british special forces

SAS - Close Protection

Close protection or Bodyguarding skills were amongst the first developed by the SAS Counter Revolutionary War (CRW) wing in the mid 1970s. These skills were in high demand by Britain's allies in the Middle East, many of whom requested SAS training for their own bodyguards.

A need for better protection closer to home was highlighted when, in 1974, an attack on Princess Anne and her husband, Mark Phillips, occurred. Whilst the attack was unsuccessful, the event revealed some serious deficiencies in the Royal Protection Group's equipment and protocols. The SAS CRW wing were called in to evaluate procedures and to train the men themselves. Close ties between the Regiment and the Royal Family were quickly forged and the Royals have subsequently taken part in a series of hostage-rescue exercises.

The SAS have carried out close protection for a variety of VIPs including Prime Minister John Major in Bosnia. Much of today's close protection tasks are carried out by various SAS-trained units such as the Royal Military Police.

Close protection profiles

Different bodyguarding scenarios require a different profile for the close protection team, the choice of adopted profile often as much a political as a practical consideration

  • military overt protection
    most commonly seen when VIPs visit war zones, the overt profile sees the CP members putting on a show of strength. The bodyguards take on a distinctively military aspect. Body armour may be worn over the clothing of both the CP unit and the VIP and weapons (smgs and carbines) are carried in plain sight. In this scenario the overt profile is intended to act as a deterrent against attack and to ensure that the CP team can react with maximum firepower.

  • low-key overt protection
    when a more low-key profile is desirable, the CP team aim to blend in more with their surroundings. Civilian clothing, usually suits, are worn. Weapons (pistols and smgs) are typically carried concealed beneath jackets. The CP team still maintains a visible presence around the VIP who is free to interact with the public.

  • covert protection
    in this type of protection, the bodyguards are not visible but remain close at hand on standby to react to as needed.

Close Protection Equipment

HK MP5k

C8 CQB

kevlar body armour
Lightweight kevlar body armour
  • HK MP5k
    the mp5k a cut-down MP5 sub machine gun with shorter barrel, smaller sights and no stock. When fitted with a 15-round magazine, the MP5K can be comfortably concealed beneath a bodyguard's jacket, making them ideal for covert close protection duties.

  • Sig Sauer P228
    the compact version of the regiment's standard pistol, the P226, the P228 is easily concealed and quickly drawn.

  • C8 CQB
    the Diemaco C8 CQB is a compact variant of the C8 carbine, with shorter barrel, likely to be carried in overt close protection operations. It has more stopping power than the MP5k and is small enough to be easily handled in tight spaces such as building interiors or when getting in and out of vehicles. C8 CQBs and the similar HK 53s and longer weapons such as C8 SFWs or HK 33s may also be carried in the team's vehicles when in covert mode, to be brought out if needed.

  • extendable baton
    a telescopic steel baton can be carried concealed in a bodyguard's hands and used to ward off close quarters attacks .

  • kevlar briefcase
    a briefcase that rapidly unfolds to present a bullet-proof shield in front of the VIP

  • body armour
    body armour may be worn by both the VIP or the body guards. Lightweight (kevlar)or heavyweight (ceramic plate) body armour may be used. Kevlar can protect against 9mm bullets as well as knife blades. The heavier ceramic plate armour can stop up to a 7.62mm round and shrapnel from explosions .

  • respirators
    gas masks for both the CP team and the VIP may be carried to protect against an attack by tear gas.

  • medical
    trauma packs which include plasma (synthetic blood), drips, spine board, resuscitation kits and bandages are carried either in the vehicles or on the person so immediate first aid can be administered to the VIP. The CP team will have studied a full medical history of the VIP so as to know what allergies they may have.

  • secure comms
    an encrypted radio is worn on the back trouser belt with a wire running up to an earpiece. Another wire runs up the sleeve to a covert pressel-switch-operated microphone secreted in the left palm.

  • custom vehicles
    cars can be lightly or heavily armour-plated, depending on the required profile. Bullet-proof glass can also be fitted. High-end Close Protection vehicles feature protection against CNBR (chemical, nuclear, biological and radiological) attacks. Safety features such as air bags and automatic engine cut-offs will be disabled as they can interfere with anti-ambush procedures. Additional weapons and medical gear will usually be carried in the vehicles.

  • sunglasses
    wrap-around sunglasses are often worn as they prevent the crowd from seeing where the wearer's eyes are looking.

Close Protection Techniques

The SAS developed many of the procedures and protocols employed by close protection units around the world. Some of the public ally known procedures include:

  • route reconnaissance
    CP teams will recon the planned routes of their VIP's motorcades, looking for potential ambush sites, traffic bottlenecks and choke points.

  • offensive driving
    in the event of an attack on the VIP's motorcade, the cars themselves can be used as weapons, ramming attacking vehicles or assailants and punching a hole through a barricade. Similar techniques were taught to 14 Company operators in Northern Ireland.

  • embussing/debussing
    getting the VIP safely in and out of their vehicle is a complex problem that requires a great deal of planning and practise. The SAS developed a series of procedures for dealing with attacks during embussing and debussing.

  • venue reconnaissance
    as with vehicle routes, an advance party from the SAS slose protection team will give any planned venue a detailed overlook. In case of attack, emergency exits and rendevous points will be established in and around the venue.

  • close quarters battle (CQB)
    bodyguarding may require firearms to be used at close quarters, often in tight spaces surrounded by colleagues and innocent bystanders. Being able to pick out and safely engage a hostile in such scenarios takes constant training. The SAS developed a range of techniques for using pistols and other weapons in close quarters. All these techniques center around shielding the VIP, keeping them out of the line of fire and moving them to a safe location.
related links:
UK close protection units
(internal link)

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