5 Weapons US Special Forces Love in a Shootout

Choosing the right weapon system for a particular situation plays an important role in the outcome of a military operation.

As with most things in life, choosing a weapon system is very subjective. More so in a US Army Special Forces team, where Special Operators have more flexibility in choosing what weapon system they carry and how to customize it.

Prescribing the popular adage “don’t bring a knife into a shootout”, Special Forces operators must choose their weapon systems carefully to ensure a successful outcome.

Indeed, special forces operators have all the more reason to choose their weapon systems carefully because, more often than not, they are numerically disadvantaged compared to the enemy, and ensure superiority of firepower could mean the difference between life and death.

The following is a brief list of five weapon systems. The list attempts to identify five individual and team weapon systems popular with special forces detachments.


The United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM) – under which the Army Special Forces Regiment falls – has developed a standard set for the M4A1 rifle. The SOPMOD II package contains several different attachments for the standard army rifle, including rails, magnifying scopes, grips, flashlights, flash suppressors, lasers, and grips. It is up to the special forces operator to choose what he wants for his rifle and customize it to his liking.

sergeant. Jacob Harrison, a U.S. Army Reserve Soldier with the 377th Theater Support Command, takes aim with his M4A1 carbine during the M4 Reflexive Fire event during the 2021 U.S. Army Reserve Best Warrior/Best Squad competition at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, May 22. About 80 soldiers from across the country traveled to Fort McCoy to participate in the annual event recurring May 19-28. It brings together the best soldiers and squads from across the U.S. Army Reserve to earn the title of “Top Warrior” and “Top Squad” among their peers. Competitors are assessed on their individual and teamwork abilities to adapt and overcome challenging scenarios and battle-oriented events, which tests their technical and tactical abilities under extreme stress and fatigue. (U.S. Army Reserve photo by Staff Sgt. Christopher Hernandez/Released)

Green Beret Rifle

Capt. Kirk Freeman with the 98th Training Division and a member of the U.S. Army Reserve Marksmanship Team, qualifies with his M4 rifle during day one of the U.S. Army Forces Command Weapons Marksmanship Competition on September 21, 2015, at Fort Bragg, NC The three-day FORSCOM competition features 27 shooters from the U.S. Army, U.S. Army Reserve, and National Guard in events for the M9 pistol, M4A1 rifle, and the M249 SAW, or Squad Automatic Weapon, to recognize soldiers who are beyond expert snipers. Multi-level events challenge competitors’ ability to accurately and quickly engage targets in a variety of conditions and environments. (U.S. Army photo by Timothy L. Hale/Released)

Mk 18

The Mk 18 is a short version of the M4A1 specially designed for special operations forces. With a 10.3 inch barrel, the Mk 18 is over 4 inches shorter than the standard M4, which has a barrel length of 14.5 inches.


(June 5, 2007) – U.S. Navy SEALs (Sea, Air, Land) conduct a live-fire exercise for the Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV), the Honorable Dr. Donald C. Winter, at the Naval Gunnery Facility Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base. U.S. Navy photo by LCDR Keith Williams.

The Mk 18 is designed for close combat and combines the striking power of the M4 with the compactness of a submachine gun. Although first adopted by Navy SEALs for use in the confined spaces of naval vessels, the Mk 18 has proliferated in the Special Operations community and Special Forces operators often use it if the situation requires it.


The HK416 was designed for special operations units.

Delta Force, the US Army’s Tier 1 special mission unit, worked with Heckler and Kock, a German arms manufacturer, to produce the HK416, which is developed around the M4.

HK416 carbine

A Norwegian soldier from the Telemark Battalion fires HK416 with blank bullets towards a simulated target at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, June 13, 2020. Coalition forces training is used to improve defense operations of the base in order to ensure better security in Iraq. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Derek Mustard)


A Norwegian soldier in Afghanistan, armed with the HK-416 N.

However, the HK416 has a short stroke gas piston system to recycle cartridges and is therefore less prone to malfunctions. Special Forces operators are known to have used the weapon, which is extremely popular within Delta Force and the Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU), formerly known as SEAL Team 6. SEALs who killed Osama bin Laden wore HK416s.

The HK416 fires the 5.56mm cartridge.


The MK48 is a gas-powered, air-cooled, belt-fed machine gun that fires the 7.62mm cartridge. The weapon system was, once again, developed for specific use by Special Operations Forces (Navy SEALs in this case).

The MK48 is an important addition to this list as it gives Special Forces detachments a real knock down punch.

With an effective range of 800 meters and a rate of fire of 730 rounds per minute, the MK48 is a formidable addition to a small Special Forces team. If the team packs a few MK48s, it can make an enemy feel like they are facing a much larger force. Indeed, this superiority in firepower can give a special forces detachment the necessary temporary advantage that would result in victory on the battlefield.

The MK48 has proven to be a very reliable and effective weapon system and is now also used by conventional units.

The usual ammunition loadout for the MK48 is between 800 and 1,000 rounds, with Special Forces team members carrying additional ammunition belts that they can pass on to the MK48 gunner depending on the situation.


First introduced during the Vietnam War, the M79 is a single-shot grenade launcher that fires 40mm ammunition. Unlike conventional troops who carry the M203 grenade launcher under M-16 or M-4 rifles, special forces operators often opt for the standalone M79 due to the improved range and accuracy it brings with its barrel longer.

The M79 can fire a variety of rounds, including high explosives, tear gas, smoke, and buckshot. Similar to the MK48, the Grenade Launcher gives the Special Forces team an edge in a fight and the ability to gain the crucial firepower superiority that can mean the difference between life and death.


A Coast Guard loads an M-79 with a non-lethal round. The Coast Guard was at Camp Lejeune testing different types of non-lethal weapons.

Special Forces vs. Special Ops

Here, it should be noted that the term special forces in the United States refers to the United States Army Special Forces Regiment, also known as the Green Berets due to their distinctive headgear. And the term “special operations” applies to all commando units.

For example, a Navy SEAL Platoon and a Green Beret Detachment are both called Special Operations, but if we say Special Forces, we are referring specifically to Green Berets.

This distinction is important because in international military nomenclature, the term Special Forces has the same connotation as Special Operations, and if this approach is used in the United States, there is a mortal danger of being inversely inaccurate.

Biography of the expert: [1945’sNewColumnofDefenseandNationalSecurity[1945’sNouveauchroniqueurdedéfenseetdesécuriténationaleStavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (National Service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ) and a graduate of Johns Hopkins University. His work has been featured in Business Intern, Sandboxand SOFREP.

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