The tomahawk has a long and colorful history in special operations. Tomahawks have been used in warfare since the 18th century. They were part of the standard kit of Major Robert Rogers and his Rangers in the French and Indian War (1750-1763), and they were employed by the forces of both sides in the American Revolution.
Colonial soldiers valued the tomahawk for its versatility as both a lightweight axe that was well-suited for everyday wilderness tasks, and as a weapon. The tomahawk is a devastatingly effective close-quarters weapon.
According to most published sources, “tomahawk” is a transliteration of the Virginian Algonquin word “tamahaak.” The original Native American tomahawk had a stone head. In the early 17th century, European-made iron or steel trade tomahawks began to replace the stone weapons of Native American warriors.
The tomahawk continues to serve law enforcement today as a breaching tool. It is unmatched in its versatility as a rescue / entry tool. A tomahawk is handier and easier to use in close quarters than a fire axe. For individual breaching and extrication, the tomahawk has multiple applications that cannot be met by any other single tool. American Tomahawk Company
(ATC) was founded in 1966 by Peter LaGana to produce tomahawks for use by American troops in the Vietnam War. LaGana was a lifelong student of World War II combatives, as well as being an accomplished knife and tomahawk thrower. LaGana’s original Vietnam Tomahawk featured a uniquely designed axe head with a reverse spike, a wooden handle and a leather sheath. Nearly 4,000 Vietnam Tomahawks saw action with U.S. forces in the jungles of Southeast Asia.
ATC was revived in 2001 by Andy Prisco shortly before LaGana’s death. Production of LaGana’s Vietnam Tomahawk resumed. While remaining true to the original concept, a number of design and manufacturing improvements have been made. The new LaGana Vietnam TACtical (VTAC) Tomahawk combines LaGana’s original axe head design with modern materials and workmanship. The VTAC is the only tomahawk in production today that is designed and authorized by Peter LaGana.
To meet Department of Defense requirements, the VTAC is slightly downsized compared to the original LaGana tomahawk. As in the past, the U.S. Army is ATC’s biggest customer.
LaGana tomahawks have seen use in every major conflict in the past 40 years. The War on Terror is no exception. The VTAC is in use with the U.S. Army Stryker Brigade in Afghanistan, the 172nd SBCT Team based at Fort Wainwright, the 3rd Brigade, the 2nd Infantry Division out of Fort Lewis, a Recon Platoon in the 2-183d CAV (116th IBCT) (OIF 2007-2008), and by all battalions of the 75th Ranger regiment as a rescue-andvehicle extraction tool.
The VTAC has also been commercially purchased by numerous members of the military. Individual purchasers include members of Air Force security groups, Marine Corps MEU (SOC) units, Navy SEALs, Army Rangers and Special Forces operators.
The U.S. Military classifies the VTAC as a Class 9 rescue tool / entry tool. The VTAC has been issued a National Stock Number (NSN 4210-01-518-7244). As a result of the Rapid Fielding Initiative (RFI), the VTAC is now included within every Stryker vehicle as a Modular Entry Tool.
According to ATC, its products have been routinely purchased to meet the non-explosive entry needs of law enforcement agencies all over the country. The company states that several offices within the DOJ, as well as numerous state and local officers, have purchased the VTAC. It is included in the standard breach kit of the Tacoma, Wash., Police Department SWAT Team. It is also employed by the Chicago, Ill., Police Department High Risk Entry Team, among others.
The VTAC is a multi-use tool. Applications for the VTAC include chopping (including through doors and locks), cutting, prying, breaking and raking windows, breaking through walls (including brick and cinder block), punching and cutting through sheet metal (such as car bodies), obstacle removal, climbing and digging.
The VTAC packs superior performance into a compact and lightweight package. The overall height of the VTAC (including the handle) is approximately 14 inches, with an overall weight of about 1 pound. The head on the VTAC measures approximately 7.8 inches in length. The primary edge (axe blade) of the VTAC is 2.5 inches wide, while the reverse spike measures approximately 0.75 inches at the widest part.
The VTAC has a drop-forged 1060 highcarbon spring steel head, hardened to RC 52-54. The 1060 grade steel is exceptionally resilient, capable of withstanding high stress. It is an excellent choice for this type of tool. The head has a matte black, powder-coated finish.
The edge bevel is utility ground to resist deformation and retain its edge during breaching operations. While you certainly won’t shave with it, the edge on the VTAC is nonetheless surprisingly sharp for this type of bevel. The edge is easily re-sharpened with a file or stone.
The handle of the VTAC is hydraulically pressed into the head and secured by a large Allen head bolt. Although the VTAC is a two-piece design, it is exceptionally rugged. While anything can be broken if one tries hard enough, the VTAC is built to withstand abuse and has proven nearly indestructible. ATC has a video on its Web site showing the handle of the VTAC being driven over several times by a large SUV while the head is propped up on a curb. The VTAC appears to be undamaged by this extreme stress.
The VTAC features an ergonomic, shock-absorbing handle. Designed to flex under extreme torque, the handle is constructed of black “Super-Tough” modified nylon. Not only does this keep the overall weight of the tomahawk down, it also makes it electrically non-conductive. You can chop obstacles, such as walls, without the risk of being electrocuted by live electrical wiring.
The handle on the VTAC is slightly oval in cross-section, with indexing finger grooves. It measures a little more than an inch in thickness. The handle is quite comfortable and has a diamond-tread plate pattern that provides a secure, non-slip grip, even with wet hands or gloves. A hole in the handle allows for the attachment of a wrist lanyard.
The compact size and light weight of the VTAC make it especially well-suited for tight quarters. It is quick and easy to wield, with excellent balance in the hand. These features are essential in a tactical tomahawk.
The VTAC comes with a jumpable black nylon sheath, which is constructed of heavy denier nylon and features black plastic inserts. The flap on the sheath secures with two polymer side-release buckles. It is equipped with two snap-closure straps for LBV, MOLLE or belt attachment. The belt attachment will fit up to 2.25-inch military web belts. The sheath is also equipped with two polymer D-rings for the attachment of a shoulder strap.
The MSRP for the ATC LaGana Tactical Tomahawk (VTAC) is about $130. Internet pricing is just under $100. At this price, the VTAC should be in the hands of every tactical operator and in the trunk of every patrol vehicle. It is a valuable addition to any breacher’s kit.Eugene Nielsen is a former officer and currently provides investigative and tactical consulting services. He may be reached at email@example.com.