Using the 'Tactical Battle Swarm' in SWAT operations

Tactical Battle Swarming is a deliberately-structured, coordinated, strategic way to strike an adversary from all directions


Imagine your SWAT team responding to a terrorist attack in a large shopping mall. The attack is well-planned and coordinated. There are several small, roving cells of terrorists attacking mall shoppers in different locations throughout the structure.

How would your team respond?

I bet many teams will roll out their version of a linear stack or formation. There isn’t anything wrong with the many versions of linear stacks. However, in a Mumbai-style attack in a mall or any large structure, you need to get at your adversaries quickly.

The Tactical Battle Swarm
During the past two years I have had an opportunity to develop a tactic with the men of my Special Response Team to further enhance our response to various tactical challenges such as acts of terrorism, active shooters and locating suspects in large structures when locating the suspect needs to be done quickly.

My goal was to find a way to minimize the time it takes for a tactical element to cover ground in a large facility — such as a mall or large commercial building — when the urgency to locate an adversary’s location or position is time critical.

After spending some time analyzing battle tactics from the military and getting valuable input from my SWAT operators — along with much practice in the field — the “Tactical Battle Swarm” was born.   

Tactical Battle Swarming is a deliberately-structured, coordinated, strategic way to strike an adversary from all directions using the deployment of small, dispersed, networked, tactical squads known as “Stinger Squads” — fast moving and coordinated strikes conducted autonomously. This tactic is much different than the common linear style formations most SWAT teams currently use for active shooters and the like. 

Communication and Coordination
Like bees and wolf packs, engaging an adversary from all directions simultaneously, using nimble maneuvering and rapid communications is a highly effective way of fighting. The Bee will typically employ “swarming” tactics when foraging outside the hive striking at their prey from all directions as they attempt to overwhelm their prey’s defenses.

Tactical Battle Swarm characteristics can transition quickly from a linear formation into a “battle swarm” to contact using several autonomous stinger squads assaulting a common target. These squads must communicate and coordinate with each other as well as provide intelligence to command as needed.

The Tactical Battle Swarm provides a smaller span of control for your tactical team leaders so that they have a greater ability to mass over their adversaries to provide maximum shock and firepower. 

We like to use four-man squads — which allows our team to field five total stinger squads. It’s critical that one person from each stinger squad takes command as the team leader. It will be his responsibility to focus on the intelligence as received from other squads and incoming data from dispatch and other radio traffic. The team leader will also navigate the squad inside the objective and determine its direction of travel.

Two of the stinger squad members are required to clear rooms as they proceed through the objective. The third member will provide security for the team leader as he maintains optimal situational awareness and one person should have a breacher pack or breaching tools on him.

During the development of the Tactical Battle Swarm, my initial concept was based on a military “pincer” maneuver. The stinger squads will simultaneously attack the objective in a pinching movement, surrounding your adversary’s flanks and ultimately containing him from several directions.

When tactical commanders arrive to any SWAT call one of their first objectives is to establish an inner perimeter as quick as possible, from all directions using sniper observer teams and containment teams. The Tactical Battle Swarm establishes a quick inner perimeter or containment needed, just like when we respond to a typical SWAT call in a neighborhood, but this inner perimeter is inside the structure and done in quick time. 

While my team worked on this tactic we discovered that it was actually faster to locate a suspect hiding inside a large structure using the Tactical Battle Swarm then the typical linear formations by significant time margins.

When the stinger squads locate the suspect inside the objective they have the option to make contact and apprehend, make contact and negotiate a surrender — or simply hold their position and advise the SWAT commander that they have located the suspect and they have him contained.

The tactical commander will now assess his tactical options of a hostage rescue or now treat the incident as a barricaded gunmen depending on the circumstances. Keep in mind that these stinger squads may locate the suspect and he may not even know it.

The initial deployment of the stinger squads should be from various positions on the outside of the structure. Upon assigning stinger squads entry points provide them some direction of their movement once inside. They should be briefed and tasked with an objective like the west side of the building, or the first floor, etc. Try and plan your attack in a organized flow of the structure so you maximize your pincer movement.

Building on Historical Success
Some of you might say that the Tactical Battle Swarm is too dangerous because of the possibility of cross fire or blue-on-blue fire.

However, I would like to remind you that SWAT officers are highly trained to recognize and assess threats quickly and correctly.

Let’s say your SWAT team is clearing a large office building and there is a man inside thought to be homicidal with many officer workers available as victims. Your tactical commander decides he wants this suspect located as quickly as possible and your team starts to clear the office complex. Will members of your SWAT team shoot at innocent office workers as they come across them just because they are in front of them?

The answer is no, we train SWAT operators to identify a threat before he is engaged. That is why for decades SWAT teams have proven to be the safest option to defuse critical police problems.  

Military battle swarm tactics have been used for hundreds of years and will always be a valuable asset to combat units. The “Tactical Battle Swarm” can be a valuable tool that has the potential to save lives when a homicidal suspect(s) needs to be located quickly. This is just another tactic to add to your current tactical options. The linear formations are still very important and we still use them. Try this tactical concept with your team, make adjustments as needed and see if it works for you.

About the author

Glenn French, a Sergeant with the Sterling Heights (Mich.) Police Department, has 22 years police experience and currently serves as the Team Commander for the Special Response Team, and Sergeant of the Sterling Heights Police Department Training Bureau. He has 14 years SWAT experience and served as a Sniper Team Leader, REACT Team Leader, and Explosive Breacher.

He is the author of the award-winning book “Police Tactical Life Saver” which has been named the 2012 Public Safety Writers Association Technical Manual of the year. Glenn is also the President of www.tacticallifesaver.org.

Glenn has instructed basic and advanced SWAT / Tactical officer courses, basic and advanced Sniper courses, Cold Weather / Winter Sniper Operations and Active Shooter Response courses, Tactical Lifesaver Course and others. Sgt French served in the U.S. Army. During his military tenure Sgt French gained valuable experience in C.Q.B., infantry tactics and explosive breaching operations. 

Contact Glenn French.

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