Every airsofter has thought about it at some point. Whether it’s prompted by seeing it in a video game like Call of Duty’s riot shield or Rainbow 6 Siege’s Blitz and Montagne; The breach scene in the recent film Triple 9; or simply thought about the idea naturally. Every airsofter has considered the feasibility of using a riot shield / ballistic shield (we are aware of the difference) for an airsoft game, particularly if you play in an urban CQC environment.
However, if you’re a player (like most of us are) that likes to consider whether it’s something that’s ‘fair’ and within the spirit of the game, then you might have thought against it. Perhaps it seems a little bit over-powered if the team has no way of countering it.
Should they be allowed?
The primary question to ask here is should they be allowed? Could they be modified to be a more balanced part of the game?
Let’s break the riot-shield down into its core purpose. The idea of a riot shield is to protect the user from incoming fire and provide moveable cover in order to advance against the enemy position. It’s job is to provide an unfair advantage against the enemy. Would it be fun to use? Absolutely. In a similar way to how a full-sized airsoft M1 Abrams would be “great fun”, it would dominate the enemy and ultimately defeat the objective of “fair and balanced play”.
The purpose of a ballistic shield is to give an unfair advantage. It makes the user impervious to front attack. Airsoft versions of weapons such as the CornerShot are equally unfair and are therefore frowned upon or not allowed in airsoft.
However, riot shields are only unfair because they’re so un-used on the airsoft field. If airsofters began to use them, the enemy might begin carrying weapons that can counter the use of a ballistic or riot shield (just as how real conflict develops). If you knew, as an airsoft player, that the enemy had a shield at their disposal, you might begin to carry more grenades, trip-wire mines, claymores and you might begin planning with your team to flank and distract to remove the threat. As the range of airsoft gun’s increased, so too did the opposing team’s; as cqc airsoft became popular, so did airsoft shotguns. The players adapt and overcome.
How can we make it fair?
The negatives of a real ballistic shield do not carry across into the airsoft realm. A real shield needs to be bullet resistant, meaning it’s a heavy plate of steel and thick anti-spalling, and even then it’s not impervious to all calibres and sustained fire. The weight of the material means that a 2m tall by 1m wide shield is not practical to be transported by a single operator, so the shield is small enough (and light enough) to protect only the torso and upper legs.
An airsoft shield is only hit by light impacts of BBs up to a few joules. Realistically, the shield could be constructed of a few mm of polycarbonate. The material is therefore light enough to be able to cover the entire body, with only a small amount of weight to carry. The result is a shield that is light enough to cover the entire body and made of a material that offers greater visibility than solid steel (without the dangers of a window).
A method of countering this is to restrict shields to be realistic representations of ballistic shields. A shield should be of comparable dimensions to the real thing (100cm by 50cm) and be opaque. Should a window in the shield be needed for visibility, it should only be of limited size, reflecting real ballistic shields.
The danger then presents itself of your airsoft site opening up on a Sunday morning and facing 30 players each with their own ballistic shield.
Perhaps the simplest option is to only allow ballistic shields to be ‘issued’ to players by the game site (perhaps as a rental item). This allows the site to limit and distribute the asset in the teams and perhaps use it to balance teams that might be weaker than the other or as a reward to capturing an objective.