When they call “breacher up” it is all up to you.
Master Breacher Course
By: Ron Yanor
John Mayer created the military master breacher course at the former Olive Security Training Center and later at TEES. A former Special Forces engineer, breaching instructor and graduate of SFARTEC (anti-terrorism training program), Mayer has all the right credentials.
As the training director of Tactical Energetic Entry Systems (TEES), Mayer saw the success of their military master breacher course, and received numerous requests from law enforcement operators wanting to register for that course. There was a reluctance to intermix the two groups in the same class based on a concern over a differences in terminology, mindset and, especially, rules of engagement.
For 2013, TEES is holding its first Law Enforcement Master Breacher Course, which coincides with the opening of its new training facility located on the Mississippi side of Memphis.
Mindset was one of the factors for initiating this new course. According to Mayer, military teams go into a mission with the attitude that there will likely be bloodshed, they may have friendly losses, and the target will be hardened. Domestic police teams typically hit residential doors sometimes with reinforcement or barricades. Direct action with use of lethal force is the exception.
Mayer is not calling it a level of complacency, but rather opening eyes to think outside the box—having the skills to perform forced entries on commercial / government buildings, jails or lock up facilities, window options, barricades. The phrase “train for the worst case scenario” may sound cliché, but if a team operates under that premise, common everyday missions become relatively easy by comparison.
Building on that concept, a master breacher should be able to cross train his teammates to fill in the gaps as needed. Not only considering a situation where there is a breacher casualty on approach, but compromise factors when personnel are absent. This is an aspect with part-time teams operating on a call-out basis. Losses from sick days or vacations affect team numbers. Fundamental skills are imparted during regular training so only a minor brief-up is required to employ an operator to supplement forced entry options.
Another characteristic of the master breacher is developing SOPs for the team on breaching matters. For example, a team using Internal Door Charges (IDC) would have the master breacher instruct operators on their actions and responsibilities during an IDC drill; then rehearse these tasks. Operationally, the breacher needs to simply focus on placing the device. By the time they are ready to fire the charge, the stack has already withdrawn to a safe location.
When asked what constitutes a master breacher, Mayer said it’s a mastery of the fundamental skills across the full spectrum of breaching options. He uses the analogy of a master shooter who can draw from the holster, and present the pistol with his/her eyes closed and have his/her sights near perfectly aligned. The same would apply to using any of the tools in his/her inventory. Being able to cold start a saw, on demand, in the middle of the night and without a checklist, is a case in point for the breaching arena.
A major course goal is the implementation of the comprehensive range of breaching methods and apparatus. Routinely the only formal instruction done in civilian law enforcement was explosive breaching. Mechanical tools were usually taught as on-the-job training. Only recently has there been formalized instruction on hand tools and ballistic (shotgun) breaching. Rescue saws and chain saws are incorporated into programs of instruction only within the past five years. Likewise for the use of exothermic torches. The master breacher course includes these other apparatus. New for this course is a section on lock picking for covert entries.
Power saws are a relatively new technique in the tactical field, yet straightforward and effective. The same is true for the tactic of porting—creating a hole in a wall to get the eyes of the gun on an otherwise fortified room. Not reasonable? Instructor Paul Reel related a story about a part-time team serving a warrant encountering heavy furniture barricading the main doors into the building. Understanding the time it would take to clear these obstacles and considering the windows too vulnerable, they cut gun ports in the exterior walls to cover operators clearing the entry points.
Interior breaching is a further characteristic of the master breacher concept. TEES is a proponent of every operator in the stack carrying one of a variety of entry tools for contingencies inside. Body breaches or kicking a door pose risks with questionable results. Modern veneer/slab interior doors will often shatter before a positive breach occurs. Consider a door secured with a chain and padlock. Tools and ballistic breaching are more efficient and effective.
The new TEES facility fully supports the master breacher model. Designed by TEES staff, it is the only privately owned training facility in the U.S. dedicated exclusively to breaching. Adjacent to the classroom is a large team room containing everything from collapsible hand tools, to portable torches, breaching shotguns, to chainsaws mounted on rucksack frames. The layout of the room allows students to kit up under the watchful eyes of the staff. Learning how to use a tool is part of the equation. The other is carrying and deploying it proficiently.
The breach house is set up for a broad diversity of realistic breaching options and to prevent “shoot-house-it is” (meaning students becoming too familiar with the floor plan after a few drills). Eighteen external points of entry and 13 rooms with multiple doorways allow multi-day course to never use the same floor plan twice. Primary entry points support ram and pry doors, barricaded doors and explosive entry. Add to that four window entry points with bar barricades and you have a multiplicity of selection for primary and alternate entry points.
Interior doors support the progressive breaching mindset. Some doors retain “live locks” that open when the knob is turned. Others require a pry tool or ballistic breach. Still others may require an Internal Door Charge. Cage doors with chains and padlocks necessitate using bolt cutters or a Quickee saw. Replaceable wall sections framed with studs and drywall are for chainsaw breaching or port charges. All this mixture of elements forces a breacher to scrutinize the door to employ the proper tool.
While setting up the LE master breacher syllabus and curriculum, the TEES staff was consulted for their input. Looking at their responses, there was an overwhelming emphasis put on recon and target analysis. Mayer explained this as the master breacher having the competence and confidence to evaluate a breach point, know the team’s capabilities, and select the best breaching option. Then, have capacity to categorically support that decision to a higher authority.
Two noteworthy situations illustrate the need for good intel and planning. The first example is a group executing a warrant at an outlaw biker clubhouse. The door was heavily fortified with multiple locks. The primary breacher exhausted himself trying to ram the door. A teammate noticed the side walls were metal siding built like a pole barn. They were ultimately able to peel the siding with less effort.
More significant was a team tasked in apprehending a gunman who had already shot two patrol officers. The team possessed explosive breaching capabilities, but their administration required them to make a mechanical breach with a ram. According to reports, the door at the suspect’s home was not reinforced, but yet it took several hits to defeat the lock. The team lost the element of surprise, which ultimately led to two operators losing their lives upon entry.
Therefore, a considerable portion of the curriculum is dedicated to reconnaissance and target analysis. Offsite tours include commercial and public buildings, along with lock-up facilities. Part of this will be guided instruction, followed by students conducting their own inspections and developing breacher briefs.
As a take-home skill, site inspections will be especially significant for agencies to preplan forced entry choices for government buildings and lock-up facilities should a hostage or barricade situation occur there. Maintaining a target file ahead of time reduces one less planning consideration during a real emergency. Examining the full spectrum of contingencies may force a different choice of breaching tools.
A prime example is a jail facility. At face value, it is a hard target with heavy steel doors. Explosives would normally come to mind as the initial method of entry. However, the floor plan may preclude this when factoring in the reflective characteristic of shockwave and overpressure concerns. Perhaps a BROCO torch would be a better alternative; or a wall or roof breach from a slightly different location.
The above is a circumstance where experience and information sharing come to play. Familiarity with different explosive charges and situations help a breacher better predict overpressure / fragmentation concerns beyond published data. There is a YouTube video showing an explosive breach in a hallway that vividly illustrates this very point when the ceiling collapses on top of the team.
Breaching is an ever-changing art / science, and breachers must continue to hone their craft. The law enforcement-level master breacher course is eight days of intensive, immersion level training. For the last two decades, the majority of law-enforcement tactical teams have provided specialized courses for snipers; generally a 40-hour entry-level class, plus monthly specialized training / qualifications. Operationally, they take a shot in roughly 1 percent of all incidents.
Teams make some kind of forcible entry in nearly every operation. As Alan Brosnan put it, “You can have the best assaulters in the world stacked outside, but they won’t do you a bit of good if you can’t get in.” As a SWAT team, you must be able to guarantee positive entry every time. Rams have been a breaching tool since the middle ages, but we cannot absolutely, positively rely on a ram as a singular method of entry.
As you consider this course for the future, your team can adopt many of its concepts into your protocols. Cross train operators to fill in for breachers. Every entry man should have a fundamental skill set to use basic tools. Develop SOPs for contingencies such as breacher casualty, failed breach–secondary entry point. Rehearse these on a regular basis as an Immediate Action Drill so the team’s movements become instinctive.
Expand your breaching options. Incorporate saws into your inventory—they work very well for barricaded doors and wall breaches. Also, consider using window entry points. Train and rehearse on new methods. Incorporate tools into the stack for interior breaches. This is more efficient if a fortified room is encountered. Having tools up front maintains the team’s momentum and could save a life.
Do your homework. Gather Intel on critical sites ahead of time and maintain files on breaching options for each. Include details on doors, windows and construction elements. Update these files regularly. Be careful what information you release to the public when it comes to your team’s breaching capabilities. Criminals are getting more sophisticated. Bad guys study the videos cops post on the Internet and develop plans to counter our tactics.
The bottom line is to continue to learn and expand your knowledge base. Interact with other breaching professionals at courses like Master Breacher or at the International Breaching Symposium. As in the movie Zero Dark Thirty when they call “Breacher Up,” the focus is on you.
Ron Yanor is retired after a 25-year law enforcement career. He spent 19 years on a 22-operator, multi-jurisdictional tactical unit, with nine years as the training and intel officer. Since 1999, he has been a contract trainer and currently operates Adamax Tactical Academy in Illinois. He is also on the staff of Tactical Energetic Entry Systems.