With the price of ammunition rising steadily over the years, many sport and hobbyist shooters are turning to airsoft counterparts of their firearms for realistic training at a fraction of the cost. They are joining military and police who have trained with these for years.
In shooting for competition (IPSC, IDPA, three gun, et. al) or practicing for self-preservation, the act of actually placing rounds on target only cumulates in, rather than consists entirely of, putting round on target.
Think about it. Basic marksmanship takes a number of things to accomplish the final act of putting projectile on target. This involves correct stance, grip, sight alignment, trigger control, and follow through, all performed as flawlessly as possible, to align the muzzle of the gun with the intended target.
To practice these steps without spending a fortune in ammunition, a competitive shooter or gun owner can perform these 'dry,' in other words with an unloaded firearm or one loaded with snap caps or laser cartridge inserts. However, this is risky as the firearm is still a firearm and, in the interest of safety, should be treated as a loaded weapon at all times.
This is where airsoft comes in.
Realistic training via plastic BBs
As discussed above, the marksmanship fundamentals of real steal and airsoft are the same. Whether that projectile is a plastic BB or a 9mm hunk of lead is regardless, the act that got it there is identical. With today's companion airsoft guns, especially those with Automatic Electric Guns (AEG) or GBB features, you can have a near 100 percent copy of your duty or personal firearm, except in a safer format.
A 'real steel' SIG Sauer P-226R, bottom with Hogue wrap around grips, compared to its Airsoft companion, top. Photo by Calguns.
Two AR-15 style platforms, the bottom airsoft, the top actual. Photo by AR-15.com
A KFDM news story from 2013 about Beaumont Police Department officers using Airsoft (and Simunition) guns for training. (Note- don't try this at home kids!)
Picking up on this trend, companies like Airsoft Atlanta even bill themselves as "one of the premier suppliers of quality airsoft guns and equipment for law enforcement (LE/Mil/Government) training purposes," stating that they have "dealt with many federal, state, and local agencies over the years."
Nevertheless, its not only military and police that are using airsoft, but also competition and self-defense shooters. By utilizing a companion airsoft gun, which costs much less than a Simunitions gun and has far more utility than a solid Blue Gun, a civilian sportsman (or woman) can practice and build up muscle memory, trigger reset points (which are often very similar), close-range accuracy to include proper trigger squeeze and sight alignment, and tactical and emergency magazine exchanges.
There is also perhaps no better and safer way to practice holstering/drawing/reholstering and gun presentation on target using proper grip and trigger discipline than with an appropriately matched airsoft pistol.
DoctorMilsim takes a look at Gas Pistol IDPA drills
With such functionality, it's easy to see why airsoft has, and will likely continue to be used by those both in the as/milsim community, and by those on the front lines.