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First, the myth that Delta Force (1st SFOD-D) operators can use whatever they want is somewhat of a myth. No, you can’t be a Delta Force operator and request some obscure turn of the century bolt action rifle to snipe with or to use an STG-44. Delta uses what they’re issued because what they’re issued is good gear.
With that being said, if you look at any picture out there of confirmed Delta Force operators, there are some general trends within the past 5 or so years.
How to know if someone is a Delta Force operator?
Delta Force is a mighty and secretive unit and their operators are always trying to stay covert, even they are out on some “regular” mission. To identify someone who might be a Delta Force operator, you should easily determine that in two ways:
- the gun
- the NVGs
First, there’s the HK416. If you see a picture of a US Special Operations Forces member out in the field and they have an HK416 with a Geissele MLOK rail they’re probably Delta Force with a slight chance of DEVGRU. DEVGRU primarily uses a slightly different RHAG MLOK handguard on their HK416s.
This picture is from around 2015 and everybody on that chopper is Delta. How can you tell? The gun. It might seem crazy that such a secretive unit could be identified by the gun, but seriously, in the US military only these guys will be running them.
In the next picture, the two gentlemen on the right are Delta Force, again, the weapons. The rightmost Delta Force operator is wearing AOR-2 which is a Navy camouflage. He’s wearing it to blend in with the Kurdish units they’re advising who wear MARPAT. Most of the time Delta Force will wear Multicam.
Someone who worked closely with JSOC told me that JSOC units were the ones who specifically commissioned the Geissele MLOK handguard for the HK416. Like many other SOF units, they will wear Ops-Core FAST helmets and lightweight plate carriers.
If you look closely at the first picture you’ll see that the gentleman on the far right has a night vision device that looks a little different. There seem to be 4 tubes. That’s because they offer a far wider field of view than normal NVGs. But they’re also $48,000. You will rarely if ever see any other US SOF member outside of JSOC wearing those.
In Delta and DEVGRU those are standard issues. In fact, the only other units that I’ve seen pictures of wearing those GPNVG-18s are some members of French SOF and basically every German KSK/KSM member. These units are French and German equivalents of Delta/DEVGRU.
That’s the kind of gear you will be issued.
How Delta Force evolved since the 1970s?
Delta Force (1st SFOD-D) was originally founded as a counterterrorism unit with a heavy focus on hostage rescue such as assaulting hijacked planes. Their mission evolved during the Iraq War to include heavily direct action-oriented missions such as surgical raids and snatch and grabs. Once they realized that Delta Force was being stretched thin, Rangers started to be tasked with targets that weren’t worth Delta’s time,
In addition, they have a variety of skills such as reconnaissance, surveillance, and VIP protection.
I have an answer here for how Delta Force trains. It might have changed since Eric Haney wrote his book in the 70s but I bet you that the initial selection course hasn’t changed much. The part where they teach you applicable field skills such as moving and shooting? I think those have changed. A lot has changed in terms of counter-insurgency warfare since the 70s. Lessons learned from Operation Gothic Serpent and the Global War on Terror have likely caused Delta to change several aspects of their training.