How Delta Force Works

Delta Force Origin, Recruitment and Structure

The Delta Force was created to combat increasing hostage­ situations, like this hijacking of a TWA flight in 1985.
The Delta Force was created to combat increasing hostage­ situations, like this hijacking of a TWA flight in 1985.
Photo Nabil Ismail/AFP/ Getty Images

The Delta Force is one of two military outfits in the United States charged with counterterrorist operations. Like the other, the Navy's Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU), Delta Force can deploy at a moment's notice. But unlike DEVGRU, Delta Force doesn't officially exist.

In the 1970s, the world began to see an outbreak of extremism. Groups like Germany's Red Army Faction and the Palestinian Liberation Organization introduced new words into the global vocabulary -- words like terrorism and hijacking. As a response to the sudden and widespread emergence of terrorist ideologies, United States Army Colonel Charles Beckwith proposed that the government create a small, skilled tactical team capable of responding with quick and deadly force to terrorist activities [source: SOC].

In 1977, Beckwith assembled the force and recruited from the Green Berets, the Army Rangers and the Airborne divisions. Beckwith created a grueling training course based on that of the British Special Air Service (SAS) -- an elite commando unit capable of carrying out highly specialized missions. Beckwith spent a year in an exchange program with the SAS and was inspired by his experience [source: SOC]. He used the group as a model, and today Delta Force and SAS still serve side-by-side and exchange members in their cross-training programs. In 1996, Delta Force operators and SAS members stormed the home of the Japanese ambassador to rescue him from hostage-takers in Lima, Peru.

Delta Force recruits are selected based on the special skills they possess, like exceptional marksmanship. It's reputed that Delta Force recruits must show 100 percent accuracy in shooting from 600 yards, and 90 percent accuracy at 1,000 yards [source: VFW Magazine]. Beckwith also created a 40-mile hike as an endurance test to separate the truly capable from those who had simply managed to remain in training to that point. This method is taken directly from the SAS.

Delta Force holds nationwide recruitment drives several months out of the year, culminating in two selection processes, one in the spring and one in the fall. Following the monthlong selection process, recruits who make it through move on to the training process, which is believed to last six months.

Delta Force is separated into three combat squadrons -- A, B and C -- along with a support squadron, signal squadron, aviation platoon and a "funny platoon" -- the intelligence-gathering outfit of the Delta Force, rumored to be the only special operations platoon to include women.

The combat squadrons are composed of smaller units called troops, which specialize in airborne, ground or water insertion much like the Green Berets. Ultimately, troops can be split into small mission teams of up to 12 men and as few as one.

Coming from military backgrounds, recruits are already trained to kill, but as Delta Force operators, they become trained killers. As counterterrorist operatives, Delta Force members are trained in the art of hostage rescue in closed spaces. When they rescue hostages, the hostage-takers are rarely left alive. It was Beckwith who mandated the simple two-tap method of dealing with terrorists -- two shots go into each terrorist [source: VFW Magazine]. In stark contrast to movie or TV representations, Delta Force operators don't spare those who may come back to fight them again.

Read on to learn about the equipment Delta Force uses and how it gets from place to place.