First Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta (1st SFOD-D), popularly known as Delta Force, is one of the United States' four secretive tier-one counter-terrorism and Special Mission Units. It was formerly listed as the Combat Applications Group by the Department of Defense but has since been officially re-designated the Army Compartmented Elements (ACE). While 1st SFOD-D is administratively supported by USASOC, it falls under the operational control of the Joint Special Operations Command. Delta Force and its Navy counterpart, the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, are the United States military's primary counter-terrorism units.
Delta Force's primary tasks are counter-terrorism, direct action, and national intervention operations, although it is an extremely versatile group capable of conducting many types of covert missions, including, but not limited to, hostage rescues and raids.
The Central Intelligence Agency's highly secretive Special Activities Division (SAD) and more specifically its elite Special Operations Group (SOG) often works with – and recruits – operators from Delta Force.
Delta Force was formed after numerous, well-publicized terrorist incidents in the 1970s. These incidents led the U.S. government to develop a full-time counter-terrorism unit. Key military and government figures had already been briefed on a model for this type of unit in the early 1960s. Charlie Beckwith, a Special Forces officer and Vietnam veteran, had served as an exchange officer with the British Army's Special Air Service (22 SAS Regiment) during the Malayan Emergency. Upon his return, Beckwith presented a detailed report highlighting the U.S. Army's vulnerability in not having a SAS-type unit. U.S. Army Special Forces in that period focused on unconventional warfare, but Beckwith recognized the need for "not only teachers, but doers." He envisioned highly adaptable and completely autonomous small teams with a broad array of special skills for direct action and counter-terrorist missions. He briefed military and government figures, who were overtly resistant to create a new unit outside of Special Forces, or change existing methods. Finally, in the mid-70's, as the threat of terrorism grew, Pentagon brass tapped Beckwith to form the unit. Beckwith had estimated that it would take 24 months to get his new unit mission-ready. In the meantime, the 5th Special Forces Group created Blue Light, a small counter-terrorist contingent which operated until Delta became fully operational in the early 1980s.
On 4 November 1979, shortly after Delta had been created, 53 Americans were taken captive and held in the U.S. embassy in Tehran, Iran. The unit was assigned to Operation Eagle Claw and ordered to covertly enter the country and recover the hostages from the embassy by force on the nights of 24 and 25 April in 1980. The operation was aborted due to aviation failures. The review commission that examined the failure found 23 problems with the operation, among them unbriefed weather encountered by the aircraft, command-and-control problems between the multi-service component commanders, a collision between a helicopter and a ground-refueling tanker aircraft, and mechanical problems that reduced the number of available helicopters from eight to five (one fewer than the minimum desired) before the mission contingent could leave the transloading/refueling site.
After the failed operation, the U.S. government realized more changes needed to be made. The 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), also known as the Night Stalkers, was created specifically for special operations requiring aviation support. The Navy's Special Warfare Development Group, formerly designated Seal Team Six, was created for maritime counter-terrorism operations. The Joint Special Operations Command was created for command and control of the various counter-terrorism units of the U.S. military.
The unit is under the organization of the US Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) but is controlled by the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). Command of 1st SFOD-D is a Colonel's billet. Virtually all information about the unit is highly classified and details about specific missions or operations are generally not publicly available. A number of sources including the book Inside Delta Force by Command Sergeant Major Eric L. Haney (ret.), suggest the unit's strength ranges from between 800 to 1000 personnel, including the following operational groups:
D – Command and Control (Headquarters)
E – Communications, Intelligence and Administrative Support (includes finance, logistics, medical detachment, research and development, technology and electronics, etc.)
F – Operational Arm (The teams of operators)
Medical Detachment maintains special doctors at Fort Bragg and various other bases around the country secretly, to provide medical assistance as needed.
Operational Support Troop, or "the Funny Platoon", is the in-house intelligence arm of Delta. They grew out of a long-running dispute/rivalry with the Intelligence Support Activity. Their role is to infiltrate a country ahead of a Delta intervention to gather intelligence.
Aviation Squadron – Although Delta relies heavily on the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment and US Air Force assets to transport them to and from operational deployments and training exercises, within the unit there is a small aviation squadron used for limited in-house air transportation. The aviation squadron consists of twelve AH-6 Attack and MH-6 Transport helicopters (although this figure may have increased). It is not known if pilots are recruited from the Air Force, the Army's 160th SOAR, or if they are Delta Operators trained as helicopter pilots.
Operational Research Section
Delta Force's structure is similar to the British 22 Special Air Service Regiment, the unit which inspired Delta's formation. In Not a Good Day to Die: The Untold Story of Operation Anaconda, Army Times staff writer Sean Naylor describes Delta as having nearly 1,000 soldiers. Naylor wrote that approximately 250 of those are operators trained to conduct direct action and reconnaissance missions. There are three main operational squadrons:
These squadrons are based on the organization of the SAS "Sabre Squadron" and each contains 75 to 85 operators. Each sabre squadron is broken down into three troops, one recon/sniper troop, and two direct action/assault troops, that can either operate in teams or in groups as small as four to six men.
Most recruits come from the Special Forces Groups and the 75th Ranger Regiment, but some operators have come from other units of the army. Since the 1990s, the Army has posted recruitment notices for the 1st SFOD-D. The Army, however, has never released an official fact sheet for the force. The recruitment notices placed in Fort Bragg's newspaper, Paraglide, refer to Delta Force by name, and label it "...the U.S. Army's special operations unit organized for the conduct of missions requiring rapid response with surgical application of a wide variety of unique special operations skills..." The notice states that all applicants must be male, in the ranks of E-4 through E-8, have at least two and a half years of service time remaining in their enlistment, be 21 years or older and score high enough on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test to attend a briefing to be considered for admission.
On 29 June 2006 during a session of the Committee on Armed Services, General Wayne Downing testified before the House that 70% of all Delta operators started their military careers in the 75th Ranger Regiment.
Haney's book Inside Delta Force described the selection course and its inception in detail. Haney writes the selection course began with standard tests including push-ups, sit-ups, and a 2-mile (3.2 km) run, an inverted crawl and a 100 meter swim fully dressed. The selection candidates were then put through a series of land navigation courses to include an 18-mile (29 km), all-night land navigation course while carrying a 40-pound (18 kg) rucksack. The rucksack's weight and the distance of the courses are increased and the time standards to complete the task are shortened with every march. The physical testing ended with a 40-mile (64 km) march with a 45-pound (20 kg) rucksack over very rough terrain which had to be completed in an unknown amount of time. Haney wrote that only the senior officer and NCO in charge of selection are allowed to see the set time limits, but all assessment and selection tasks and conditions were set by Delta training cadre. The mental portion of the testing began with numerous psychological exams. The men then went in front of a board of Delta instructors, unit psychologists and the Delta commander, who each ask the candidate a barrage of questions and then dissect every response and mannerism of the candidate with the purpose to mentally exhaust the candidate. The unit commander then approaches the candidate and tells him if he has been selected. If an individual is selected for Delta, he undergoes an intense 6-month Operator Training Course (OTC), to learn counter-terrorism and counter-intelligence techniques, in which the individual maintains very little contact with friends and family for the duration. Training includes firearm accuracy and various other munitions training.
Operator Training Course: According to the book Inside Delta Force by Eric Haney, OTC consisted of the following events. Although OTC has probably changed since then, it remains around 6 months long.
The students shoot stationary targets at close range until they are able to have almost complete accuracy. They will then move on to moving targets.
Once shooting skills are perfected, they will move to a shooting house where they will clear rooms of "enemy" targets. At first it will be done by one student, then two at a time, three at a time, and finally four. After the students learn techniques to clear a room, "hostages" are added to the room mixed with the enemies.
Students learn how to break into many different locks such as cars and safes.
Demolition and how to build bombs out of various commonly found materials.
-Combined skills. The FBI, FAA, and other agencies were used to advise the training of this portion of OTC. Sometimes commercial airliners such as Delta Air Lines would allow Delta to train on their aircraft too.
The new Delta operators use both demolition and marksmanship skills at the shoothouse and other training facilities to train for hostage and counter-terrorist operations with both assault and sniper troops working together. They practice terrorist or hostage situations in buildings, aircraft, and other settings.
All trainees learn how to set sniper positions around a building with hostages in it. They learn the proper ways to set up a TOC and communicate in an organized manner. Although Delta has specialized sniper troops, all members go through this training.
The students then go back to the shoothouse and the "hostages" are replaced with other students and Delta Force members. It is known that live ammunition has been used in these exercises, to test the students, and build trust between one another.
-Trade Craft – During the first OTC's and creation of Delta, CIA personnel were used to teach this portion.
Students learn different espionage-related skills such as dead drops, brief encounters, pickups, load and unload signals, danger and safe signals, surveillance and countersurveillance.
-Executive Protection – During the first OTC's and creation of Delta, the U.S. State Department's Diplomatic Security Service and the United States Secret Service would advise Delta in this portion of training.
Students take an advanced driving course learning how to use a vehicle or many vehicles as defensive and offensive weapons.
They then learn techniques developed by the Secret Service and DSS on how to cover a VIP and diplomatic protection missions.
A final test that requires the students to apply and dynamically adapt all of the skills that they have learned.
Although these are the main skills taught in every OTC, no OTC classes are ever exactly the same.
Delta Force occasionally cross-trains with similar units from allied countries such as the Australian SASR, British SAS, Canadian JTF2, French GIGN, German KSK, Israeli Sayeret Matkal and Polish GROM. They cross train and deploy with US Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU). They have helped train other U.S. counter-terrorism units, such as the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team and Joint Military/Government Agency Unit Task Force 6-26.