Text and Photos by Félix A. Alejos Cutuli
Catalonia is a region in the northeastern corner of the Kingdom of Spain. It is divided into four provinces covering 32,107 square kilometers and has more than 7,500,000 inhabitants. Historically a very important and differentiate region of the Kingdom, it is currently one of the 17 autonomous regions in which Spain was divided by the Constitution of 1978. Catalonia is one of the three Comunidades Autónomas that have their own police.
Catalonia’s police force is named Mossos d’Escuadra (literally “Squad Boys” or armed civilian squads). This is one of the oldest police corps in Europe, dating back to 1721. It was originally comprised of armed civilian squads tasked with keeping public order, village security and road patrolling as substitutes for the regular army when it couldn’t provide those services due to being away on campaign. Since its foundation, the corps has existed almost continuously, except for two brief periods between 1868 and 1874 and between 1939 and 1950.
In 1983 the corps was reformed as Policía de la Generalitat de Catalunya – Mossos d’Escuadra, starting the process of becoming a modern full-right police force and to relieve the national police forces (Policía Nacional and Guardia Civil) of most of the police responsibilities in its assigned territories, with the exception of frontier and gun control, immigration, I.D. cards and passports. That process got on track in 1994 and was completed on 2008.
Today Mossos d’Escuadra is a force of more than 15,000 men and women tasked with policing a territory spanning from the Pyrenees peaks to the Mediterranean beaches (including interior waters), which comprises a full array of urban and rural landscapes and a social scenario at least as varied as the physical one. In fact, although Catalonia is politically divided into four provinces, the police are organized in nine regions to better fit the social realities of the land.
Although those nine police regions are quite self-sufficient, there are always a series of tasks or specialties that for several reasons require the availability of either more specialized resources or reinforcements. Enter the Central Services unit, based in a modern complex in the city of Sabadell, providing additional resources for Criminal Investigation, VIP protection, Operations Support (EOD, Underground Unit, K9, Underwater Activities Unit, Flight Unit) and the Intervention Unit which comprises the Mobile Brigade (riot and crowd control) and the Special Intervention Group (GEI), which specializes in high risk interventions. The modern complex housing the unit comprises extensive facilities including CSI labs, armory, shops, gym, swimming pool and dog kennels and is strategically located near three highways that together with the fully equipped helipad provides quick deployment capability to the different sub units.
The Grup Especial d’Intervenció was formed in anticipation to the security needs generated by both the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games and the transfer of prison authority to the Autonomous Government of Catalonia. In 1990, the first two groups of agents underwent training courses run by both Baden-Wurtenbeg SEK and the Spanish Police GEO, starting collaborations that lasts until today. The group also maintains close ties to other Spanish special operations groups like Guardia Civil’s UEI and the Basque Police Berrozi Berezi Taldea. The unit received its baptism on duty in the same year with a forced entry. In 1994, the GEI started its own training courses. The 35 men under command of Inspector Marc A. Caparrós perform tasks requiring special abilities and/or involving high risk of violence.
Members of the group must endure a highly demanding selection and acceptance process (only 3% of applicants get through), plus a world class training program that takes place on several police, military and civilian installations, even sharing the San Cugat del Vallés High Performance Center with the country’s top sportsmen. The highly demanding training schedule includes the following disciplines: physical training, special police techniques and procedures, weapons, marksmanship, combat shooting (each member fires more than a thousand rounds per week), hand to hand fighting, climbing, navigation, evasive and offensive driving, personal and VIP protection, explosives, surveillance, counter surveillance and EMT first response. All of the group’s agents are cross trained in each others’ skills, but there are four specialties that demand special dedication: snipers, special devices, climbing and forced entry. The specialists on each matter have the responsibility to train their fellow members and keep them up to speed. Although the GEI dedicates most of its time to training, it’s a busy unit averaging about 100 interventions per year, which is quite a number by Spain’s standards, as Catalonia gets its fair share of local thugs, plus operations from international mafias. Additionally, the Cosmopolitan city of Barcelona is a frequent host to international events with special security requirements.
Small Arms of the World was invited to visit the unit’s base were we were given the VIP treatment by Inspector Caparrós and his second in command. They toured us through the Central Services complex and gave us a detailed presentation on the unit’s characteristics; as well as answering any questions we had and they allowed us to examine their weapons and accessories. The Group prepared a very professional video presentation portraying the unit’s training (the breaching methods and confidence shooting are particularly impressive) as well as actual interventions demonstrating the unit’s prowess as well as the countermeasures taken by criminals to try to protect themselves from police action.
In order to accomplish its duties, GEI has an extensive array of tools. The fleet of vehicles includes several high performance sedans and vans (all of them unmarked) as well as an assigned helicopter (Eurocopter EC 135) and aircrew that train regularly with the team in order to insure total integration.
Personal equipment includes a Kevlar helmet with detachable ballistic visor, ballistic goggles, garnet beret, dark blue overall, bulletproof vest, tactical boots and tactical vest. They also have full sets of camo fatigues as they operate frequently in rural areas requiring full camouflage.
The basic tool of the GEI is the H&K MP5 SMG, fitted with aftermarket B&T (Brügger & Thomet AG) Helmet Stock, which is a special folding stock allowing to properly mount the weapon while wearing a ballistic visor. It’s also adjustable for length of pull. The standard sight is the Aimpoint Micro T-1, supplemented by Laser Devices LDITL tactical light foregrip and laser aiming module. These weapons are supplemented by a number of MP5Ks fitted with B&T foldable folding stocks used when the unit needs to keep a low profile, as in VIP protection details. They also keep some MP5 SDs (suppressed) for special assignments. There are still some dedicated plastic ammunition training units but aren’t being used anymore. All of GEI’s SMGs are fitted with single point slings.
Each GEI member backs up his SMG with the recently adopted H&K P30L pistol fitted with Insight Technology M6 Tactical Light and Laser module. The agents appreciate the improved ergonomics (modular grip, relocated controls) from the older USP that have not been passed out of service, as they are still in superb condition, so now every GEI member goes into action armed with two pistols, which can be very convenient, especially when the task to be performed precludes him to carry his main weapon.
The group has recently phased out using Remington Golden Saber ammo for its 9mm weapons, switching to the excellent RUAG P SeCa (deformation ammunition), which has demonstrated superb reliability in spite of its bullet’s light weight of only 99 grains. The maker claims superb performance against soft targets as well as against car glass and tires, thanks to its high tech, lead free projectile. The group’s armory also keeps inventories of Simunition dedicated MP5A3s and H&K USPs for force on force training.
If the assignment requires enhanced capabilities against soft and hard body armor together with close quarter combat maneuverability and/or discreet carry, the GEI can draw on their H&K MP7A1s fitted with either Aimpoint CompM3 or EOTech sights, plus Insight Technology M6 Tactical Light and Laser module. Duty ammunition is Fiocchi SFM Ram, mounting a 31 grain copper plated steel bullet for armor piercing performance.
Although there are better means to perform the assigned functions, the group still keeps and trains with pump action shotguns, if only to keep open the options. Weapons still in inventory are from Franchi and Remington, and purposes include stopping vehicles, breaching doors (fitted with a special locally made muzzle device) and less lethal, firing Fiocchi and Remington Disintegrator ammunition for anti-vehicle and breaching and ALS Power Punch Bean Bag for less lethal purposes. The preferred less lethal weapon is the H&K 69 40mm grenade launcher, its accuracy being especially appreciated when called to deal with deranged violent subjects in a manner as safe as possible to both parties. Ammunition is by B&T and includes impact (SIR), stun grenades, and only for outdoors use, smoke and CS. The group has recently phased out the RUAG Ammotec flash-bang grenades in favor of those by Rheinmetall (NICO) delivering either 1, 2 or 9 flashes. Other pyrotechnic devices in use are breaching charges.
When the task at hand demands more power and/or range, as for arming the spotter in the two man counter-sniper teams, the GEI’s armory keeps a number of H&K G36 assault rifles in the C and KV versions, both models fitted with rails for mounting aftermarket optics and accessories. GEI’s G36C are fitted with either EOTech or Aimpoint CompM3 reflex sights plus the M6 Light and Laser modules and single point slings. Some of the ones we were shown had brass catchers to comply with EU’s regulations for firing weapons from helicopters in flight. The G36KVs sports single point slings and vertical foregrips, while optics are either Aimpoint CompM4, Meprolight MEPRO 21 or MEPRO MOR (this last one adding laser designation, both visible and IR, to the reflex sight), all of which can be supplemented by the addition of the MEPRO MX3 magnifying scope. 5.56mm ammo is Remington Brand.
Moving up the power scale, the H&K PSG1 topped up with a Hendsoldt scope is now only used for certain training purposes, being phased out in favor of the H&K 417 with 20-inch barrel and Bushnell scope, plus detachable B&T Rotex suppressor, folding bipod and vertical foregrip.
Each of the seven specialist snipers of the unit is assigned two personal rifles, one in .308 and the other in .338 Lapua. The .308 rifle is the Sako TRG 22 with Schmidt & Bender variable power scope with bullet compensator. Available is the B&T Type G suppressor. The .338 rifle is the AMP DSR1 338, a bolt action bullpup weapon fed by a detachable 10-shot magazine mounting a Zeiss ZF 6-24x72 scope atop it’s long integral Picatinny rail, which also accepts a NSV 80 Carl Zeiss Optronics light intensifier night sight. The rifle is factory equipped with a barrel shroud, folding bipod with three degrees of motion, muzzle brake and quick detachable suppressor plus multiple adjustment options. When called to perform counter sniper duties, the rest of the team may be armed with those same rifle models or with some of the others available at GEI’s armory which are Accuracy International AW in .338 Lapua with Schmidt & Bender scope, SIG Sauer SSG 3000 and Blaser R93 Tactical, both of them in .308 NATO and fitted with Leupold scopes.
.308 NATO ammunition are: RUAG Ammotech’s SWISS P Tactical with solid FNBT bullet, Remington in Premier Match and Core Lockt loadings, Lapua in HPBT standard and subsonic loads and MEN HPC armor piercing. Various Lapua brand .338 loadings are available and the cartridge is appreciated not only for its long range qualities but also because of its performance against vehicles.
For a taste of the GEI’s look and feel there are several video clips on the internet. This one seems to be the best I have found: http://youtu.be/CDnuq8WcSHk.
(The author wishes to thank both GEI’s commander and Mossos d’Escuadra’s press office for their collaboration in the preparation of this article.)
|SUBSCRIBER COMMENT AREA|
Comments have not been generated for this article.