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Special times for special ops. (Complete Guide).

The term "special operations" appears to have taken on several meanings in recent years--depending on where it is used around the world. In the past, those almost defying two words had a tendency to describe covert, commando, penetration or sabotage missions--a good example being the British SAS infiltration behind the Iraqi lines in 1991 to settle the future of a few Scud launchers with Milan anti-armour missiles.

The above-mentioned SAS missions took place during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. Today, an operation like Desert Storm itself would be regarded as a special operation. A number of people in defence circles now tend to regard all overseas deployments as special operations. They might be, but the equipment involved is of course entirely different, or rather encompasses a much wider range. The consequence is that it has become increasingly difficult to draw a line between "special ops" dedicated equipment and plain military equipment.

From the Blue

When parachuting is not possible, the use of helicopters becomes an obvious alternative Depending on the number of commando members and size of equipment to be dropped, the required machines can be fairly large. For landing large armoured vehicles, though, there is no alternative an aeroplane is mandatory.

Typical candidates here are the Eurocopter Cougar, the Sikorsky Black Hawk and the Boeing Chinook. Europe will soon have a suitable helicopter in the larger category with the NHI NH90, particularly with its rear cargo ramp. Of course, the ideal machine will come from the United States in the form of the Osprey once this unusual machine has got ridden of its teething trouble.

The V-22 has taken a lot of flak, mostly from people who are first concerned with budgets and secondly, from those who simply cannot understand that complicated things do not always work under the first strike of a whip (in fact, a number of these people often comfortably fit in both categories). After all, and in spite of war films showing the contrary, helicopters did not operationally exist during the Second World War and it took quite some time after this to see them becoming reliable and of any use as transport and armed aircraft. Memories can be very volatile indeed. Special operations, though, have a strong propensity to be required in hostile environments, such as deserts or cold, snowy regions. Thus, quite apart from the sophisticated navigation and mapping equipment, such helicopters need additional equipment to protect their engine air intakes. These, unfortunately tend to deplete the available power by quite a few kilowatts.

At long last, things appear to be looking up for the at one time seemingly ill fated Osprey. It recently performed a VIP flight and even more recently aircraft No. 10 operated by the V-22 Integrated Test Team landed on the, USS Iwo Jima.

In the Western World, the Hercules and the Globemaster III have become synonymous with airlift. The Boeing C-17, being a later design, has demonstrated its phenomenal one-man loading/unloading capability time and again in Bosnia. The Europeans, for their part, are still trying to put their budgets into unison to acquire the so much needed Military Airbus A400M.

Buggies to Battlebusses ...

Today's special operations forces have a bewildering array of vehicles at their disposal. Ignoring motorcycles, quad bikes and mechanical mule types, this article addresses the lightest 4 x 2 `fast attack' designs through to the latest protected heavyweight utility designs, stopping short of `trucks', but including an overview of light armoured vehicles that meet a C-130 transportability caveat

The type of vehicle most closely associated with special operations scenarios is the four-wheel so-called light strike, fast attack or armed reconnaissance type. These can generally be split into one of two categories; high performance types based around tubular space frame buggy designs, or the more practical (generally speaking) mass-produced light utility vehicle designs.

This past decade has seen proliferation in both categories, the idea of producing such a vehicle clearly appealing to a great many manufacturers. And while a low weight, high mobility, performance and payload concept sounds simplistic enough, the number of prototypes that appear but once, confirms the reality to be otherwise.

Chenowth Military Products can arguably be credited with securing military acceptance of buggy-type designs following the mid-80s introduction of their two-man (4 x 2) Fast Attack Vehicle. A three-man (4 x 2) Light Strike Vehicle (LSV) designed for the US Navy SEALs followed, both types seeing high-profile service (under the DPV (Desert Patrol Vehicle) acronym) during the Gulf War. The petrol-engined LSV was superseded by a third-generation diesel-engined (4 x 4) Advanced LSV (ASLV) in Chenowth's line-up during 1997, but it was the earlier LSVs that were brought out of mothballs, refurbished and deployed to Afghanistan in December 2001.

In addition to various branches of US armed forces, Chenowth LSVs were supplied to Greece, Israel, Mexico, Oman, Portugal and Spain, although the operational status of these vehicles is not known. Of broadly similar design is the Longline LSV. Examples shipped to the Gulf with British forces yet, although now believed phased out of service, as with the Cobra LSV the type remains available.

Buggy-type designs are well-suited to desert environments, and the Jordanian Special Operations Command (Socom) recently began fielding the King Abdullah Design and Development Bureau (KADDB) AB3 Black Iris (4 x 2) and Desert Iris (4 x 4) light special forces vehicles. Orders followed extensive trials in Jordan and South Africa, these supported by pre-production operational deployment to Sierra Leone. Early production examples of the Black Iris have been deployed by Jordanian Special Forces in Afghanistan.

Singaporean Special Forces use the Singapore Technologies Kinetics (STK) Flyer LSV. STK is now the sole manufacturer of the Flyer LSV originally developed by HSMV Corporation (now the Flyer Group) and previously manufactured in Australia by ADI. It is understood that a few Flyer LSVs (possibly two) were supplied to Indonesia.

Four second generation R-12D Flyer 1 models recently entered service with the Hellenic Army's Special Forces, and the Flyer 21 LSV was a candidate for the US Marine Corps recently abandoned non-developmental item solution to its Internally Transportable Vehicle (ITV) requirement. Intended for operations with the delayed V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor craft, the ITV will eventually replace the US Marine Corps' ageing M-151 fast attack vehicles.

Most buggy-type designs are short production runs produced by specialist manufacturers, hence designs (and manufacturers) do `come and go' all too frequently. However, one design that could be around for some time is the China North Industries (Norinco) FAV. Shown publicly for the first time in late 2001, the type is believed to be in service with the Chinese People's Liberation Army. Despite being offered for export, dimensions of 4 x 2.095 x 2.21 metres (L/W/H) and a combat weight of 1.95 tonnes aside, little information has been provided about the vehicle. It appears to a 4 x 2 design and was displayed mounting a 7.62 mm machine gun for front passenger use, and a 23 mm cannon in a ring-mount integrated into the roll cage.

Another recent design is the Adcom H2A. Clearly optimised for open space operations, unlike many of its contemporaries the H2A is a true four-seater plus stowage design. Payload is a generous 1.2 tonnes, comparing to 500 and 1000 kg for the KADDB AB3 and STK Flyer, respectively. The H2A also leads the pack in power output terms, its 5.9-litre engine producing 300 hp, compared to a respective 102 and 110 hp for the AB3 and Flyer.

Stretching the buggy-type envelope that bit further is Israel's Automotive Industries Limited (AIL) Desert Raider, a 6 x 6 tubular space frame design with a walking beam rear bogie suspension system with 600 mm of stroke. The Desert Raider seats up to five and has a 1.2-tonne payload capacity. As with most vehicles of this type, users are not disclosed.

Conventional

Buggy-type designs clearly have a special eps role, but with mass-produced light utility designs being cheaper to procure, operate and maintain and are more often better suited to the role, it follows that these are most commonly adopted. Land Rover and G-Wagon (G-Class) are names that might spring most readily to mind, but brief mention must also be made of a selection from the extensive range of other special ops suitable light utility vehicles available.

The Pinzgauer, with its torque tube chassis design, portal-type swinging half-axles and coil-spring suspension, has excellent off-road mobility, which makes it a special ops favourite. Also featuring coil suspension (with beam axles) is the Auverland A3F fast attack vehicle, 254 of which were recently delivered to the French Army. More conventional in appearance are a number of jeep-type designs that include South Korea's Kia Motors KM42/KM41 series, India's Mahindra & Mahindra vehicles, and Israel's AIL M-240 Storm Multi Mission Vehicle, all of which have been displayed in numerous special ops type configurations.

The traditional Daimler-Chrysler Jeep will not be overlooked despite there being no military production of the type at present. Daimler-Chrysler is currently evaluating global market potential for military versions of the latest TJ model, production of which (for the Egyptian Army) is scheduled to start at Cairo's Arab American Vehicles plant in 2003.

Toyota's Land Cruiser must not be overlooked either, many thousands being in widespread use, primarily in the Middle East and South America. However, aside from AM General's HMMWV which arguably falls outside the light utility vehicle envelope, it is Land Rover that probably has the highest profile, something doubtless aided by users that include the British Army's SAS and US Army's 75th Ranger Regiment. The Land Rover is internally transportable by a CH-47 Chinook a major factor in its selection by the Rangers; the HMMWV is only portable as an underslung load.

The SAS aside, specialised Land Rover variants are used in numbers by other UK special forces. Types include `Winter/Water', equipped for operations at -49C and in 1.5 metres of seawater, and the Wmik (Weapons Mount Installation Kit). The Wmik is fitted with full-length rollover protection and allows the addition of myriad weapons via a ring or pulpit mount. A further development of the Wmik kit is marketed jointly by Land Rover and Ricardo Special Vehicles as the latest Land Rover Rapid Deployment Vehicle.

Another popular chassis choice is the G-Class, almost 60,000 of which have been supplied to military users since production began in 1979. The latest 270 CDI model is fitted with a 156 hp five-cylinder common rail diesel engine coupled to a five-speed automatic gearbox. Interestingly, it was a G-Class variant that competed against the space framed Flyer R21 for the US Marines ITV NDI solution. The G-Class is already used by the USMC, delays with what evolved into the ITV requirement seeing the, late-99 procurement of around 100 Interim Fast Attack Vehicles (IFAV) based on the G-Class 290 GD. Competitors included a Land Rover RDV variant,

The G-Class provides the base for CSIR's Defenctek Bat 2 rapid reaction utility vehicle a contender for the South African National Defence Force's. (Saadf) requirement for an air-droppable platform for use by special forces. Also competing is the MDB designed, Land Rover component based Taurus and the Alvis OMC Wasp (the believed winner), based on-the running gear of the Alvis OMC RG-32 25 vehicles will replace 20 Ford component based Mechem Bat vehicles

The Sandf's requirement to replace its Jakkals 4 x 4 highweight airborne vehicle was recently met with the selection of the Gecko, an 8 x 8 skid-steer design based on the commercial Argo Conquest. Also competing for this 75-vehicle/75-trailer contract was the Supacat 6 x 6, around 60 examples of which recently entered service with Britain's rapid reaction forces.

Supacat cannot confirm this, but the company is known to be preferred bidder (with a variant of their 4 x 4 High Mobility Load Carrier) for a British special forces requirement for a CH-47 transportable Surveillance and Reconnaissance (SRV) vehicle to replace the Land Rovers, the end-user is probably the SAS.

Heavier

The SRV's 1.6-tonne payload requirement highlights a trend towards ever-increasing capacities for special ops vehicles, particularly those used by true special forces. This trend increasingly puts commercially based light utility 4 x 4 designs, with realistic payloads of around one tonne, out of contention. By way of example, other SRV competitors were a Pinzgauer 6 x 6, a Penman Engineering Land Rover 6 x 6 conversion and a Bucher (now Mowag) Duro-based 4 x 4, this having a 5.5-tonne combat weight.

Limited numbers of larger capacity vehicles have been in service for a number of years, the Australian SAS's 4.84-tonne GVW Long Range Patrol Vehicle (LRPV) being a prime example. A 4 x 4 Land Rover derivative, the LRPV is currently used by Australian Special Forces in Afghanistan. Smaller 4 x 4 Land Rover Surveillance Reconnaissance Vehicles (SRV) compliment the LRPVS, although interestingly the weapon mount/roll cage fitted to the latest SRVs precludes their internal transport by a CH-47.

One long-established heavyweight yet to be mentioned, but one that needs little introduction is the HMMWV. The latest Expanded Capacity Vehicle (ECV) variant has a combat weight of over five tonnes, and accepting that imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery, similar in overall appearance to the HMMWV is Japan's little-known

Kohkidohsha and Spain's URO Vamtac. Around 500 Vamtacs are in service with Spanish armed forces in two differing versions, tactical (190 hp) and logistical (140 hp). Two Chinese manufacturers have displayed close copies of the HMMWV, although neither appears to have been adopted by the PLA. The KADDB AB17 Tiger, of which 1500 are required by Jordanian armed forces, also follows similar lines to the HMMWV, while the amphibious GAZ `Vodnik' is often described as the `Russian Humvee'. The Vodnik is available soft skin or armoured and mates a wide range of mission-specific modules to automotive components from BRDM-2 and BTR-80 armoured vehicles.

The current trend towards protection has seen armoured variants, of all major light utility vehicles appear over recent years, However, combined with demands for increased payload, the added weight of applique armour and even rudimentary mine blast protection can place unrealistic demands on such types, inevitably leading to compromise or the use of larger base vehicles. Protected versions of the Duro, Iveco 40.10, HMMWV (and others) are all now available, some chassis taking protection to the next level and mounting purpose-designed armoured bodies. Examples of the latter including the Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW) Terrier (Iveco 40.10) and the Mowag Eagle (HMMWV).

Italy's Iveco offers a different solution to the payload/protection/performance dilemma with its HMMWV-like Light Multi-purpose Vehicle (LMV), the first vehicle of its type with mine protection integrated into the chassis. To allow adaptation to specific role and threat, all LMVs will be fitted for, but not with, a modular armour package developed by IBD of Germany. Similar in spec to the M1114 armoured HMMWV, the heavier (6.7-tonne GVW) LMV has an armour dependant payload of up to two tonnes.

With few exceptions, anything beyond HMMWV size will lack speed and agility and as such can only be considered as conventional logistic support. Brief mention will however be made of the Acmat VLRA and Unimog ranges of trucks, both long-established designs that have been deployed in `mother hen' roles to lighter special forces vehicles. The ever-durable Acmat range is now available with a Euro III emissions complaint engine and automatic gearbox, while the latest Euro III generation of U3000, U4000 and U5000 Unimogs entered production late 2002.

A VLRA chassis is used for the TPK 420 BL (7.8 tonnes combat weight) and VLRB (9.6 tonnes combat weight) light armoured vehicles, while the most recent use of the Unimog chassis is for the KMW Dingo, of which 147 have been ordered for the German Army, including some for special forces use.

Built For Purpose

Topping the protection scale are purpose-designed wheeled light armoured vehicles, the type being eminently suitable for a huge number of special ops roles including reconnaissance, personnel carrier and fire support. With variants of virtually all major types meeting the C-130-deployable caveat, this overview will include only a selection of types that in the opinion of the author, might or could best suit special ops deployment.

Starting with 4 x 4s, ADI's Bushmaster and the Arge consortium's Fennek are but two that may have wished for a less protracted development. Production of the Fennek for German (202) and Netherlands (410) armed forces is now underway, while the Bushmaster--designed from the outset for long-range self-sufficient operations--looks set to enter series production for the Australian Army in 2003. Turkey's Otokar Cobra is a monocoque armoured hull mated to a HMMWV driveline, while Alvis Vickers' heavily protected Scarab, like many other 4 x 4 designs, utilises proven Unimog running gear. Despite this and a South African lineage, Scarab still awaits a launch customer. The one 4 x 4 design whose success others must surely seek to emulate, is the Panhard et Levassor's Vehicule Blinde Leger (VBL). In over 17 years of production more than 1700 examples have been supplied to 15 different countries.

There are exceptions of course, but most 6 x 6 designs are offered as variants of smaller 4 x 4 or larger 8 x 8 designs. Steyr-Daimler-Puch's 6 x 6 Pandur has evolved into the Pandur II available in 6 x 6 or 8 x 8 configurations and Iveco's Puma is available as a 4 x 4 or 6 x 6. The Mowag/General Motors Defense Piranha/LAV dominant light wheeled armoured vehicle over recent years, is unique in being available in 4 x 4 through to 10 x 10 configurations, although the latter falls outside our C-130 coveat.

Over 500 Piranha/LAVs (the majority in 8 x 8 configuration) have been produced, The Piranha II remains available and the Piranha III (as the LAV-III when manufactured by General Motors Defense) continues in production. The latest Piranha IV, with an enhanced protection and greater carrying capacity when compared to its predecessors, is at prototype stage. It is reported to remain C-130 transportable at baseline level, following preparation.

As the Stryker, the LAV-III is entering service with the US Army's new Brigade Combat Teams (BCT), with current plans calling for 2131 vehicles, the basic APC being armed with a 12.7 mm machine gun or a 40 mm automatic grenade launcher. Projected variants will include the 105 mm Mobile Gun System, which is also required to be C-130 transportable.

And while the future for the Piranha/LAV looks safe, perhaps it should not rest too firmly on its laurels ... the previously mentioned Pandaur II likely to prove a worthy competitor, while the 2001-unveiled STK Terrex AV81--on paper at least--appears to have the better of even the Piranha IV at every call.

... and Finally

The limited use of tracked vehicles on special ops deployments should not be discounted, a vehicle such as the amphibious Alvis Hagglunds Bv 206 combines a marginal terrain capability far superior to any wheeled vehicle with a useful 2.25-tonne payload. The armoured Bv 206S--ordered by five European armed forces--was introduced in 1989 to meet the emerging trend for crew protection, the larger BvS 10 subsequently being developed for higher volume/payload requirements. BvS 10 has been adopted by the British Royal Marines. Mention should also be made of the similarly spec'd STK Bronco, currently in production for the Singaporean Army.

Another tracked option not to be overlooked is the agile and unique Rheinmetall Wiesel. The Wiesel 1 weighs 2.8 tonnes and two are transportable internally by a Boeing a CH-47. The Wiesel 2 multi-purpose carrier, with twice Wiesel 1's internal volume, weighs 4.1 tonnes and two are transportable internally by a CH-53 helicopter.

Weapons

It has been mentioned before that the Special Operations world is just that--special. Special Forces have to carry out all manner of missions that demand not just the right type of operative but the right type of equipment, especially weapons. Since few special operations are conducted on any conventional scale it follows that few entail any of the usual logistic and other support on which conventional forces have to depend. Special forces have to rely on their own resources so when it comes to a choice of weapons they immediately encounter some challenges.

The first is that special operation forces usually have to rely on what they can carry. There may be operations where local transport can be captured or commandeered so it would not be safe to plan for such transport sources. The only safe alternative is reliance on what can be `humped'. It follows that most portable weapons are small arms. Some of them may be crew served, but the emphasis must be on personal weapons. It is on such weapons that this survey will concentrate. Vehicle-borne special operations are dealt with separately, but it bears mention that the weapons involved still remain on the light side.

Having placed reliance on small arms, the next challenge is to get from them the maximum that can be achieved, both in weapon performance and handling. All the small arms described here will be of little value unless the operators can utilise their accuracy and firepower potential to the full. As always, that demands dedication on the part of the user plus thorough and constant training. These realities must not be forgotten in the descriptions that follow.

Firepower

Special forces tend to rely on all manner of techniques other than firepower alone to achieve their missions, but when firepower is required it often has to be delivered within an alarmingly short time period and with maximum effectiveness. That usually involves automatic fire. Of course there will be times when a single shot may be all that is required but the operational emphasis is usually on burst fire.

The snag for the special operations soldier is that automatic weapons can consume ammunition on a grand scale and there is only so much ammunition that any soldier can be expected to carry. This re-emphasises the need to obtain the very best out of whatever weapon is concerned. Apart from that, ammunition supply dictates how long a special operations team member can remain effective. Without ammunition their activities will come to a sudden halt so careful self-discipline in the expenditure of ammunition is paramount.

The customary individual weapon is the assault rifle or a derivative. The derivative almost always involves some form of short-barrelled rifle, namely a carbine. A carbine fires the same ammunition as the full size rifle but are handier, lighter and more compact for deployment and transport in confined areas (such as helicopters).

Shorties

One such carbine is the 5.45 mm AKS-74U, available from several Eastern Bloc sources, the most widely encountered being those manufactured by KBP at Tula--more come from Poland and Bulgaria, the former Yugoslav source have apparently dried up. One reason why the AKS-74U, for some reason known in the USA as a Krinkov, has become so widely familiar of late is that it is the weapon often observed as part of Bin Laden's wardrobe. Apart from that, the AKS-74U is often referred to as a sub-machine gun, no doubt due to its stubby overall length of just 490 mm with the butt stock folded. Yet the AKS-74U fires standard 5.45 x 39.5 mm rifle ammunition and is claimed to have a maximum effective range of up to 500 metres, although most combat encounter ranges will usually be much less than that. To expand its special operation utility the AKS-74U can be provided with a special-to-type PBS-1 sound suppressor or an under-barrel 40 mm grenade launcher. Perhaps the most unusual AKS-74U combat accessory is a silenced grenade launcher, the 30 mm BS-1, of which more later.

The other most commonly encountered carbine is the US M4 Carbine from Colts or FNMI. This has become the weapon of choice for most US Special Forces who have introduced numerous alterations to ensure it complies with their exacting specifications. This has resulted in the 5.56 mm M4A1 Close Quarters Battle (CQB) weapon, an M4 Carbine with all the bells and whistles. The telescopic butt stock is a standard M4 Carbine fixture but the main changes are centred around the Knight's Armament rail adapter system, based on the extensive provision of the MIL-STD-1913 Picatinny Rail over the receiver and around the forestock. With each CQB weapon comes a kit containing just about every combat accessory that can be conceived, from optical and night sights to a 40 mm grenade launcher and a forward hand grip. These accessories can be attached to the weapon via the rails, as and when required for a specific mission, and removed with equal facility.

The CQB M4 Carbine will be issued to all US Special Forces teams, including the Rangers and some Marine Corps units, where they will replace the array of weaponry currently in service. One problem has already arisen with the M4 CQB Carbine. US Special Forces train so hard and routinely fire so many rounds of live ammunition that they are wearing their new toys out long before what was expected. Also getting a hammering are the sound suppressors now frequently employed on special forces carbines. These are becomingly increasingly favoured, not so much to keep operations quiet but to enable the users to maintain their aural senses at a high pitch in enclosed firing areas. Within confined areas such as building interiors the carbine's firing signature, usually more severe than that of a rifle due to the short barrel, could inflict severe hearing damage to anyone nearby unless ear defenders are worn. Wearing such ear protection also reduces the aural senses that are so essential during close quarter combat. A suppressor simply reduces the firing signatures to a bearable level.

There are many other carbines suitable for special operations employment, one being the 5.56 mm Tavor bullpup from Israel Military Industries (IMI). Here the usual Tavor shorty is known as the Ctar-21 or Tavor Commander, the barrel being reduced in length from the standard 460 man to 380 mm; the Commando can accommodate a suppressor at the muzzle. However there is an even shorter Tavor, the Micro-Tavor. This differs from other Tavor models in several respects, not the least being the overall length of just 520 mm, of which 250 mm is the barrel. It weighs only 3.3 kg. Other changes from the standard models have followed intensive field trials by Israeli Special Forces. The forestock has been revised in outline while the position of the reflex sight mounting rails over the receiver has been altered slightly. IMI claims that the Micro-Tavor is the shortest assault rifle available.

Another item of note regarding the Micro-Tavor is that apart from the model firing 5.56 x 45 mm rifle ammunition there is also a variant firing 9 x 19 mm Parabellum pistol ammunition. This places the Micro-Tavor within the sub-machine gun category but it is one variant that Israeli Special Forces have decided they require. The internal mechanisms are changed from gas operation to simple blow back, while Uzi pattern box magazines continue to be inserted through the suitably adapted magazine well. Kits containing the necessary components can transform a standard Tavor into the 9 mm Micro-Tavor. Models firing 0.40 S&W or 0.45 ACP pistol ammunition are anticipated.

An assault rifle with near carbine dimensions is the Singapore Technologies Kinetics Sar 21. Here the length of the standard assault rifle is only 805 mm overall, thanks to its bullpup configuration. For special operation forces, lengths of Picatinny Rail can be added around the forestock while a 40 mm grenade launcher is but one possible combat add-on. The Sar 21 is in production for the Singapore armed forces.

Perhaps the most dramatic compact special operations rifle comes from Military Manufacturing (M2) of Las Vegas, Nevada. They produce ultra-shorties based around the 5.56 mm M16 type rifle receiver with 105.2 mm, resulting in a rifle only 510 mm long with the usual Colt pattern telescopic butt stock retracted. The muzzle blast and flash that would normally eremite from such a short barrel is virtually eliminated by a special muzzle-mounted device known as a VortX flash suppressor and compensator.

Eastern Bloc

When it comes to Russia and some other nations within the former USSR, the observer is almost overwhelmed by the number of weapons and weapon types specifically designed for special operations forces. One reason for this, it seems, is the number of local armed forces and agencies maintained for one reason or another, from internal security to tax gathering, in addition to the military special operations forces. Each organisation seems to have its own particular requirements and each designer concerned seems to have his or her own corresponding solution. The end result is a plethora of models on offer.

One weapon selected by Spetsnaz forces, although originally intended for issue to Russian Interior Ministry (MVD) units, is the OTs-14 Groza special weapon system (the OTs- provides an indication that the weapon involved is for special operations). It was placed into production during 1994 but is still little known, even though it has been offered for export sales. As its title denotes, the OTs-14 Groza is more of a system than a specific weapon for not only can bits and pieces be added or taken off, it is also possible to select calibres as well, again as and when an operational mission dictates. One possible calibre is the 7.62 x 39 mm M1943 cartridge used with the AK-47/AKM assault rifles series while the other is a special 9 x 39 mm cartridge, the SP-5 or SP-6. These latter low velocity cartridges have heavy bullets with steel cores that render them suitable for what can only be described as anti-materiel fire missions as the bullets can smash critical combat equipment, such as radios or computers, and even make a mess of airframes. The bullets can also penetrate Kevlar body armour so they become powerful all-purpose projectiles. The 7.62 and 9 mm OTs-14 Groza models are not normally inter-changeable under field conditions.

The OTs-14 Groza is essentially an all-in-line bullpup version of the AKS-74U originally designed by a bureau known as TsKIB SO0 of Tula. KBP, also of Tula, produces the system. Various foregrips or forestocks can be utilised as desired while the front end can be configured to mount a 40 mm grenade launcher or a muzzle suppressor. An optical or night sight can be added to the overhead iron sight bracket.

The 9 x 39 mm steel cored SP-5 and SP-6 cartridge is also employed by another special operations weapon, this time the Vikhr SR-3 short assault rifle from the Central Institute of Precision Machinery Construction at Klimovsk. This weighs only two kg when empty and is only 360 mm long with the metal butt stock folded up and over the receiver. A box magazine contains either 10 or 20 rounds so the weapon is small enough to carry beneath outer clothing without attracting attentions.

Yet another short assault rifle that fires the special 9 x 39 mm round family is the A-91 Series compact rifle from KBP. This is not another bullpup but a conventional layout rifle that has appeared with numerous detail changes to date. Apart from being offered chambered for the special 9 x 39 mm cartridge it has also been offered for 5.45 x 39.5, 5.56 x 45, or 7.62 x 39 mm ammunition, presumably to attract export sales. One of the main items of note regarding the A-91 is that it weighs only 2.1 kg when empty. When the steel frame butt is stowed up and over the receiver the overall length is 385 mm.

To confuse matters, one further KBP product is another special operations rifle known as the A-91M. This rifle has nothing to do with the A-91 just mentioned, as it is another bullpup design, this time chambered only for 7.62 x 39 mm M1943 ammunition. The A-91M appears to have originated as a design study directed towards a totally enclosed receiver for ambidextrous operation. To this end spent cartridge cases are ejected forward and out of the rifle. Several variations of the twin grip layout have been observed, prompting the conclusion that the A-91M format is still being `worked on'. On the A-91M the trigger is so far forward that a special grenade launcher mounted over the short barrel protrusion has had to be introduced. Known as the GP-97, it launches standard 40 mm grenades to about 400 metres. No known sales of the A-91M have been detected to date.

Specials

All the weapons outlined above may be taken as typical carbines likely to be employed by special forces. To them must be added a variety of `special' rifles that do not readily fall into the individual weapon category. At the top of the list come yet more weapons from Russia.

Two of them are rifles based around the same receiver, fire the same ammunition and feature sound suppression as a fixture. They are the 9 mm AS Val silent assault rifle and the VSS silent sniper rifle. Both fire the aforementioned 9 x 39 mm SP-5 or SP-5 low velocity cartridge and both utilise a barrel-length double chamber suppressor to keep firing sounds down to a minimum. The AS Val is meant to be a silent assault weapon for formations such as Spetsnaz while the VSS is a sniper or dedicated marksman rifle effective at ranges up to about 400 metres. At that distance there will be no sound or flash indication of from where the rifle is being fired. The VSS has provision for telescopic or night sights and can be broken down into sub-assemblies for carrying, typically in a briefcase container. Both rifles are produced by the Central Institute of Precision Machinery Construction at Klimovsk, usually known by the unpronounceable name of TSNITochmash.

Two further suppressed rifles for special operations are on offer from Izhmash at Izhevsk. One is the 7.62 mm SV-98, a suppressed and ruggedised version of a competition rifle. This is available chambered for either Eastern Bloc 7.62 x 54R or 7.62 x 51 mm NATO. A more unusual weapon is the SV-99 chambered for the 0.22LR cartridge, not usually regarded as an operational round. This is a true special operations weapon as it is intended for the silent, close range elimination of targets such as guard dogs or sentries. When fired, the SV-99 makes virtually no sound at all. For carrying, the SV-99 can be broken down into several sub-assemblies and there is even provision to install either a butt stock or a pistol grip to suit the mission. To assist accuracy a low power telescopic sight is a fixture and a bipod is provided. When assembled the SV-99 is only one metre in overall length.

When suppressed rifles are considered there is plenty of choice from outside Russia. It seems that nearly every specialist rifle manufacturer can supply suppressed rifles but as the market is limited few seem to advertise their capability. Two examples will indicate the types available, both of them from the UK and both with bolt actions. One is the Accuracy International AW Covert 7.62 mm sniper rifle system. On this model the suppressor completely shrouds the barrel so that, when firing sub-sonic ammunition, there is virtually no identifiable sound signature. A take-down version of the AW Covert is available, complete with a folding butt stock. Then there is the Law Enforcement International 7.62 mm TRG-SPP based around the Finnish Sako TRG sniper rifle but with a new suppressed barrel. Numerous other similar rifles could be mentioned.

Smaller Specials

Until relatively recently nearly all special operations forces seemed to favour sub-machine guns, the ubiquitous Heckler & Koch 9 mm MP5 being a particular favourite. These days the trend is towards shorty assault rifles, as mentioned above. Such rifles are just as handy as a sub-machine gun and fire a more powerful cartridge to longer ranges, yet somehow the sub-machine gun is still widely employed for special operations, particularly in the former Eastern Bloc nations.

Numerous standard production submachine guns, such as the MP5 already mentioned, are still diverted for special purposes but once again, Russia has developed some sub-machine guns specifically for special operations. One of the most promising is the 9 mm SR2 from TSNITochmash of Klimovsk. This Uzi-style sub-machine gun fires a special 9 x 21 mm cartridge that is so powerful it requires a gas-operated rotary locking mechanism in place of the usual less involved locking systems. The power is required to propel an armour-piercing bullet through Kevlar body armour. Box magazines holding 20 or 30 rounds are fed into the weapon through the pistol grip. With the butt stock folded up and over the receiver the SR-2 resembles a large pistol, as it is then only 367 mm long, short enough for it to be fired from one hand when necessary. Empty weight is just 1.63 kg.

The SR-2 is being marketed as part of a `complex', partnered with the 9 mm SR-1 Vektor pistol (see below) as both fire the same special ammunition.

Numerous other Russian submachine guns abound, one of the more unusual being the 9mm PP-90. Its qualifications as a special operations weapon is somewhat suspect but is mentioned here as it is the sort of weapon that could be carried stowed away and brought out only when necessary. When carried the PP-90 resembles a box magazine. This unfolds to form an angular sub-machine gun that could act as a last ditch weapon for personal defence. The PP-90 is chambered for 9 x 18 mm Makarov pistol ammunition. The similar PP-90M is for the 9 x 19 mm Parabellum. Just to make life interesting there is another Russian sub-machine gun known as the 9 mm PP-90M1. This has nothing to do with the PP-90 as it is an entirely different design with the attraction of being able to use either a 30-round box magazine or a tactically useful helical magazine holding 64 rounds.

Several other Russian sub-machine guns exist. One of them, specifically designed for special operations forces but displaying no particular features for its role, is the 9 mm OTs-02 Kiparis (Cypress), perhaps better described as a machine pistol. It was designed as far back as 1972 but was not placed into production by Enterprise Metallist of Uralsk in Kazakhstan until 1991. It is an entirely conventional design with a vertical box magazine holding up to 30 9 x 18 mm Makarov pistol rounds. A special laser target designator is available for this model.

Outside Russia the sub-machine gun world is gradually being invaded by the new generation of what are described as Personal Defence Weapons (PDW). While several contenders have entered what is still a very limited market for the PDW, two products deserve special mention, the FN Herstal 5.7 mm P90 and the Heckler & Koch 4.6 mm PDW. Both are intended to be carried by their users for prolonged periods and only resorted to when really needed but for special operations they have added attractions. Both fire small armour-piercing or ball bullets that not only penetrate body armour but will impart nearly all their potential energy on impact, creating significant trauma-inducing shock effects that will remove the recipient from any further participation in events. As the rounds are relatively light and small it is possible for one soldier to carry significant amounts of ammunition, the P90 having a horizontal 50-round magazine. The Heckler & Koch PDW has a 20-round magazine.

The P90 and PDW have the further advantage of being extremely compact and light. The P90 is so designed that it can be slung or otherwise carried about the person for long periods without inflicting inconvenience or discomfort. The Heckler & Koch PDW can be carried in a holster. If required, both can be fired from one hand and both are provided with easy-to-use optical reflex sights. The price to be paid for all this convenience and ease of carrying is that the maximum effective range for both ammunition types is 200 metres. For most special operations that range would be more than adequate.

Away from the advanced PDWs, the well-established Heckler & Koch MP5 is still a firm special forces favourite, the calibre options now expanded to include 0.40 S&W. Most in-service models fire 9 x 19 mm Parabellum. The MP5 family is now an extensive one, with numerous minor variations to suit particular customers, but one model definitely comes into the special operations bracket. This is the 9 mm MP5K, the model with no butt stock and just the pistol grip and a forward grip to hold. With a 15-round box magazine instead of the usual 30-round item the MP5K is easy to carry and weighs only two kg empty and is just 325 mm long. The MP5K has found widespread approval and is license produced in Turkey, Pakistan and Iran.

Many US sub-machine gun users continue to favour the heavier pistol calibres, no doubt thingking that the heavier the hit the less chance of retaliation. For them Hockler & Koch now markets the 0.45 UMP (Universal Machine Pistol), Based around the suitably modified receiver of the G36 assault rifle, the UMP was originally produced by Heckler & Koch's US associates. The UMP makes extensive use of glass fibre-reinfornce polymers to combine strength with light weight, yet compared to many other sub-machine guns UMP is something of a handful. Versions are available chambered for 0.40 S&W pistol ammunition.

Pistols

Being essentially short range weapons, pistols have few advantages over other small arm types special operations but handiness and portability are two of them, Operatives carrying heavy or bulky equipment not such as radios usually have no alternative to carrying a pistol for personal protection but often find when a weapon is needed in earnest that pistols are just as likely to be as lethal. They are also difficult to aim and fire accurately, unless a great deal of training has been involved, and the low power ammunition often lack the forces to effectively disable a determined adversary.

Yet special pistols have been devised for special operations. One of the better known is the Heckler & Koch 0.45 Mark 23 USsocom pistol developed for the US Special Operations Command. This pistol was developed to meet very exacting specifications, including lasting reliability under extreme handling and environmental conditions, and it can also carry combat accessories such as a suppressor, a combat light or a laser aiming module. The USsocom pistol has repeatedly demonstrated that it can meet the many demands made of it with constant ease. It also has to be said that it is a bulky pistol that requires a great deal of training and experience to handle properly, while the resultant price tag is too large for many potential users, Less costly equivalents have been devised by Heckler & Koch, such as its 0.45 USP45 Tactical based on standard USP pistol.

Another powerful pistol devised specifically for special operations is the 9 mm SR-1 Vektor. Produced by TSNITochmash of Klimovsk, the SR-1 is the latest version of the P-9 Gurza, now out of production. It fires the same 9 x 21 mm ammunition as the SR-2 sub-machine gun, so the bullet can penetrate 30 layers of the Kevlar used for body armour or a 6 mm-thick steel plate. It has numerous design features that make it suitable for special operations, one being the 18-round magazine. Magazine changing is made more rapid by a specially contoured magazine well and a device that, as the magazine is slammed home, the slide left open after the last round was fired is automatically closed, loading a fresh round as it travels forward. The pistol can thus be brought back into action with a minimum of delay. Several safeties are incorporated and all controls are ambidextrous.

Furing more conventional ammunition is the OTs-33 Pernach from KBP. Designed specifically for special operations, the OTs-33 is a machine pistol capable of firing at a cyclic rate of 850 rds/min but with a modified blow back operating system that enables the firer to keep the pistol under control during bursts. It was designed as a replacement for tile 9 mm Stechkin (APS) machine pistol that was notorious for its uncontrollability. Due to its automatic fire capability the OTs-33 has a magazine capacity of 18 or 27 rounds, although for the latter the end of the magazine protrudes from the pistol grip. A rudimentary removable butt stock can be provided to assist aiming. The OTs-33 was procured for Russian Federation Interior Ministry (MVD) units.

One pistol that must be mentioned is the FN Herstal 5.7 mm FiveseveN. This is the partner to the Fbi Herstal P90 PDW mentioned above and it fires the same Kevlar-penetrating 5.7 x 28 mm cartridge. Apart from that the FiveseveN is unusual in many ways, not the least being the extensive use of moulded polymers in its construction. The Fiveseven has no safeties as only a definite and determined trigger pull will make the pistol fire. The absence of external fire control levers makes the FiveseveN easy to carry in a holster and the risk of snagging the pistol on clothing or other objects is minimal. For special operations one of the most attractive features is the ammunition capacity. The box magazine in the grip can hold no less than 20 rounds, a very valuable asset in any close range firefight.

As the slow and deliberate trigger pull of the FiveseveN does not appeal to some prospective users, FN Herstal has developed the FiveseveN Tactical, essentially the same pistol as before but with a crisper single action trigger and an external safety lever.

As far as suppressed pistols are concerned, just about any pistol can be provided with a sound suppressor, typically those from the extensive range of Brugger + Thomet. However, there are a few purpose designed silent pistol such as the Chinese Norinco 7.65 mm Type 64, which is really a conventional pistol with an integral suppressor housing. Far more unusual is the Russian 7.62 mm PSS. This resembles a conventional pistol but it fires a special 7.62 x 42 mm cartridge, the SP-4. The SP-4 cartridge contains a piston between the propellant and a blunt-nosed slug. On igniting the propellant the piston drives the slug along the barrel but as the cartridge has a distinct shoulder around the neck the piston remains inside the case, trapping all the sound and flash, Virtually nothing can be seen or heard in the way of a firing signature.

The PSS holds six rounds and weighs 850 grams loaded. It is claimed to have an effective range of up to 50 metres, penetrating two millimetres of steel plate or a steel helmet at 25 metres while still retaining sufficient energy to inflict a lethal wound. The little PSS is not a pistol to trifle with.

Oddities such as the 7.62 mm NRS scouting knife have found numerous Russian special operations applications and it has been joined by another, similar weapon. This is the OTs-54 Komplekt (Package) combat knife that contains a single shot barrel chambered for a variety of pistol ammunition calibres, including the 7.62 mm SP-4 silent cartridge for the PSS pistol. The knife handle is removed for loading, firing along the blade being via a button-type trigger, The Komplekt is issued along with a light combat engineering tool combining an axe and a saw.

Underwater

Underwater firearms for use by combat divers are still rarities. A few types are still kept very much under security wraps, but Russia has marketed two of these highly specialised weapons.

One is the 4.5 mm SPP-1M four-barrelled pistol. Each of the barrels holds a cartridge firing a long, slim, drag stabilised dart. The four rounds are inserted into the barrels in a clip, to be fired in succession by a double action trigger mechanism. At a depth of 20 metres the lethal range is 11 metres, and that involves penetrating a padded diving suit or a 5 mm-thick mask.

The second Russian underwater weapon is the 5.66 mm APS rifle. For this the 5.66 mm cartridges are enlarged versions of the SMM-1M pistol round but have a longer range performance at depth, the lethal range at a depth of 20 metres being 20 metres, Each dart is 120 mm long, the overall length of the cartridge is 150 mm. 26 rounds can be carried in a distinctively contoured curved box magazine and fire can be either fully or semi-automatic.

Big and Lethal

Sniper rifles have always been a special operations weapon as all too often they are central to the mission undertaken, getting that important single bullet onto a target at exactly the right instant. Apart from the silenced versions already mentioned, there are few models designed specifically for special operations but, as usual, the Russians have managed to come up with one.

This is the 7.62 mm OTs-03AS Dragunov or SVU. It is a shortened bullup derivative of the widely employed SVD dedicated marksman rifle. The SVD butt has been removed but the mechanism has been little changed other than to cater for the bullpup layout. Even the PSO-1 optical sight remains as before although iron sights are provided as well. The overall length is thus reduced to 900 mm. A prominent attachment at the muzzle acts as a combined flash hider and sound suppressor. A bipod is optional, having the unusual feature that it can be hinged to one side to provide firing stability when placed against walls. One aspect of the OTs03AS that does differ from the SVD is that it has a fully automatic fire mode. As the box magazine holds only ten 7.62 x 54R rounds it has to be assumed that this feature is for emergency use only. The OTs-03AS has been issued to Russian Interior Ministry (MVD) units and has seen service in Chechnya.

The OTs-03AS is probably the only specifically designed special operations sniper rifle, although numerous other models have been adapted for special missions. One topic regarding sniper rifles is that a trend towards rounds other than the 7.62 x 51 mm Nato can be detected. Rounds such as the 0.338 Lapua Magnum, 0.300 Winchester Magnum and 0.300 Winchester Short Magnum can provide enhanced ballistic performances at the longer ranges, so more and more sniper rifles are certain to appear chambered for these rounds.

Specialist rifles must include the anti-materiel rifles (AMR) with calibres of 12.7 mm and upwards. These are very much special operations weapons as they have few applications during conventional warfare. It is not possible for a survey of this nature to mention every single model by name as there are too many, with more appearing every year. It has to be emphasised that AMRs are not intended to be long range, anti-personnel weapons. They are meant for the destruction of combat value materiel targets such as parked aircraft, communication centres and command installations, where one well-placed bullet can create havoc, emphasising the AMR's role within special operations.

Perhaps the most widely deployed AMRs are the US Barretts from the 12.7 mm Model 82 onwards, while the British Accuracy International AW50F is already finding niches within many special operations unit& From Russia comes the 12.7 mm V-94 with its removable barrel for added portability, while the French/Belgian PGM 12.7 mm Hecate II has found widespread European approval. The Hecate II is now marketed by FN Herstal who will also be dealing the advanced 12.7 mm OM.50 Nemesis when it appears in the near future.

There are many other AMRS, many of them destined to remain as impractical designer's dreams, but one special example has to be mentioned. This is the South African PMP NTW 20/14.5, a large weapon but one with many AMR applications. The 20/14.5 part of the designation indicates that the rifle can be transformed to fire two different cartridges. One is the Eastern Bloc 14.5 x 114 mm, while the other is the 20 x 83.5 mm MG151, the latter normally associated with aircraft cannon and having a high explosive payload capability. By changing barrels and other calibre-related components the bolt action NTW 20/14.5 can be reconfigured in the field to suit any particular mission in under 30 seconds. Another field expedient is the stripping down into several sub-assembles to be distributed on two backpacks for carrying over distances.

The NTW 20/14.5 is a hefty load weighing 26 kg and with an overall length of just over 2 metres for the 14.5 mm version. This latter calibre can deliver effective aimed fire to over 1800 metres, the box magazine holds three rounds--two to back up that all-important first shot.

Heavier Items

Special operations forces often have to rely on grenade launchers to provide fire support during fire fights, but this type of armament is rarely relied on as a precision weapon. For knocking out structures or other hard obstacles the usual recourse is to a shoulder-launched weapon such as the ubiquitous RPG-7, the US M72 anti-tank rocket launcher series or the Israeli Shipon. Once again, there are many similar grenade or shoulder-launched systems that could be mentioned but none of them are specifically special forces weapons.

As always there are exceptions and, once again, two of them emanate from Russia. One has already been briefly mentioned, the BS-1 silent 30 mm grenade launcher. There can be few applications for such a highly specialised weapon outside special operations. It can be applied to any AKS-74U short assault rifle, the 30 mm grenade being propelled from the short barrel by a special cartridge. The grenade is muzzle loaded while the cartridge feed involves a bolt action and a curved box magazine through the launcher's pistol grip. It seems the silencing principle operates in a similar manner to that of the PSS SP-4 silent pistol cartridge previously mentioned. The grenade can be launched to an effective range of about 100 metres. It has to be mentioned that the BS-1 is intended to disguise the user's firing position only, as the grenade detonation on impact is certainly not silent.

One further Russian grenade launcher remains to be mentioned, this time a real oddity as it is based on an entrenching tool. The overall concept of this launcher, known as the 40 mm Variant, dates back to the late 1930s when some bright spark decided that an entrenching tool with a steel handle could be readily converted into a 37 mm mortar bomb launcher. A rod insert was removed from the handle, enabling the spade section to act as a recoil-spreading baseplate and allowing the spade handle to act as the barrel. The rod insert could be used as a barrel-supporting monopod. The Spade Mortar idea got to the production state only to be by-passed after mid 1941 by other more pressing needs.

It seemed that the Spade Mortar concept had been consigned to history only for it to be revived recently. The overall concept remains as before but this time the entrenching tool handle/barrel is used to launch standard 40 mm high explosive fragmentation grenades. The grenades involved include the spin-stabilised Vog-25 or Vog-25P, both with a potential maximum range of about 400 metres. The option always remains that the entrenching tool format can still be used as it always has, swung as a nasty close quarters weapon.

Rockets and Missiles

Here the recent trend has been for weapons that can be fired from confined spaces. Rockets increasingly use the Davis principle recoil mechanism while guided missiles go for what is termed "soft launch" whereby a small motor expels the missile out to a safe distance from the firer before it ignites its sustainer rocket motor.

Special operations teams increasingly have to operate in urban environments and emphasis is now shifting to anti-bunker warheads as opposed to pure anti-armour. There are two challenges in this respect: the first is to obtain a fuzing system that will enable the warhead to explode within the building, and not on the other side of it as one of the authors once saw it happening (the building had softer walls than expected and the projectile pierced the first wall, flew through the building and exploded as it travelled out of the bottom wall); the second is to see as much of the available energy being used inside the building and not as it penetrates it. In the latter context, there have been attempts to produce tandem charges, with the first one--hollow type--in charge of penetrating the wall, followed by a grenade to devastate whatever might be behind it. This technique has, however, proven to offer mixed results.

An answer appears to emerge with hardened penetrators like the Mep type recently developed by Ruag (see our special report on this Swiss firm in this issue). Such penetrators can be filled with a thermobaric warhead, which have devastating behind-wall effects. The Ruag penetrator has proven its ability to penetrate over 20 centimetres of double-reinforced concrete or 1.5 metres of sandbags. The Mep warhead can be fitted to the Dynamit Nobel PzH, the Bofors AT4 and the Russian RPG-7.

Word of Mouth

Without a means of communication, any special operation is doomed to failure. Hand signals work while on patrol and in non-secure areas, but word needs to reach the outside world--to call for fire, report on progress or to signal for extraction.

So much has been reported on hand-held radios and other means of communication that a mention of having to drag that old reliable PRC-77 about the jungles and deserts is to beat a dead horse. Times have changed and personal communication devices--let's keep it simple, radios--have come a long way in the design and capabilities departments.

Small, light, multi-channel, secure and, most importantly, easy to use are today's standard requirements when designing a hand-held for Special Ops use. Multi-channel and software programmable radios have hit the scene with full force and have proven so reliable that they are now features that no self-respecting commando would be caught without.

Channel changing on the fly and having the capability to cover a stretch of the spectrum with one radio is a combat-proven feature that provides Special Ops teams with a peace of mind that they have the support they require.

In the Hot Seat

During Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, US Air Force Special Operations team member, MSgt. Tim Stamey (now retired), caught in a cross-fire with a group of unfriendlies, called in air support from a variety of sources on his Harris AN/PRC-117F(C) radio. "So capable was this radio", mentions Stamey, "that I had communication with almost everyone. That took some getting used to. Where before I would have to wait until my requests were sent around the net to the folks I needed support from, all I did with the PRC117 was to punch in the preset, talk to the artillery guys, then other fire teams, and lastly the CAS and gunship crews, and then sit tight until the boys in the air crested the hills and took care of business. Without a doubt, that radio was a life-saver!"

Other success stories of the Harris `wonder radio' were shared with Armada's editors during the AUSA convention in October 2002, but this is, by no means, the only option for special forces. Nor is it the only choice. But at that time in combat--one that worked.

The--117F(C) is a member of the Falcon II family of radios that includes the AN/PRC-150(C) HF radio, in the hands of the US Special Operations Command, the US Army's 82nd Airborne and Stryker Brigade combat teams. Under $3.3 million contract, Harris supplied high-frequency (HF) AN/PRC-150(C) radios in manpack and vehicular configurations to the U.S. Army Reserve, in 2002, to conduct its missions in joint environments, cutting across service boundaries.

The AN/PRC-150(C) is the only HF radio certified by the National Security Agency (NSA) for its embedded information security features. It was designed to meet the security requirements of US military, Nato and Partnership for Peace forces, as well as government agencies and embassies around the world.

Another hand-held on show at AUSA, and found in the hands of Special Forces teams, is the MBITR from Thales Communications (formerly Racal). The Multiband Inter/Intra Team Radio (MBITR) has already had an illustrious career, but in its newest guise exudes versatility from its very design. The radio's `grab-n-go' style sees the hand-held saddled into a vehicle charger that provides 20 W of RF amplification, then simply grab the hand-held and off one goes with between 100 mWatts to 5 Watts for AM/FM voice or data comms across the 30 to 512 MHz spectrum. US Type 1 Comsec is embedded, and options include Sincgars Sip, Havequick II, ANDVT and Retransmit. Thales' software-definable MBITR is a part of Thales Communications' offering for the JTRS programme.

For an even smaller voice, the Thales MSHR, Miniature Secure Handheld Radio, provides a digital voice and data communication system with Type 1 or exportable encryption and narrowband capability. The radio has been endorsed by the NSA and is ready for action with Special Forces and federal law enforcement personnel.

Hoof, Belt and Pocket

Not to ignore what most Special Ops teams carry on their person, mention must be made of a few of the `pocketed' items (cheatie wheaties excluded) that find favour with the `hidden' soldiers.

Combat is a nasty business, made even more gruesome by some of the defensive weapons designed for hand-to-hand combat. Building on the "No Fear" lines is the range of knives from Masters of Defense. Each blade has been specially designed by either a special operations team member, combat trainer, martial arts master (mistress in one case) or specialist in lethal force training. Masters of Defense knives have taken the Special Forces personal weapon world by storm, and taking a sample in one's hand tells the complete story. One blade was even designed by Chief James D. Watson, Seal team two plank owner and known as "Patches" in Richard Marcinko's Rogue Warrior paperback series.

Most recently the US Marine Corps, in the process of developing its own version of Special Ops teams (not to sleight the recon units or snipers) who are training with both the Army and Navy, has committed to placing Masters of Defense blades in the hand of every team member. Many US Navy Seal team members carry either the company's CQD Mk V, Mk VI, the extra versatile Mk I or a combination of these. Internationally, the blades have been ordered by and supplied to a variety of military and special police units in Europe--the French also have them in view for the Felin future warrior programme.

Another well-known knife comes from Victorinox--the SwissTool. This multi-faceted, never-leave-home-without-it tool contains a collection of handy, sturdy and very usable implements is almost standard kit with any soldier, sailor and airman on the front lines or back at HQ. Victorinox has recently been marketing its "One-handed Soldier Knife", a flick-bladed version of its trademark tool that features a leather punch, wood saw, a few screwdrivers and other useful items.

"Water Boy!"

Hydration systems also feature strongly in any special operation--where the double-barrel set of canteens once had to suffice the backpack versions give an almost hands-flee access to the silent bag of wet. Blackhawk and Camelbak alike offer low profile, pack-with-pockets and insert varieties, the latter of which are shoved inside any available backpack or rucksack. Camelbak's slogan "Hydrate or Die" is not just a collection of catchy words!

Another means of hydration comes in the form of water purification equipment, a station where Alpine Water sets up shop quite comfortably. The 3000CM purification system supplies between 473 and 568 litres per hour--enough for the crew of a forward operating area. To get away from the crowds, Special Operations teams can carry the company's 1800BP backpack system that provides in excess of 6814 litres per day.

A smaller, pocket-sized purifier can be had from the Katadyn line. The Swiss company offers the Bottle water filter that contains a three-stage filter that is also effective against viruses, but the all-rounder is the Combi, which uses both activated carbon and ceramic filtration to eliminate bacteria and reduce chemicals and the bad taste that is associated with the water from many filtration system.

Treading Lightly

From Poland, Kupczak products are gaining more and more recognition in the west. A full range of footwear is available for Special Forces, border guards and government security officers in many countries, as well as the Polish Grom Special Forces. The company produces approximately 200,000 pair of special tracking boots for regular army and Special Operations troops.

Little mentioned, but of paramount importance are the timepieces. Most military members have their own preference but with the Special Forces (particularly the US Navy SEALs) one watch does shine brighter than others--the Traser series from mb-microtec. The Swiss company produces the watch with the illuminating tritium gas sealed inside tiny glass cells. No recharging in lighted rooms or even by sunlight is required, yet the dial is so bright it can be used to read a map in triple canopy darkness.
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Author:Young, I.C.
Publication:Armada International
Geographic Code:4EXRU
Date:Feb 1, 2003
Words:10955
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