On May 20th, 2009 Jordan's King Abdullah officially opened the King Abdullah Special Operations Training Center (KASOTC), a facility set against a dramatic pocketed plateau on the northern outskirts of Amman. It is called the most advanced special operations training complex in the world and it looks like a life-sized GI Joe dream set.
You have to see KASOTC in action to really understand just how incredible of a facility it really. The video above gives a good overall picture of what this unique place is all about.
Although KASOTC (pronounced similar to chaotic) is run as a private enterprise that bills itself as a 'think tank and laboratory for modern military operations,' it is really the centerpiece of Jordan's burgeoning Special Operations capabilities, which have evolved dramatically over the last two decades at the direction of King Abdullah, himself a Special Operations expert and helicopter pilot. The facility, which is used not just by the Jordanian Special Operations Command, but throngs of other nations from around the globe, is seen as much as a conduit to enhance military cooperation and foster unity among disparate nations as it is as just another place to go play modern ninja.
KASOTC looks more like an elaborate movie studio back-lot than a military training range, with over 6,000 acres of kill houses, firearms ranges, MOUT (Military Operations in Urban Terrain) villages, its own Airbus A300 and a mini-airport (it also has a smaller jet), driving track, along with many other full-sized obstacles and a towering shear rock-face for which operators can test and refine their skills.
Compared to many other MOUT-like special forces training ranges, KASOTC's technology for simulating intense combat scenarios, and debriefing those scenarios after the fact, is considered the best in the world. Akin to the Nellis Range Complex for combat pilots back in the US (another place where nations come together from all over the world to train under varying near-combat conditions during exercises like RED FLAG), KASOTC puts special forces into a chaotic warfare environment, with fog, machine gun sounds, blast effects, and opposition forces, as well as incredibly detailed recording or the whole simulation from an individual level on up.
The incredible fidelity and documentation of each training evolution that occurs at KASOTC leads to more detailed analysis and critiques than what can be had using traditional observation methods, which result in more accurate lessons learned. General Dynamics built the majority of facility's automated training and recording capabilities and according to Jordanian officials, little expense was spared for what was supposed to be a highly unique, world-class training facility from its inception. Considering that it was a pet project of King Abdullah himself, I doubt that this statement is inaccurate.
KASOTC's unique features include
- 67 training buildings including everything from villas, an embassy, commercial buildings, a town square, office buildings, apartment complexes and just about everything else you would find in a town
- Mock A300 and 737 sized aircraft both with fully outfitted cabins, including targets that stand up out of their seats. There is also a simulated airport tower, tarmac and terminal area
- Method of entry facility where explosive, mechanical and other forms of breach and entry technologies can be put into practice against different materials and structures
- A high-rise commando tower for simulating insertions and extractions from a tall buildings, including the use of climbing, repelling and helicopters
- Driving track for offensive and defensive driving and VVIP mobile protection training
- Close Quarters Battle facility
- K9 training support element for specialized combat dog training, unit integration and sales
- Explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) training and applications range
- Centralized and integrated range operations center to monitor and control all audio, video, special effects and target technology
- 1300 meter to unknown sniper range and a close to 300m range with moving targets, along with multiple combat rifle, pistol and shotgun action ranges
- Multiple live-fire kill houses
- Instructor cadre with backgrounds in special operations from around the globe
- 350 networked day/night thermal cameras with 360° coverage to capture exercises for After Action Review
- Sound-effect speakers that project hundreds of realistic sounds, including: Shouts, animal noises, crying and gunfire
- A helicopter pad capable of staging multiple helicopters at once
- Dining, recreation, lodging, gym and pro shop facilities for hundreds of operators
- Integrated targets including moving and animated targets
- Special effects, such as: Rooftop explosions, concussion wave cannon, automatic weapons simulator, simulated smells, Fog generator, improvised explosive device (IED) simulation kits
Director of KASOTC, Gary Heral said during the center's opening:
"This is the world's premier counter-terrorism operations center, or special operations center. It is 25 square kilometers and has everything from single room dwellings to five-story apartment buildings. There is no special operation training that you cannot do here. You have to be trained for a wide variety of situations that might come up. You can't just train for what happened yesterday – you have to train for what happened yesterday, what happened last week and what may happen a month from now"
Not only do units come the KASOTC to train individually and with Jordanian special forces, but teams of operators from around the globe, some from places not usually known for joint training with western nations, like China for instance, come to test their skills among other nation's SF teams. One such event held yearly at KASOTC is more notorious than any other and is simply called "Warrior Competition." You can read all about what this unique and truly international event is like in this New York Times article, and yes, there is an actual "Team America!"
KASOTC has also become a secondary backdrop for Jordan's prestigous SOFEX special operations exhibition and conference. Think of it as something between a Las Vegas industry convention and a international air show and military arms bazaar. Delegations come from around the world to see and hear about the latest in special operations hardware, tactics and philosophy via vendor booths, live demonstrations and seminars. SOFEX is usually held at a nearby air base, but parts of it, including live product demonstrations, are held jointly at KASOTC.
Deploying a special operations team to train at KASOTC for a week can cost $250K when you factor in room, board, range time, instruction and ammo. Not cheap by any means, but it seems like a bargain when you take into account that the facility itself is said to cost close to a quarter of a billion dollars. That figure is probably much larger now as the facility has expanded over the last half decade.
As KASOTC works towards a decade of existence, and as the region becomes embroiled in fanatical extremism the likes of which have never seen before, some new capabilities may be on the horizon for the elaborate training facility. One of which is said to be a on-site maritime training area and/or a satellite training site potentially located at the port city of Aqaba. Considering that KASOTC is all about 'thinking big,' such a facility would undoubtedly be quite impressive.
With Jordan clearly attempting to lead the world in Special Operations training capabilities, and the fact that those capabilities have never been more relevant globally than they are today, there is little doubt that KASOTC, at least as a business model, will flourish in coming years. It also enhances the Heshmite Kingdom's tight relationship with the US, counters the notion that counter-terrorism is considered locally as only a western problem and further underlines Jordan's 'anchor state' status in the region. Beyond that, it is just one of the largest and coolest grown-up playgrounds mankind has ever devised.
Tyler Rogoway is a defense journalist and photographer who maintains the website Foxtrot Alpha for Jalopnik.com You can reach Tyler with story ideas or direct comments regarding this or any other defense topic via the email address Tyler@Jalopnik.com