Over the past decade, a tactic once exclusive to elite military units is gaining acceptance in law enforcement: explosive breaching. From the increase in fortified drug houses during the 1980s to barricaded terrorists in the Moscow Theater incident and the Beslan School Massacre, the need exists for law enforcement agencies to possess this tactic.
The Delaware State Police and the Delaware Department of Corrections recently hosted a six-day course in explosive breaching. Forced Entry Tactical Training
based in Las Vegas, NV conducted the training.
Forced Entry is a relatively new training company, but its personnel are certainly not new to explosive breaching. The three instructors for the course were Gavin Vesp, Brad Voyles and Tom Forsythe, all three current SWAT officers. Vesp and Voyles are with the Las Vegas Metro Police, while Forsythe is with the Portland, OR Police Bureau.
The Delaware State Police had secured an ideal training location made up of eight residential homes in a part of a neighborhood purchased by the state of Delaware after severe flooding in 2004. The homes, though vacant, were structurally intact with doors and windows. This provided a wide variety of realistic targets to be breached.
During the week, the class had the opportunity to breach residential, inward and outward opening metal and wood doors, residential interior and exterior walls, garage doors, and interior and exterior heavy concrete and block walls, the latter being invaluable to those who work in a correctional environment.
The first day of the course focused exclusively on explosives familiarization and safety protocol. The day of classroom presentation went by fast, not only due to the interesting subject matter, but the way in which each instructor presented the material. The instructors added a lot of personal experiences, which set this program apart from others. At the end of the first day of instruction, a brief written test was given to verify the students’ understanding of presented material and safety protocol.
Part of the first and second training days also involved learning the necessary mathematical calculations for how to calculate Net Explosive Weight, Safe Stacking Distance, Overpressure, as well as others. While this does not sound exciting, it is vital, not only to being a competent breacher, but also to the safety of operators, innocent parties and the suspect. The instructors made it easy for students to not only learn these computations, but to become proficient in them.
The remainder of the training was focused on hands-on/practical exercises, where what was learned in the classroom was put into practice. Every time students constructed a charge, at least two students would be doing the math to determine a series of calculations, to include the strength of the charge and the minimum safe stacking distance. The students would then compare computations to verify accuracy.
These would then be verified again by an instructor. The second to last training day involved another written exam, this time relating to the explosive breaching information, complete with mathematical problems. In order to receive the breacher certification, an 80% score is required.
Safety was stressed throughout the course and closely monitored by the instructors. When doing live shots, the instructors maintained control of the key component of the firing device until it was time to initiate the breach. This was to ensure no premature or accidental detonation of the charge. Students were required to wear ballistic vests and eye protection at all times, and then a ballistic helmet and hearing protection were added once individuals were priming in to their charge.
The course includes a laminated breacher’s reference guide, which easily fits into a BDU cargo pocket. This guide covers everything from the necessary mathematical formulas to the step-by-step procedure for priming the initiation system, to the types of charges. In fact, to build in repetition, consistency and safety when officers were arming the priming system, and connecting the priming system to the charge, this was read aloud and followed step by step. To ensure operator safety, this practice of reading the steps aloud should always be followed, regardless of the number of breaches an operator has conducted. This guide can be used during operational deployment as well.
A calculator is required to do the mathematical computations necessary to ensure safe and reliable breaching. Forced Entry does not ask students to bring a calculator to the training course. They supply a scientific calculator, complete with the necessary mathematical formulas laminated on the reverse side. Additionally, each student receives a 4-inch binder full of information, pads, pens and highlighters. All the student needs to supply is a positive attitude and the willingness to learn.
A huge benefit to officers attending training with Forced Entry is that the instructors are current operators, and have numerous operational explosive breaches under their belts. The instructors not only have the experience of conducting operational breaches in a civilian law enforcement environment, but also were intimately involved in starting the explosive breaching programs in their own agencies. This allows them to advise students who are just starting, or plan on starting, a program of the potential hurdles they may face and how to overcome them.
They have deployed explosive breaches on HRT, barricaded subjects, high-risk warrants, and even buy-bust operations. It is of high value to students when the instructors can talk about various operational breaches they have done in the last five years. Hearing about other operational successes as well as shortcomings, and how they overcame them, is a benefit that cannot be overstated.
These instructors are from law enforcement and are used to working in an environment which has a great deal of scrutiny, and is very liability conscious, with no such things as acceptable losses or collateral damage.
Each explosive “shot” is thoroughly documented prior to detonation, as well as the performance of the shot. This is all photographed by the instructors. After the class, each student is sent a copy of the photos and video recorded during the training week. Forced Entry does this so each student can develop a reference file on the type of door breached and the results of a specific charge. Maintaining this information is important for liability purposes, and to give the breacher’s a point of reference.
The goal of explosive breaching is to use the minimum amount of explosives necessary to get a positive breach of the target. To accomplish this goal one must practice with numerous shots on the same type of target, each shot having less net explosive weight than the previous one.
Eventually, one will reach the point where the charge will not be powerful enough to have a positive breach every time. The breacher now has a range of shots to examine and find the one that had the least amount of explosives, but provide consistent positive breaches. This is the charge he would now use on that target. If the breacher has to go into court and testify, he can now say they used the minimum amount of explosive and know it is the minimum based upon all of the previous shot data.
If you are looking for a safe, quality, comprehensive explosive breaching school, run by honest and highly experienced professionals, contact Forced Entry Tactical Training. Paul Brandley is a Patrol Sergeant with the Pawtucket, RI Police Department and a Team Leader/Training Coordinator on the Special Response Team. Sgt. Brandley has a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice and has been in Law Enforcement for 12 years. He holds instructor certifications in MP-5 Submachine gun, Patrol Rifle, Defensive Tactics, Rapid Deployment Techniques, and currently serves as Vice President for the Rhode Island Tactical Officers Association. Sgt. Brandley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.