Bursts of automatic weapons fire rattled the dry hills of Santa Clara County on Thursday as more than 150 agents from SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) teams, sheriff's offices, and state and federal agencies in California, Nevada, and Washington put their assault skills to the test at the Best in the West SWAT team competition.
The two-day, seven-course, live-fire competition is as much a test of training and skill, as it is a way to share technique.
Participants are expected to show precision with a variety of weapons in various scenarios that SWAT teams may encounter, including vehicle assaults, bank robberies and hostage takings.
At the "Top Gun" event here, team members are required to shoot three different types of firearms: a handgun, a shotgun, and an entry rifle. The timed event had team members quickly moving to different shooting stations while trying to accurately hit the targets along the way.
After engaging from a distance in the Two Man Assault, a team from the Reno, Nev., Police Department moves in on the targets.
Designed to test the ability of teams to engage in a combat-style shoot rather than a static shoot, the Two Man Assault puts an emphasis on speed and accuracy, requiring teams to use verbal and nonverbal communications to move through each threat.
Following the rung crossing seen here, the team from Reno fired on targets with rifles before moving further through the obstacle course where they were required to keep moving while shooting at targets with handguns.
The teams ran down a steep, dusty hill to a small firing range where they shot at close-range targets and then headed to a zipline mimicking a wilderness rescue.
With one team member zipping 140 feet through a small ravine, the remaining five team members ran down the hillside to perform a rescue in which an officer, feigning injury, was loaded onto a litter and carried back up the steep hill.
This challenge continued along the trail with stops for 100- and 200-yard sniper targets, and surprise handgun engagements along the trail.
Thursday's winner, San Francisco County SWAT team, completed the one-mile trail through thick brush in 11 minutes and 17 seconds.
The Fremont, Calif., Police Department team member takes a long, patient, careful aim at his target before the shot during Thursday's competition.
Accuracy counts here: he only gets one shot at each faux hostage taker target. The top target shown on the previous photo shows what he is aiming at.
The team member must thread his bullet through the target's own sight. Made of black painted PVC just 1.5 inches in diameter, even a tiny nick on the paint caused by an inaccurate shot will count as a miss.
Peeking under the barricade to take his shot, the Fremont Police Department marksman takes his time to make sure he hits his target precisely.
In addition to long-range shots, the "Sniper Course" emphasizes the physically demanding movements a marksman must often make to get into position for his tricky shots, requiring the person to climb up and over a 6-foot wooden wall before moving into shooting position.
Another section on the Sniper Course requires the shooter to move into firing position by first climbing a small building and taking a position on the roof.
Following competition Thursday, many of the participants in the Best In The West SWAT Competition shared tactics, style, and guidelines for specific assault scenarios.
The physically challenging events are an opportunity for law enforcement agents to share ideas and strategies as well as network and bond with other officers, said Sgt. Rick Sung of the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office.
While speed and accuracy are the key components of success in the competition, another main focus is the ability of teams to communicate and transform that capability into coordinated assaults.
The "Vehicle Assault" competition tested a team's ability to work together to take out multiple targets in a chaotic environment.
Mimicking an attack on the motorcade of escorted government officials, team members were required to move rapidly, completing this course in under one minute, moving against numerous targets simultaneously, engaging the attackers while at the same time protecting victims of the attack.
With entire six-person teams moving together for this operation, it required effective communication and coordination to simultaneously take out the enemy while protecting innocent. Scoring was based on accuracy, time, and the number of targets hit, with penalties for missed shots and any "collateral damage."