Shane Foster: The fact is that we live in a very difficult time for Law Enforcement. With the reduction of “No-Knocks” and the constant scrutiny that domestic operations face, we must be reasonable in using what tools we have access to.

About the author

Shane Foster is Director and Owner of Guild Solutions Group. He is breaching instructor at T.E.E.S., a USAF Veteran. and former LE/S.W.A.T.


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Breaching: The Pros and Cons in the Debate of Commercial vs. Improvised Charges

The Article

Context is everything!

December 8, 1969, one of the first uses of a team referred to as S.W.A.T. or Special Weapons and Tactics took place.

During this raid, another emergence took place: the use of energetics (explosive materials) to conduct a breach at 41st and Central Ave.

It was the first documented “explosive” breach on U.S. soil that I am aware of. More clearly defined, this was the first documented use of energetic compounds to gain access to a stronghold.

Fast forward to 1977: testing began to take place at the Naval Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technology Division, Indian Head, Maryland.

Then perhaps the most famous use of energetics happened on May 5, 1980, by the British Special Air Service (S.A.S.) at the Iranian Embassy in South Kensington, London, known as Operation Nimrod.

Why the context, you might ask? It gives us a basis of where it started, where it has come, and where it’s going.

It was these momentous events that initiated the modern-day methods of energetic entry.

Now more than ever, with the recent ruling of the National Tactical Officers Association disavowing No-Knock warrant services, we should consider all aspects of energetic entry.

While we know there is some controversy surrounding the use of explosives on domestic land, there is also the debate of improvised vs. commercial charges.

An understanding of what improvised materials are used and why

To ensure clarity, we define improvised charges as taking construction materials such as tape, cardboard, water, and other components and using them in conjunction with energetic compositions.

Using materials such as 330B (rubber) creates a medium between the target and energetics.

This reduces the risk of spalling or pieces of the target material being propelled into the structure.

Water or saline is another common improvised component, which reduces the risk of blast pressure to the team.

Some studies show that it can reduce blast pressure by up to 68%.

With Traumatic Brain Injury being at the forefront of many studies, utilizing these types of materials can significantly reduce the exposure to the team members.

Water or saline also works as a tamping medium, causing a reflection effect, which increases the pressure on the target, simply put, we get more effect from less material.

Firehose is another type of improvised material commonly used.

Firehose enhances the effect of energetics in several capacities:

1. It provides a tamping effect.

2. It works as a limited mechanical function.

3. It provides the buffer between the target and energetics.

We could certainly go into much greater detail and discuss many more options, but this gives us an understanding of what improvised materials are used and why.


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The pros and cons of improvised charges

Objectively speaking, we need to consider the pros and cons of improvised charges. Keep in mind that there is no way to capture all sides of the discussion in a limited article, and it would invite further discussion.

The Pros of Improvised Charges

– Pros: It’s hard to argue with “free99” materials or cheaper options with tight budgets.

We know there are many constraints on budgets across the nation.

– Pros: Improvised charges give us almost limitless modularity to adjust to uncommon targets.

There is a perpetual cat and mouse game between criminals and those that enforce the law.

Having the ability to adjust to triple barricades, steel rods through doors, and multiple locks is imperative to success.

– Pros: Improvised charges are not as technical as they give a greater margin of error yet, remain effective.

– Pros: Improvised materials have been used 1000’s times and have produced incredible amounts of data, which aids in making a positive breach. Referencing that data gives us the ability to reproduce desired results.

– Pros: Improvised materials are easily accessible.

This being more of a military mindset in an OCONUS environment (to use what you have when you have it to create success) is a solid argument, and we need to understand that, typically speaking, materials of both sides of the fence are readily available.

The Cons

– Cons: Improvised materials don’t typically go through scientific testing to determine more accurate data.

The data is more from trial and error than data discovery and documentation.

This can become problematic if litigation gets involved.

– Cons: Improvised materials can produce inconsistent effects because they have variables in their production methods and are at greater risk for human error.

A simple roll of an IV bag can create different results each time. Different firehose composition produces different results.

– Cons: Some improvised materials can produce a greater risk to the team with high levels of injurious fragmentation.

– Cons: Improvised charges can take a great deal longer to construct vs. improvised charges.

If something hasty is needed and pre-built charges are not accessible, this can be problematic.

– Cons: If foundational and continual training is not conducted, then a much greater margin of failure can occur.

Using the right foam or not can increase fire hazards.

Trying to use hazardous tamping materials can create terrible consequences.

#Improvised does give the freedom to the builder to adjust, but also comes naturally with a higher probability of failure by using the wrong materials.

Pros and cons of commercial charges

Let’s change gears and look at the history of commercial charges and their purpose.

One of the first commercial charges came to light from the minds of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (R.C.M.P.) and was marketed by David Hudak.

It was named the hydro cut.

This charge gained traction throughout Canada and the U.S. for its ease of assembly, consistent results, and reduction in blast pressure by using water as a tamp.

Due to some events, this charge started being produced and continues to be made by Gryphon Engineering.

And it is now referred to as the Gryphon frame or GBF-1VS. With pioneers like Cherry Engineering at the inception of commercial charges and now companies like Omni, P3D, Esoteric, and others, we must ask ourselves why commercial charges are needed?

Therefore, using the same neutral opinion, let’s compare pros vs. cons.

The Pros of Commercial Charges

– Pros: Commercial charges typically go through numerous testing procedures to determine their reliability and functionality.

– Pros: Commercial variants create a much more consistent effect that gives us a greater stance in the court of law.

If an agency is required to defend its position in a court of law, having this consistency and backing of the manufacturer can produce a more well-rounded argument.

– Pros: Ease of construction can dramatically reduce the time to build commercial charges.

For instance, comparing a standard I.D.C. (Internal Door Charge) or 7-5-7 can take roughly 50% more time to construct than, say a BreachPop #1 from P3D.

– Pros: Reducing blast pressure exposure might be one of the most significant arguments in favor of commercial charges.

Reducing the amount of energetic material by 70% alone is substantial, but then also factoring in that many commercial variants provide tamping, which also greatly reduces exposure to team members.

Ultimately, we can produce a charge that’s just as effective and reduce the blast pressure by up to 80% with improvised variants.

– Pros: Reduction in injurious fragmentation is a big consideration.

Although there are some improvised charges that produce little to no frag, many commercial variants virtually produce nothing with a tamping quality that surpasses the improvised charges.

– Cons: Maybe the most significant disadvantage to commercial charges is the cost involved.

The question comes up, are they worth it?

My answer is that if you are caught inside of a lawsuit, are you able to articulate that what you used was the best possible option for the situation at hand?

– Cons: Some commercial charges aren’t as durable and demand proper construction.

Let’s face it, many L.E. and M.I.L. personnel don’t always exhibit the most patience, and they cut corners; this can result in the commercial variant not producing the desired results.

– Cons: Weight can be a factor in many commercial charges.

It can be due to the gel, the water, and the plastic, and having a proper method of attachment can be challenging.

Keep learning and educate yourself on all the options

Regardless of what avenue you take, it’s important to judge the decision by your S.O.P.’s & TTP’s.

If you have a very supportive administration for the use of energetics, maybe commercial charges aren’t worth it.

If you have a more scrutinized agency, it might be worth every penny and some.

Having an unbalanced perspective on these two options is never the right answer; without a doubt, there are advantages to both.

Hopefully, the pros and cons listed allow you to see where your agency would fall, and then you can make the correct decision on which option you should go with or both.

The fact is that we live in a very difficult time for Law Enforcement.

With the reduction of “No-Knocks” and the constant scrutiny that domestic operations face, we must be reasonable in using what tools we have access to.

Energetics can be used precision-based, similar to a competent sniper.

For that to happen, we must have consistent training programs and seek outsourced training that challenges our skill sets.

When attending those schools, judge it from a balanced perspective and don’t drink the “kool-aid.”

Beware of the trainer who validates himself by criticizing others and is married to one-way only.

While I have been involved in the detonation and construction of 1000’s improvised charges, I have great confidence in several commercial variants and see this becoming more of the trend in the future.

Keep learning, never settle, and educate yourself on all the options.


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Photos by Shane Foster

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