The US Special Forces and their Guns and Gear (or at least the Stuff We Know About)

In the wake of Osama Bin Laden’s death, the public has been growing more and more interested in US Special Forces. It’s only natural. They’re elusive—some groups aren’t even allowed to show their faces—and they do things that we never hear about unless something goes horribly wrong. But there are some things we can find out like some of the tools they use to get the job done.

We at have decided to take a look at their weapons, gear and vehicles.

I’d like to start by mentioning that the Special Forces use a lot of the same weapons ordinary troops do. However, Special Forces are ordered to perform different and more difficult tasks like killing specific targets, rescuing hostages, performing reconnaissance, and training and working with indigenous people in guerrilla warfare. So I’ve tried to identify Special Forces-specific items.

And here we go:

Special Forces seem to prefer short weapons like the M4 carbine made by Colt—a small version of the M16A2. The obvious reason is the short-barreled guns are lighter and easier to maneuver in close quarters.

But the M4 isn’t the only short-barreled M16-style weapon they prefer—before the M4 was the CAR-15, which is commonly known now as the M4 Commando. The only difference is three-inches and sometimes three inches makes all the difference. The Commando (as we’ll refer to it) has an 11.5-inch barrel and, back in the late 50s, was intended to accompany Air Force pilots just in case they were shot down. But it is said that Delta Force, Green Berets and Air Force Special Forces all simultaneously picked up the Commando (on the same day I might add) and liked the feel of it. Colt classifies the M4 Commando as a submachine gun rather than a carbine.

According to Colt’s website, “M4 Commando is often chosen over smaller less powerful submachine guns, allowing for full 5.56mm power and accuracy, in a submachine gun size weapon.”

On a side note, Delta Force sniper Gary Gordon used the M4 Commando when he defended a downed Blackhawk helicopter in Mogadishu, Somalia, and was killed. It was depicted in the book/film “Blackhawk Down.”

The Heckler and Koch Machine-Pistol 5 is another favorite of USSOCOM especially for counterterrorism, CQC, hostage rescue, and personal protection operations. It’s a 9mm submachine gun commonly referred to as the MP5. It is a very light weapon, holds a lot of bullets (it holds 30 to be exact), recoil is next to nothing and it has a threaded barrel so a sound suppressor can be attached. It was picked up and used by Navy SEALS in the late 70s.

Let’s move on to the bigger stuff.

The US Ordinance M60 machine gun was “the machine gun” during the Vietnam War and today it’s rather obsolete in the US military. A few years back (in the 80s) the military replaced it with the lighter and more competent M240 and the M249 SAW. For years troops complained that necessary parts in the M60’s receiver like the feeding tray were prone to bend and break. And the barrel was shitty too.

However, Navy SEALS wanted to give it one last chance. The M60 packed its bags and left. It returned to US Ordinance where it got a complete makeover: a new barrel and receiver made of stronger steel. It returned with its name changed to MK 43 Mod 0. And SEALS fell in love with it all over again. It costs about $6,000.

Special Forces do carry different side arms than the regular military. Not always, but sometimes.

Across the board the standard service pistol for the US military is the M9. It’s solid metal semi-auto double/single-action 9mm and it costs about $700. A pretty good gun—accurate and dependable, but Special Forces don’t carry it (if they don’t want to). They like to use something chambered for a .45 caliber cartridge.

Starting with the MK 23, a Heckler and Koch HK45 equipped with a laser-aiming module (LAM) made by Insight Technology and a sound suppressor made by Knights Armament Company. The MK 23 has a lightweight polymer frame, and an ambidextrous safety and magazine release. The magazine release on HKs is a lever beside the trigger guard, so you have to push down on it rather than press a button on the side. It is also supposed to be water proof and corrosion resistant. This weapon seems preferable for Close Quarters Combat (CQC). It costs about $2,000.

Another pick, the MEU (SOC) pistol is standard issue side arm of Force Recon Marines of Marine Expeditionary Units (MEU). It’s an oldie but a goodie—a Kimber Custom II 1911A1 with night sights. It’s a single-action pistol with an all metal frame and seven-round magazine. It costs about $1,200.

Moving on to gear.

The unique gear is dictated by operation and something interesting we noticed is that all Special Forces seem to be trained in High Altitude Low Opening (HALO) jumping.

HALO jumps allow combat operators to infiltrate enemy territory without detection because the plane they jump from travels at 30,000 feet—it’s tactically safe because on radar it looks like a commercial airliner or transport plane. Like you may have guessed, jumping from it can be a bit dangerous. At 30,000 feet the temperature can drop 50 degrees below zero, the oxygen supply is sparse, when they jump, they fall at terminal velocity (122 miles per hour), and it’s common to pass out during free fall (not long I’ve heard), so they must wear the proper gear.

They wear a standard jump helmet with a mask and have an oxygen tank. The tank must be filled with a hundred percent oxygen because, at that height it is difficult to rid your body of nitrogen, and not having the proper balance of nitrogen and oxygen can result in Decompression Sickness—symptoms vary from a really bad day to death. They wear a fancy Gortex suit that shields them from the cold temperature and what makes the jump successful is the MC-5 parachute, which is made of a durable nylon material. The MC-5 can withstand freezing temperatures and won’t tear against strong winds.

Sometimes operators swim instead of jumping into enemy territory. Or, they will disarm a bomb or mine, so they’ll need something to survive under water. Instead of SCUBA gear, they generally use a re-breather. Formally known as an Underwater Breathing Apparatus (UBA) and unlike SCUBA gear it doesn’t release bubbles, so Special Forces operators can travel under the concealment of water.

The re-breather is a closed-circuit system meaning exhaled gas is not released into the water. The re-breather cycles the exhaled gas into a filter where it is scrubbed (a process that removes carbon dioxide), and adds oxygen. This system provides can provide up to 240 minutes of breathing time.

They don’t always swim though, sometimes they like to use inflatable rubber rafts like the Combat Rubber Reconnaissance Craft, which is 15.4 feet long, 6.2 feet wide, 2.5 feet high, and weighs 265 pounds. And it’s paddle is an incredibly quiet engine.

When powered by an engine it’s called a Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat. RHIB typically uses a 300 HP Volvo diesel engine capable of traveling about 30 mph.

Sometimes, when the day is just right, they prefer traveling by kayak though. According to the Army’s website kayaks are “one of the most stealthy boats around, (they) allow SF Soldiers to paddle unnoticed in rivers and lakes.”

But they don’t always travel by parachute or water. Sometimes they drive something called a Improved Fast Attack Vehicle, which is a formal term for truck.

These vehicles, a lot of times, are just available. They can be anything. Here are Green Beret’s and their government issued battle truck: a Toyota Tacoma.

Since their main purpose isn’t to patrol they aren’t necessarily available targets for IEDs and they might have to be somewhere quick, fast, and in a hurry, so the heavily armored vehicles, which tend to be slow moving and perform poorly off-road, wouldn’t be suitable for their mission.

The Marine Corps actually purchased some Mercedes 290 GDT for Force Recon Marines.

To be fair, these wouldn’t really be battle vehicles, they’d just be vehicles to get you from point A to point B. They choose them because they blend in better than something synonymous with the US military like a Hummer.

Other nights, like on May 1, they need to get in and get out without anyone noticing. According to unconfirmed, wildly speculative reports, SEAL Team Six swooped in riding a stealth MH-60 Blackhawk helicopter. Check out a piece of it:

As the stories go, this is a variant of the MH-60.  It’s capable of evading just about any radar system and is quiet as a hawk on the wing as it soars through the sky.

Stealth aircrafts are able to evade radar because the have flat surfaces and sharp edges that’ll deflect radio waves. Also, it’ll have Radar Absorbing Paint (RAM), which absorbs the waves and transfers it into heat. However, they don’t bank on RAM because it is considered radar resistant (something learned during the Kosovo War).

Probably the most fascinating attribute of a stealth helicopter is its quiet blades. Quiet flight is achieved by balancing the rotors’ noise—specifically the tail rotor. It’ll either have more than four blades and be enclosed in something called a Fenestron, or be removed entirely and replaced with some type of vent. It’s all very complicated and if you’d like to build one, I’d suggest finding an alternate source than this article.

Lastly, I’d like to end with equipment Special Forces operators don’t have. But it’s one piece of equipment that is an absolute must for regular troops: a razor.

Special Forces don’t always have to shave. They don’t even have to look like they’re in the military (meaning clean shaven face and tightly cropped hair).

Now, this isn’t a complete list because there isn’t a whole lot of specific information available. What is available is standard issue. For safety and security some secrets like names, faces, and equipment aren’t revealed. In fact, most sources found while I compiled this list had a disclaimer saying they had to speculate what the actual items are.

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