KASOTC: a unique facility where Special Forces units from around the globe practise key operational skills such as storming an occupied embassy or explosive breach entries.
Just under 30km from Amman, the capital city of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, is a large quarry which has been subjected to the ultimate two hundred million pound makeover. From the road there is not much to see other than a large nondescript security gate and armed soldiers. Only the sign above the entrance suggests that something not a-typically military happens behind the miles of perimeter fences and HUMMVEEs equipped with FN machine guns. This is the KING ABDULLAH II SPECIAL OPERATIONS TRAINING CENTRE (KASOTC); a unique facility where Special Forces units from around the globe practise key operational skills such as storming an occupied embassy or explosive breach entries.
From the moment you clear the vehicle sterile zone KASOTC never fails to grab your attention. At twenty-five square kilometres the facility is huge. Centrepiece is a full-size, live fire capable, town complete with an airport and Airbus A300 with wings strong enough to take the weight of small assault helicopter. The aircraft sits on a dummy runway alongside a control tower allowing for all possible counter hijack scenarios to be explored and practiced in relative safety. I say “relative” as KASOTC is, by its very nature, a hazardous place. The roar of fully automatic weapons continually bounces around the quarry walls accompanied by the squeal of tyres from VIP protection motorcade training. Just when you think there is a welcome lull it’s only to safely allow a UH60 Blackhawk or MH-6 Little Bird helicopter to land, covering you in desert dust. As you take a break from the ranges to visit the tactical gear pro-shop it is necessary to cross several roads; KASOTC adds a whole new meaning to the phrase “look left and right (and up) before your cross”.
Of course, there is much about one’s professional time at KASOTC which cannot be printed but equally, there are plenty of images and films online which give the observer more than a good feel for the place. The videos on YouTube make it look impossibly exciting, but be under no illusions, KASOTC is a serious commercial business. There is a smart website where prospective armed professional clients can see the training services on offer and make a strategic decision whether to send a batch of operators to Jordan for a unique learning experience. When the gunfire has died down and visitors are resting weary feet in the coffee shop a glance around at camouflage styles and shoulder badges shows a veritable UN of Spec Ops; European, US, Gulf States and S.E. Asian units, all with English as a common operator’s language, mingle with real respect and interest at meeting one another, comparing equipment, tactics and who is sporting the most Velcro on their uniforms.
In the Combat Zone
If we explore into the site over on the East quarry we fine a bespoke Urban Area containing an realistic range of buildings to simulate combat zones likely to be encountered all over the world. These include a generic Embassy compound, residential areas with traditional houses and apartment blocks, commercial and industrial buildings, government buildings which have simulated secure areas; a recreational park which can also duplicate as a village square; stand-alone representations of multi-million-pound villas, a service garage with petrol station and shops. As lifestyle and training requirements change the site managers plan new constructions. These facilities are of a very special construction which is live fire compatible with active targets and non-ricochet surrounds. The town also has battle effects such as gunfire speakers and propane explosions to simulate incoming fire.
The close-quarters battle (CQB) building is a multi-floor 360-degree armoured facility with a tower that provides live-fire room-to-room combat practice. This building has been created to allow all possible entry methods such as vehicle assault and helicopter fast rope entry from the roof. On another area, we find the Method of Entry (MOE) section allowing for explosive and breach training through doors and walls which can be rebuilt after exercises. Combine all this with advanced driver tracks, 25m, 50m, 100-300m static shooting ranges, 1000m+ sniper ranges and abseiling towers and you would be hard pushed to find a better Spec Ops training facility anywhere in the world.
The highlight of the KASOTC calendar is the annual Warrior Competition. It is almost hard to quantify this spectacle in words but I think it could best be compared to a Special Forces Olympics. It is a chance for elite units to compete for four days against one another in some incredibly tough challenges, most of which take place in extreme heat.
The attending teams can come from the military, law enforcement or intelligence communities. In 2018 the international competitors came from Austria, Brunei, Belarus, China, Czech Republic, Greece, India, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kosovo, Kuwait, Lebanon, Moldova, Oman, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Sweden, Turkey, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates and the United States. Each country provides two or three teams; such was the case for the USA contingent who hailed from ODA 5233 Unit, ODA 5232 Unit and the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department SWAT team. An eclectic mix.
There have been eleven Warrior Competitions to date, each year trying to outdo the last in spectacle and gain a greater presence and I have been lucky to attend most of them in a professional small arms capacity. A few select Special Forces equipment providers attend for the duration of each show primarily to exhibit and allow hands-on with their latest equipment. On show will typically be highly specialist weapons, sights, armour and vehicles. During downtime between competitions operators welcome the chance to test the latest equipment such as mil-spec clothing, pistols or quad bikes.
However, in 2015 I was there for an altogether more exciting reason and this has been by far the most important show to me. I was asked to be the principle firearms trainer for the first-ever all-female team to compete alongside the male bastion that is typical of Special Forces teams. These ladies were members of the Jordanian Police Special Operations unit and to this day, four years later, I remain incredibly proud of the team. They performed so well and whilst they did not win the competition they did outperform many of their male counterpart units. In our era of female empowerment, their story is all the more inspiring and relevant.
The team events in the Warrior Competition have wonderfully imaginative names such as The Kings Challenge, Great Escape, House of Terror, Pipe Hitter and Top Shot. They involve an exhausting mix of shooting, driving, blowing things up, critical teamwork and a lot of running. It is fair to say that all participants are super fit and seem to have endless amounts of energy but by day three the signs of fatigue are becoming apparent. By then almost all of the team members have had to undertake at least one torture test such as the much-feared 10 kilometres run with marksmanship events en-route or carrying huge wooden poles across fiendish assault courses. Injuries are aplenty and by day four at least one poor member of every unit has had to take a supporting role as they have been declared medically unfit to continue. But they always show to encourage the rest of their squad. Indeed what becomes immediately apparent is the strong mutual respect all the teams have for one another, even those who would not geopolitically be the obvious allies. Everyone turns out to support all the competitors throughout the day and evening. No matter what their origin every soldier or police officer cheers on those competing. It is a great atmosphere and a real privilege to participate in.
It is hard to summarise a facility like KASOTC. Superficially its noisy daily operation may appear to have little or no bearing on our daily life. The Warrior Competition videos seem to show a bunch of guys just having fun but it is worth noting that the site is never unoccupied and we can all take some comfort from the fact that the silent and secret people whose job it is to keep us safe have the very best training facilities available to them.