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The initial scene plays out almost every day in America. SWAT operators stage in preparation for serving a drug search warrant. The announcement is made, and following an appropriate amount of time, the breach attempt begins. Numerous blows are delivered to the door of the subject, but the stronghold refuses to give. The clock ticks precious seconds away as the common situation takes on a dramatic and fatal twist:
- The suspect calls 911 and reports “a man dressed in black is kicking in my door.”
- The suspect gets a firearm from his bedroom and fires a single round through the door, slipping through the breachers underarm vest panel and killing him.
Ramming without effect delayed the entry and gave the suspect time–time to pick up a firearm, time to create a self-defense alibi and the time to fire with effect on the entry team.
The WallbangerTM in use.
SWAT teams are frequently called to assist in the resolution of various high-risk incidents, a significant number of which requires the teams make a breach. In the absence of a rapid-entry capability and the element of surprise that comes with it, many of these situations are doomed to operational failure. As FBI HRT veteran Christopher Whitcomb has accurately pointed out, “if you can’t get in and get in quickly, just stay at home.” The primary issue is fairly uncomplicated. Some people harden doors to keep other people (most notably the police), from forcing their way in. Contemporary SWAT teams train and equip specialists to defeat such hardening, and their potential for success directly hinges on the following three things:
- The degree of target hardening
- The knowledge and experience of the breacher
- The breaching method(s) employed
Issue #1: The degree of target hardening is determined by the suspect and beyond control of the entry element, though specific intelligence related to it (undercover officers, confidential informants, surveillance) can be helpful in preparing for the breach as it relates to issues two and three.
Issue #2: Knowledge and experience can be acquired over time. Initially through foundational and advanced training, then experientially as the learning is validated in the field.
Issue #3: Real world operational breaching is the mechanical ram because if its simplicity and general effectiveness, both of which are directly related to target hardening and not controlled by the officers. The mechanical ram works because the locations are generally not equipped properly when it comes to fortifying. We’ve all heard tales of New York bars and 15 deadbolts in a steel frame, but the practical reality is most doors are one-hitters because most suspects have done little to keep us out.
Those who breach for a living will tell you that any door can be opened if they expend enough time and energy. Unfortunately, too much time rolls the tactical ball into the suspects’ court. If you stumble onto a genuine player during this process, the time delay can result in serious and fatal consequences.
Sandy Wall is a 21-year veteran of the Houston, Texas PD SWAT Team who was involved in several thousand tactical operations during his employment. As such, he is intimately familiar with breaching issues, and has set the process in motion to address some of their inherent problems. Specifically, he invented a device that bridges the operational gap between the mechanical and high-order explosive breach, using a tool based on the primary and secondary blast effects of the DEFTEC #25 noise flash diversionary device. The WALLBANGER™ is a heavy rectangular metal box that holds a DECTEC #7001 CI (command initiated) distraction device charge in each end. The bottom of the box is open and the top is domed to reflect the blast toward the opening. Add this to an L-shaped bang stick configuration, and you have a significant amount of focused shoving energy geared toward opening hardened doors, with less risk to an operator than standing in front of it and swinging a ram.
The #7001 CI charge is proprietary, but I wouldn’t be giving away trade secrets if I mentioned that it weighs 15 grams and consists primarily of magnesium powder, aluminum powder and potassium perchlorate. Upon ignition these compounds burn rapidly, as opposed to detonating. Therefore, they offer nothing more than the primary byproducts of combustion: heat, light and sound. They do this in about 54 milliseconds, while generating 174.5 decibels and elevating the atmospheric pressure 1.7 PSI at five feet. The WALLBANGER™ takes advantage of this energy and a secondary blast effect (focusing) to direct the pressure wave from the top two surfaces of the device to the door. The end result is a significant low-order explosive ramming effect, delivered while allowing the operator to safely stand away from the front of the door. Unlike a traditional DEFTEC #25, the #7001 CI is fired using a shotgun primer and non-electric (NONEL) blasting cap initiation cord system. This is an instantaneous method of igniting the charge, as compared to the M201A1 mechanical fuze (average delay 1.5 seconds) most often observed on the #25.
The WALLBANGER™ has generated much excitement among those tasked with opening doors. No one is suggesting that it will replace the ram as the primary method of breaching, or that it will perform perfectly on every door, every time. The hope is that the WALLBANGER™ will offer a bridge technique between a ram and a high-order explosive breaching charge, when facing unique entry scenarios that logically justify it. The device is currently being subjected to an in depth test and evaluation. More to come on this subject in later issues.
About the Author
Steve Ijames is a major with theSpringfield, Missouri Police Department, and has been a police officer for the past 27 years. Steve was an original member of the National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA) board of directors, and was the course developer/lead instructor for the NTOA and IACP less lethal force options "train the trainer" programs. Steve has provided such training across the United States and in 31 foreign countries, and frequently provides agency litigation defense when the use of such tools are called into question.