By Lt. Matt Hardesty
Armored rescue vehicles (ARVs) provide law enforcement the protection required to respond to violent calls with the mobility to shield, aggress and breach.
This article outlines a lesson plan for a tactical trainer to stage an armored vehicle breaching drill including learning objectives; tools and props needed; how to set up the drill; how to enact the drill; and how to evaluate performance.
Equipping your ARV
Determine what ballistic protection your vehicle offers, and what supplies and tools are maintained in or on the ARV.
Some essential equipment may already be attached to your ARV, but if not, you should look at adding a ram that can be attached to a solid mounting point on your ARV. If the ram can be maneuvered from inside the ARV, this is a huge advantage. Some modern ARVs will already have this available, but older models may not, or they may not have a sturdy ram or no ram at all. Also review what equipment you have in the ARV to include ammunition, breaching tools, medical bags, PPE and less-lethal tools.
At my agency, we have a modern ARV but made the choice to make our own reinforced ram that we can raise and lower with tremendous force, allowing us to move vehicles or objects as needed. With modern military equipment, this is actually quite easily done, as the frames are heavy-duty and can be easily modified. Adding off-road LED lights to any ARV is a great improvement. Not only can you see what you are working on, but lights are a great tactical tool to work behind.
Selecting your driver
There are several considerations when selecting the driver of your ARV. You can use a SWAT operator, but that removes one operator to drive the vehicle and not deploy with the team. I do recommend that all team members receive training in operating the vehicle, but in my opinion, having dedicated ARV drivers is the best practice. These drivers are responsible for driving the vehicle, attending ARV training, plotting the routes for planned events to include staging points, and managing the care and maintenance of the vehicle, including the equipment that is contained on and in the ARV.
Developing a breaching medium
In preparation for breaching training with the ARV, you should break the training down into several levels:
- Attachment of the ram;
- Movement with the vehicle;
- The breach and material that needs to be breached;
- The plan after the breach;
- Problems you may encounter.
If there is a building that is going to be demolished, see if you can get permission to breach the doors, windows and walls. Be prepared to board it up.
If these types of locations cannot be found, you will need to make them.
Creating your breach points is fundamental to your training. You can easily create them at your training range or off-site with a few four-by-fours, some scrap doors, windows and sheets of plywood. (Meet with local construction vendors to see if you can get doors and windows donated).
The four-by-fours should be inserted into the ground and spaced to allow for the door to be mounted and opened. Do the same with the windows and be prepared to replace both several times during the training. Place the plywood pieces horizontally to represent a wall. Make small scoring cuts in the plywood to allow for the ram to push easily through it without pushing the wall over.
Now you have developed the breaching medium, you can prepare to train in the ARV.
Developing your training objectives
With a lot of disciplines, repetitiveness is a key factor for skills and knowledge retention. Working the training into progressive elements to a reasonable conclusion is a good way to develop an understanding of the topic.
Here is an outline of essential training/learning objections:
1. Mounting the ram on the ARV
The first phase of the training should be attaching the ram. Everyone should be trained in this and it should be supervised by the tactical driver. This needs to be done by the team members in the ARV or support off scene when the ARV is moved to the mounting position away from any threats.
2. Movement of the ARV into position
Movement is the next phase and should include various terrains. If you do this on a flat range with no obstructions, you are training for failure. In the real world, you will have obstructions, shifts in elevation, and soft earth and it may be dark. Difficulties should be integrated into the training to prepare for real-world events.
I have encountered agencies that are concerned about damaging or scratching their ARV. Move past this as it’s a tool designed to save lives and not a parade vehicle.
3. Communication of the objective
What is the mission and what is your team attempting to achieve through the breach? Just as important, what are your contingency plans? This is where team command provides direction, and everyone is given a SITREP as to the status of the mission and how we are going to move forward. This should be done in training to get the team used to receiving direction with the team command providing situational awareness and necessary direction. This point can’t be overstated: What we do in training is what we will do in real life!
4. Making the breach
Performing the breach is harder than it looks and is just the first step. What are you going to do after the breach? What are your follow-up actions? Again, if you make it easy with just a few cones on the ground simulating the door or a wall, conducting all training in the daylight and providing no obstructions, your training will not prepare you for real-life events.
5. Follow-up tactics
Determine what medium you have to get through – door, window, garage door and wall – and prepare your training around it. Work on what you want to accomplish, keeping the door open to allow for entry or insertion of a robot. Will you have to clear debris from the floor area with the ram to make this happen? Port a window or wall for a shield team to scout or cover on a suspect? Are the curtains removed? Are there glass shards sticking up? Did the breach make a lot of dust preventing you from seeing in? These are all things that should be addressed in training.
6. Continued support or withdrawal
After the breach, determine the kind of support your ARV can provide:
- A ballistic shield for staging or deployment;
- A fall-back (rally) point;
- A rescue platform;
- An overwatch platform;
- A negotiation platform.
This should be integrated into your training, and ALL equipment that would be used during a real-life response must be used during training. This is important as moving around an ARV is problematic and dangerous. The driver can’t usually see you, a door slamming shut will definitely break or remove something, and ARVs are surprisingly small inside when a backboard and a downed person is loaded up.
7. Issues (created or real)
You should be prepared for and plan for failures in your training. Getting stuck is a fact of life for an ARV. Twenty-two thousand pounds of vehicle and wet earth usually don’t get along well with each other, especially if you haven’t locked your hubs. It’s ballistic protection, so plan for someone to shoot at the ARV. If this happens, there are several questions to review: Can you return fire? Should you return fire? Can you leave the area? Did you establish overwatch? Be prepared to address these issues. A good rule of thumb is to have an ARV buddy – you help a neighboring team when they deploy their vehicle and they help you.
You should document and archive training and real-life events in order to identify lessons learned and best practices. Do not rely on others to do this for you.
Key to successful training with and deployment of ARVs as part of your tactical response is to review after-action reports that detail what other tactical teams have faced. These reports detail the issues they had to overcome and lessons identified that you can use to direct your training to reflect the scenarios faced by tactical teams in the real world.
About the author
Lt. Matt Hardesty is a 26-year veteran of law enforcement. He has 12 years instructional experience at the advanced specialized training level and 20 years’ experience at the agency level developing lesson plans, training schedules, class materials and scenario-based field exercises. Lt. Hardesty served 22 years on the SWAT team as an operator, grenadier, rappel master and team leader and executive officer. He is a lead instructor for Seminole State College for Basic SWAT, Advanced SWAT and Officer Rescue.