Close quarters combat (CQC) is a tactical concept that involves physical confrontation between several combatants. It can take place between military units, police/corrections and criminals, and other similar scenarios. In warfare, it usually consists of small units or teams engaging the enemy with personal weapons at very short range, up to 100 meters, from proximity hand-to-hand combat to close-quarter target negotiation with short-range firearms. In the typical close quarters combat scenario, the attackers try a very fast, violent takeover of a vehicle or structure controlled by the defenders, who usually have no easy way to withdraw. Because enemies, hostages/civilians, and fellow operators can be closely intermingled, close quarters combat demands a rapid assault and a precise application of lethal force. The operators need great proficiency with their weapons, and the ability to make split-second decisions in order to minimize accidental casualties. Criminals sometimes use close quarters combat techniques, such as in an armed robbery or jailbreak, but most of the terminology comes from training used to prepare soldiers, police/corrections, and other authorities. Therefore, much material relating to close quarters combat is written from the perspective of the authorities who must break into the stronghold where the opposing force has barricaded itself. Typical examples would be commando operations behind enemy lines and hostage rescues. Although there is considerable overlap, close quarters combat is not synonymous with urban warfare, now sometimes known by the military acronyms MOUT (military operations in urban terrain), FIBUA (fighting in built-up areas) or OBUA (Operations in Built Up Areas) in the West. Urban warfare is a much larger field, including logistics and the role of crew-served weapons like heavy machine guns, mortars, and mounted grenade launchers, as well as artillery, armor, and air support. In close quarters combat, the emphasis is on small infantry units using light, compact weapons that one person can carry and use easily in tight spaces, such as carbines, submachine guns, shotguns, pistols, knives, and bayonets. As such, close quarters combat is a tactical concept that forms a part of the strategic concept of urban warfare, but not every instance of close quarters combat is necessarily urban warfare—for example, a jungle is potentially a stage for close quarters combat.
The origins of modern close quarters combat as well as SWAT tactics lie in the policing methods pioneered by Assistant Commissioner William E. Fairbairn in the Shanghai Municipal Police of the International Settlement (1854–1943). Shanghai in the 1920s was widely acknowledged as the most dangerous port city in the world due to a heavy opium trade run by organised crime (the Chinese Triads), as well as the political chaos brought about by the ongoing Chinese Civil War.
After the May Thirtieth Movement riots, which resulted in a police massacre, Fairbairn was charged with developing an auxiliary squad for riot control and aggressive policing. After absorbing the most appropriate elements from a variety of martial-arts experts, from China, Japan and elsewhere, he condensed these arts into a practical combat system he called Defendu. He and his police team went on to field-test these skills on the streets of Shanghai; Fairbairn himself used his combat system effectively in over 2000 documented encounters, including over 600 lethal force engagements.
The aim of his combat system was simply to be as brutally effective as possible. It was also a system, that, unlike traditional Eastern martial-arts that required years of intensive training, could be digested by recruits relatively quickly. The method incorporated training in point shooting and gun combat techniques, as well as the effective use of more ad hoc weapons such as chairs or table legs.
During the Second World War, Fairbairn was brought back to Britain, and, after demonstrating the effectiveness of his techniques, was recruited to train the British commandos in his combat method. During this period, he expanded his 'Shanghai Method' into the 'Silent Killing Close Quarters Combat method' for military application. This became standard combat training for all British Special Operations personnel. He also designed the pioneering Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife, which was adopted for use by British and American Special Forces. In 1942, he published a textbook for close quarters combat training called Get Tough.
U.S. Army officers Rex Applegate and Anthony Biddle were taught Fairbairn's methods at a training facility in Scotland, and adopted the program for the training of OSS operatives at a newly opened camp near Lake Ontario in Canada . Applegate published his work in 1943, called Kill or Get Killed. During the war, training was provided to British Commandos, the Devil's Brigade, OSS, U.S. Army Rangers and Marine Raiders.
Other combat systems designed for military combat were introduced elsewhere; including European Unifight, Chinese Sanshou, Soviet/Russian sambo, and the Israeli Kapap and Krav Maga. The prevalence and style of hand-to-hand combat training often changes based on perceived need. Elite units such as special forces and commando units tend to place higher emphasis on hand-to-hand combat training.
Ideally, the leader of the assault team gathers all available intelligence about the crisis scene, targets, and innocents. The leader diagrams and discusses the proposed plan, outlining each team’s actions and responsibilities, location, fields of fire, and special tasks (even to the point of a wall-by-wall and door-by-door layout of the objective, where available). Since the assault team usually already has specialized training, the operation is based on well-understood, pre-established standing operating procedure. When considerable preparation time is available, the team sometimes conducts step-by-step walk-through exercises on a mock-up that duplicates the target environment. Some units maintain permanent "shoot houses" or even airliner/ship mock-ups for practicing marksmanship and tactics more realistically.
In a prolonged standoff, the attackers can sometimes bring in specialized equipment for probing the inside of a well-defended area. Sensitive thermal cameras can help locate the occupants, and surveillance personnel can run microphones and fiber-optic cameras through walls, ceilings, and floors. If hostages escape or can communicate/signal the attackers, they can provide more information from inside.
However, the time and resources to carry out such luxurious preparations are not always there. Not every attacker can field an overwhelming force of specially trained and equipped men with reinforcements standing by. Information about the inside of an enemy-held building or vehicle may not be accessible beyond studying it through binoculars or a rifle scope. While some attackers can go to the lengths of wearing the enemy down by siege or even tunneling under them, others must get the current job done immediately with the force available in order to move on to the next.
The objective is to complete all offensive action before the party being engaged is able to react. To gain this element of surprise, the entry teams use stealth movement and noise/light discipline to get as close to the targets as possible. The teams aim to put themselves in a position to be able to engage the targets from the moment they become aware of the teams. Some teams use suppressed sniper rifles for their initial shots on sentries or dogs.
An assault should come at a time when least expected, taking into consideration fatigue, normal sleep periods, and other factors that detract from the target's alertness. Diversions are an essential element in achieving surprise. Staged emergencies, such as a mock auto accident, fire, or explosion near the crisis site, can divert the target's attention away from the assaulting elements. Explosive breaching and diversionary devices, such as flashbang, smoke, or gas grenades can be employed to distract and disorient the targets. Negotiators can try to manipulate the defenders into a more vulnerable position or convince them that their position will not be stormed.
When law enforcement agents clear a building, they usually work slowly and deliberately, using ballistic shields and mirrors for searching. This affords the highest degree of safety and security for the police, as well as for any uninvolved bystanders inside the search area, who can be identified and safely removed without subjecting them to the shock and danger of a sudden assault. When suspects are encountered, the police can confront them with an alert, armed force and try to take control without shooting. If the searchers meet heavy resistance, they can usually pull back without harm and prepare for a dynamic entry.
However, against determined, well-armed opponents who fight in concert to defend an area and keep it under their control, slow stop-and-go movement can cause the deaths of many attackers and hostages. That leads to dynamic entry used in military operations or hostage rescues. It is the popular image of CQC: a flood of gunmen who burst in without warning and attempt to seize the area. Dynamic entry tactics must be rapid and aggressive, ideally a continuous flow using overwhelming force that does not stop until the threat is eliminated.
In the vast majority of hostage rescue and other dynamic CQC operations, it is desirable to use multiple simultaneous attacks from different entry points to overload the target's ability to react effectively. The more entry points the attackers can choose from, the better their chances. The teams entering the objective usually have to synchronize with snipers, negotiators, power technicians, perimeter guards, and others who assist from the outside. Medical personnel, investigators, and bomb experts may be prepped to enter the scene as soon as the initial attackers get control.
It is important that a central commander coordinate all armed elements, not only to better complete a sweep of the target area, but especially to guard against friendly fire. When large areas must be searched, leaders will assign boundaries between elements and may track them by radio to ensure they do not interfere with each other. The goal is to establish overlapping fields of fire, so that multiple shooters can attack at once from different directions without danger of hitting one another.
It is possible that a point of entry can be created by a precision explosive device to catch the adversary by surprise.
Once the assault begins, the team must gain control before the target understands what is happening and can prepare an effective defense or mount a counterattack. The defenders sometimes have a contingency plan that could cause the attack to fail instantly, such as killing hostages, detonating bombs, or destroying evidence. If they can execute an organized plan, such as falling back into a prepared stronghold, or breaking through the perimeter, the possibility of friendly casualties increases. Speed is achieved through well-designed tactics, such as gaining proximity with an undetected approach, the use of multiple entry points, and explosive breaching. Note that the need for speed does not necessarily translate to individual operators choosing to run in these situations.
For the dynamic entry team, gaining and maintaining physical and psychological momentum is essential. The team may breach doors, blast holes in walls, enter through windows, or rappel or fast-rope from helicopters. Vehicle-mounted rams and platforms may be used to create unexpected entry points. The sensory onslaught from tear gas, explosive breaching, flashbangs, and gunfire is complemented by the intimidating and aggressive actions of the assault team. Hostiles do sometimes hide among the hostages, so once the shooting has stopped, operators must maintain dominance over anyone still alive.
The defenders often try to stop enemies close to the entry points. The "fatal funnel" is the cone-shaped path leading from the entry where the assaulter is most vulnerable to defenders inside the room. Once operators begin to enter, the defenders may try to keep them from escaping the fatal funnel. The attackers are also vulnerable from the corners closest to the entry point, the first place from which they can be hit from behind as they enter the room. If the first attackers cannot clear the corners and get out of the fatal funnel, allowing those behind to move in and help, the attack can bog down.
Military uses of close quarters battle vary by unit type, branch and mission. Military operations other than war (MOOTW) may involve peacekeeping or riot control. Specialized forces such as the U.S. Marine Corps' RTT, FAST, SRT and U.S. Marine Corps special operations such as Marine Force Recon and Marine Raider Regiment, U.S. Coast Guard Vessel Boarding and Security Teams (VBST), Port Security Units (PSU), Maritime Safety and Security Teams (MSST), Tactical Law Enforcement Teams (TACLET), or U.S. Navy VBSS (Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure) teams may adapt CQC tactics to their specific needs, e.g. for the boarding of compliant and non-compliant vessels at sea. Hostage rescue or extraction by commando troops such as the British Special Boat Service, U.S. Navy SEALs, Norwegian Marinejegerkommandoen, and Canadian Counter Terrorism unit Joint Task Force 2 (JTF2) may involve even more esoteric adaptations or variations, depending on specialized environments, weapons technology, political considerations or a mixture of friendly, unfriendly or civilian personnel.
Armies that often engage in urban warfare operation may train most of their infantry in basic CQC doctrine as it relates to common tasks such as building entry, "clearing a room" and concussion and other grenades.
Domestically, police crisis response teams (CRTs) are the primary groups to engage in CQC. Situations involving the potential for CQC generally involve extraordinary threats outside of conventional police capabilities, and thus CRTs are specifically organized, equipped, and trained to respond to these situations. These situations often require the special tactics and techniques involving building entry and room clearing procedures that are the hallmarks of CQC.
Police CQC doctrine is also specialized by unit type and mission. Riot control, corrections, the FBI Hostage Rescue Team, and SWAT teams, for example, each have different goals but may make use of similar tactics and technology such as non-lethal force. A prison, for example, may have a squad which specializes in high-risk cell extractions, and psychiatric hospitals or wards often have similar specialized teams. Among the "less-lethal" tools and tactics central to police CQC are electroshock guns, pepper spray, riot shields and riot guns to fire tear gas, rubber bullets, plastic bullets, or beanbag rounds. However, so-called "less-lethal" weapons can still inflict injuries that may result in death.
Private corporations engaged in security or military operations overseas maintain internal CQC teams. For example, these teams might be responsible for responding to an incident at a facility operated by a government agency who has engaged the contractor's services. That team would then act as the Crisis Response Team (CRT) and "clear" the facility of threats or hostiles. In another example, a private military contractor might be employed to provide protection for high-ranking diplomats or military officers in war zones. For instance, the U.S. State Department employed such security teams in Iraq and these were equipped with close quarter battle equipment. The private security firm SCG has a tactical training course conducted in Holly Springs, Mississippi, which integrated close-quarter battle training in the coursework, in addition to SWAT, hand-to-hand combat, and high threat protective operations, among others. Blackwater also took training to a new level by privatizing it, emerging as a premier training facility with close quarter combat as part of the menu for those seeking to outsource its training to meet specific mission requirements. In actual operations, a Blackwater official likened the close-quarter skills of its team to the Roman Praetorian Guard in its readiness to fight and die.