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Five Pillars of Close Quarters Combat
Written by Jeff Gonzales
Several facets to close quarters combat exist. The focus here is at the cellular level, the minimum set of skills needed once the decision to make entry has been made. It is here that the team members’ core strength resides; their ability as a team will be reflected in how well they perform each of these actions.
These actions follow a progressive design and compose the five pillars of successful close quarters combat, 1) gaining access, 2) making entry into the space, 3) securing the space, 4) moving to adjoining spaces and 5) command/control of the team and the subsequent actions.
The training is constructed in layers to first develop the individual’s skills, then the individual’s skills within the team, and finally the team’s overall capability. The team’s strength lies in the individuals’ ability to meet a set of standards consistently.
These concepts need to be mastered in this logical sequence and to the set of standards before progression to the next level is recommended. It does no good to have a weak foundation when facing dedicated and able opponents. When negotiations fail, the situation deteriorates or an opportunity presents itself, the team will need to execute its entry swiftly and competently based off these principles.
The best team in the world will be of little good if it cannot make entry into the first space and then the subsequent spaces. The three major methods of entry are ballistic, mechanical and explosive breaching. Generally speaking, breaching is nothing more than attacking the weakest link of the entry point to gain positive access to the space.
Most of the time, the exterior doors will present the most difficulty compared with the interior doors, but the team must be prepared to deal with breaching problems after the initial breach. Even a solid door will still be attached to the frame with hinges and secured with some sort of locking mechanism. It is these locations that represent the weakest part of the entry point and where the focus of the breaching method should be directed.
Ballistic breaching is the use of a ballistic projectile that when placed correctly destroys either the locking mechanisms or the hinges and is usually accomplished with shotguns and special purpose ammunition. Mechanical breaching is the use of various tools such as rams, sledge hammers, Hooligan tools, Quickie Saws and torches to attack the weak parts of the entry point to gain access.
Explosive breaching is the precise application of high-explosive charges to destroy the weak links of the entry point with the added benefit of violence of action to help retain the element of surprise.
Regardless of the method of entry, the application must be well-rehearsed with the team to ensure coordination between the breaching element, the assault element and the security element. During the planning phase, it is important that the team identify a primary and secondary entry point, as well as a primary and secondary method of entry.
If, for whatever reason, a breach fails to gain access, a contingency plan is in effect to immediately take action. Whether that is going to an alternate method of entry or an alternate entry point, it must be planned, rehearsed and expected.
Ultimately, the team must gain positive access to the initial space using whatever breaching method available. The team’s safety and the success of the operation begin with the team’s ability to quickly gain access to the structure through a practiced method of entry.
Now that you have gained access to the first space, you will need to make a coordinated entry into that space. The coordination will ensure that a planned set of actions occurs from each team member, but general unplanned actions are also taken into consideration.
The team members will line up so they can enter the space with the least amount of resistance from the door and the direction it opens yet still maintain as much protection as the situation allows. It will need to become second nature that all team members can read the door so when the team lines up, it is in the most advantageous position that the situation will support.
Reading the door will entail determining what direction the door opens, what side the mechanism is on, and whether the door is secured or not. Once they have lined up on the door, they will need to closely stack behind one another; the tighter the stack, the less lag time upon entering the space, which equates to higher security by being able to address all the areas of responsibility in a timely manner.
Once the stack is in place, the team will need to signal to each member in the stack its ready condition. There are several means to accomplishing this task, but one must be agreed upon that will work under stress, low-light settings and while wearing heavy clothing and armor.
Teams that use some sort of supporting element(s) will need to coordinate with them to maximize the purpose of such elements. An example of supporting elements would be the actual breaching team, sniper teams, additional entry teams using secondary entry points and porting teams, to name a few.
If a decision is made to use a distraction device or other diversion, this also must be well-coordinated to prepare the team. Keep in mind that if diversionary devices are not used on a routine basis in training and real-world operations, the team may prematurely act or succumb to the effects of the device, delaying its actions.
The added effect these diversionary devices produce is an advantage that teams should exploit when appropriate, but they come at a sometimes high price when improperly deployed. Planning and routine usage will help avoid this pitfall and maximize the device’s effect.
Securing the Space
To effectively secure the space once entry is made, there will have to be a method that allows that space to be cleared progressively with overlapping fields of fire. To do this, each team member will have an area of responsibility on entry, depending on his location, that he must secure to ensure the entire space is clear of hostile threats.
The area of responsibility will consist of three zones, 1) the immediate, 2) the near and 3) the far zones. The immediate zone will contend with any threats that are within arm’s reach of the team member or that would delay or impede the entry of a team member through the door. This zone will be the most important because anything that holds up or delays the entry can jeopardize the safety of the team.
The near zone usually deals with the first corner the team member comes across and will need to be cleared quickly so the next zone can be negotiated. By clearing down to the first corner, this will allow the team members to place their backs to a cleared area and focus more on the rest of the space in front of them.
The far zone usually deals with the opposite corner from the near zone or a safe distance in front of the muzzle of the next team member. In the far zone, the team member will usually deal with the majority of dead spaces that pose the greatest challenges, plus the center of the space where most of the threats will be or should be driven toward.
While each team member will have an assigned zone to clear in his area of responsibility, there will be priorities to clearing in these zones. The first priority will be people, which represent an immediate threat and must be negotiated dependent on their threat to the team as the team member processes through their zones.
The next threat is portals such as doors, windows and hallways. They represent potential threats to the team unless there are people in these locations such as in an open doorway or down a long hallway.
The last priority during the primary scan will be places that also represent potential threats to the team. The places characterize dead spaces that somehow obscure the team member from securing his zone and usually require some sort of movement to clear.
Move To Next Space
Once the initial space has been secured, the team will need to move from one space to another, usually through some sort of portal. Depending on the architecture, the team will usually make entry into either the first space or possibly a hallway.
If the team makes entry into its first space, that space will either have an adjoining room or will be the last room. If it is the last room, once cleared the team will backtrack out the door it entered to rejoin the rest of the team. If the room has an adjoining room, it will either be on the same wall as the entry team or a separate wall.
The greater problem will usually be when the door is on the same wall, which will generally require a team member to focus his attention on the door and turn over responsibility for the rest of his zones to the team. Again, the progressive nature of the clearance supports a contingency such as this with the overlapping fields of fire.
Once the room has been cleared of threats, the team will realign on the new door, usually behind the team member holding security on the door, and start the process again. If the door is on a separate wall, the team can either request for more team members to enter the space and move directly to the new door, move to the new door with the team members in the space, or a combination of the two.
If the team makes its initial entry into a hallway, it will have to consider using a different approach. Hallways can be classified as being wide or narrow with pros/cons for both. If the hallway has no adjoining rooms attached, then the team will move down the hallway, emphasizing security, remembering that the hallway is nothing more than an extended fatal funnel.
If the hallway has adjoining rooms, then there will have to be an element responsible for maintaining security down the hallway as another element prepares to make entry into the space. The security element can be one team member or two, but usually no more.
The worse case is a long hallway with opposing doors such as in a hotel or school. Doors in general can be classified as either open or closed, and this will determine the tactic to employ. If one of the doors is open, it poses the greater threat and should be cleared first in most cases. If both doors are closed, then the team has the option of sending one team into one room to wait for the space to be cleared before making entry into the opposite door.
Another option is for both doors to be attacked simultaneously, but this option will be difficult in a narrow hallway. Probably the worst case is opposing doors that are both open down a long hallway; here the solution will more than likely be to make entry into both open spaces simultaneously preferably behind diversionary devices.
Command and Control
Some command and control must be exercised to keep things moving smoothly and safely. Command and control ties everything together. Leadership, at times, comes from the collective, not from a single individual. The individual team members should train to act in accordance with the overall objective, the commander’s intent.
They will need some flexibility to make command decisions when they arise that are within the commander’s intent, and as long as they understand the overall objective, they can exercise some initiative and take appropriate action. The major idea here will be what is called initiative based tactics (IBT). This can be best explained as fluidity, which is a combination of set procedures and improvisation.
If in a planned action, the team member is supposed to deploy right and he goes left, the team member behind must recognize not the mistake, but the opportunity and take action. There can be no delay; the team’s safety is at stake, so the movement should seem to the observer to have been planned.
The best way to achieve this fluidity is by having an in-depth understanding of the planned actions, unplanned actions and contingencies. There are planned actions that take place when the first team member is lined up on the door. To help prepare for these actions, conduct a quick mental checklist to review the planned actions, then the unplanned actions and finally possible contingencies.
Ultimately, each team member will need to recognize the need to make decisions that could affect the outcome of the operation. The team should always keep in mind the commander’s intent when making these decisions, which should allow the members to make decisions that support the overall success of the operations. Command and control also encompasses the various voice commands and hand signals used to communicate among the team members.
These methods of communicating help to quickly paint the picture of what team members are seeing to other team members who may not have a visual. They allow quick action or response by being concise and clear to the other team members about what is required or requested by other team members.
It is the cohesion of all five of these pillars that produces the solid and dependable team. There are many facets to these operations, but ultimately, the team and its members will need to successfully execute these five principles. While the actual means may vary as far as breaching, making entry and movement within the structure, these principles will transcend the different methods.
Jeff Gonzales is a U.S. Navy SEAL and modern warfare professional. He serves as director of training for Trident Concepts, LLC. Comprising a staff of diverse and professional instructors, this reality-based company specializes in weapons, tactics and demolitions to meet the evolving threat. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published in Law and Order, Jun 2006
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