Today marks the 25th anniversary of the Battle of Mogadishu, and today on the blog we speak with Leigh Neville about his book Day of the Rangers and how the famous battle has shaped and influenced the US military during the Global War on Terror.
“The battle has had a profound effect on the military and in particular on special operations units. From relatively straight-forward things like ensuring every soldier has effective body armour with both front and rear plates through to some genuinely revolutionary ideas which have kept wounded soldiers alive in Afghanistan and Iraq, you could almost fill a book just with the lessons learnt from October 3 and 4, 1993,” Neville says.
“Delta Force have always been at the forefront of researching and developing small arms and equipment that have gone on to influence both other special operations forces and eventually the larger ‘green’ army. For example they were the amongst the first to use modern close combat optics like the Aimpoint family of red-dot sights which significantly speed up target acquisition over traditional iron sights. They were also early adopters of the first infrared laser sights, visible only through night vision goggles.”
“Both of these items of equipment saw widespread adoption by the Ranger Regiment in the wake of the Mogadishu battle and by the start of the War on Terror, they were pretty much standard issue across the US military. Delta had also placed a lot of emphasis on close quarter shooting and breaching in an urban environment- both skills which were soon incorporated into Ranger training after Mogadishu.”
“The [Ranger] Regiment specifically overhauled their combat shooting programmes- they developed a four-part Ranger marksmanship programme which emphasised stress firing, close quarter battle and accuracy in both day and night scenarios. Breaching also became a far more widely disseminated skill- Rangers were issued specialist ammunition for their breaching shotguns and the Ranger close proximity charge was developed- an explosive small enough to fit in a cargo pocket but powerful enough to defeat most doors.”
“Ranger, SEAL and Delta medics who were veterans of the battle were instrumental in overhauling battlefield casualty care. One example, directly from the Mogadishu experience, was the development of the Combat Ready Clamp which works like a junctional tourniquet to stop femoral artery bleeds. The widespread use of tourniquets in general was also a key by-product of the battle- now every soldier carries at least one and most modern designs are based on either the Combat Application Tourniquet which as the name suggests was developed by Delta (Combat Applications Group is a cover name for the unit) or the Ranger Regiment equivalent, the Ranger Ratchet Tourniquet,” Neville explains.
“With US and Coalition forces working in high threat IED environments since 2001, the tourniquet (including the latest versions which can be applied and wound one-handed) have literally saved lives. In fact, one US Army study claims some 2000 service members have survived thanks to tourniquet use in Afghanistan and Iraq. The simple fact is that effective and timely tourniquet use can slow or stop blood loss, enabling the casualty to be evacuated to a field hospital- an incredible innovation and much of it was driven by one of the Special Forces medics from Delta who did a tremendous job keeping the wounded alive at the first crash site- Super 61.”
“Medical training is also now pushed down to the individual Ranger so that every soldier has a basic level of Tactical Combat Casualty Care; can pack a wound with a clotting product, apply a tourniquet… their Ranger medics- who attend a programme called the Special Operations Combat Medic course- are much more like specialist paramedics who can conduct surgery and can even use freeze-dried plasma to infuse casualties suffering massive haemorrhaging of the type often caused by IEDs. It’s amazing stuff.”
“The appropriateness and issue of personal body armour was another key lesson that emerged from Mogadishu. In October 1993, the Rangers had a relatively small number of the then-new Ranger Body Armour available which was much closer to the kind of plate carriers we have today and certainly improved upon the standard issue PASGT system. Its major failing however, in its first iteration, was that it only had a pouch for a front plate. The trauma plate is the titanium or ceramic shield which covers the vital organs and will stop an armour-piercing round from an AK47. The Rangers realised that their RBA needed a back plate after Mogadishu and the design was changed.”
“Even Delta modified their gear in this regard following the battle. Until October 1993, the unit had typically used skate helmets that were lightweight but had zero ballistic protection. Their thinking had traditionally been that they were far more likely to suffer an injury whilst climbing through a window or fast roping than being shot- this was likely an extension of their primary mission of counterterrorism. Only one C-Squadron operator wore the K-pot or PASGT helmet rather than a plastic ProTec in Somalia. He was the recipient of much teasing during earlier missions but after October 3 and 4, he was considered one of the smartest guys in the Unit!”
“Of course, Delta tragically lost Earl Fillmore, the medic from A-Team, during the foot movement to the first crash site from a headshot that penetrated his ProTec and killed him instantly. This spurred on the testing and purchase of ballistic helmets that were lighter than the general issue PASGT. This testing and consultation with manufacturers contributed directly to the kind of modern lightweight ballistic helmets produced by the likes of Ops Core or Crye.”
“Along with the medical advances, the biggest impact the battle of Mogadishu had on military thinking was in the field of what we today call ISR or intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. Mogadishu was the first time in history that commanders could watch events unfold ‘live’ on a TV screen back at their TOC [tactical operations centre]. There were a number of camera equipped helicopters overhead during the battle, there was a specialist Navy P-3 Orion that was configured as a surveillance platform, there was even a CIA glider that could take high quality video- all of these feeds were available to General Garrison, the Task Force Ranger commander, and his staff.”
Neville argues that this was a major innovation in command and control; “This was an incredible first- it added so much to the situational awareness of the ground force commander that we almost take for granted today with all sorts of UAVs and specialist ISR aircraft available but in 1993, this was ground-breaking stuff. It also illustrated that having this kind of ‘unblinking eye in the sky’ required new processes as the delays in guiding Colonel McKnight’s convoy showed. You needed to be able to transmit the information instantaneously to those who needed it most.”
“The battle had the most profound effect on ISR and how battlefield leaders access it- I would argue that it hastened the development of tablet sized viewers that now allow the real-time monitoring of whatever the airborne ISR asset ‘sees’. Most regular infantry platoons now have this capability and most even have their own UAV! I suspect the capability would have arrived eventually but Mogadishu really exposed the possibilities of ISR and likely sped its development.”
“All in all, the October 3 and 4 battle has had a tremendous influence on the US and allied militaries and even on the fundamental ways we wage war- from medical procedures to weapons to UAVs or drones. The fact that units like the Rangers and Delta recognised these lessons, that the next war would be the ‘Stepchild of Somalia and Chechnya’, and acted upon them should be lauded- they really did save many lives in the decades following.”