Interesting read – see link below. But the key to any form of testing is to train to the point where you can confidently pass the test. The problem with most law enforcement agencies is they do not have sufficient budget for ammunition and payroll to train to the point of proficiency. Some agencies shoot as little as 60 rounds per year which is woefully inadequate.
By Mark V. Lonsdale, STTU
“No matter how long it takes, no matter where we have to look, our United States military will patiently and surely hunt down the murderers and killers and terrorists, and bring them, one by one, to justice.” President George W. Bush – Commander in Chief
Monday, September 10, 2001 had been a crisp, clear day at the USMC Mountain Warfare Training Center (MWTC). It was sunset as I watched 5th Platoon, 1st Force Recon Marines, their faces ominously obscured under layers of green camouflage paint, go through last minute equipment checks, preparing to be inserted into the mountains for a five-day recon-patrol exercise. MBITRs (multi-band inter/intra-team radios) frequencies had been set and tested; sat-com radios were safely stowed in already bulging rucksacks; PVS-17 night sights were clamped to M-4 carbines and SAWS (squad automatic weapons); and all loose straps were neatly taped and stowed.
Captain Fiscus and Gunny Blakey moved amongst the group checking equipment, quietly asking questions and giving encouragement. It was essential that every man understood the mission and knew his specific tasks.
The planned airborne parachute insertion had been aborted an hour earlier when the CH-53 troop-carrying helicopters could not make the pre-sunset time-line. With the flexibility typical of any spec-ops unit, the platoon commander opted for a vehicle insertion to the pre-planned DZ at 7,500 feet elevation.
As the Sierra Nevadas turned purple and faded into total darkness, and before the moon could break through, the Gunny signaled the teams to saddle up and silently move out. It was impressive to see and yet not hear twenty Marines, each burdened with a hundred pounds of weapons, radios and equipment, move off into the inky blackness without so much as a single sound.
So by midnight I found myself with two choices. The first was to link up with the “opposition force” and try to find these phantoms – but since they had already proven themselves adept at night movement and had the advantage of Gen III night vision devices, there was little to no hope of finding them that night. So I opted for the second choice – to drive back to Los Angeles with the plan of returning to MWTC for their extract in five days.
Arriving home at five-thirty in the morning, and after two days without sleep, I showered and hit the rack. Sleep came quickly but not for long. Sometime before zero seven the phone began an incessant ringing. It was my neighbor babbling something about watching my place while I was away. “While I’m a way?” I asked groggily, “I just got home!”
She then blurted out that terrorists had attacked New York and the Pentagon and I needed to turn on the television. Flipping to CNN I was just in time to see a passenger airliner hit the World Trade Center. Then there was footage from the Pentagon; then back to New York as the second tower was hit. Confused and half asleep I felt like I was watching a Schwarznegger movie. Was this really the news? I quickly flipped through the local morning news line up – ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox – but all coverage was focused on New York and the Pentagon.
By mid-morning I had a passing thought about the Marine Force Recon platoon that had just disappeared into the mountains the night before and would be emerging in five days to a very different United States. Having worked in counter terrorism and training for over 20 years, I knew that what we were seeing was a whole new level of terrorist violence and destruction. The news media was already speculating on the potential casualties in New York and it was in the thousands, many times more than Pearl Harbor.
But now the proverbial “gloves were coming off.” The US military was going to be given the teeth to hunt and kill those who meant us harm. Little did I know at that time, that I would be in and out of Afghanistan, Iraq and Africa a dozen times over the next 10 years.
Never Forget 9-11
Words seem so inadequate as our hearts go out to the Marines and sailors killed and wounded in the Kabul International Airport suicide bombing. Rest easy knowing that over 100,000 Americans and refugees were successfully evacuated from Afghanistan thanks to your efforts and sacrifice. RIP Marines
The following paper was written by Mark Lonsdale while serving as a senior security consultant on a Department of Defense contract at a combined US/Iraqi military base north of Baghdad in early 2004. This is also the period when the four Blackwater contractors, one a close friend of Lonsdale’s, were killed in Fallujah and the Iraqi insurgency began a significant upward surge.
PHYSICAL SECURITY & VBIED BLAST PROTECTION
A General Guidance for Military Commanders tasked with
Force Protection and FOB Security Operations
By Mark V. Lonsdale
The purpose of this paper is to offer some guidance to military commanders and security managers on how to best protect their bases and facilities from insurgent attack. Keep in mind that security is seldom ideal, and even less so when restricted by budget and the limited availability of resources. Security counter measures can be further compromised by the terrain, the physical limitations of the base or work site, or lack of support at the command or appropriations level.
This paper is not intended as a criticism or even critique of any specific command or location, but merely as an academic discussion of the subject from a tactical perspective.
Since the successful terrorist bombing of the US Marine barracks in Beirut (1983) killing over 240 Marines, and then the US Embassy Annex (1984), US military and governmental facilities have come under regular attack by suicide bombers and vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs). The dramatic destruction of the Oklahoma City Federal Building in 1995 also served to further validate the viability of this form of attack.
In late 2003 and early 2004 these same terrorist tactics and vehicle bombs were used against US and collation bases in Iraq, along with police stations, recruitment centers, civil defense units and NGO facilities. Particularly hard hit was the CPA and checkpoints around the Green Zone; and although these vehicle bombs had not penetrated the outer defenses, they caused significant casualties, disrupted operations, had an adverse affect on morale, and emboldened the anti-coalition forces (ACF) to attempt even more audacious attacks.
As a direct result of these attacks, US military commanders and base security managers were forced to re-evaluate their base security procedures and perimeter defenses. Unfortunately, neither of these subjects had been widely taught within the military system or disseminated in an easy to understand format. Hopefully this paper will help fill some of that void.
However, it must also be understood, and to quote the old adage, “that the best defense is a strong offense.” For base security this equates to aggressive patrolling outside the wire to deny the enemy access to the perimeter or the opportunity to observe the location and security procedures.
PHYSICAL SECURITY PRINCIPLES
Although actual security counter measures can be quite complex, they generally conform to one or more of the five basic principles of Physical Security.
The first principle is to deter an attack by the appearance of a robust security program and substantial physical barriers. Deterrence also comes from an aggressive defensive posture, an alert security force, vehicle checkpoints, vehicles searches, guard towers, lighting, visible weapons positions, and fighting patrols pushing out from the immediate perimeter.
The next principle is to deny access through physical barriers and guard forces. The types of physical barriers include trenches, fences, concertina wire, razor ribbon, Hesco baskets, T-walls, and Jersey and Alaskan concrete barriers. In the absence of construction resources, a professional guard force can be positioned to deny access. There is however a direct but inverse correlation between physical security and the security guard force. The fewer the physical barriers, the greater the guard force required to secure the same area.
Early detection of an attempted intrusion or breach is critical to an effective fighting response. This is achieved through open ground, standoff, cleared areas, and alert perimeter security personnel. This can be augmented with electronic alarm systems, motion detectors, motion sensitive cameras, guard dogs, trip flares and other noise or light generating devices. At night, the guard force will require either perimeter lighting or NODs to detect an intrusion.
To detect explosive devices or VBIEDs requires a team of specially trained personnel and K-9s certified in IED / explosive identification and detection
When the physical barriers cannot stop an attack, they should at least be positioned to delay the enemy approach. Delay is achieved through the use of physical barriers such as trenches, fences, concertina wire, razor ribbon, Hescos, Jersey barriers or any improvised device that will slow or hinder the enemy’s movement. The delaying barriers should give the guard force the time and opportunity to engage the enemy with effective fire, and for the QRF to reinforce the breach.
Where the Rules of Engagement allow for aggressive counter force, the intent will be to destroy the enemy with whatever weapons are available.
Last “D” is deceased – and that is the end result if fundamental security protocols are not followed. Lives may be needlessly lost for lack of command initiative and/or logistical support.
The three essentials for an effective perimeter system are clear ground, physical barriers and an alert guard force.
Without going into too greater detail, a typical external perimeter for a military or governmental facility would consist of the following physical features with security over-watch.
- Clear terrain outside the perimeter to the maximum range possible
- Signs outside the perimeter warning the public of the danger of approaching the outer fences and forbidding any form of photography of the installation.
- Trenches and/or concertina barbed wire to impede and discourage approach to the outer fence
- An outer fence usually constructed of 3- to 4-meter chain-link fence topped with triple strand barbed wire and razor ribbon.
- Inner physical barriers such as concrete Jersey Barriers to prevent vehicles crashing through the fence. If a public road passes along the outside of the perimeter fence, then concrete crash barriers should be placed along the shoulder of the road to prevent vehicles veering off the road and into the fence.
- Perimeter lighting controlled from the guard towers and/or a central location
- An outer perimeter vehicle patrol road just inside the outer fence
- Fifty to one hundred meters of clear ground
- An inner perimeter fence similar to the outer perimeter fence
- Guard towers positioned every 200 meters with mutually supporting over-watch and intersecting fire. Towers should be at least 4 meters high to the floor of the tower and offer adequate protection to the guard force from incoming fire and the elements. Towers should also be connected with either hard-wire comms or RF (VHF) communications.
- Running inside the line of towers should be an additional access road and possibly indirect fire / bomb shelters if the threat warrants.
In general, tower guards, sentries, and soldiers manning checkpoints should be rotated or relieved every four hours. After four hours the level of alertness drops off sharply, particularly in hot climates and inclement weather.
The perimeter security towers and positions should be toured and inspected periodically by officers and senior NCOs during each shift. A Quick Reaction Force (QRF) should be on stand-by for an immediate response to any location on the perimeter.
SECURITY GATES & OPERATIONS
Security gates into high threat areas, or sites the terrorists would consider high value targets, are in fact not a single gate but rather a system of physical barriers and man-power. The critical components of an effective security gate system are early observation of approaching traffic, approach distance & speed, physical barriers, and alert, trained guards.
The guard force must be able to observe the approach of a vehicle at some distance, in excess of 300 meters, to be able to track and evaluate the vehicles approach speed and intent. This requires that the gate and barriers be sited with consideration to terrain, clear fields of observation, and unobstructed fields of fire.
If a vehicle(s) demonstrates its hostile intent by ignoring warnings or accelerating, then the guard force will have time to take appropriate counter measures. These counter measures will range from securing gates, activating caltrops, to engaging the vehicle and driver with heavy weapons fire (.50 BMG, MK 19 40mm, M240B, or heavy caliber sniper).
If the vehicle(s) explodes, it should be at a sufficient distance to cause minimal injury or loss of life.
There are a number of physical barriers that can be incorporated into a security gate beginning with some form of obstacle to slow approaching vehicles. The entire security gate operation should also be encircled by some form of security fence, usually 3-4 meter chain-link topped with barbed wire and/or razor ribbon.
Substantial heavy obstacles such as concrete Jersey barriers, sections of large-diameter concrete pipe, or earth filled drums should be used to slow the flow of traffic by being placed in zigzag patterns or chicanes. The spacing of these obstacles will vary depending on the size of vehicles processed through the gate, but in general, a vehicle should be forced to slow to no more than 5 mph (7 kph).
Various forms of tire-shredding devices or caltrops can also be used to deter fast approaching vehicles, and all areas designed to slow vehicles should be covered by at least one and preferably two machinegun (MG) weapons positions.
If drop-bar or swing-bar type security gates are to be used, then a steel cable should be run through the pipe. This can then be secured to a large concrete block of steel pipe set in concrete to make the gate more impenetrable. In the absence of a drop-bar gate, the cable alone can be used as long as it can be securely anchored at both ends.
At the beginning of the approach lane, and at regular intervals down the road, there should be signage in both English and the local language warning drivers and pedestrians of the speed limit and consequences of violating the posted rules. WARNING! SLOW! “Lethal Force is Authorized!”
The most critical component of any security gate operation is the guard force. These need to be alert professional soldiers, MPs, or contractors with specialized training in gate operations and security procedures. There is also a need for seasoned NCOs with the ability to be polite but assertive when necessary.
Guard posts and guard towers need to be sited so that they can identify approaching vehicles and have early recognition of a threat. This early recognition is critical if they are to have the time to activate counter measures, secure barriers, or engage with effective fire.
A running man can cover 50 meters in six or seven seconds, and a vehicle traveling at 30 mph (44 feet per second / 15 meters per second) will cover 100 meters in 6–7 seconds. This is very little time for a guard to identify the threat and react to it. This also illustrates the importance of having several hundred meters of visible run-up to any guard gate.
Guard towers should be sited so they have a clear view of the surrounding area and unobstructed fields of fire. Crew-served weapons should also be positioned to over-watch all guard posts, approaches, vehicle check-points (VCP) and search areas. Optimally, two weapons systems should be placed at right-angles with intersecting and supporting fire on areas of high threat such as initial check-points and inspection areas. Approaching drivers should feel intimidated by the firepower that can be brought into play if required.
In addition to suitable weapons systems, the guards in the guard towers and fixed positions should be issued range cards that give pre-measured distances to all visible landmarks. They should also be given the opportunity to test fire and zero their weapons under realistic range conditions that replicate the security towers.
At night, the approach lanes need to be flood lit, or the guard towers need to be equipped with night observation devices (NODs) and weapons should have night weapons sights. As with iron sights and day-optics, it is essential that the night sights are zeroed to the weapons system.
VEHICLE BORNE IMPROVISED EXPLOSIVE DEVICES – VBIEDs
Car and Truck bombs (VBIEDs) have posed a significant threat to the US military since the bombing of the Marine Barracks in Beirut (1983). They have also been successfully employed against targets such as the World Trade Center (1993), Oklahoma City Federal Building (1995), the Khobar Towers (1996), and US Embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Tanzania (August, 1998).
Since deploying to Iraq in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom, VBIEDs have been successfully used against the entrances to the Green Zone, various police and military installations, government buildings, and most US military bases.
The obvious danger with VBIEDs is that they carry significant amounts of explosive ranging from 100 to 4,000 pounds, and that stopping a fast moving vehicle before it penetrates the security cordon is no easy matter.
The two primary types of explosive devices built into vehicles are military munitions and homemade explosives. The military munitions often consist of assorted 155mm artillery shells or mortar bombs primed with some form of C-4 or Semtex-type plastic explosive. This type of device may create a smaller blast since the over all explosive weight is smaller, but the high velocity fragmentation from the shell casings is deadly.
The non-military ordnance and home-made devices are often composed of some form of “fertilizer bomb” utilizing ammonium nitrate and fuel oil (AMFO). These are cheap to make and have already been found in Iraq in 300 to 500 pound devices. These large devices derive their devastating power from the fact that AMFO is a slower velocity explosive but generates incredible pushing power. Unlike military explosives which have high brisance and dissipate energy quickly, fertilizer bombs are similar to those used in quarrying and designed to move large amounts of earth. The shockwave will travel further and cause significant structural damage, so counter measures and blast barriers must be proportionately more robust.
There are a number of forces at play with a VBIED, most of which are quite deadly. The first is the initial blast and resulting shock wave that can knock down structures and cause massive overpressure injuries. Accompanying the blast wave is the high velocity primary fragmentation either from the device itself or shrapnel packed around the device.
A blast will also create secondary fragmentation from any of the surrounding structures to include concrete, glass, metal and rocks. The next concern is fall-out and fragmentation from the explosion that will be returning to earth at terminal velocity for several seconds after the initial blast. This necessitates overhead protection for the guard force.
Finally there are the risks of sympathetic detonation of surrounding vehicles as their gas tanks ignite; ammunition cooking off in damaged military vehicles; additional flammable substances that may be on trucks in the vicinity; or ammunition storage points or fuel farms that may have been the primary target of the attack.
When dealing with VBIEDs, the first security principal is to get the vehicle slowed down and stopped some distance from the initial US military checkpoint. The aim is to create as much distance as possible between a potential explosion and the US or coalition forces. If the driver becomes nervous and blows his load, then the loss of life should be limited to the two to four soldiers or local police at the initial checkpoint. A brutal but sad reality.
There should be at least three to four vehicle stops or checkpoints within the security system:
- Initial ID check to make sure the car or truck is supposed to be entering the camp and the driver is who he says he is.
- Vehicle search by Iraqi soldiers, police, or civil defense
- Vehicle search by US or coalition soldiers or security contractors
- Detailed inspection of the vehicle’s load if required.
Explosives trained K-9s should be utilized during the first or second phases of the search process, but unfortunately, since the K-9 handlers are usually US soldiers or contract force protection specialist, the K-9s are not utilized until the vehicle has reached the third or forth checkpoint within the security zone.
If the suicide driver makes the decision to run the checkpoint with the hope of causing greater destruction, then the physical barriers should be sufficient to stop the vehicle; guards should have the time and appropriate weapons systems to engage the vehicle and driver with effective fire; and the surrounding berms, Hescos, Jersy and Alaskan barriers (T walls) should contain the blast, resulting in minimal damage or loss of life.
GUARD FORCE TRAINING
Although alert and professional, US soldiers and Marines do not receive formal training in security gate operations during their basic training.
Programs need to be instituted to give soldiers the basic procedures for security gate operations, vehicle search procedure, ID check procedures, checkpoint interview techniques, IED identification, reaction to suspicious vehicles or individuals, tower operations, rules of engagement, and post-blast reaction drills.
This type of training can be coordinated through the Military Police, S-2 shop, Air Force force-protection instructors, or civilian contractors.
There are two factors that continue to create significant weakness in perimeter and gate security operations – flow rate and training. International airports are a good example of these problems that almost everyone has seen and experienced.
First, the airport must process high volumes of passengers and baggage in a timely manner. For example, 400 individuals, 800 pieces of hull baggage, and an equal number of carry-on pieces need to be processed for each international flight in less than two hours.
Similarly, on a military base or FOB, 2,000 – 4,000 visitors and workers must be processed each day, along with several hundred non-military vehicles.
The sheer volume that must be processed precludes any expectations of a detailed search of all vehicles, or computer database background review of drivers and visiting individuals.
The second problem is the lack of a professionally trained guard force. The slovenly minimum wage security guards found at many shopping malls are no suited to high level security operations. While US soldiers have a more professional appearance, they have not received intense training in security operations, IED identification, terrorist methodology, smuggling and concealment methods, or individual interview and vetting. The ideal is personnel trained to a similar standard as US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents.
These two issues – flow rate and lack of training – create significant opportunities for terrorists to capitalize on the weakness in military base defenses.
Finally, and on a more military level, a base will always be vulnerable to attack if the area around the base is not heavily patrolled. Fighting patrols need to be operating 24/7 out to the maximum range of the enemy’s weapons – for example, 3,000 – 5,000 meters for indirect fire weapons such as mortars.
These patrols need to be augmented with HUMINT collection efforts, covert OPs, sniper operations, night ambushes, and surprise vehicle checkpoints (VCP). In this manner, and with an appropriate level of aggressive counter measures, the terrorists and insurgents will be forced to move on up the road to softer targets.
By Mark V. Lonsdale
Paper on the criminal components of insurgency and counterinsurgency (COIN)
By Mark V. Lonsdale
By now you’ve all seen the chaotic situation in Kabul. You’ve also been hearing a lot about the strategic importance of Bagram Air Base. Here it is in a nutshell.
Everyone agreed that it was time to draw down in Afghanistan, but there is the right way and a wrong way. The right was was the Pentagon plan – the wrong way was the Biden White House plan. Back in April Biden set a hard date for the withdrawal of 31 August. This set the Taliban to planning the fall of Kabul while they took all the southwestern and western provinces.
The Pentagon leaders wanted to keep Bagram open to support the evacuation of civilians from Kabul. Why? Because Bagram had 2,500 US military, 5,000 NATO military, the air assets to support the Afghan ground troops, the intelligence agencies and assets tracking the Taliban, a secure airport, and two runways. It was also convenient to Kabul and could have supported an air bridge from Kabul airport.
Never the less, in June the White House and Biden’s feckless national security advisors ordered the closing of Bagram. This was not for strategic reasons but political optics so that Biden could crow that he got everyone out by the 20th anniversary of 9-11. As a result, given no choice, the US military pulled out of Bagram in the middle of the night on the 3rd of July. This also necessitated that our UK/NATO allies and CIA also pull out all their people and assets. So by the following Monday, the Afghan Army and ANA special forces discovered they had no US support and not critical air support. This demoralized the Afghan soldiers and left 1,000 US troops at the Kabul embassy and airport to manage the evacuations.
Triggered by the US pullout from Bagram, the Taliban launched fast-moving combat operations across the north, taking Mazar and headed for Kabul. From the first week of July to the first week of August the Taliban took every major provincial center in Afghanistan. They all fell like dominos, many without resistance, so it was logical that Kabul would fall equally easily. During all this, Biden and his talking heads were on the news channels stating categorically that the Afghan Army could stop them; that the Taliban would not take Kabul; that the Afghan government was solid. All political BS and contrary to the intelligence reports the White House was receiving from the intelligence agencies and State Department officials in Kabul. The Afghan soldiers were not going to fight without US support and were not willing to die for a corrupt government and weak generals.
As a result, while the White House was saying months, Kabul fell in one week-end. On Friday they were on the outskirts and by Monday/Tuesday they were in the Presidential Palace. The weak and corrupt Afghan president had also absconded with millions of US tax-payer dollars.
Be assured, all the current chaos and mayhem was triggered by Biden’s ordered pullout from the strategically critical Bagram Air Base for political reasons, not sound strategic thinking. Biden chose to listen to a bunch of pencil pushing academics instead of generals and intelligence officers with decades of experience fighting the Taliban.
In addition to all the US and Afghan lives needlessly put at risk, the Biden White House has caused the abandonment of billions of dollars in US military equipment, light and heavy weapons, night vision, armored vehicles, Black Hawk helicopters, ground attack fixed-wing aircraft, communications gear, and biometric devices with information on all our Afghan allies. The Taliban also has control of all the Afghan police files and National Security Directorate intelligence files.
While the White House spokespersons keep emphasizing how they are communicating with the Taliban and how good the evacuation is going, the Taliban are busy killing Afghan officials, police, military, translators, interpreters, their families, all over Afghanistan. These serial pedophiles are also taking girls as young as twelve for war brides. For those of us who have friends in Afghanistan this is personal. For the Biden White House it is merely another exercise in managing political optics and avoiding the tough questions.
Six days and counting down….
“SUPPORT OUR TROOPS”
By Mark V. Lonsdale, Director, STTU
Here’s the simple answer — you don’t draw down the military or pull out air power until ALL the civilians are out. The White House and the inept national security team instructed the Pentagon to close Bagram Air Base, just north of Kabul, in June 2021. As a result of this closing, the US troops were pulled out over night without notifying the Afghan Army. The US also pulled out the air assets that were supporting the Afghan ground troops. When the US pulled out, 5,000 NATO troops also had to leave. This left 1,000 troops in Kabul to secure the embassy.
Weeks before Kabul fell to the Taliban, everyone was seeing major provincial centers falling to the Taliban in quick succession. Spin Boldak, Kandahar, Herat, Shebregan, Mazar-e-Sharif, so it was obvious that the Afghan Army was not putting up any resistance and Kabul would be next. Back in November of 2020 we knew that the Taliban were operating at night in the outer suburbs of Kabul. They were already there.
Before the fall of Mazar in the north, General Dostum was in Mazar where he met with President Ashraf Ghani. The former Northern Alliance Afghan Uzbeks and Tajiks were ready to fight but received no support from the Afghan government. These are the guys that helped our Special Forces and CIA defeat the Taliban and al Qaeda in 2001. Consequently the feckless Ghani deserts Afghanistan with millions in US taxpayer dollars.
The Afghan Army not only didn’t fight in the final weeks, they surrendered billions in US light and heavy weapons, technology, night vision, armored vehicles, helicopters, planes and bases. Afghanistan is now the weapons bazar of choice for every Islamic terrorist in the world, and US troops will now be being killed with weapons surrendered to the Taliban thanks to Biden’s lack of planning and chaotic execution.
Now the Taliban just have to cool their heels until the “great Satan” leaves at the end of August, and the real blood-letting will begin. Kabul and Afghanistan are going back to insane, draconian, 12th century, Islamic theocratic rule. And the girls and women will be the worse for it. The Taliban are brutal thugs, rapists, and pedophiles. Just check out the images and videos from the pre-2001 period.
None of this is the fault of the awesome US troops who have served heroically in Afghanistan or are currently securing Kabul International Airport. The fault lies squarely on the shoulders of a weak Joe Biden, his incompetent national security advisors, his inept Secretary of State, and his Secretary of Defense. But even Defense would have advised against drawing down troops and air power before pulling out all the US passport holders, Afghan military interpreters, and SIV visa holders.
Not the END….
By Mark V. Lonsdale, Training Director
Your level of performance is directly related to your commitment to training
By Mark V. Lonsdale, Training Director
As the name indicates, Special Weapons & Tactics, weapons play a significant role in SWAT operations and training. Since most tactical operations are of the high-risk variety, often directed against suspects that are known to be armed and dangerous, it is obviously important that the law enforcement response have at least equal, if not superior firepower. However, it is equally important not to lose sight of the fact that select personnel, realistic training and competent leadership are the most important factors in resolving a tactical situation. As Mao Tse-tung wrote, “Weapons are an important factor in war, but not he decisive one; it is man and not materials that count”
Training and philosophy aside, any man, woman or team intentionally going in harms way will benefit from the reassuring company of a suitable weapon. Exactly what constitutes a suitable weapon is the subject of this article.
Before a special response team can even consider responding to tactical operations in an urban environment, it is important that they first have a sound working knowledge of combat weapons, and more specifically close quarters weapons. For CQB (Close Quarters Battle), building clearing and room combat there is no need at this point to concern ourselves with the longer range sniper weapons, high powered assault rifles, or squad automatic weapons. Because of their significant size, weight and lack of maneuverability, these larger weapons are simply not suited to hostage rescue training except as perimeter support weapons. It is handguns, submachine guns, carbines and, to a lesser degree, shotguns that are more suited to entry work and close quarters combat.
Although many special operations teams consider the handgun a secondary weapon, only to be used if the SMG (submachine gun) malfunctions, at STTU we consider the handgun a potentially effective primary weapon in the right situations. Since most SWAT/HRT teams are drawn from the law enforcement community, and the handgun is the standard sidearm carried at all times, it is therefore logical that this be the weapon with which one should be most proficient. In addition, a high percentage of SWAT operations are directed against lone barricade suspects, in single level dwellings, with relatively small rooms. A four to eight man entry team can more than handle this with handguns if necessary.
Once a team acquires automatic weapons they tend to neglect their handgun skills. However, at STTU we have found that if an operator can shoot well with a handgun, he or she will be able to master the SMG or carbine with ease. But since handgun shooting is a perishable skill, those who do not dedicate time to disciplined, structured handgun shooting will lose these skills quite quickly.
Another reason for emphasis on the handgun in tactical training is one of budget. A team will shoot less ammunition and attain a higher degree of accuracy with disciplined handgun training than they will with the hungrier burst‑fire and fully automatic weapons such as the MP-5 or M4 clone.
A good handgun is also a valuable tool that is far more versatile when working covert operations, undercover, dignitary protection, or in plain-clothes mode.
So let’s analyze exactly what constitutes a “suitable” handgun. A combat handgun must be first and foremost a reliable weapon with a proven record of good service under prolonged use in arduous conditions. This is important enough to repeat so read these words carefully. A handgun MUST be RELIABLE. I would personally rather stake my life on a marginally accurate handgun that goes bang every time I pull the trigger, than a custom built, high-dollar, state-of-the-art, race gun that periodically jams at the most inopportune times.
In addition, a combat handgun should have the following:
- Simple, rugged design with good ergonomics (feel & natural point characteristics)
- Sufficient power and penetration to reliably stop an assailant
- Reasonable combat accuracy (but not so tight that it is unreliable)
- Low-profile clear, rugged sights for rapid alignment
- A clean, crisp trigger and/or smooth double action
- Adequate magazine capacity for serious “TCB”
- A rust resistant, no glare finish
Finally, the weapon / caliber combination must be controllable enough to allow for rapid shot placement on multiple targets, or second and third shot follow‑up on a single determined attacker. The size and grip strength of the operator may be a consideration with recoil management.
A large majority of US and overseas agencies are currently using high capacity nine millimeter (9 x 19mm Parabellum) weapons, such as the Beretta 92F, SIG 226/228/229, H&K USP, Glock, or Smith & Wesson. A few, including the British SAS switched from the venerable Browning Hi‑Power to the SIG P226, which is also an issue weapon for US Navy Seals. Both units are now also using Glocks. However, several of the elite teams are still firm believers in their tried and proven Government model forty‑fives (.45ACP). This includes components of US SOCOM, USMC Force Recon, DELTA (CAG), SEALs (DEVGRU), FBI-HRT, FBI-SWAT and LAPD SWAT.
The Colt Government Model still reigns supreme for the “big bore” crowd but some police agencies have adopted the first round double-action Smith & Wessons, SIG P220s or HK USP .45s. US Special Operations Command has also opted for a forty-five in the form of the H&K USP Mk21, complete with optional suppressor, light mount and laser systems.
Many an argument has been started over the topic of which caliber is the “best” man‑stopper – usually by armchair commandos and the so-called “experts” who write for gun magazines. Well let’s put it all to rest here and now. Any of the current combat calibers – including 9mm, .45ACP, .357 Magnum, 10mm, or 40 S&W – in the hands of a good shooter will do the job just fine. It is shot placement that is the single most important factor in stopping capability, not bullet design, velocity, diameter, or construction. As long as the bullet has sufficient power and structural integrity to penetrate the intervening body tissue and to reach a vital organ, everything else is secondary.
Granted, permanent wound cavity is more important than temporary wound cavity, but the reality is that the projectile must penetrate to a vital organ before it dissipates its energy in expansion. A slow bleed-out is not acceptable in hostage rescue operations. Of significant importance in hostage rescue is that the villain cease all motor function immediately upon being shot, thus protecting the hostage and fellow rescue team members. So understanding that there is no “guaranteed first shot stop,” the venerable forty-five still seems to be one of the most popular rounds with a the solid track record for accuracy and reliability. But it could also be argued that more hostage takers and barricade suspects have been killed with 9mm than any other caliber.
So just to keep everything in perspective, a good shooter should not feel handicapped with a nine millimeter, provided the weapon has proven itself to be 100% reliable and accurate. When teaching, I always demonstrate and shoot with the same make, model and caliber of weapon that is issued to the team that I am training, immaterial of my personal preferences or biases. It is more important that the trainees see their weapons shot well, than to lose confidence in the weapons because of my perceived preference for another make, model or caliber. However, if an agency is in the market to up-grade their handguns, then I will give them an opportunity to shoot a variety of combat handguns that we keep at STTU just for T&E purposes.
Again, personal biases must be put aside when selecting a gun for a team. All team members should be issued the same type and caliber of weapon, and new weapons should be thoroughly tested on the range (at least 500–1000 rounds) before going into the field or used on operations. The only modifications permitted on the weapons should be those that enhance performance and do not include non‑functional gadgets that could loosen and become a liability.
Acceptable modifications could include:
- Changing the grips to better suit the shooter
- Adding rugged, high visibility sights – however most combat handguns now have these
- Smoothing the double-action trigger and cleaning up a single action pull (but not necessarily lightening the trigger weight)
- Polishing the barrel feed ramp to aid feeding of hollow points
- Opening the ejection port to eliminate stove pipes (Usually only required on Government models)
- Adding night sight inserts
- Adding a Sure-Fire light mount
- Adding magazine pads to ensure better mag seating
- A non-glare, rust preventive finish
Most of the currently available combat handguns (SIG, H&K, Beretta, Glock, S&W) require little or no work, and can be considered “combat ready” out of the box after checking for zero and reliability.
Most feeding problems and malfunctions with modern combat handguns can usually be traced to bad magazines or inferior / incompatible ammunition. The easiest way to identify these problems is to test fire the weapon with a set of proven reliable magazines and high-grade duty ammo. Magazines should be marked and numbered to facilitate the identification of one that consistently causes malfunctions. If magazines have been dropped on a hard surface, the lips may have become bent and changed the angle of attack of the round trying to transition to the chamber. Some can be repaired, while others will have to be discarded.
The primary advantages of the submachine gun (SMG) are greater ammunition capacity (25-30 rounds), increased firepower and compact size. But more importantly, it is the number of accessories that can be attached to enhance performance for room combat – such as Sure-Fire light mounts and suppressors. Lastly, and not insignificantly, it is the confidence gained by the assault team members from the weapon’s appearance, increased capacity, and rate of fire.
In selecting an SMG, keep in mind that it must be capable of not only rapid fire at close range, but also extremely accurate select fire. In close-proximity hostage situations, it is important that operators can engage armed suspects with precise, confident, surgical shooting, without endangering the hostages. A “hose job” may be applicable in some military operations, but is not an acceptable form of shooting when dealing with drug raids or hostage rescues.
There is also the psychological effect that the SMG may have on an adversary. Drug dealers, clandestine lab operators or even gang members may be less inclined to try and shoot it out with the authorities when it is noted that the raid team is armed with big, black automatic weapons. That said, an agency can’t count on the mere presence of a SWAT team and superior firepower to terminate a crisis. There will always be political or religious fanatics gladly willing to give their lives for the cause – not to forget society’s over abundance of criminals and crazies. If you flaunt it, you had better be prepared to use it.
As with any weapon system, the SMG selection criteria should be: rugged reliability; time proven performance; accuracy; quality construction; and availability of spare parts and service. The selection of a submachine gun may well be the easiest choice your team has to make. There is one that has become the standard for most police and military special operations, and the one by which all others are judged – the H&K MP‑5, and its related systems.
The MP‑5 was the trademark of the world’s elite – British SAS, German GSG‑9, French GIGN, US Army DELTA and US Navy SEALs. And on a local level, LASD‑SEB, LAPD SWAT, FBI‑SWAT and FBI‑HRT. This is not to say that the MP‑5 is the only suitable weapon out there, it is simply the most popular and has proven itself on countless occasions.
Keep in mind that the MP-5 is still only a 9mm – a caliber that is not very effective beyond 50-100 meters. Therefore many teams have opted to also issue the current version of the Colt Carbine, the flat-top M-4 in .223 Remington (5.56mm), or one of the many clones.
Where there is a risk of being caught in the open, or a little more range and power is called for, many teams have adopted the M4 or H&K‑53, a 5.56mm version of the MP‑5. US Customs teams were working with the Steyr AUG in .223 Rem, while others still have the Ruger AC556 in inventory. Our first choice at STTU is the M4 or one of many high quality clones with their wide variety of day and night optical and laser sighting systems.
In our experience, for the teams who already have MP-5s, the HK53 makes for a very good partnership since both function the same and require little retraining. But if the team is already familiar with and using the M‑16 / CAR-15, then the M4s in 5.56mm may be a more convenient or cost effective route to take. Retraining requires time, money and considerable effort and it is wise to avoid switching between functionally different weapons systems.
One of the carbine or submachine guns’ most significant advantages over the handgun as an offensive weapon is the number of accessories that can be integrated into the weapon system. These include but are not limited to:
- Integral fore‑end light mount for darkened rooms (Sure-Fire)
- After market flashlight brackets
- Conventional scope sights for longer range precision shooting
- Red‑or Green-dot type laser projectors for enhanced shot placement
- Invisible IR laser designators to be used in conjunction with night vision goggles (the PEQ)
- Suppressors for those times when noise could compromise an approach
- Blank firing attachments (BFA) for training purposes
- Fixed or folding stocks for increased control or concealability
- A sling attachment to allow hands-free work such as cuffing suspects, climbing or rappelling
The most important accessory listed above is the light mount. If you can’t see ‘em, ya can’t shoot ‘em – or at least the correct ones. Since most criminal activity and the related tactical operations take place at night, and most room combat is in poorly lighted rooms, hallways, stairwells and structures, it is only logical that the shooter would need to be able to illuminate rooms, suspects and potential targets. It is also difficult at the best of times to juggle both a flashlight and a weapon, let alone open doors and handle the occupants. With the light attached to the weapon, the shooter can conveniently bring the weapon to bear, wherever the light is pointed. Light mounts are not intended or factory recommended as aiming devices, but they definitely hasten and simplify the aiming process.
The shotgun is an excellent multi‑purpose weapon in many situations, but its role in crisis entry and hostage rescue is restricted. There is no denying the awesome knock‑down power of a full load of magnum buckshot at close range, but the shotgun’s limited magazine capacity (4 – 8 rounds) and marginal accuracy make it unsuitable as a primary entry weapon. In addition, the shotgun’s length makes it difficult to get through doorways and the heavier recoil only slows second shot follow‑up.
Any assault weapon intended for CQB, must be able to make guaranteed close proximity hostage-taker headshots. The increasing spread of the shot pattern (approximately 1″ per meter) will only serve to endanger the hostages, fellow team members. or other by‑standers.
The shotgun can be used is as a perimeter or breaching weapon. Perimeter teams can use the shotgun to fire Ferret rounds (OC/CS/CN gas) or launch larger gas grenades into a structure. Entry teams can use the shotgun with the frangible Shok‑Lock type breaching rounds to blow hinges or locks, especially on interior doors. Some team members will carry a sawn‑off Remington 870 in a leg holster or on a sling, for the sole purpose of blowing locks and hinges, especially when internal door charges (IDC) are neither available nor appropriate.
If for budgetary or policy reasons the team is stuck with shotguns as an alternative to SMGs, then the shooters have two options. They either use their handguns as the primary entry weapon, or put a lot of time into understanding shot spread and perfecting scalloping techniques for partially exposed headshots. It is possible but it takes hard work and continuous practice.
Ammunition is probably one of the single highest, recurring, budgetary expenditures incurred in the training of a special weapons team. It is not unusual for high speed teams to shoot 500 to 1000 rounds per week, per man. We often shoot 200 to 400 rounds per day, per man when involved in firearms training. After initial weapons skills have been mastered, a maintenance program should still allow each man 100 – 200 rounds per week for each weapon system – handgun, SMG, and carbine. Agencies and operators training on less are incurring a significant liability exposure.
The basic criteria for ammunition selection should be:
- Provided by a large, reputable manufacturer
- Consistently high standard
- Functionally reliable in all weapons
- Sufficient penetration to reach a vital area (even with lateral chest shots)
- Combat accurate (2-3” at 15 meters)
- Purchased in bulk lot numbers for consistency and economy
We recommend avoiding the expensive trick ammunition, “super hot” loads and “killer” bullets that are constantly being advertised as the solution to all problems. They tend to be too expensive to train with, tend to have erratic feeding and function, and are seldom accurate. Go for consistency, reliability, accuracy, quality and economy.
Rather than waste money on expensive ammo, simply invest in a larger quantity of less expensive but still reliable ammunition. More bullets means more practice and that is most important. Better to hit with one or two less expensive bullets than miss with several expensive bullets.
Whatever weapons a team is equipped with, it is critical that they master them. There is no substitute for many hours of structured, disciplined training and trigger time behind the weapon. If the budget for new toys is simply not there, don’t waste time complaining about the issued weapons. Do the best with what you have and try to substitute good training and tactics for marginal firepower.
Where training time is limited, SWAT team members should be encourage to hone individual shooting skills on their own time, and save those all too precious training days for working on team skills such as live‑fire entry and room combat. Team members who are not willing to spend some of their own time and money on individual training are not an asset to the team and should be replaced by more motivated individuals.
For As We Train ‑ So Shall We Fight
For as We Fight – So Must We Train
“It is not sufficient that the soldier must shoot, he must shoot well” – Napoleon (1769–1821)
By Mark V. Lonsdale, STTU Training Director
A significant part of surviving a lethal encounter is a combat mindset. The other components are reality-based training and a willingness to use it. So how does one develop a combat mindset?
You do not have to be former military or law enforcement to adopt a warrior ethos and to improve the probabilities of surviving a dangerous confrontation. You just have to accept that your personal survival is your responsibility, and then commit to do something about it.
The newspapers and nightly news carry literally dozens of accounts of assaults, street muggings, robberies, home invasions, car jackings, stabbings, rapes, kidnappings, and murders, so it would be foolish to believe that you or your loved ones will never be a victim of street crime. And now, with the police being forced to stand down by leftist politicians, weak mayors, and gutless city councils, it’s even more important that regular citizens develop the skills and mindset to protect themselves. Face it, the police aren’t coming!
So developing a warrior ethos and combat mindset begins by accepting that it could happen to you. Next it is necessary to do your research on attack methodology to better understand how these violent thugs and criminals operate and the tactics they employ. This process of educating yourself serves two purposes: 1. It allows you to tailor your choice of weapons and training to meet the threat, and, 2. It will improve your ability to recognize a dangerous situation or emerging threat.
An additional part of your education is developing an understanding of the legal constraints for self-defense and use of deadly force. In essence, deadly force should be used in “defense of life” only, or imminent risk of grievous bodily harm. You must be “in fear of your life” or that of your loved ones. But each state has different “home & castle” and “stand your ground laws” related to threats, intruders, home invasion, and self-defense. It is therefore essential that you seek out training, such as provided in most concealed weapons courses, on the laws specific to your location. The reason for this is your need for moral and legal clarity as to the use of force, which in turn will reduce hesitation in the heat of the moment.
Part of your mental preparation is to refine your Situational Awareness. One of the single most important skills for personal protection is the power of observation which provides the ability to recognize and avoid danger. Unfortunately, most people go about their everyday lives with little appreciation for what’s happening around them. They are focused on what they are doing or where they are going, while talking on their cell phones, plugged into music, or just day dreaming. These are the easy, soft targets that street thugs and criminals profile and seek out. It is not surprising that a person who has ear-buds in or wearing headphones is easy to approach and surprise, plus that thousand-dollar cell phone is a valuable prize in itself.
On the physical side there are several levels to training, the first of which is basic physical fitness. Being able to out run a threat is a valuable street survival skill, but if you can’t run, then you need the strength and stamina to meet the threat head on. You will be fighting for your life, so you need to train like your life depends on it. Being morbidly obese, chain smoking, and simply doing yoga or Pilates is not going to cut it. The foundation of the warrior ethos is personal fitness and becoming hard.
The extension of physical training is skills training. This includes fight training, martial arts, firearms training, self defense classes, and even driver training. Martial arts need to be practiced at least twice a week to develop the required muscle memory, and firearms training should be both frequent and realistic. Plinking with a .22 rifle at 50 yards is not the same as engaging multiple man-sized targets, at close to medium range, in less than ideal low-light conditions. Keep in mind that bad things happen at night, so close quarters low-light training must be a part of your training routine.
In addition, part of the fight or firearms training should be the conditioning to act or react decisively and not to freeze. People react differently under stress – Freeze, Fight or Flee. Fleeing and avoiding the confrontation is often preferable; Freezing will get you killed or seriously injured; so Fighting is the option that you must train for. Essentially, reality-based training should instill the reactions and reflexes to block, pivot, strike, draw, or engage – depending on the situational dictates.
Two parts of the combat mindset worth developing are the ability to make a cold, calm assessment of the situation, followed by an aggressive, even ferocious, counter-attack. An individual in a panicked mental state can neither think rationally nor react correctly. This is what the thugs and scumbags are counting on – that you will freeze. This goes back to the importance of reality-based training that exposes you to simulated dangerous situations based on real world attack methodologies. In these situations you need to be able to tap into your primal rage while maintaining control of that aggression. Make the bad guys feel like they have kicked a hornets nest.
When you combine all of the above, and after a suitable amount of training time, you should develop the confidence and ability to handle a variety of street level situations. It’s that confidence that will allow you to think clearly and react correctly to the threat.
Finally, once it is “fight on,” never quit, never give-up, never surrender. Inflict so much damage that the assailant(s) realize that the return is not worth the effort. In addition, the more injuries you can inflict, the greater the probability that law enforcement may catch them. You should also expect to get hurt and fight through it, but at the end of the day, your survival depends on your combat mindset, training, and willingness to use it.