U.S. soldier to shoot laser pistol in Olympic pentathlon

It’s Friday and we here at Defense Tech have a case of Olympic fever with the Opening Ceremonies scheduled for this evening in London. In the spirit of the games we felt a Olympic themed post was necessary. But whats there to write about in regards to military tech unless you go down the depressing road of the anti-aircraft systems posted around London for security.

Well, we know for sure that Defense Tech readers appreciate guns and can’t read enough about lasers. So, when we heard the pentathlon traded traditional air pistols for laser pistols, it grabbed our attention. When we found out Army Spc. Dennis Bowsher would be competing, we were hooked.

First, the lasers. The modern pentathlon is made up of five events: pistol shooting, fencing, 200 meter freestyle swimming, show jumping, and a 3 kilometer cross-country run. The Union International de Pentathlon Moderne is the association that governs the sport. Its officials made the controversial decision to move to laser pistols in 2011 because it made the sport safer, allowing athletes to compete in more venues, and reducing the environmental footprint by getting rid of the pellets.

Officials with USA Shooting criticized the ruling saying it was turning the sport into an “arcade game.” Plenty of others questioned how big of a footprint a tiny lead pellet could create, but the decision has been made and they are going forward with the lasers.

From a sport standpoint, pentathletes questioned what would happen if the lasers malfunctioned. How could a judge tell if the gun was broken or the pentathlete was just a bad shot?

BAE Systems worked with the United Kingdom pentathlon team to make sure their laser pistols will be accurate for the Olympics. The defense contractor built a mobile laser pistol evaluation device  called “ULTeMo.” Pentathletes can test their pistols before a competition to ensure they are accurate.

“This test process removes one of the enduring concerns for athletes: that some unseen technical problem may affect their shooting. It means that Britain’s pentathletes are able to enter competitions with full confidence in their equipment,” Jan Bartu, Pentathlon GB’s performance director, told the Engineer, a British magazine.

For the red-blooded Americans out there wondering about the U.S. pentathlon team, Bowsher of Dallas, Texas, will compete for the U.S. men on Aug. 11. Margaux Isaksen of Fayetteville, Ark., and Suzanne Stettinius of Parkton, Md., will compete on Aug. 12 for the women.

Bowsher is a member of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program. In the Beijing Olympics, Air Force reservist Maj. Eli Bremer competed and placed 23rd. Bowsher won a bronze medal in last year’s Pan American Games, but he’s a long shot to win a medal in this year’s Olympics. He’s currently ranked 74th in the world.

“There is a lot of pride. A big thing for me whenever I compete internationally, I’m representing all of the United States, but more importantly, I’m representing everyone who wears this uniform,” Bowsher said in an Army statement.

(Editor’s note: USA! USA! USA!)

About the Author

Michael Hoffman
Michael Hoffman is the executive editor at Tandem NSI and a contributor to Military.com. He can be reached at mhoffman@tandemnsi.com.
  • platypusfriend

    So, the pistols are all accurate. Do all of the target-side detectors have the same standard of accuracy?

  • Joe

    There is just something generally cool about the pentathlon. Might be time for a 21st century pentathlon. Rifle shot, 30 mile road march, 5 mile run, combat water survival swim etc.

    hell just turn the best ranger competition into an olympic sport.

    • blight_

      Or BUDS

    • Chimp

      Or have them go through P Company… puking athletes on TV. What could be better than that?

    • Aaron

      That’s actually exactly the point. The pentathlon is supposed to be a emulation of fighting a war. The idea is that these are all things a soldier might have to do in a day of fighting (at the time the sport was introduced of course).

    • blight_

      Just saw a commercial for “Stars Earn Stripes”


  • tiger

    General Patton would turn over in his grave. Patton, a talented sportsman, finished fifth in the modern pentathlon in the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm. He used a REAL pistol.
    Originally open only to military officers, it was considered a rigorous test of the skills a soldier should possess. Twenty-six year old Patton did remarkably well in the multi-event sport, consisting of pistol shooting from 25 meters, sword fencing, a 300 meter free style swim, 800 meters horse back riding and a 4-kilometer cross country run. He placed fifth overall, despite a disappointing development in the shooting portion. While most chose .22 revolvers, Patton felt the event’s military roots garnered a more appropriate weapon, the .38. During the competition Patton was docked for missing the target, though he contended the lost bullet had simply passed through a large opening created by previous rounds from the .38, which left considerably larger .

    • Josh

      Yeah, 100 years ago buddy. Times change. Get used to it.

    • blight_

      Bring back the joust! Though it speaks volumes that Patton did not opt for /tradition/ when it came to shooting, but what was militarily practical…though the .45 was making its way through the US and Europe had chosen the 9mm.

  • stephen russell

    Next winter sports shooting with Laser rifles, awesome.

    • Randall

      Like the Duck Hunt game from the old Nintendo games systems?

  • Tad

    “…and reducing the environmental footprint by getting rid of the pellets.”

    How wonderfully PC. Pellets harming the environment? This is just a joke. What’s next, special organic bio-degradable styrofoam safety javelins? Sheesh.

    • blight_

      Well, free market did eliminate lawn darts

      • Belesari

        No the government got rid of lawn darts.

        • TLAM Strike

          When they outlaw lawn darts only outlaws will have lawn darts.

          … wow I’m an outlaw, I remember playing with the set my aunt kept after they were banned.

  • Ems

    this is horrible…technology ruins yet another art form (and i like lasers!) the engineers who made those lasers should be ashamed

  • Hunter76

    The laser pistol should have two power modes: low for aiming, high for shooting.

    • TLAM Strike

      “Stun” and “Kill”?

  • Belesari

    The reason they opted for the lasers is because of the bullshit PC ass gun laws in GB and other parts of europe and the world.

    The even should include combat rifles and pistols.

    • elizzar

      You can still own and fire air-weapons in the UK (and shoot bows and crossbows should you fancy!). I believe you have to be 21 or over legally. Rifles and shotguns require a licence, which involves background checks, police checks etc, but it would appear these are not always as rigorous as could be. Our gun laws might be draconian to an non-Brit; some (including myself) would question whether a complete ban on single / semi-automatic handguns went too far following the Dunblane massacre (and of course the criminals still own them); but I completely agree there is no need for the general public owning heavy sniper rifles or automatic weapons / assault weapons for instance. We do have far fewer mass-shooting incidents in this country, but they still occur; two in recent memory were by a recently-released criminal seeking revenge; but the second was by someone with legally held weapons. It’s a tricky one, the balance between protection and individual freedom, and I know it gets very heated in the USA, so I will avoid making any comment on your good selves’ laws. Oh, and chants of UK! UK! UK! just don’t have the same ring, so ‘Come on chaps, jolly good show!’ instead.

      • joe

        Indeed you can legally shoot a longbow. At Scottish people, should you happen to be in York!

        Equally, you will note other shooting events are still using normal firearms.

        The reason they opted for lasers for the pentathlon specifically is that they are less susceptible to inaccuracy from the environment. The pentathlete marksmanship challenge isn’t being a sniper, it’s holding a steady aim with your heart going thudda-thudda-thudda after the other events; with a recoil free laser there is no excuse that inaccuracy is due to anything other than your own failings.

  • Tiger

    What I don’t get is, if the other shooting events are ok; why mess with this?

  • Tad

    I guess I’d feel better about this if they had replaced the air pistols with Star Wars-style blasters.

  • Dirty Harry

    If this picture represents their shooting form, they may as well be throwing footballs through a tire, because they sure don’t know jack about pistols.

    • Treshombres

      Then you should be there competing sport. Show them how it is done.

    • Riceball

      For one thing, it’s probably in the rules that you have to fire one handed, those pistols have ergonomic and probably custom molded grips which probably don’t allow for a very comfortable or good two handed grip anyway. And another thing, there once was a time where people in the military were actually taught to shoot in a similar manner which is probably why they shoot that way.

  • Rick Bunn

    At the games in LA, the US organizers tried to eliminate the shooting events completely. At the last minute, other nation’s teams complained and they had to do a rapid clean up of the range used in the (I THINK) 1938 games.

    My problem is that a lazer has no rcoil, and no ballistic issues and so is not the same test as a firearm, (even a pellet gun).


    • Tiger

      1932 games in LA

  • Matt Holzmann

    In the interest of a truly modern Modern Pentathlon, the PowerPoint presentation with laser has been authorized for the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

  • jsallison

    I’m sorry, but every shooting event should require using the service weapon used by the participating country’s military, over open sights. Or, if your country’s service weapons suck, you have the option of using the host country’s service weapons. Death to Olympic Race Guns!!!

    • Thomas L. Nielsen

      “….every shooting event….” – As in EVERY shooting event? Or just the Olympics? Including if the Olympic shooter is a civilian?

      Methinks you mistake the Olympics for some sort if military competition….

      Regards & all,

      Thomas L. Nielsen

  • jsallison

    Oh, and every participating country should fire the courses using ammo provided by one of the other participating countries. Randomly assigned.

  • foxhole 49

    21st century Olympic? How about the gymnastic athletes tape their performances over a 30 or 60 day period. High speed digital of course. then put together a film clip of their best performances and send them into the judges. That way you eliminate the need for housing and feed the athletes, save the travel money, and in the end, get the best performance of each athlete. Faster, neater, cheaper and the performances can be shown over and over to prove that there were no mistakes.

    Track and field can do the same thing. How many runners have a better time in training than in competition. This way they get to use only their best performance. No need to worry about pressure or nerves, just film clips of the best from the best.

    there are a lot of advantages to going all digital. But it wouldn’t be the Olympics.

  • Mastro

    Well I guess they could have made it worse and replace it with Guitar Hero

  • Phli

    Lasers take most of the skill out of shooting. No effect from gravity, no effect from wind. The sport is taken out of it.

  • Theadore

    Lasers are affected by weather in the form of wind as it blows rain, snow, fog, dust, and smog. My question is; how do you know that you hit your target with your laser? Are they digitally signed or discriminate in some other form. Or can the first laser there shoot for everybody, and do a poor job like badminton?

  • 2WarAbnVet

    Oikophobia has reached the Olympics.

    • blight_

      Fear of household?

      • 2WarAbnVet

        Oops, my mistake. I suppose I was thinking of the sound of swine. It should be Hoplophobia – fear of weapons or armed persons.

  • Chuck

    The primary reason I’d seen given for going to laser in the past wasn’t environmental, it was cost/safety. They don’t use the regular olympic shooting range for the shooting portion of Modern Pentathlon, and its much cheaper to set up a separate range if it doesn’t need the safety elements associated with shooting air pistols.

    Also, they haven’t used regular powder-based guns in Modern Pentathlon for a long time, so everyone can just chill out about gun control, etc.

  • bbb

    If you just use lasers, it’s no longer a shooting competition, it’s just a contest of who has taken the most Diazepam…