 1:00. We worked for the early portions of the day, and then went into Low Light content.
The Low Light content well structured. A quick range hack of putting glow sticks on the chest and back of each shooter to mark their position helped manage the range and allowed the coaches to keep track of everyone in the dark. The tactics covered in the previous two days were harder when working with hand-held and weapon mounted lights, so things slowed down. Communication became more important because you couldn’t verify what your partner was doing or the state of his weapons by sight. None of the SureFire gear malfunctioned on me, though my Streamlight backup light chose that moment and environment to fail.
Day 4 was somewhat more dry, so we only had to skirt some puddles and deep spots. We did more work in the morning, and then began running through Petty’s “Alphabet Soup” drill. This drill involves a high number of targets placed around a vehicle. Some targets are only visible from specific parts of the car, which means that you need to move around and search for your threat. The student is given a threat stimulus, searches for the target, and tries to get shots off quickly. If you take too long, a new threat is given and you start the process all over again. Throughout it all, you’re using cover and moving between various positions as needed to engage the target.
A criticism brought up by another instructor in reference to “Alphabet Soup” is that it seems like needless and silly up and down around the vehicle. Specifically, going prone and losing mobility is a horrible idea. Very rarely have the people complaining actually heard the explanation of the drill. Petty himself says that going prone is a bad idea. The purpose of the exercise isn’t to make you get in those positions; it’s to cultivate the ability to engage targets from any angle. Documented cases exist where officers have been shot, fallen to the ground, and then have stood up prior to engaging the bad guy. When asked why they didn’t engage from the ground, they answered that they hadn’t trained that way and didn’t know they could. “Alphabet Soup” is about dynamic motion and working the gun from positions of necessity versus positions of advantage. Stand up when possible. Crouch or kneel when necessary. Shoot from the ground if you get knocked there and it’s appropriate. Try not to do it for the first time when it’s a real gunfight.
The final part of Day 4 was a VCQB force-on-force contest. One student began at the front driver’s side wheel while another began at the rear passenger side wheel. You were given a rifle loaded with 10 FX rounds (high speed SIMs). On the command, the goal was to shoot your opponent before he shot you, using the vehicle for cover and moving as necessary. The fact that we were only a few yards apart meant that you knew when you’d gotten hit. It was a single-elimination process, with the winner of the contest moving on until he was beaten. Once we’d all gone through, the three of us with the highest wins faced off. Sadly, I didn’t take the day, but I was at least bested by my friend Matt. The three of us at the top all received Scout lights, courtesy of SureFire and Ballistic Radio.
From there, it was an after-action discussion and certificates. We cleaned up as best we could before loading all our gear. During this time, Candice Horner of Breach-Bang-Clear was getting interviews in with the students. She’d been out on the range with us throughout the class, taking pictures and taking it all in. Candice had already been through the class as a student, and wrote an excellent article that you can read here. I’ve borrowed some of her pictures for this review. My iPhone was nowhere near this mess, so I've had to beg, borrow, and steal pics.
Not everyone has vehicles to shoot up. I’m pretty fortunate that I have a nearly limitless supply of vehicles to run this type of training at my range. That has allowed me to start working this type of material into agency training when I’m not hosting Chase and Will.
The concepts of VQCB are simple. Move, shoot accurately, stack cover, take the initiative. Like any other skill, fighting around a car needs to be practiced. The Patrol Vehicle CQB Instructor is an excellent package to bring this to an agency or a trainer. You leave with Will’s lesson plan, his multi-media and videos, his cell phone number, and a support group of like-minded instructors. It’s all wrapped up in a pretty package on a thumb drive for you to get this information out to the people who need it. You also leave with options for scaling this training to your resources for live fire or force-on-force.
More than anything else, I enjoy training with a variety of people because it exposes me to new ideas. I haven’t spent thousands of hours reviewing video and shooting cars, but I’ve got a turn-key system for getting great information out to my people now. It also gave me more tools for looking at videos and reviewing shooting data, which will benefit future lesson design and training that I conduct.
A big thanks to Will, John Johnston, Chase Jenkins, Daniel Defense, Candice Horner, and everyone else who was involved in the project. I met an excellent group of people and gained a bunch of information.
For more about Will, you can visit his website at www.centrifugetraining.com.
I may or may not also own the rights to www.willpettysmom.com if you’d like to do some marketing or work a trade.