Explosive Breaching

Blasting through to the bad guys!

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In the past, a police officer with some demolitions experience in the military would volunteer to become the department’s Breacher, or to apply an explosive charge to solve a law-enforcement problem. It was much later that pioneers like LAPD’s Arly McCree, Louisiana State Police Captain Billy Poe and the FBI’s David Holmes, Ed Kelso and others began to explore the use of explosives for forced entry, as a well as IED render-safe capabilities.

breaching2.gifToday, mathematical formulae augmented by cataloged trial and error experience have made breaching a specific skill whose objective is to precisely calculate the charge so that entry is accomplished without injury to hostages, innocents, rescue/arrest personnel or to the offender(s).  Learning and trading ideas in this specialized field was the purpose of an international symposium held in Memphis (see sidebar on page 90). In addition to sharing case studies and witnessing demonstrations of various MOE (Method of Entry), Breachers develop a network of contacts within this growing field at the symposium.

The basic premise of breaching is that your team, no matter how high-speed, well-trained or equipped it is, is worthless if it cannot effect entry into the crisis site. Up until 2001, 84 teams had an explosive breaching capability and 184 operational breaches were reported, with four minor injuries and two lawsuits. However at this juncture, the number of police tactical teams in the USA that have recognized explosive-breaching programs is unknown and this is a statistic that the NTOA plans on pursuing. Nevertheless, we do know that in 2003, approximately 300 operational breaches were performed and in 2006, 600 were reported.

Breaching The Administrative Barriers
Mechanical breaching capabilities for most S.W.A.T. teams are usually a given, but some of the main obstacles to an explosive breaching program are administrative concerns revolving around fire hazards, structural damage and injury to personnel on both sides of the breach. Potential injuries are always adverse aspects of any tactical operation and lawsuits are frequently inevitable even if everything is done right, and ungrateful hostages have been known to sue those that have rescued them. If your mission statement includes hostage rescue, raids and barricade events, explosive breaching, “EMOE” should be included in your MOE capabilities. At a minimum, it should be available on a regional basis. Head-shed resistance can be usually overcome with the assistance of the organizations and companies that organize and host events and by enlisting other departments to conduct demonstrations for those in doubt of its safety and efficiency. Valid and time-tested arguments for why such a program is needed include safety for officers, innocents and subjects, to produce a shock/disorienting effect, to defeat barricades that cannot be overcome by other means, and as a last resort tactic when other options have failed and for liability reasons.

Targets conducive to rapid entry via the pushing (water charge), cutting (linear shaped charge) and blast effects (explosive in contact with target) of explosives are trains, aircraft, ships and buildings. The Breacher has to deal with myriad external and internal doors, walls, windows, roofs and steel hatches and hulls on vessels, and may have to perform this task at night under very arduous conditions. And, if possible, it is always advantageous to conduct a breaching rehearsal on a similar target before the raid. But, as team leaders point out, “It is better to possess this skill and never have to use it rather than wish you had it when a serious situation develops.”

Mathematical Calculations
The primary calculation made to ensure safety is to determine the minimum “Net Explosive Weight,” or TNT equivalent required to breach the obstacle and establish the safe “stacking distance” for the entry formation from the breach point. The team, protected either by a portion of the building’s structure like a corner, or a ballistic shield, will not position themselves in an area where blast overpressure exceeds four pounds per square inch. The goal is to deflect the pressure wave around the team members, but it has to meet somewhere and usually the fourth man in the stack feels it the most. Interior overpressures are most important and are more dangerous because they are reflected from floors, ceilings and walls. Calculations are backed up by experimentation and the Anderson Blast Gauge is used in this area and charges are adjusted, tamped and repositioned accordingly. “P” for plenty is history. Intelligence is the key and the Breacher may conduct his own intelligence-gathering effort to gain as much information about a selected breach point(s) as possible. He can, or may be forced, to rely on informants, public servants who frequent the premises, construction plans and blue prints, observer snipers, drive-bys or close-target recces. Vulnerable high-value targets within the department’s jurisdiction should have site survey folders with photos and video on file.

’07 International Breachers Symposium
This Breacher’s Symposium in Mephis comprised classes, lectures, product intros and tactical demonstrations. Tactical charge placement drills and the positive use of breaching explosives occurred during two, half-day periods. Twenty-one dramatic forced-entry range demonstrations took place at Olive Security Training Center’s 800-acre, ultra-modern warrior’s playground for preparedness. Listed below are the type of charge placement drills, shots and mechanical breaching events performed by Memphis PD S.W.A.T., Shelby County SO S.W.A.T., Tennessee Highway Patrol and OSTC cadre:
- Through rooftop, via a frame charge
- 6-inch concrete wall reinforced with rebar via water-filled frame charge
- Gate Crasher (Oval like ship’s hatch) against a 6-inch concrete wall
- Stihl 440C power saw (Razorback and carbon steel blade) against a class-one metal door
- Wall Banger Pole: Def Tec flashbang against a class-one metal door
- Panduit charge against a solid wood door
- IV bag charge against an exterior plywood wall to effect a gun port through interior dry-wall
- Strip charge against a solid wood door
- Multi Purpose Water Charge (Scott Allman—Rapid Entry) against a class-two metal door
- Linear charge against a screen and solid-wood door
- Omni Distribution Helix charges against a poured concrete block wall
- Raptor Corp’s linear charge against a class-one metal door
-  A-T Solutions Alford strip charge against a solid wood door
- Circular saw on expanded-metal obstacle
- ALS strip charge against a solid wood door
- BROCO thermal torch
- Remington Arms 12-gauge specialized door-breaching rounds
- BTI Breaching doors (Ram, Hooligan/Halligan tool, shotgun, and water charge)
- Life Safety Systems Remote Firing Systems
- Marine Services Commercial Diving thermal and cutting tools.

Emergency Assaults/Hostage Rescue
The most spectacular insert and simulated hostage rescue was performed with the assistance of the Tennessee Highway Patrol’s UH1H helicopter. It involved a team of OSTC’s military instructors and operators from the 5th and 20th Special Forces Groups, who fast-roped down to the roof of a multistoried building and effected multiple explosive breaches through a door and rooftop respectively. The door was entered with a strip charge and the roof was penetrated with a frame charge by one element that used an additional portable fast rope system to gain rapid access to the ground floor. While the helicopter put down in a “safe” area, hostile targets were engaged with MK 4 carbines. The hostage was ambulatory and with heavy security was raced across open ground to be extracted by the same aircraft. To keep hostile heads down and suppress any potential enemy retaliation, operators on the helicopter laid down a blanket of small-arms fire as they departed the crises site area at high speed.

Big Boomers
Reinforced concrete walls require considerable amounts of skill and expertise to breach successfully, while at the same time keeping secondary-injury-causing missiles and fragmentation to an absolute minimum. If resulting fragmentation is propelled too deeply into the crisis site or the fragments are relatively small, the NEW (Net Explosive Weight) was excessive. Two substantial, reinforced-with-steel-rebar, 6-inch concrete walls were breached by law enforcement teams delivered under emergency circumstances via armored truck and armored personnel carrier. The blasts, sound and smoke were considerably heavier, but the results were highly controlled with limited collateral damage. There are very few obstacles that cannot be defeated by the “Positive Use of Explosives.”

Sophisticated Subject Matter
As I took it all in, I thought I was back at my university when these “professors of pressure,” in addition to the subjects set forth above, discussed subjects like the, “Biological Effects of Complex Blast Waves,” where it was pointed out that test targets nearest the walls and officers wearing inflexible body armor received the most damage especially when in the confluence of the “Mach Stem,” which doubles the pressure wave [officers involved in raids where explosive breaching is used by a S.W.A.T. team may not have been briefed on the effects of overpressure, especially when employed inside a building. To protect themselves, ear protection is mandatory and operators should not remain in the hallway or room where the charge is. Do not hug the wall around a corner, but step off to one side or enter another cleared room. Stay out of corners, and the end of the hallway is worse than standing in its middle. However, because of other considerations such as direct-fire threats, you may have to position yourself directly behind the stack for that kind of protection. In addition to reflected overpressures, the stack should also remain at least an arm’s length off the wall because of the bouncing-bullet phenomenon.

Other arcane but important topics included, “Initiation Criteria and Points of Initiation, to prevent misfires” and “Applications of Shock Physics,” by former Navy EOD technician, Dr. Steven Todd of Sandia Labs.

Next Year
It has been tentatively announced that the next year’s Symposium will be accommodated by the U.S. Marshals at their Special Operations Training Center in Louisiana. See you in Cajun country.

Breacher’s Symposium At a Glance
The Eighth Annual International Breacher’s Symposium held in Memphis last July was a phenomenal success. Some 448 vetted attendees from the United States and 14 foreign countries attended. However, like many successful undertakings the Breacher’s Symposium sprang from humble beginnings. In 1998, while working as subject matter experts for the U.S. State Department’s Anti-Terrorism training program, Russ Hart and New Zealand’s greatest human export to this Nation, Alan Brosnan, a former member of its SAS, discussed creating a Breacher’s symposium, because this was one tactical discipline where there was a gaping informational/training void, and the fact that the various available techniques were becoming ever-more employed as methods of forced entry (MOE).

The annual conference is typically conducted at a location chosen by either R.E.S.T. (Rapid Entry Systems Technology), The National Security Centre or Olive Security Training Center. Because of the Symposium’s growth and expansion, administrative duties have been ceded to the National Tactical Officer’s Association. The conference also receives tremendous and invaluable assistance from local, state and municipal police agencies within whose jurisdiction it takes place. At the 2007 conference, the Memphis Police Department, Shelby County Sheriff’s office and the Tennessee Highway Patrol provided a host of services and support.

The first conference took place at Hart’s Gunsite, Ariz., Rapid Entry Systems Technology training facility and 78 personnel attended. Each succeeding conference grew exponentially until today it attracts the best and the brightest private sector scientists, engineers, military, police and government operators in the world who specialize in mechanical and explosive MOE. No longer is S.W.A.T. simply a group of armed knuckle draggers that overcome resistance with brute force: S.W.A.T. has rapidly transitioned from an art to a true science, and breaching, especially the “positive use of explosives” is a prime example.

The conference is also broken down into military and police forums, but the majority of instruction and presentations are given to a combined audience.


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