The favorite gun of Delta operators during the Battle of Mogadishu

Author: Eric Sof

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One of US history’s most exposed special operations has become the Battle of Mogadishu. On October 4th, 1993, gunfire still rocked Mogadishu, the Somalian capital, in the longest continuous firefight American troops had been involved in since Vietnam. The operation went wrong, and US special operations forces were encircled and taken under heavy fire.

Among the operators on the ground were also members of C Squadron, 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment – Delta, known as Delta Force. Hailing from the highly secretive Joint Special Operations Command, these men, dubbed “operators,” were (and still are) considered some of the most elite and most secretive special ops warfighters in the world.

In the New York Times bestseller book, Black Hawk Down, author Mark Bowen describes a CAR-15 rifle as a favorite weapon among Delta Force operators. Since then, the rifle has been relegated to the history textbooks, collectors’ shelves, and the hearts of military cloners everywhere. CAR-15, the modular weapon, represented a major step forward in both the special operations community and the broader American combat arms forces as a whole.

A Delta Force operator wielding a CAR-15 while serving on Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf's protective detail during the Persian Gulf War.
A Delta Force operator is wielding a CAR-15 while serving on Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf’s protective detail during the Persian Gulf War. (Photo: DoD)

CAR-15 is an abbreviation for Colt Automatic Rifle-15. The name means to describe a variety of guns built off the original M16 assault rifle produced for the US military, including short-barreled carbines and submachine guns. However, by the late 1980s, to members of America’s special operations apparatus, CAR-15 described something slightly different.

Short for Colt Automatic Rifle-15, the title was used to describe a variety of guns built off the original M16 assault rifle produced for the US military, including short-barreled carbines and submachine guns. However, by the late 1980s, to members of America’s special operations apparatus, CAR-15 described something slightly different.

A Delta Force operator with a CAR-15
A Delta Force operator with a CAR-15 is seen in the foreground of this picture (Photo: DoD/Staff Sergeant Dean W. Wagner)

The 653 rifle was popular with the US Navy’s SEAL teams for years and other SOCOM units. By the late 1980s, the CAR-15 mantle moved on to the Colt 723, improving the 653, and Delta operators got their hands on the now-legendary carbine.

Larry Vickers, a former operator involved with some of Delta’s most daring exploits and missions, said that 723s could be issued at the time with either a thin “pencil” barrel or a thicker cutout barrel designed for use with the under barrel M203 grenade launcher. Delta armorers also modified the two-position stock to adjust the stock to extend to a comfortable length for each operator while wearing body armor.

The gun’s non-removable carrying handle with the modified M16A1 upper receiver (with a case deflector) usually played host to a red dot sight on a special mount. Delta used Aimpoint 2000 sights before moving on to the 3000 and 5000 scopes by 1993.

The CAR-15 faithfully served Delta well into the mid-1990s until it was eventually replaced by Colt’s M4 carbine, which maximized the strengths of its predecessor while mitigating perceived weaknesses.

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