The Unequivocal Need for the 50 Cal Rifle for SWAT

Oct. 21, 2015
If your team does not have a Hard Target Weapon it very well may be time to reevaluate your team capabilities and limitations and take a critical look at how you can protect the public and your peers with your current equipment.

With the recent (June) attack of the Dallas Police Headquarters and subsequent use of a 50 Caliber Rifle to stop the threat, many SWAT officers around the country are reexamining when is the last time they have had any substantive training specific to the employment of their 50 Caliber rifle and whether they will be prepared if a similar attack occurs in their jurisdiction. For many teams, learning of this directed attack, pursuit, and SWAT Operation with an armored vehicle raises issues and questions that quite frankly have not been pushed to the forefront for some time.

  • How prepared is your SWAT team to deal a suspect in an up armored vehicle?
  • What Special Application Rifles does your team train with and have access to?
  • What specialty rounds do you maintain?

If your team does not have a Hard Target Weapon it very well may be time to reevaluate your team capabilities and limitations and take a critical look at how you can protect the public and your peers with your current equipment.

Current State

Unfortunately, many SWAT teams find themselves in the precarious situation of having no rifles greater than the standard .308 caliber. We have been lulled over the years with the common place callouts and have failed to be prepared for the threats that are out there. We suffer from thinking small and not big. How often do you say to your fellow teammates after an operation, “We got lucky on that one.”?

Following the attack on Dallas Police Headquarters, how many SWAT members across the country have attempted to strike while the iron is still hot? What exactly do I mean? You must use operational incidents from other agencies across the country to your benefit to gain new training and equipment. The justification for a 50 Cal rifle just occurred in Texas in June, and not some lone wolf terrorist, but merely an individual upset at the cops over a child custody dispute.

Also, keep in mind that what is occurring overseas will be in our backyard soon enough.  Some of it is already here, but how aware you are and what mainstream media reports can sometimes be two different things. Again, many times you have-not because you-ask-not.

For SWAT teams that have a 50 Cal rifles, what efforts have you made to develop a substantive program that allows for operators to grow in their confidence and ability through training? If you have not made any efforts then you may find yourselves in a potentially bad place for all involved. Basic protocol should exist for the storage and immediate deployment during operations. Because the use of the 50 Cal in police operations is limited, many of us can become complacent and to an extent neglectful as it directly relates to training.  If all of your training consist of shooting a qualification course of fire once or twice a year to meet the states requirement, I would suggest you need more. Remember Qualification is not Training.

Just as you may have an Explosive Breaching program, a Shotgun breaching program, or an Aerial Platform program, the 50 Cal should be treated no different when it comes to sustainment training. With the recent Aerial Platform engagement by deputies in California, ask yourself if they would have been in that position to intervene if they did not have a program of qualification, sustainment training and, perhaps most importantly, confidence to apply their craft on demand from a moving aircraft.

Moving Forward

What should your 50 Cal program look like?

First, how many individuals are trained or will be trained on these rifles? Without a doubt, it will be a select number who have demonstrated proficiency with scoped rifles in the past.

Second, how many 50 Cal rifles do you have and is there a magic number for how many your team should have? Limiting yourself to one 50 team (2 man) on an operation may prove to be too little and put you into a corner. Deploying a second 50 team opens up more options not only for you, but the team and SWAT Commanders. 50 Cal teams should be a minimum of two man teams, but the reality is that training should focus on worse case scenarios involving one man hasty deployments.

A large portion of 50 Cal rifles in use by SWAT teams are from Barrett Firearms. Many teams operate the semi-auto versions (M82/107) that are two components (upper & lower receiver) and require assembly. This takes time and training should focus on the correct assembly of the rifle on demand under stress by one operator.

Also in use are 50 Cal bolt operated rifles. Accuracy International and Armalite are just two of the manufactures that SWAT teams use. There may be some assembly of the rifle involved also, and your training should concentrate on that under stress.

Consideration should also be given to the type of optic. Variable powered riflescopes offer many advantages on 50 Cal rifles, but there are also advantages to mounting a red dot type optic also. Red dot optics are optimized for Aerial Platform use and also allow for more operators to use the rifle that are not trained in the nuances of riflescopes.

Training should also reflect the environment you operate in. The flat range is great, but to a fault we concentrate all of our training there. You do not always need to pull the trigger on the 50 Cal. to get substantive training in.  Schedule off-site training involving the assembly (if required) of the rifle and deployment to areas to validate and test your ability to do so on demand.

One very important aspect of 50 Cal deployment is the introduction of an angle from the team’s location. That means getting the 50 Cal elevated.  Train team members in climbing ladders to 1 and 2 story rooftop locations with the rifle and have a system down for doing so. If you have never done so you may regret it when the time comes on a real operation.  Put a clock on it and challenge guys to step up. Being a member of the 50 Cal team is a choice position on the SWAT team, and guys should rise to the expected standard.                

In Conclusion

It starts with you. You will not grow your program if all you do is a yearly qualification and pat yourself on the back for job well done. The attack in Dallas should serve as a wakeup call to SWAT teams everywhere that have these rifles to examine their program or lack thereof. Teams that do not have any type of a Hard Target Weapon greater than the .308 are playing the odds that this type of attack does not happen to you.

As I have written before, you must be moving forward, for if you’re not you are moving backward and that is a bad place to be in our line of work. Don’t settle for ‘No’ when requesting new equipment or training, but have your homework done and ready to justify your needs to the chain of command. Stay safe, train to a high standard, and don’t expect someone else to do the work.

About the Author

Mark Lang

Mark Lang is the Director of Sniper Training for Tacflow Academy. Nearing a 30-year career in law enforcement he has spent a majority of it as a member of a Tier 1 Full-time SWAT team in North Texas. He has developed proprietary training curriculum in the areas of Public Venue Response & Deployment, Large Caliber Rifle Instructor and Aerial Platform Operations. A member of the America Sniper Association and the National Tactical Officers Association Sniper Section Committee he writes and contributes to several media outlets to increase awareness for police snipers, SWAT personnel & SWAT Supervision. He is also the CEO of Venue Safety Consulting and can be reached at [email protected]

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