Examining the World's Most Advanced Special Ops Training Facility
Defense Journal: Kings of a Special Ops Playground
The bigger the boys, the bigger the toys. The U.S. military in general, and U.S. Special Op folks in particular, work especially hard to remain atop the fighting force pyramid. They play just as hard, as any amount of time spent in the bars around Fort Bragg, Virginia Beach, and Coronado will reveal. It’s the best of both worlds when a training facility allows military guys to fully test their skills in an extremely competitive environment — and the King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center, or KASOTC (it rhymes with “aquatic”) is such a place.
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The Annual Warrior Competition, hosted by SOFEX JORDAN and KASOTC, attracts special operations forces and law enforcement teams from around the globe to compete against one another in a test of skills, teamwork and endurance. The event also allows for an exchange of special operations command and counterterrorism tactics, techniques and procedures through a network of international military members, and the opportunity to test new equipment and practices at a world-class training center.
While The New York Times covered this year’s competition with an excellent piece, we decided our own in-depth on the incredible facilities and challenging annual competition — plus an interview with a team leader of the winning squad in 2010 — could provide plenty of insight on exactly what goes on at this hybrid competition-cum-proxy-battleground.
The range complex is located in Az-Zaraq, Jordan, just minutes from the capital city Amman. It’s in a quarry, which allows 360-degree firing; each of its ranges is set up to maximize firing angles without sacrificing safety. The facility comprises 56 urban buildings, including a four-story shoot house, an airplane for conducting hostage rescue/recovery, a nine-story rappel tower and multiple live ranges for pistols, rifles and even sniper rifles. As one SEAL shared with us, the total facilities are “better than Dam Neck [where Naval Special Warfare Development Group, 'SEAL Team 6', trains]“.
Event 1, Precision Rifle: Five shooters fire 10 rounds with service rifles, in full combat gear, at a target from 300m, 250m, 200m and 100m successively within a 10-minute time limit. Total 400 points possible, high score wins.
Event 2, Methods of Entry and Sub-Machine Gun/Carbine: Each team mechanically breaches and clears a 4-story building, engaging targets outside the building once they’ve reached the fourth floor. Fastest time wins.
Event 3, Precision Pistol Shooting: Each member of a five-man team engages 30 targets from four different firing positions in relay. Fastest time wins.
Event 4, Counterterrorism Par Course: Begins with the five-man team negotiating an obstacle course before moving to designated firing positions where each member must successfully engage their own 100m target 10 times. Once all team members are done shooting, they move back through the obstacle course to the starting point. Fastest time wins.
Event 5, The Tower Run: A team of two snipers and three shooters ascend a 9-story tower by caving ladder and stairs. From the top, the snipers engage six steel targets before the entire team rappels down, where the three shooters conduct an assault and engage targets from 100m with service rifles. The fastest time wins.
Live fire is the essential element of realistic training, and, in preparation for close quarter battle (or “CQB”), it separates combat training from paintball with the boys. Skills developed and honed through drills on known-distance ranges — that is, shooting at static targets from set positions — provide the foundation for a successful special operations attack, through a building, ship or otherwise. At KASOTC, things are kicked up a notch: many ranges have automated targets with digital feedback systems, removing the delay between firing a shot and knowing its accuracy and precision. In the good ol’ days, you fired your rounds, waited until the firing line went “cold” (shooting stopped), and walked down range to see how things had turned out. At KASOTC, the range systems allow immediate assessment of each individual shot — high, low, left, right, or center mass. For honing shooting skills, there’s nothing better.
The KASOTC staff has the ability to inject sounds, smells, and obscuring fog in and around the buildings of their live-fire ranges, making for immersive, realistic training. Cameras liberally sprinkled throughout the ranges provide post-action feedback on individual and unit techniques, a critical component to building a finely honed team. The facility also has the flexibility to meet any unit’s training objectives. For example, the large shoot house, where special operations units practice dynamic entry and live-fire close quarters battle, can have scenarios projected onto the walls.
For some insight into entering, and winning, the Annual Warrior Competition held at KASOTC, we sat down with the Marine Corps’ Captain Troy Mitchell, who commanded the Maritime Special Purpose Force for 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (24th MEU). A poised, low-key professional, the prior-enlisted Marine intelligence officer described just how aggressively successful teams must prepare for the intense competition.
In May 2010, 24th MEU fielded two teams, one from their Force Reconnaissance Platoon, a second from the Battalion Reconnaissance Platoon. Using issued equipment, including M4 carbines and .45 caliber pistols, the two teams prepared in the five days leading up to the competition. One of the keys to their success was detailed planning before each event. “We started each course and event with an initial visual rehearsal, gaming both our approach to the objective, as well as actions on the objective”, Captain Mitchell said. Married with the cohesion and teamwork that comes of working together over pre-deployment training and an operational deployment, each team member shared confidence in the entire team’s capabilities and standard operating procedures for shooting, moving and communicating during events. Like a pick-up team of NBA professionals, a “dream team” of special operations forces pros is only as good as their ability to work together seamlessly.
“The competition was not about winning or losing, but about coming together to have a good time through competition and to learn from each of the countries through lateral communication and unit cohesion”, said Captain Mitchell. Modestly said, for someone who walked away with the first- and third-place trophies.
The KASOTC staff has the ability to inject sounds, smells, and obscuring fog in and around the buildings of their live-fire ranges.
This year, as reported in The New York Times‘s story, the Chinese team walked away with the competition. You might think that reflects poorly on U.S. and other nations’ capabilities, but you’d be wrong. Sure, a pickup team of highly skilled former Special Ops guys got beat, but the rest of the story is that some nations put together teams specifically for the tightly defined, very controlled problem sets at the Annual Warrior Competition — just as Captain Mitchell’s successful teams did, they “game” the game and heavily practice the scenarios presented during the competition.
While the facilities at KASOTC provide some of the best training opportunities in the world for CQB skills, these highly choreographed stages don’t necessarily translate into what makes a special operations team the best in the real world. Those situations are much more complex, involving intelligence preparation, planning, fire support, and movement to and from the objective, among other layers. The pros from the U.S. military special operations units train both individually and collectively to handle the dynamic tactical challenges that arise from real-world situations against a thinking adversary trying to kill them. Even with the impressive array of technology at KASOTC, there’s a world of difference between facing a pop-up target and one that shoots back. Events like the Annual Warrior Competition provide nice exposure to world-class facilities, friendly competition, and the exchange of techniques and ideas. However, when it comes to live missions, the U.S. is still number one.