XCALIBR – Through Life Instrumented Live Fire Training


Following successful delivery of the Smartshooter Intelligent Enhancement Trainer (SiET) project in conjunction with the Royal Marines and supported by Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA) funding, Cervus Defence and Security Limited (Cervus) were awarded a 12-month demonstration contract at the Infantry Training Centre Catterick for SiET’s successor – XCALIBR. This is part of a wider campaign to go after the gaps, to go after the difficult to measure areas of operational performance pursued by Cervus.  And in this case, this has seen a prototype capability evolve from a Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 7 to TRL 9, an actual system proven through deployment and use in the hands of British Army infantry recruits.


The XCALIBR System

01. Problem

Soldiers and instructors are inundated with opinions and data, from multiple sources and streams, displayed in a range of mediums: hit data on a paper target or sometimes from an interactive screen; wind speed and direction identified by the range flags; air temp by the soldier feeling hot or cold on the range; and in principle a paper record in a notebook of what they have done before. The list goes on. The problem – none of it is in one place, difficult to review on the firing line and little if any of it is consistently recorded, and yet all of it is valuable when training to shoot.

The added issues facing soldiers, instructors, units, and training organisations, is that nowadays range time is precious. Budgets are pressured which may mean less money for ammunition and pressure to achieve the same level of competence with even less resources. In short – soldiers now need to improve quicker, with less practice.

And what’s so wrong with the role of coaches and instructors when it has served us so well for so long?

What’s so wrong with subjective feedback?

XCALIBR Capability Manager – Phil Craigie, explains:

“Some years ago, further back than I care to admit, I was operating in a team deep in the jungle of Brunei practicing live fire break contact drills. For a bit more complexity they were throwing in man down drills, just to add to the discomfort of working in a hot humid jungle. We had been practicing hard, the team was well rehearsed, and we thought our drills were at the standard required…. Well on this one range the ‘DS’ thought otherwise – “That is the worst break contact I have ever seen” was shouted at us. We were pretty ‘threaders’ as we had put our all into it. “In fact, you were so bad you can patrol straight to the other range and go through again – you obviously need the practice”. We had been looking forward to a break but duly patrolled over to the second lane to conduct another break contact.

20 minutes later, with the range complete we awaited our feedback. “That’s the best break contact I have seen this course” the Range Conducting Officer told us. We were relieved that the feedback was positive – a rarity on the course we were on.

We were also a bit miffed…. We hadn’t done anything different. We had put our all into both lanes, the only difference was the instructor. Subjective feedback is in the eye of the beholder – and when it contrasts so massively it can suck!”

02. Approach

The ITC XCALIBR project started with two main aims:

  • Develop the concept. The SiET project resulted in a proto-XCALIBR product reaching TRL 7.  The XCALIBR British Army project developed the XCALIBR system from TRL 7 to TRL 9 (Production standard).
  • Demonstrate impact. Study the impact of data analytics on the individual and collective performance of soldiers undertaking initial combat infantry training.

The project consisted of 9 work packages over a 12-month period to progressively develop and deliver XCALIBR to support 3 recruit platoons on successive Infantry Training Centre (ITC) intakes.  A project design was developed to exploit historical data on Annual Combat Marksmanship Tests (ACMT) at ITC and conduct some sampling of control groups during the Live Fire Tactical Training (LFTT) component.  An enduring design limitation throughout was the need to operate unobtrusively within the existing ITC programme which meant there was limited control over LFTT conduct variables.

What is XCALIBR?

XCALIBR is an open architecture system using a mixture of Commercial of the Shelf (COTS) capabilities such as MantisX and used an evolve to open approach to leverage existing MOD targetry infrastructure to provide through life individual and collective performance live and post event feedback throughout all stage of marksmanship training. 

XCALIBR captures all the data feeds and puts them in one place for the firer, instructor and chain of command to access. They have a digital shooting record book, following the firer throughout their career, that cannot be lost in a repack box or turned into mash on a wet range day. A digital shooting record that is rich in accurate data.

XCALIBR empowers the soldier by providing their marksmanship data for Dry Fire training, Live Fire Marksmanship Training (LFMT), Blank Fire Tactical Exercises and Live Fire Tactical Training (LFTT). No longer do they have to wait to be shown how they performed by the instructor, receiving a fleeting glimpse of the screen displaying their hits on target. The soldier owns their own data, they can review it, understand it and ultimately use it to get better quicker.

Simplicity in operating XCALIBR is key. The system was designed with the user in mind; both the operator and the firer. Training the firer takes approximately 10 minutes – they log in to the shooter app on their ruggedised android device using their service number, connect the MantisX and shoot. Reviewing their performance is all done through the feedback within the shooter app. Operating the system is also simple. The Training Manager App enables the instructor to build events, add participants, build details and conduct training. No requirement for contracted support.

XCALIBR was deployed in 2 formats; a local Wi-Fi configuration that can be used anywhere, but has limited live feed capability during LFTT and a 4G set up that provides real time data review for LFMT and LFTT. Dependent on the customer requirements a private 4G LTE network can be used, providing large area connectivity with minimal infrastructure.

03. Relevance

XCALIBR brings marksmanship training into the 21st century. Exploiting the data captured through legacy target systems and introducing new data captured by MantisX and a locally deployed weather station, the firer and instructor can review performance and identify faults earlier, rectifying issues quicker, and achieve the standard faster.

The individual feedback is easy to access, simple to understand and can be tailored to the user group.

Live Fire Tactical Training, which has previously been inaccessible to performance measurement, can now be analysed in detail, comparing attacks to determine which team performed better, which individual within teams, and do so with detailed objective measurements.

XCALIBR introduces the potential to have standards associated with tactical training, with performance metrics reviewed and scrutinised to maximise a team’s performance.

XCALIBR adds to the instructors’ ability to provide detailed objective feedback, on top of the usual subjective ‘Great weight of fire and you zigged and zagged’!

An unexpected opportunity of the XCALIBR project was deploying the system on Exercise Cambrian Patrol instrumenting blank fire section attacks. Although not capturing hit data, XCALIBR measures the marksmanship score, provides suppression metrics and fire & manoeuvre metrics. With a model developed from the data captured at ITC Catterick we can give an indication of hit probability (P-Hit) and Hit Potential (P(Hit) multiplied by rounds fired. Suddenly soldiers need to apply marksmanship even when blank firing, further reinforcing good behaviour when shooting a weapon. Although not providing the weapon effect that TES does, it does offer a significant increase in feedback and collective After Action Review value with little effort (time to deploy a platoon is about 10 minutes) and minimal equipment carried by the firer.

04. Conclusion

XCALIBR offers a Evolve-to-open design approach which maximises existing infrastructure, opens up that infrastructure to be more exploitable and more modular, whilst benefiting from the huge cost benefits of integrating COTS components.  Furthermore, it offers a clear pathway towards embedded training systems once fully digital soldier systems are ubiquitous. XCALIBR offers an immediate step change in marksmanship training by maximising the use and exploitation of the realms of data captured by legacy and novel capture systems. It not only generates descriptive metrics, but also diagnostic and ultimately predictive metrics.  It also creates a marksmanship continuum, in which much more informed decisions will be possible in the future on where to invest and disinvest in marksmanship practices and environments in order to achieve the most optimal performance outcomes.  And it ultimately matters less where the data comes from – the key to benefitting from it is to get it to the frontline user so they can access, understand and learn from it. We highlight 6 key findings:

  • MantisX has proven itself to be a powerful catalyst and surrogate for marksmanship performance. MantisX marksmanship scores at ITC correlate to the hit success of the firer, regardless of fire position. The higher the marksmanship score, the higher probability of hitting the target which becomes increasingly important the further the distance is to the target.  
  • The first-time pass rate for the culminating ACMT was nearly twice as good for those platoons supported by XCALIBR in contrast to a Control group. Substantially higher first-time pass rate at the 200m and 300m practices are evident with those benefiting from XCALIBR.
  • XCALIBR data demonstrates positive fault resolution trends through LFMT and ACMT, showing clear diagnostic trends by firing position and by shoot.
  • XCALIBR supports significantly enhanced training assurance across LFMT and LFTT providing easily auditable track record through the full extent of marksmanship training.
  • The introduction of OSP 2022 and the reduction of shoots and ammunition used in the training progression prior to the ACMT places a significant premium on improving performance earlier/faster to compensate for the loss of shoots and ammunition.
  • During LFTT, the most demanding of marksmanship environments, shot accuracy comparison between XCALIBR and control samples indicate that the XCALIBR group had a mean distance from the centre of the target 35% better/lower than the control. In addition, analysis of the diagnostic fault metrics shows a significantly smaller number of marksmanship faults for the XCALIBR group then the control group during LFTT. 

Our thanks go to all at ITC Catterick who were involved with the project. The support, help, and encouragement of the experienced instructor teams at ITC Catterick was a critical factor throughout.