DISCUSSION: Close Stack vs. Dispersed Stack

DEBATE TOPIC: This debate compares two different ways to stack on a door while conducting urban operations. While these techniques each have several names, we will refer to them as the “close stack” and the “dispersed stack.” For security reasons, keep the discussion at the conceptual level and use general terms. Do not reveal specific tactics, techniques or procedures being used by military or law enforcement units. Any posts providing specific details will be deleted.

SPECIAL TACTICS’ INITIAL POSITION: The Special Tactics staff strongly recommends the dispersed stack for tactical units. While the close stack provides some advantages and might be easier and safer to execute for units that do not practice as often, we recommend that units try to build their proficiency to the point where they can employ the dispersed stack. However, we welcome and strongly encourage intelligent arguments against our position since the goal of the debate is to reach a clear conclusion that might help units in the field.

DEFINITION OF THE CLOSE STACK: In general terms, the close stack calls for a tactical team to line up on a door or corner in very close proximity, with one man right behind the next. Team members will attempt to maintain 360-degree security while in the stack.

DEFINITION OF THE DISPERSED STACK: In general terms, the dispersed stack calls for a tactical team to spread out as much as possible. Usually, a minimum of two men will position themselves close to the door but the rest of the team members will keep their distance from the entry point and seek covered and concealed firing positions to provide 360-degree security. When the team makes entry, all team members will rapidly collapse on the door.

POINTS SUPPORTING THE DISPERSED STACK: The following points support the conclusion that the dispersed stack is superior.

  1. Spreading out makes the team less vulnerable to automatic fire, either from an upper-story window, an adjacent building or through the wall of the target room. A tightly-packed team is also much more vulnerable to grenades and explosive booby-traps. Given the trend of attacks with automatic weapons, the advantages of the dispersed stack become even more important.
  2. Dispersed formation is particularly important for moving in the open or moving towards the entry point. Some units insist on moving in a tightly packed stack, with team members almost touching each other. Not only is this tightly packed formation more vulnerable to fire but it makes movement much slower and more difficult. When moving in the open, units should use a dispersed formation similar to a standard infantry movement formation. Furthermore, units moving in the open in an urban environment should move as quickly as possible to get out of the street and into a building.
  3. When team members are very close together, it more likely for them to bump into each other, trip over each other or get caught on each other.

POINTS SUPPORTING THE CLOSE STACK (With counter-arguments): The following are some common arguments that support the close stack. However, Special Tactics has provided counter-arguments in some cases. We welcome further debate…

  1. The main reason for using the close stack is when a team has less opportunity to train and the leader needs to maintain tight control of all team members. If a less experienced team uses the dispersed stack, particularly in the dark, they run the risk of leaving team members behind or having large gaps between team members during entry. In this type of situation, a team might need to use a close stack to ensure control, accountability and speed of entry into the room.
  2. The close stack can allow an entire team to take advantage of the cover provided by a ballistic shield. COUNTER-ARGUMENT: A large element trying to take cover behind a ballistic shield is more vulnerable than an element in a dispersed formation. The shield only provides protection from one angle and cannot protect the entire body when the team is standing or walking. Therefore, a single burst of fire could pass below the shield and through the long axis of the formation, ripping through the legs of multiple team members. Shots to the legs and pelvic girdle can be as deadly as shots to the torso, especially because the lower body is often not protected by armor.

CONCLUSION: The dispersed stack is superior to the close stack except when a team has no other choice but to use the close stack because of lack of practice or experience. Military and law enforcement units that use the close stack place themselves in greater danger, especially given the current trend of aggressive terrorist shooters armed with high-powered weapons. Special Tactics welcomes intelligent counter-arguments to this position and we will change our conclusion in the event of an effective counter.

VIDEO EXAMPLES: The two videos below show how units that use the close stack or move in close formation can be more vulnerable to enemy fire and can also bump into each other or trip over each other in a high-stress situation.

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