Delta Force: The Elite Counter-Terrorism Unit of the U.S. Army


    1. 1st SFOD-D AKA Delta Force

    Delta Force, officially known as the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, is the elite counter-terrorism unit of the United States Army. Often referred to as “The Unit,” “Task Force Green”, “D-Boys,” simply “Delta,” and most recently known as the Combat Applications Group (CAG). This highly specialized and secretive unit is renowned for conducting some of the most dangerous and challenging missions in the world.

    Covert raids, hostage rescue, direct combat engagement and counter-terrorism are among their more known operational purposes. Members of the Unit are sometimes referred to as “Sine Pari Warriors”. The name comes from the motto of the US Army Special Operations Command: Sine Pari – Without Equal. Delta Force’s professional demeanour, secrecy and high success record have earned them its place as the premier Special Mission Unit of the Army and the United States military as a whole.

    In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the history of Delta Force, its mission and capabilities, and the training and selection process for its operators. We’ll also explore some of the most famous missions that Delta Force has undertaken, including the raid and kill of ISIS leader Baghdadi and the hostage rescue attempt at the Iranian embassy in 1980 dubbed Operation Eagle Claw. Whether you’re a military history enthusiast or just curious about one of the most elite units in the world, this article will provide a comprehensive overview of Delta Force.

    Delta Force Insignia
    The distinctive unit insignia of USASOC and Delta Force, by extension. (Source)

    2. Delta Force Doctrine

    The mission of Delta Force is multifaceted, operators of the elite unit are highly skilled in specialized disciplines to see their missions through. Their skills reflect their primary purposes of counter-terrorism and hostage rescue.

    Delta providing VIP protection for General Norman Schwarzkopf.
    Delta providing VIP protection for General Norman Schwarzkopf. (Source)

    3. Delta Force History

    Like DEVGRU, Delta formed out of the necessity for lean and agile special forces groups. Discussions in the 1970s by US defence agencies led to the recognition of non-state actors, especially terrorist groups, after a myriad of global terrorist attacks. The need arose for a dedicated and highly efficient counter-terror unit, and Delta Force was formed. (Source)

    3.1. New Team, New Tactics

    Colonel Charlie Beckwith was a Green Beret and the passionate founder of Delta Force. (Source) Having experienced brutal combat in Vietnam with the Army’s 7th Special Forces Group and serving alongside Britain’s 22 Special Air Service (SAS) in Malaya, he recognized the need to have a special forces group that could counter the changing nature of warfare. As a result, his focus was to shift the US strategy from large forces to smaller more agile groups of special operators. (Source)

    Colonel Charlie Beckwith, founder of Delta Force.
    Colonel Charlie Beckwith, founder of Delta Force. (Source)

    Delta completed its preparations and was certified in 1979, and it would soon face many new challenges that would forge and test the new unit. The name Delta comes from their original designation as a Special Forces Operational Detachment (SFOD) – Delta. A typical team of Green Berets make up an SFOD – Alpha or ODA. The name is derived from their original lineage as part of the Special Forces.

    4. Delta Force organisation

    All US special operations groups contain smaller elements, allowing them to deploy around the world for various operations. Delta Force’s composition contains assault and reconnaissance squadrons, reflecting their purpose and design. It also contains secondary squadrons, such as support, signal and AFO teams. The Unit is comprised of approximately 500 operators and even more support personnel. (Source)

    4.1. Delta Force Squadron Composition

    Force Composition: (Source) (Source)

    Squadrons A, B, C and D are all assault squadrons, designed with the purpose of direct action. A squadron typically has 75 members with ~25 per troop and 2-6 people per team. Squadrons include three troops: two direct action troops and one reconnaissance, infiltration and sniping troop. (Source) These squadrons will be the ones who participate in the vast majority of combat while in the field, with all other squadrons operating as support.

    Among the secondary squadrons is the E squadron, the aviation branch of Delta Force. Little is known about the E squadron, but it originated in the 1980s as a joint Army and CIA aviation unit known as SeaSpray. (Source) Seaspray’s exact operations are not fully known, but it operated for the CIA in South America for a number of years. (Source)

    Other squads include a dedicated signal support squadron, a combat support squadron and an AFO squadron. (Source) These could operate alongside active assault squads. 

    4.1.1. Squadron A (Assault Squadron) Troop A (Assault Troop)
    • Team A:
      • Team Sergeant (E-7 or E-8)
      • Secondary Team Sergeant (E-7 or E-8)
        • Operators: 2 – 12 operators (E-6 to E-8 minimum given entry requirements)
    • Team B:
      • Team Sergeant (E-7 or E-8)
      • Secondary Team Sergeant (E-7 or E-8)
        • Operators: 2 – 12 operators (E-6 to E-8 minimum given entry requirements)
    • Team C:
      • Team Sergeant (E-7 or E-8)
      • Secondary Team Sergeant (E-7 or E-8)
        • Operators: 2 – 12 operators (E-6 to E-8 minimum given entry requirements)
    • Team D:
      • Team Sergeant (E-7 or E-8)
      • Secondary Team Sergeant (E-7 or E-8)
        • Operators: 2 – 12 operators (E-6 to E-8 minimum given entry requirements) Troop B (Assault Troop)
    • Team E:
      • Team Sergeant (E-7 or E-8)
      • Secondary Team Sergeant (E-7 or E-8)
      • Operators: 2 – 12 operators (E-6 to E-8 minimum given entry requirements)
    • Team F:
      • Team Sergeant (E-7 or E-8)
      • Secondary Team Sergeant (E-7 or E-8)
      • Operators: 2 – 12 operators (E-6 to E-8 minimum given entry requirements)
    • Team G:
      • Team Sergeant (E-7 or E-8)
      • Secondary Team Sergeant (E-7 or E-8)
      • Operators: 2 – 12 operators (E-6 to E-8 minimum given entry requirements)
    • Team H:
      • Team Sergeant (E-7 or E-8)
      • Secondary Team Sergeant (E-7 or E-8)
      • Operators: 2 – 12 operators (E-6 to E-8 minimum given entry requirements) Troop C (Reconnaissance Troop)
    • The exact size of Reconnaissance Troops is not known, though the size is likely smaller than Assault Troops given the requirements of sniper and reconnaissance specialization.

    4.1.2. Other Assault Squadrons

    • Squadron B (Assault Squadron)
      • Same composition as Squadron A, including Troops A, B and C.
    • Squadron C (Assault Squadron)
      • The same composition of Squadron A, including Troops A, B and C.
    • Squadron D (Assault Squadron)
      • The same composition as Squadron A, including Troops A, B and C.

    4.1.3. Squadron E (Aviation Squadron) (Flight Concepts Division)

    • The exact composition of Squadron E is unknown, though Squadron utilises MH-60 Blackhawks, MH-6 Little Birds and MH-47 Chinooks, meaning crews will be needed for each vehicle. Crews include both commissioned and warrant officers as well as enlisted personnel to maintain the aircraft. 

    4.1.4. Squadron G (Advanced Force Operations Squadron)

    • The size of the G squadron is not known. The composition may be similar to an Assault Squadron with attached intelligence elements and additional command elements.

    4.1.5. Tertiary Squadrons

    • Signal Squadron
    • Combat Support Squadron
    • Computer Network Operations Squadron (CNOS)
    • Tactical Evaluation and Operational Research Squadron (TEOR)
    • Selection and Training Squadron

    These tertiary squadrons contain all the soldiers required for Delta to function. It includes soldiers with jobs such as cook, surgeon, finance personnel, supply personnel, explosive ordnance disposal, and many more. Delta Froce Tier 1 Hackers

    The CNOS is a squadron of computer hackers with a variety of purposes such as finding and fixing targets for assault squadrons to finish. The squadron is spread around the DMV area, with a headquarters in Arlington, V and two troops at Fort Mead, MD and Langley, VA. THE CNOS reports directly to the JSOC commander, allowing it to hack within countries the US is not technically at war with. CNOS operators have clandestinely infiltrated countries as members of non-governmental organizations and heavily targeted internet cafes in the Middle East to identify terrorists.

    The squadron was unofficially formed in the 1990s by a few tech-savvy Delta operators who specialized in surveillance. The squadron began to grow and after 9/11 it became a stand-alone unit as Delta’s command fully realized its usefulness in the digital millennium. By 2007 the CNOS had become large enough to earn a designation as a stand-alone squadron in Delta. The Unit’s hackers work alongside various intelligence units such as the CIA, ISA, and JSOC internal cyber-warfare units. (Source)

    Delta Force operators in Kabul after an attack
    Delta Force operators in Kabul. (Source)

    4.2. Delta Force Selection

    Within the US military, there are many paths that lead to Delta Force. A large amount of the personnel that join Delta is from both Rangers as well as Green Berets. However, soldiers from conventional units can attend selection as well as members of the military from other branches such as the Marines or the Navy. General Wayne Downing notes that around 70% of Delta is recruited from the 75th Ranger Regiment. (Source) Within the military, Delta’s selection is colloquially known as the “Long Walk”

    4.3. Training to Win

    Candidates need to meet standard entry requirements, acquire top-secret clearance and pass through Airborne School. (Source) Enlisted personnel need a rank of E-3, at least 36 months remaining in service and top-secret clearance. Personnel also need an ASVAB score above 110. (Source

    The entry requirements for Delta are likely to be even higher than these listed requirements, and the physical and mental tests in the training process itself will push even the toughest candidates to their absolute limit.

    5. Delta Force Training

    Like the selection process of Delta Force itself, the training procedures for becoming a complete member of Delta Force are hard to fully determine. The nature of Delta’s activity is largely classified, and even the methods taught to Delta operators cannot be completely disclosed. 

    5.1. Forging the Body

    Physical requirements for any special forces will be extreme, to say the least. In a disclosed document from the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, there are a number of highlighted physical activities. (Source) The primary focuses of special forces physical training surround a few different disciplines. These include the capability to hold weight while moving, general strength and endurance. These disciplines are tested constantly through various exercises, including: (Source)

    • Weighted runs/ marches
    • Strength conditioning via rows
    • Climbs
    • Exercise bikes
    • Heavy set push-ups and pull-ups
    • Squats and a myriad of other body weight and gear-oriented exercises. (Source)

    A comprehensive nutrition regimen supplements the physical requirements of Delta as well. Special forces groups are provided with the nutrient-dense food and liquids they need to make it through training. As a result of their training, Delta operators are drilled thoroughly on the importance of different forms of nutrition. As a result, operators understand how certain foods can maximize their physical output, and help them in the field. (Source)

    5.2. Beyond the body

    More specifically Delta Force Assessment and Selection follow initial training for selection. The selection also involves navigation skills, where candidates are given specific coordinates they need to navigate to. Finally, the Long Walk section of the training involves a 40-mile march in full pack. (Source)

    5.3. Tactical Preparations

    These collective physical requirements, as well as tests, are only the start, as their tactical training brings them to the baseline standard.

    It is during the final phase of the training that candidates enter the Operators Training Course or OTC. OTC is a constantly evolving end-stage of the Delta Force training process. They are trained in a variety of small arms, as well as specialized roles like support weapons and sniping/observing. (Source) OTC also involves an advanced parachuting school, training in CQB, demolitions, tradecraft and VIP protection tactics. Most importantly, as so many OTC participants and officers alike confirm, it is the brotherhood that is the most important aspect forged during training. (Source)

    Upon completion of OTC, members of Delta either move on to an active squadron. Trainees may also be sent to certain specialist schools, including advanced sniper training. The trainees become Delta Force operators and begin their active service with the Unit.

    5.4. The Beret

    Upon the completion of most special operations selections, soldiers are awarded a unique beret to wear in garrison and dress uniforms. Ranger Regiment wears the tan beret and the Special Forces wear the illustrious green beret. However, Delta Force doesn’t have their own unique beret. Originally, the Unit likely wore the green beret due to their original formation within the Special Forces. Today it is common to see members of Delta Force wear the beret of the unit they were in prior to coming to Delta. However, they will wear the USASOC flash and distinctive unit insignia (DUI).

    6. Delta Force Tactics, Techniques, Procedures (TTP)

    Delta Force primarily conducts counter-terrorism and hostage rescue operations, both of which can involve a heavy amount of direct and high-intensity combat. As a Special Mission Unit (SMU), their teams are small, agile and able to deploy rapidly. 

    The skills they are trained in are reflected in the way they operate in the field. Due to their highly specialized and skilled Delta Force squadrons are used to conduct rapid, high-intensity raids. (Source) During CQB training, operators learn how to conduct breaching manoeuvres and conduct close-quarters combat. (Source) Being able to rapidly breach, clear and search buildings, as well as rooms, is an essential tactical skill for this team. As hostage rescue and securing of high-value targets (HVTs) often occurs in tight quarters, Delta Force must be ready to respond.

    6.1. Raids

    When conducting raids Delta typically uses a multi-faceted approach. There is an assaulting force which enters the target building and rescues hostages or kills/captures any HVTs. There is also an outer and inner cordon element. The inner cordon ensures that no enemy quick reaction force (QRF) in the immediate area can enter their target building or escape from it. The outer cordon ensures that no enemy QRF from outside the immediate area can form a counterattack. Additionally, there is usually an overwatch element to provide sniper cover to the troops on the ground. Delta will almost always conduct operations with ISR drone surveillance and some sort of close air support on standby.

    To describe the Unit’s TTP as unconventional would be an understatement. The Unit stays on the cutting edge of irregular tactics. The Unit spends tens of thousands of dollars per year on glass windshields just to practice shooting through. The angle, thickness, and lamination used in windshields can cause significant deflection of a bullet as it passes through it. As a result, Delta operators need to know where their shots will land when shooting through them. The Unit practices vehicle interdiction on unconventional vehicles as well, such as moving trains. Delta has spent the past 40 years writing the manual on unconventional TTP.

    Delta Force operators disembark from helicopter onto a moving train.
    160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment dropping off Delta assaulters on a moving train. Image retrieved via Reddit. (Source)

    6.2. World-Class Marksmen

    Extensive training in long weapons during their training makes members of Delta excellent marksmen. Operators of Delta can engage hostile forces accurately from afar while using support weapons to create a comprehensive tactical force. 

    When engaging in long-range engagements, or providing overwatch for breaching forces as they approach a target building, snipers make up a critical component of any Delta Force team. As a third of each assault squadron is composed of a sniper troop, the ability to have reliable reconnaissance as well as sniping capability is critical to the tactical design of Delta. (Source

    Delta operators are advanced soldiers. They are perfectionists and experts at their craft. Although weapons and kit are not what make Delta operators so highly skilled, it helps to augment their lethality.

    7. Weapons of Delta Force

    7.1. Assault Rifles/ Carbines

    • M4A1
    • Mk 18
    • HK 416
    • SR 16

    Delta Force has always been at the forefront of small arms development and technology. Delta has been the trendsetter for the rest of the Army since its inception. The Unit maintains close working relationships with many small arms manufacturers. Additionally, the Unit has teams of armourers who can machine, spice, and create solutions to any problem that operators are having. Prior to the Global War on Terror, operators were seen with a multitude of homebrew modifications to the M4 carbines they used. The M4 is chambered in the intermediate 5.56x45mm NATO, which is an intermediate cartridge that is both light and lethal to about 600m.

    7.1.1. M4A1 MRE

    Beginning in the early 2000s the Unit was often seen using Colt M4A1s with the SOPMOD block 1 upgrade package. However, there were significant gaps in the block 1’s capabilities. Delta began using the Knight’s Armament Company’s (KAC) Modular Receiver Extension aka the MRE rail. This rail system free-floated the barrels of their M4A1s which improved the accuracy of the carbines as well as provided more rail space to mount accessories.

    Delta operator standing in the ruble of a destroyed building.
    Unit member with an M4A1 outfitted with the KAC MRE rail. Image retrieved via @jsoc_pics on Instagram. (Source)

    At this time CAG’s famous “gangster grip” came into vogue. The gangster grip is an in-house modification to a standard M4 grip. Armourer would purchase a second grip, separate from the rifle. A flashlight was added to the grip and a pressure switch was wired into the body of the grip and a mount was added to allow it to attach to the M4A1’s rail system. The gangster grip is one of the many examples of Unit ingenuity and in-house capabilities.

    Delta members, the two on the left, have gangster grips on their carbines.
    Unit members, the two on the left, have gangster grips on their carbines. Image retrieved via DEVTSIX (Source)

    7.1.2. HK 416

    Many of the modifications Delta was making to their rifles became an integral part of the SOPMOD block 2 upgrade program. Interestingly, Delta operators are rarely seen with the Mk18 Close Quarters Battle Receiver (CQBR) in either the mod 1 or 2 variants. The Mk18 is a shorter variant of the M4 platform. The more compact package of the Mk18 comes at a tradeoff of reliability and lethality at range. However, Delta has been seen in recent years with the short barrel variants of the HK 416. This may be due to the increased reliability of the 416’s gas piston operating system.

    SOPMOD accessories such as rails, optics, grenade launcher, suppressor, etc.
    SOPMOD Block 1 upgrade kit. (Source)

    Despite being more associated with the Navy’s DEVGRU, the HK 416s history is closely intertwined with Delta. The 416 was intended to help provide solutions to reliability and longevity issues that the Unit was having with their M4s. The program was in part spearheaded by Larry Vickers who was serving as the small arms development NCO for Delta. Vickers acted as a liaison between HK and the Unit to provide feedback between the two organizations. (Source)

    Delta operators standing in a circle in full combat gear.
    Unit members with HK 416s. Image retrieved via @storm_tactical_consulting on Instagram. (Source)

    7.1.3. Commercial Innovations

    Operators can also be seen using commercial variants of M4 pattern rifles produced by companies like Noveske and Knight’s Armament Company. The Unit is very in-tune with the firearms industry and the newest trends. They were an early adopter of modular rail systems like the MIL-STD 1913 rail system that was introduced in the 1990s as well as its replacement M-LOK which came around in the early 2010s. These systems allow the end user to attach lights, lasers, and optics to their rifle exactly where they need them.

    More SOPMOD accessories, primarily lights and optics.
    SOPMOD Block 2 upgrade parts. (Source)

    7.1.4. LVAW

    Additionally, the Unit has been seen utilizing variants of the Sig MCX family of rifles. The MCX uses similar controls to the M4 family of rifles but uses a different operating system. Interestingly, the MCX was the basis for the XM5 rifle from the Army’s Next Generation Squad Weapon Trials, albeit with a very different use case. The variant Delta operators have been seen using is known as the Low Visibility Assault Weapon (LVAW).

    The LVAW is chambered in 7.62x35mm aka .300 Blackout. The .300 Blackout round uses the same magazines as standard M4s. However, the round performs exceptionally well out of extremely short barrels and maintains lethality even when using subsonic rounds. The whole platform is intended to be used suppressed in order to reduce the user’s signature. This in conjunction with the LVAW’s ability to have a folding stock, provides the user with an extremely compact, quiet, and lethal close-quarters weapon.

    Delta operator guarding people with civilians in the background.
    Unit member providing VIP protection for General Austin Miller. Image retrieved via Reddit. (Source)

    By now it should be apparent that Delta can use virtually any weapon system. Delta is not limited to what is in the Army’s or SOCOM’s procurement system. If there is a gap in their capabilities that a commercially available product can fill then the Unit will buy it. This can be said about any small arm, kit, or equipment that Delta uses.

    7.2. Marksman Rifles

    • SR 25
    • Mk 12 Special Purpose Rifle
    • HK 417

    7.2.1. SR 25

    As Larry Vickers said, “marksmanship is a premium in Delta.” Delta operators are some of the most advanced shooters in the world. As a result, they use a variety of precision marksman’s weapons. Ranging from purpose-built rifles to tricked-out M4 pattern rifles. Delta’s primary marksman’s rifle is the SR 25 which is chambered in 7.62x51mm NATO. This cartridge provides extended range and better ballistic capabilities at those extended ranges when compared to the 5.56x45mm round. Much like the 416, the Unit worked closely with KAC to help improve upon the SR 25. A variant of the SR 25 known as the M110 has been formally adopted by the rest of the US Army. However, the Unit has been using SR 25s since before the M110’s adoption and continues to use the commercially available upgraded versions that KAC has produced.

    SR25 with suppressor, scope and bipod on a white background.
    SR 25 with a suppressor. (Source)

    The Unit also uses variants of the HK 417, the beefed-up brother to the HK 416. The 417 uses the same calibre as the SR 25. Once again, the Army as a whole has taken a page out of Delta’s playbook and co-opted the HK 417. The Army’s new M110A1 is a variant of the HK 417. The 417’s main difference over the SR 25 is the different gas operating system. Why an operator would choose a 417 over an SR 25 is likely down to personal preference. 

    7.2.2. Mk 12 SPR

    Finally, among the Designated Markman’s Rifles (DMR)s of Delta is the Mk 12 Special Purpose Rifle (SPR). Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane Division developed the Mk 12 as an upper receiver replacement for the M16/M4 pattern rifles, similar to the Mk 18 CQBR. There are three variants of the Mk 12: the mod 1, mod 2, and mod Holland (mod H).

    The mod H was developed by Master Sergeant Holland from the Army’s 5th Special Forces Group and features a slightly shorter barrel. The Mk 12 uses 5.56x45mm NATO ammunition but a special loading known as Mk 262 was designed for it. The Mk 262 ammo uses a heavier match-grade bullet to increase accuracy and terminal ballistics at greater ranges than standard military 5.56 loadings. However, it was fairly rare to see Delta use the Mk 12 as they more often used short variants of the SR 25 and the platform as a whole was phased out by SOCOM.

    Mk 12 SPR with a bipod and scope resting on the ground.
    Mk 12 mod 0 with upgraded stock and grip. (Source)

    7.3. Sniper Rifles

    Sniper rifles are perhaps the most important weapon type for Delta, featuring dedicated sniper teams in each assault squadron as well as their recon divisions. These sniper weapons include both anti-material rifles and anti-personnel rifles, all allowing Delta teams to engage combatants at long range. The total armoury of Delta cannot be truly known given their covert nature, but among the known snipers include:

    • Barrett M107
    • Barrett MRAD/Mk 22
    • M2010
    • SR 25/M110
    • HK 417/M110A1

    Sniper rifles that can engage both light armour and personnel are essential for any team that operates with high independence such as Delta. The M82 is a logical field solution, delivering high-powered rounds with extreme precision, and it finds itself used in the field by all US special forces, including Delta. (Source

    Though part DMR, part sniper rifle, the SR 25 and HK 417 can engage targets at long range and provide reliable and precise fire. The gas-operated autoloading system allows it to not only be accurate but also provide rapid follow-up shots when engaged. (Source) The Mk 22 on the other hand is a reliable bolt action weapon that can engage targets up to 1,500 meters. It provides many of the sniper squads in assault squadrons with a deadly and accurate long-range weapon.

    7.4. Submachine Guns

    Prior to the 2000s submachine guns reigned supreme for CQB. Historically, Delta Force used weapons like the HK MP5 family of submachine guns and even the Walther MPK when the Unit was in its infancy. Sometimes highly specialized soldiers such as dog handlers will still use submachine guns like the MP7. However, Delta’s use of the MP7 is hard to verify but it is used by DEVGRU. This is due to the weapon’s compact size allowing for the weapon to be stowed hands-free easily and because assaulting isn’t their primary function.

    Delta operator in full combat gear with an MP7.
    Unit member with an MP7. Note: he has simunition mags in his kit not meant for the MP7 indicating he was only holding it for the photo. Image retrieved via Reddit. (Source)

    7.4.1. HK MP5 and MP7

    The Unit quickly realized that submachine guns offered little value due to their very limited use case. While submachine guns will suffice indoors, operations rarely take place exclusively inside. Operators can quickly become outgunned if they’re armed with MP5s which are only good out to 100m and the enemy is 200m away. However, weapons like the LVAW offer many of the benefits that submachine guns have with the addition of better ballistics at extended ranges.  The MP5 and MP5SD are some of the most recognizable weapons used by counter-terror and SWAT units around the world. From the London embassy siege to special forces during the battle of Mogadishu, its curved magazines and compact design are easily recognizable. The firearm at one time was a staple within the Unit. 

    The MP7, follows closely to the MP5’s philosophy of use, featuring an extremely compact design, a high rate of fire and is often used with a suppressor. These weapons often fulfil the role of personal defence weapons and can help Delta operators maintain mobility while operating in close quarters. (Source) However, weapons like the LVAW and short barrel M4s have largely made the submachine gun obsolescent. In total, Delta Force has used several known SMGs:

    • HK MP5
    • HK MP5SD
    • HK MP7 (Plausible due to close relationship with HK)
    • Walther MPK
    • M3 Grease Gun

    7.4.2. An old friend

    Finally, though it is unlikely it still sees service in the modern Delta Force, the Grease Gun, or M3 deserves an honourable mention. One of America’s SMGs during WWII, Korea and Vietnam. It served as a late-war replacement for the Thompson and endured for an admirable length of time. In its earliest years, Delta Force appeared occasionally shouldering M3. A relic from WWII served as one of the primary SMGs for the US Army’s premier SMU, being a testament to the weapons’ endurance and Delta’s adaptability.

    Man in camo holds a suppressed M3 SMG in an indoor shooting range.
    Integrally suppressed M3A1 successor to the older WWII M3. Image retrieved via Reddit (Source)

    7.5. Sidearms

    • M1911A1
    • Custom 1911
    • Glock 22
    • Glock 17
    • Glock 19
    • Glock 26
    • 2011
    • M17
    • M9
    Delta operator in a flight suit and combat gear with two pistols and a censored face.
    Delta Force Operator with two M1911A1s, one in belt holster and one stuffed into radio pouch with a modified dive light attached. 

    “If a fighter is going to take on a specialized task where, say, he is going to strip off his primary due to confined space and just in with his backup… his backup is now his primary, so now where is his backup? Whether it looks stupid or sounds stupid, there is one argument that photo always wins: never go into a fight without a backup.”

    A Former Delta Operator

    7.5.1. 1911s

    The Colt M1911A1 is the most recognizable of all pistols within Delta Force’s extensive armoury. The M9 replaced this reliable sidearm across the US military, though some special operations groups use the modern variant of the original M1911A1 despite its obsolescence. (Source)  Delta was a big fan of the M1911A1 due to its inherent accuracy, shootability, and perceived stopping power. After the military as a whole had adopted the M9 pistol the Unit continued to use their 1911s. Once the Unit had worn out the issued pistols due to high round counts they began to repair them in-house with parts from custom shops. Eventually, the Unit would begin to use completely custom-built 1911s procured from custom 1911 builders.

    Delta operator dual wielding two 1911s in full combat gear and a smile.
    An enthusiastic Delta Force member shows off their dual 1911s with extended mags. (Source)

    7.5.2. Roland Special Glocks

    The Unit was an early adopter of the Glock pistols. CAG bought a number of Glock 22 pistols, chambered in .40 calibre. The Glock 22 is somewhat of an odd choice considering the rest of the military had standardized on the 9x19mm cartridge used by the M9. However, it is likely due to some cross-pollination with the FBI’s HRT who developed the .40 calibre round as a step down in power from 10mm but a step up from 9x19mm. The .40 calibre stands as a medium between the .45 ACP used by the M1911A1 and the 9x19mm used by the M9.

    However, the FBI conducted lengthy ballistics testing and determined that there were no significant differences between the effectiveness of any of these three calibres. (Source) As a result, both the FBI and Delta have largely converted to using 9x19mm Glocks such as the Glock 17 and 19. (Source

    The typical form factor of a Unit Glock is something along the lines of a Roland Special. A Roland Special utilizes a red dot mounted to the pistols slide, a compensator, as well as modifications to the grip and slide. The purpose behind the modifications is to provide the user with a flatter shooting handgun that you can scan and engage targets with easier than a stock handgun.

    Group of men in suits walk with a man in camo.
    Former Delta Force commander, General Austin Miller, seen with a Roland Special style Glock in his holster. (Source)

    7.5.3. 2011s

    Alongside the Glock as well as M1911A1, Delta used commercially procured 2011s. The 2011 is a modernized version of the M1911A1. 2011s are usually chambered in either 9x19mm or .40 calibre and offer higher magazine capacity when compared to the M1911A1. They also use a polymer grip module which slightly reduces weight. While the 2011 series of pistols offer the accuracy and superb trigger pull of its predecessor, it also maintains the unreliability. As a result, the Unit returned many of its 2011s back to the manufacturer.

    7.6. Support Weapons

    • M240
    • Mk 46
    • Mk 48
    • LAMG
    • Ultimax 100

    When engaging heavier opposition in the field, Delta Force also brings along a few different Light Machine Guns (LMG). They also may use rocket and grenade launchers. These weapons allow them to engage large amounts of enemy personnel in addition to more easily engaging hostile armour. The M240, Mk 46 and Mk 48 are among Delta’s LMGs. (Source) Though not exactly the same, each of these weapons allows assault squadrons to lay down suppressive fire against opposition forces. This can give tactical teams a fighting edge in direct engagements. Operators have used the KAC Light Assault Machine Gun (LAMG) as well as the Ultimax 100.

    Unit member with Ultimax 100 light machine gun. Image retrieved via DEVTSIX. (Source)

    Delta Force at times must engage armoured forces entirely on their own. For dealing with heavier targets they commonly use the Carl Gustave M4 Recoiless Rifle, the AT4 and the FGM-148 Javelin. (Source) These handheld rocket/ missile systems allow the specialized operators of Delta Force to take on vehicles in addition to armoured elements, should the need arise.

    Delta Force engages with such a wide variety of opponents, that their total list of Support Weapons is quite substantial:

    7.6.1. Anti-Armour/Material:

    • Barret M107
    • Carl-Gustav M4 Recoilless Rifle
    • M136 AT4
    • M72 LAW
    • FGM-148 Javelin

    7.6.2. Machine Guns:

    • M240
    • M249 SAW
    • MK 46 
    • Mk 48
    • GE M134 and GAU-17 Miniguns
    • M2

    8. Delta Force Equipment

    8.1. Camouflage

    Delta Force is an adaptable force, one designed like much of the US military, to operate in any environment, with any camouflage. Many of the modern uniforms, as well as the camo of Delta, reflect the terrain it has fought in, and it may very well change from mission to mission. Some of the camos include solid colour uniforms, Multicam, AOR 1, and AOR 2 are the most common.

    8.2. Tactical Equipment

    Delta Force’s tactical equipment allows them to survive and maintain battle readiness throughout an engagement. Much like the armourers, the Unit has teams of parachute riggers who have become tactical tailors for the operators. These skilled enablers help to create solutions to any gaps in capabilities with the operator’s kits.  Among the more notable tactical equipment is the CRYE JPC 2.0 plate carrier, the Ops-Core Maritime Helmet, the GPNVG – 18, as well as Crye G3 combat clothes. However, kit and equipment are mission specific and Delta has the budget flex to outfit their operators with a wide variety of gear depending on the requirements. Each of these pieces performs not only a critical combat function but also forms the quintessential look of Delta Force. (Source)

    Unit loadout: JPC 1.0, Ops-Core helmet with GPNVG-18s, HK 416, and Roland Special Glock. Image retrieved via DEVTSIX. (Source)

    8.2.1. Armor

    The plate carrier or body armour vest forms the base of the tactical system a Delta operator will wear. These vests house the plates that may very well save their lives. Typically a plate carrier will have a MOLLE interface that allows the operator to attach different pouches depending on their preference. Operators may opt to wear separate chest rigs designed to carry ammo and equipment as well.

    Additionally, some carriers like the JPC 2.0 offer zip-on back panels and detachable placard systems that allow the user to hot-swap their kit without having to unweave MOLLE pouches. To complete their tactical armour, Delta Force utilizes a variety of helmets.  The Ops-Core Maritime Helmet is a lightweight and modular helmet. The carbon and aramid shell in the helmet helps protect an operator’s head from small arms fire. The helmet also features mounts for night vision, lights, and headsets with built-in comms. (Source)

    8.2.2. Adaptability and Mobility

    The most common night vision system that Delta is using currently is the GPNVG – 18. The GPNVG system is a panoramic night vision system with 4 objective lense that feed into two viewing lenses. This allows the operator to have a significantly wider horizontal field of view, providing greater situational awareness. This night vision system lets Delta operators gain superiority in night fighting as well as adaptability to different tactical situations. The GPNVG is mounted to the front of the helmet via a vertically articulating mount and is powered via a cable that attaches to a battery pack mounted on the rear of the helmet.

    Delta operator with GPNVG-18s flipped up on his helmet.
    Delta operator, Todd Opalsk with GPNVG 18s. Image retrieved via Zen Commando. (Source)

    The final major component of the Delta loadout is the Crye G3 combat clothes, including the top and pants. The specialization of this clothing is threefold: high mobility, cooling and physical protection. The Crye G3s provide high mobility through a combo of fabric and nylon, so the user is never restricted. Its material and design also allow for high breathability and cooling while wearing body armour and tactical mounts. Finally, it features modular padded inserts that protect the operator’s knee and elbow joints from bruising and abrasions. The Unit also uses similar clothing from other manufacturers such as Patagonia.  (Source)

    9. Notable Operations Delta Force

    9.1. Operation Eagle Claw

    Nearly immediately after the formation of Delta Force, the Iran hostage crisis broke out, forcing the US government to attempt a rescue operation. The result was Operation Eagle Claw, a highly complex plan that involved a number of air force assets as well as specialized ground forces. Among the forces involved was Delta. (Source)

    The operation, plagued with overly complex manoeuvres and unpredictable circumstances including inclement weather, ultimately failed. Rotor wash caused the loose desert sand to fly into the air, one of the helicopters lost its bearing and crashed into a transport plane loaded with fuel containers and a team from Delta. The helicopter caught on fire, which spread into the transport plane and ignited the fuel containers.

    9.1.1. Winds of Change

    The members from Delta were able to evacuate the plane before it exploded however the aircrew wasn’t as lucky.  As a result, the operation was scuttled and concluded g with the deaths of 8 service members. No members of Delta were harmed, but a lesson was learned.

    Delta at the time was emerging and growing into its new dedicated counter-terrorism role. Eagle Claw would be a defining moment for much of the US special operations forces, and a comprehensive jumping point for an expanded special operations doctrine.

    9.2. Operation Desert Shield

    During the US invasion of Iraq and the commencement of Operation Desert Shield, Delta participated in both direct combat engagement and a specialized role of locating and disabling SCUD missile systems. (Source

    On the ground, Delta conducted operations alongside the other US and allied forces, including direct combat engagements with the Iraqi military. (Source) Though they served as lethal combatants, they also contributed highly to tactical and strategic efforts through their reconnaissance operations. 

    General Schwarzkopf thanking Delta operators after successful SCUD hunt during Desert Shield via Reddit

    Delta Force conducted some of the most sensitive missions in the war due to their elite status. The elimination of SCUD missiles, the dreaded weapon of Saddam’s military, was one such task. Delta was frequently inserted far into hostile territory via helicopter, where they would track and neutralize mobile SCUD systems. (Source

    9.3. Operation Gothic Serpent

    At the height of the US invasion of Somalia, the Battle of Mogadishu, a defining part of Operation Gothic Serpent, became a legendary deployment of Delta. 

    A large group of Delta operators posing for a picture.
    Delta Force in full tactical equipment before they boarded Blackhawks and entered the Battle of Mogadishu. Retrieved via Reddit (Source)

    Delta Force deployed with the primary task force that was engaging oppositional forces in the capital city of Mogadishu. Alongside DEVGRU, the 24th Special Tactics Squadron and numerous support elements, Delta engaged in both rescue operations and direct engagements. (Source

    Gothic Serpent was another defining moment of Delta’s history, one where it had to assess not only how it operated, but also how it functioned alongside other JSOC elements.

    9.4. Raid on Al-Baghdadi

    Most recently, Delta Force made world headlines when it was disclosed that they participated in the raid that killed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the former leader of the Islamic State. (Source) The raid was a defining moment, just as the Bin Laden raid changed public perspective on DEVGRU, so too did the killing of an IS leader.

    The operation itself was, in typical Delta style, quick as well as efficient. The raid was initiated by breaching, followed by a brief but fierce firefight. With most other residents of Baghdadi’s compound being either killed or arrested, Baghdadi fled with two of his children. A short chase ended when he detonated an explosive device on his chest, killing himself and his children.

    Delta once again reinforced its place as a Tier 1 group and demonstrated that its level of operation was nothing but the highest. Though they have undoubtedly conducted numerous operations of which we may never be aware, Delta’s efficiency is visible in these few disclosed involvements.

    10. Delta Force Summary

    In response to a changing world and nature of combat, the US military found it needed a dedicated counter-terrorist group and its solution was Delta Force. Since its inception, it has served on countless missions, many classified, but enough known to give it renown among global counter-terror groups. It has served in many US wars, alongside other conventional troops, fulfilling a multifaceted role of counter-terror group, hostage rescue force and direct action fighters. Delta Force will continue to be an integral component of America’s ongoing War on Terror, as well as their global doctrine as a whole.

    Special thanks to Mitch of the @historychronicals channel for his insights and our very own Jordan Smith!

    Samuel Longstreth
    Samuel Longstreth
    Samuel is a King's College graduate with an MA in War Studies. His areas of focus are extremism in the Western world, military privatization and the impact of climate change on global security.

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