Scale Models for structure study in military and law enforcement Training

By Sarah Hartshorn, exclusively for Model Making Knowledge Base

This article is a sole intellectual property of Gamla Originals, Inc. DBA Gamla Model Makers and therefore cannot be copied, printed and published without expressed writing permission from the owner.


Most scale models used in military and law enforcement training initiatives are highly classified. Despite their enigmatic nature, there is a significant need within the marketplace to supply these replicas for various training protocols. Typically, data pertaining to the construction of scale models for structure study is restricted due to the amount of intelligence involved. Top secret details and sensitive compartmented information is limited to parties who have passed background investigations and other screenings to ensure the integrity of the project is preserved.

With the advent of special operations, rescue operations and law enforcement assault teams, their strategic outcome planning is primarily achieved by incorporating scale models into their training directives. The result is a comprehensive approach to training that gives these specialty units the competitive edge required to reach their mission objectives.

Historically, structure's scale models were widely used during World War II (WWII). The British spent a great deal of time studying, analyzing and planning battle strategies with highly-detailed scale models. Elaborate dioramas that featured entire towns, villages and landscape were built with the intent to formulate actual attack agendas. However, the British were also using the models as subterfuge for secondary stratagem to throw-off the enemy.

Unbeknown to the Germans, the British camouflaged their true objectives by implementing phony structures and buildings that were openly exposed to enemy fire and bombardment. Designing structure study models with bogus elements allowed the British to understand how a threatened location or area would appear to German pilots during potential air strikes. To further enhance their models purpose, the British observed the model layout with authentic German bombsights, as well as submarine periscopes for the models of these objects that were openly exposed to the sea.

As structure's models are developed for military and law enforcement groups, they can be incorporated into larger scale terrain models, which are vital to conveying movement and mobility options available during tactical missions. In essence, the combination of a structures and terrain model provides a cohesive and detailed visual that enables special units to focus on relevant situational aspects. Additionally, such models can be used as setting to place replicas of vehicles and aircraft for advanced combat identification and recognition training.

Models provide an overview of a specific location, including the anatomy of buildings and other structures encountered within the designated landscape. By knowing the precise position of each building, its entrances and exits and the fortification options that they offer, military and law enforcement teams are given the insight needed for effective and strategic planning. These models can be utilized for offensive and defensive education measures.

For instance, the nation’s first law enforcement assault team was established by the Los Angeles Police Department in 1968. The creation of this specialized unit was twofold: to respond to a four-hour confrontation against the Black Panthers and to manage critical situations involving shootings while minimizing casualties
1. As this team evolved, it eventually gained universal acceptance both domestically and globally as a central division for law enforcement departments.

Law enforcement assault teams have effectively utilized structure's scale models in a variety of training instances such as hostage rescue, riot control, high-risk warrants, drug raids and perimeter security for dignitaries and special projects. Rigorous training methods coupled with structure scale models makes it easier to execute offensive strategies and contingency plans that otherwise would not be possible.

Similarly, armed forces special operations routinely practice defensive training maneuvers with structure's scale models. They have employed scale models for reconnaissance/military intelligence, unconventional warfare, and counter-terrorism actions.

Because special operations units are typically carrying their missions behind enemy lines, being aware of surroundings is imperative for survival. Having scale models of a target site based on satellite imagery and other available intelligence gives tactical units a realistic perspective for planning routes, conquering obstacles, navigating through the site and assessing enemy capability. Defensive techniques are greatly improved upon through consistent and ongoing training with structure scale models.

Structure scale models normally begin at 1:500 scale and increase in size from there. There are two types of large scale models that are mainly used for general study and training and for actual special operations and rescue operations planning.

Scale models for general study and training are more commonly used for military and law enforcement training in close combat situations found in urban environments. Imaginary structures and buildings in a realistically built setting create a backdrop that is most similar to what would be encountered in action. Modeled structures feature detailed internal and external layouts from entrances and exits to the size of each window. Furthermore, the structure scale models can be designed to reflect how solid a building’s wall is, what type of cover it can provide and what the wall’s sustainability level is regarding types of ammunition used by both, friend and enemy.

The most suitable scales for this type of models are 1:50, 1:43, 1:35 or 1:24. Often, these models may be produced in even larger scale, such as 1:10 or 1:12.
Sometimes the layouts of a target site are being built in life-size. Such set is not associated with scale model making by definition, however, model makers are often involved in building life-size sets, providing props. Although, no doubt, actual size sites are the most effective from training point of view, erecting them significantly more costly and takes more time and space.

Regardless of its size, a model can be enriched with off-shelf people figurines, replicas of automobiles, vegetation and other relevant accessories such as furniture, park benches and trash cans.


"The New Hampshire Police Academy is one of several that has acquired a portable, scale-model mock-up of a typical community. The academy takes the model around the state, giving law enforcement officers, firefighters, public works officials, and others the opportunity to participate in a range of scenarios involving natural disasters and terrorist acts as a means of practicing the unified command principles of the Incident Command System (ICS) and the National Incident Management System (NIMS)..."

From FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, September 2005, Volume 743

Scale models for special operations and rescue operations planning replicate an actual target site complete with all key features and landmarks based on gathered intelligence. Similar to the model for general study and training, this version also contains characteristics that are mandatory for mission success, like entrances, exits, windows and interior and exterior features. What makes these components unique is that they are built as direct representations from factual images and data rather than simulation.

These models offer operation teams a variety of different combat strategies such as: deployment, advancement, regroup and exit options. Normally, this type of model is fabricated under secluded and privileged conditions and in a limited amount of time. Details are critical during construction because once training concludes, teams need to recognize markers, or vital attributes in their surroundings, in order to navigate through the site while under extreme stress or duress. In other words, training with detailed scale models can prevent unnecessary casualties and achieve mission objectives.

Scale models of both types can by studied and observed to gain a clear perspective of an entire area, evaluate the relationships and distances between different features and determine the most efficient routes and angle of fire.

Additionally, the models can be viewed with an urbanscope – a small apparatus similar to an upside down periscope – that immerses the trainee in the model. This enables trainees to see and memorize details as they will se it in action, orient themselves with their settings, and ultimately, saving lives. The urbanscope allows photo or video cameras to be attached to it to capture image stills and motion tours.

Scale models are invaluable training devices that deliver the most realistic context available for any given location, setting or environment. They are not prone to malfunction, they don’t require software upgrades, they aren’t subject to power outages or mechanical failure and they not operationally complex or limiting. The simplicity of a scale model does not necessitate learning a computer interface or new software and it’s vision-friendly, especially when used with an urbanscope.

Comparatively, technological alternatives of traditional scale models are extremely expensive to produce.
Unlike television characters Abby Sciuto, from TV drama NCIS, or Angela Montenegro, from Bones, creation of detailed and accurate 3D digital simulations require more than just a snap of pretty fingers. It takes a team of highly-trained professionals, substantial time and funds. Digital simulations are inclined to malfunctions and computer viruses, not to mention that digital information is vulnerable and may be hacked, which will compromise the whole operation and lives of team members. Digital models are at a much greater risk for complications because of the equipment needed to assemble, install, operate and maintain the system. Subsequently, this results in heavy costs that can severely impact department budgets and cause unforeseen obstructions to training schedules due to technology system defects.

Military and law enforcement benefit from training with scale model for structure study, but so do other occupational industries like security and administration of hotels, resorts and amusement parks, among others. Scale modes of single buildings and entire sites can be used to plan for fire escape routes, actions in case of natural disasters, hostage situations and many other crisis scenarios.

The features and benefits of such scale models can be seen throughout history and in today’s modern world. Many successful military and law enforcement operations can be directly attributed to the training with scale models. Overall, they’re a tried and true aid that should be considered first and foremost for training purposes.



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