Delta Force

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This article is about the Special Operations Force. For other uses, see Delta Force (disambiguation).
1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta (Airborne)
US Army Special Operations Command SSI.svg
USASOC patch worn by 1st SFOD-D
Active 19 November 1977 – present
Country  United States of America
Branch  United States Army
Type Special operations force
Role Special operations
Size Classified[1]
see below
Part of United States Special Operations Command Insignia.svg United States Special Operations Command
JSOC emblem.jpg Joint Special Operations Command
US Army Special Operations Command SSI.svg United States Army Special Operations Command
Garrison/HQ Fort Bragg, North Carolina, U.S.
Nickname(s) Delta & The Unit
Charles Alvin Beckwith

The 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta (1st SFOD-D), popularly known as Delta Force, is an elite special operations unit of the United States Army. It is used for hostage rescue and counterterrorism, as well as direct action and reconnaissance against high-value targets. Delta Force and its Navy counterpart, the United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group (or DEVGRU), often referred to as SEAL Team Six, are the United States military's primary counter-terrorism units and fall under the operational control of the Joint Special Operations Command.

Primarily recruiting from other U.S. Army special operations forces and military units, Delta Force, along with its Navy equivalent DEVGRU, perform many of the most highly complex and dangerous missions in the U.S. military, often highly classified as well. These units are also often referred to as special mission units by the U.S. government. 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.[6]


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 (Green Berets) 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 an 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."[7] 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 resistant to creating a new unit outside of Special Forces or changing existing methods.

Finally, in the mid-70s, as the threat of terrorism grew, the Pentagon high command appointed Beckwith to form the unit.[8] Beckwith estimated that it would take 24 months to get his new unit mission-ready. Beckwith's estimate resulted from a conversation he had earlier with Brigadier John Watts while updating his SAS experience in England in 1976. Watts had made it clear to Beckwith that it would take eighteen months to build a squadron, but advised him to tell the Army leadership that it would take two years, and not to "let anyone talk (him) out of this." To justify why it would take two years to build Delta, Beckwith and his staff drafted what they dubbed the "Robert Redford Paper." In it Delta outlined its necessities and historical precedents for a four-phase selection/assessment process.[9]

Delta Force was then established on 17 November 1977, by Beckwith and Colonel Thomas Henry.[10] In the meantime, Colonel Bob "Black Gloves" Mountel of the 5th Special Forces Group was tasked with creating a unit 'to breach the short-term gap' that existed until Delta was ready, dubbed Blue Light.[11]

On 4 November 1979, 53 American diplomats and citizens were taken captive and held in the U.S. embassy in Tehran, Iran. The Delta Force was assigned to Operation Eagle Claw and ordered to enter the country covertly 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 unexpected 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 trans-loading/refueling site.[12]

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 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.

Organization and structure[edit]

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 generally are not available publicly.

Delta Force's structure is similar to the British 22 Special Air Service, the unit that 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, of which approximately 250 to 300 are trained to conduct direct action operations. The rest are highly specialized support personnel who are among the very best in their fields.[13]

Sean Naylor further goes into detail of Delta Force's structure in his book "Relentless Strike". He describes a few formations in Delta, primarily the operational sabre squadrons:

  • A Squadron (Assault)
  • B Squadron (Assault)
  • C Squadron (Assault)
  • D Squadron (Assault)
  • E Squadron (Aviation, formerly known as SEASPRAY [14])
  • G Squadron (Formerly the Operational Support Troop,[15] it grew to squadron size and specializes in advanced force operations, reconnaissance and surveillance and is known to employ women)
  • Combat Support Squadron (contains WMD experts, breachers, and other specialists)


Since the 1990s, the Army has posted recruitment notices for the 1st SFOD-D.[16] The Army, however, has never released an official fact sheet for the elite force. The recruitment notices 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..."[17] The notice states that applicants must be male, in the ranks of E-4 through E-8, have at least two and a half years of service 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.

Delta Force recruits from other branches of the military, including the Marine Corps. During the 2012 Benghazi attack, two Delta operators (one from the Army and one from the Marine Corps) were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the Navy Cross, respectively.[18]

On 29 June 2006 during a session of the Committee on Armed Services, General Wayne Downing testified before the U.S. House of Representatives that 70 percent of all Delta operators served in the 75th Ranger Regiment.[19]

Selection process[edit]

Eric Haney's book Inside Delta Force described the selection course and its inception in detail. Haney wrote that 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 candidates are 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 rough terrain that 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.[20][1]

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 little contact with friends and family for the duration. Training includes firearm accuracy and various other munitions training.[1]

In a recent interview, former Delta operator Paul Howe talked about the high attrition rate of his Delta selection course. He said that out of his two classes totaling 240 men, only 12 to 14 candidates completed the course.[21]


According to Eric Haney, the unit's Operator Training Course is approximately six months long. While the course is constantly changing, the skills taught broadly include the following:

  • Marksmanship
    • The trainees shoot without aiming[need quotation to verify][dubious ] at stationary targets at close range until they gain almost complete accuracy, then progress to moving targets.
    • Once these shooting skills are perfected, trainees move to a shooting house and clear rooms of "enemy" targets – first one only, then two at a time, three, and finally four. When all can demonstrate sufficient skill, "hostages" are added to the mix.
  • Demolitions and Breaching
    • Trainees learn how to pick many different locks, including those on cars and safes.
    • Advanced demolition, and bomb making using common materials.
  • Combined skills. The FBI, FAA, and other agencies were used to advise the training of this portion of OTC.
    • The new Delta operators use demolition and marksmanship at the shoothouse and other training facilities to train for hostage and counter-terrorist operations with 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 containing hostages. 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. Live ammunition is known to have been used in these exercises, to test the students, and build trust between one another.
  • Tradecraft. During the first OTCs 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 counter-surveillance.
  • Executive Protection. During the first OTCs and creation of Delta, the U.S. State Department's Diplomatic Security Service and the United States Secret Service advised Delta.
    • Students take an advanced driving course learning how to use a vehicle or many vehicles as defensive and offensive weapons.
    • They then learn techniques for VIP and diplomatic protection developed by the Secret Service and DSS.
  • Culmination Exercise
    • A final test requires the students to apply and dynamically adapt all of the skills that they have learned.


The Department of Defense tightly controls information about Delta Force and refuses to comment publicly on the highly secretive unit and its activities. Delta operators are granted an enormous amount of flexibility and autonomy. To conceal their identities, they rarely wear a uniform and usually wear civilian clothing both on and off duty.[1] When military uniforms are worn, they lack markings, surnames, or branch names.[1] Civilian hair styles and facial hair are allowed to enable the members to blend in and avoid recognition as military personnel.[1][22]

The term operator[edit]

Inside the United States Special Operations community, an operator is a Delta Force member who has completed selection and has graduated OTC (Operators Training Course). Operator was first used by Delta Force to distinguish between operational and non-operational personnel assigned to the unit.[1] Other special operations forces use specific names for their jobs (Army Rangers, Navy SEALs, Air Force Pararescuemen); operator is the specific term for Delta's operational personnel. However, since the early 2000s other special operations forces have adopted the term.

SEALs may have unofficially referred to themselves as operators since the Vietnam War. Author and Navy SEAL Gene Wentz makes many references to fellow SEALs as operators in his 1992 book titled Men In Green Faces, which is about the SEALs in Vietnam.[23] Currently, the official rating used by the Navy to designated SEALs is SO, or "Special Warfare Operator".

Operations and clandestine operations[edit]

The majority of the operations assigned to Delta are classified and may never be known to the public. However, details of some operations have become public knowledge. There have been many occasions that Delta has been put on standby and operational plans developed but the unit was stood down for various reasons.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Haney, Eric L. (2002). Inside Delta Force. New York: Delacorte Press. p. 325. ISBN 978-0-385-33603-1. 
  2. ^ Cawthorne, Nigel, The Mammoth Book of Inside the Elite Forces, Robinson, 2008 ISBN 1845298217 ISBN 978-1845298210,p.97
  3. ^ "US-Iraqi rescue operation 'foils IS mass execution'". BBC News. 22 October 2015. 
  4. ^ "U.S. conducts raid in Syria, says it kills senior Islamic State leader". Reuters. 16 May 2015. 
  5. ^ Jack Murphy (2016-01-11). "JSOC's Secretive Delta Force Operators on the Ground for El Chapo Capture". SOFREP News. Retrieved 2016-03-18. 
  6. ^ Waller, Douglas (2003-02-03). "The CIA's Secret Army: The CIA's Secret Army". TIME. Retrieved 2015-12-06. 
  7. ^ Beckwith, Charlie (2000) [1983]. Delta Force: The Army's Elite Counterterrorist Unit (Paperback ed.). Avon Books. p. 39. ISBN 0-380-80939-7. 
  8. ^ Beckwith 2000
  9. ^ Beckwith 2000, pp. 142–43
  10. ^ Goolsby, Denise (14 July 2016). "Palm Springs man was Army Delta Force co-creator". The Desert Sun. Gannett. 
  11. ^ Beckwith 2000, p. 131
  12. ^ Gabriel, Richard A. (1985). Military Incompetence: Why the American Military Doesn't Win. Hill and Wang. pp. 106–16. ISBN 0-374-52137-9.  Overall, the Holloway Commission blamed the ad hoc nature of the task force and an excessive degree of security, both of which intensified command-and-control problems.
  13. ^ Naylor, Sean (2006). Not a Good Day to Die: The Untold Story of Operation Anaconda. Berkeley: Berkley Books. ISBN 0-425-19609-7. 
  14. ^ Naylor, Sean (2015). Relentless Strike: The Secret History of Joint Special Operations Command. St. Martin's Press. p. 57. 
  15. ^ Naylor, Sean (2015). Relentless Strike: The Secret History of Joint Special Operations Command. St. Martin's Press. p. 454. 
  16. ^ Mountaineer. SFOD-D seeking new members. Fort Carson, Colorado: Mountaineer (publication). 16 January 2003. Archived 17 January 2004 at the Wayback Machine.
  17. ^ "Fort Bragg's newspaper Paraglide, recruitment notice for Delta Force". Archived from the original on 11 June 2009. Retrieved 17 November 2009. 
  18. ^ "Delta Force Marine awarded Navy Cross for fight at CIA annex in Benghazi". Washington Times. Retrieved 2015-12-06. 
  19. ^ "Assessing U.S. Special Operations Command's Missions and Roles" (PDF). Federation of American Scientists. Retrieved 11 August 2012. 
  20. ^ Beckwith, Charlie A. (1983). Delta Force. San Diego: Harcourt. ISBN 0-15-124657-2. 
  21. ^ "Delta Force Tryouts". Retrieved 18 February 2014 – via YouTube. 
  22. ^ Bowden, Mark (1999). Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War. Berkeley: Atlantic Monthly Press. ISBN 0-87113-738-0. 
  23. ^ "Navy Special Warfare Operator (SEAL)". Retrieved 15 May 2011. 

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