How much can technology impact the airsoft battlefield? As a sniper, it has always been important to observe opponents, their kit and capabilities. For many years I’ve sat there with my bolt action looking at all the other players and their ever evolving kits, and never really put much thought into adding much more to my own kit. But is it time to consider some changes before I end up a bit out of date?
This blog came about during a conversation with another sniper about drones, which have been threatening to appear but as of yet, are still in limited use largely by photographers. Sure, we’ve all played computer games where we can deploy drones to scan the battlefield for enemy positions and incoming threats. There’s always the potential for pyro or ordnance delivery too. It’s not a bad idea, but is it a realistic one?
First and foremost, cost is definitely a factor, although some drones with cameras now can cost about as much as a couple of bags of heavyweight ammo, and are able to deliver 4K resolution in real time to a phone screen. The one I’m currently looking at while writing can be automatically recalled which is excellent, and comes with three batteries. However, batteries remain an issue, giving between 5-10 minutes flight time, which isn’t a lot. They’re also noisy (there’s no way the enemy won’t notice it and if it comes back to you, you’ve pretty much given yourself away), and there’s also that nagging threat of being shot down in a hail of bb’s by some amateur film maker looking for content. Still, as a reconnaissance tool in larger games played by more mature players, it’s an appealing addition to the backpack because it can quickly get to places you can’t, without risking getting hit yourself. Pyro and ordnance (bb’s) being dropped from the sky is a lot more difficult, and there would be an argument that if it’s an incoming threat, you should have a means to defeat it, so it’s probably unlikely as entertaining an idea as it is. Like most things in life at the moment, battery technology just isn’t quite there yet but once batteries evolve enough to give an hour’s flight time, drones might start becoming more common.
Another thing I’ve started seeing a bit more often too is the fold out molle tablet mount (iPads, not ibuprofen) which some players have hanging off the front of plate carriers. These are being seen more commonly now by militaries globally and are a core component of the more digital, integrated battlefield. Soldiers rely on data more than ever before now, and if they have it, airsofters will want it. Ideal for mapping the site and making notes, there are apps available that can help you coordinate your squad, adding markers and objectives across the map for all to see. The plastic case keeps your tablet pretty safe by keeping it close to your vest until you want to flip it down to have a look. I would imagine too it could be used to set up all your cameras, but that’s not something I’d know much about. You could also hook up Spotify if you felt the need to or order pizza to the site as well. Phones and tablets are almost essential to modern life now and if nothing else, the molle tablet mount is a good way to keep it safe while still having it available when you need it.
Also on the mapping front is GPS, if you need to be very precise on your location. Knowing where you are, where you need to be and where your objectives are makes all the difference in a game. And I thought I was pretty modern with a paper map in an arm panel…
Cameras, again I’ve ranted about on several blogs now but there is a culture of “film” making in airsoft so it’s an unavoidable one to bring up. There are a lot of different cameras on the market and a lot of ways to wire them up to batteries to capture all the action. One of the more interesting solutions I saw recently at a gun show was from a company called AimCam, who make glasses-mounted cameras which seem much tidier and capture a better angle than sitting on the head. The glasses are ballistic rated and suitable for airsoft too. All the battery and sim card bits sit in the frames, and the camera can be positioned above either eye for looking down optics. A battery pack can be added for a full days filming. Despite my disdain for cameras, I did try some on and they’re a lot easier than having straps wrapped round your head or kit for other cameras, so I will give them a thumbs up.
You can grab some here (or have a closer look), and if you want 10% off, use the code STIPSNIPER.
For snipers, yes shiny lenses but GSG had to get herself a pair to try out and they’ve been sent to mesh lense maestro Heroshark here in the UK to get that camouflage treatment, which gives you eye pro with everything. Considering the price of an actual GoPro, these look a pretty good alternative.
Night vision is another piece of technology that is really starting to catch on, and it’s something I’ve touched on before. It is still expensive, although there are cheaper versions becoming available for the hunting market. Realistically, most players will only play skirmish games during the daytime so it isn’t essential, and if you do find yourself at a night game, don’t be afraid to just use a torch. As one guy at a milsim last year shouted to our team, “what difference is it going to make, they’ve all got night vision so they can see you anyway; light them up!”. Being able to see when others can’t is obviously a huge advantage but in some countries you can buy a car or even a cheap house for the price of some night vision setups, so that’s on you.
It might not be long before we see glasses with built in HUD’s, able to overlay and track targets, possibly even able to add thermal imaging in too, almost turning airsoft into a computer game that just hurts more. Electric heated suits for the colder weather – I read recently that the US army is developing wrist warmers that would heat the blood going to the hands, to be able to do away with gloves. There’s a lot in development in the real world and although we won’t yet know what, airsoft will never be far behind.
So what will I be doing with my own kit?
I’ll still be sitting there with just my bolt action. And an old one at that – my VSR. Watching everyone else tinkering with batteries, wires and buttons.
Why? I’ve said to a few people recently that my aim one day is to do a big, multi-day event somewhere. The core principle of all of my kit is to be able to go out and stay out for days on end, which (Dan, Andy) is why I won’t switch to HPA or gas. I don’t want to have to worry about refills or batteries or anything like that when my spring rifle, which shoots as well as if not better, will simply run and run in all weather conditions without me having to carry anything extra to keep it running. The same I guess goes for technology – the more you have and the more you use it, the more you rely on it. Which was a conversation I had with a friend who was recently doing the British Army’s advanced infantry training with all the shiny new gadgets. What happens if something breaks? Or runs out of battery? No way you’d be able to attempt to fix circuit boards in the field or find a tree with a plug socket in. That’s why I carry paper maps and a compass, and the only thing powered is a pocket torch. I’ve no need to be weighted down with cameras because it impairs my game, or to have to take my eyes off targets to look at screens and buttons.
Airsoft remains a game on fairly small sites where we have to put a bb in someone before they do it to us. On a lot of sites, maps arent even necessary once you have the site figured out, and most maps won’t show the terrain accurately anyway (if it’s your local, worth making your own map up as you visit). Yes, some milsims are pretty big and they’re a great way to show off all your toys, but they’re not necessarily an advantage. Indeed, the amount of time I’ve seen people swearing at things that aren’t working or are trying to set them up properly, an excess of tech can be a hindrance. Tech will never be a substitute for properly trained skills, and the old basic methods are worth learning as a backup to the tech anyway.
Pen and paper and I’m good, thanks.