Review – Airsoft International’s Task Force Black Impression Guide

Introduction and Context

Volume 13, Issue 13 of Airsoft International features a write up of how to achieve a Task Force Black kit, with an accompanying guide to building a L119A1, the issue weapon of UKSF at the time.

For those that don’t know, Task Force Black was the name given to the UKSF deployment to Baghdad in GW2, whose task was hunting ex regime individuals and later jihadists. It changed name to Task Force Knight partway through its existence, and worked extremely closely with American special operations forces in the city at the time. It represented a wholesale change in how UKSF equipped itelf and the missions it undertook, and the meshing of operations and information and they fed into an extremely taxing workload of raids. The UKSF elements involved were primarily SAS, with support from Signallers, Med and EOD specialists, and backed up by 1Para, later formally stood up as SFSG.

Task Force Black kit is quite consistent, compared to earlier period, since each man was issued a huge bag of kit, so they weren’t wanting for much – and it was all the same. Usually the helmet, ancillary equipment, weapons and plate carriers were all pretty consistent. The camouflage however was an eclectic mix of British and US patterns, often mixed and matched together, under the more consistent base.

The above lends the kit a somewhat unique and very appealing look, and for some time it was the ‘go to’ kit for airsofters wanting to run UKSF impressions. It has been somewhat overtaken by modern UKSF impressions, but the appeal does endure. The issues with the kit are primarily based off the fact it was envisaged that it would be used for a few hours at a time, in short engagements, transported to the target by vehicle or aircraft. It is therefore bulky, heavy and ill suited to going prone – or indeed any other mission but a direct action raid. It was also intended to be used in a punishing series of raids, often nightly, for six months – the kit is durable and as such heavier than today’s kit which does a similar job. Modern kit, leveraging new technologies in a sector which at the peak of the Global War On Terror had a large amount of investment in R&D, is much lighter and able to do the same job with less bulk and weight. Additionally, if a lightweight bit of kit does break, with greater SOF budgets it is not as problematic to replace.

Modern UKSF kits are therefore better suited to a wider range of activities, will be more comfortable and lighter, and allow us to indulge our inner geardo. TFB kits are often stowed in the back of gear cupboards, but a lot of us still love them – especially those who started UKSF Impressions when these were the only game in town for a modern kit.

The Airsoft International article is therefore a way to propel the kit back into the thoughts of both impressionists and mainstream airsofters who might be curious about dabbling in the impression and milsim scene. In this the typically sharp graphic work and high visual production values of the magazine help – although what will really make or break it is the quality of the information imparted in the article.

The review will focus on the accuracy of the guidance given and information imparted, and won’t really address the often painfully bad spelling, grammar and often nonsensical sentence structure – which appears now to be back with a vengeance, after the issue had been largely eliminated for a year or so.

Where pictures have been taken to illustrate points, text and images which aren’t salient have been blurred, so I’m not reproducing material from the magazine as a whole, regardless of the worth of it.

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Reasons for Review Article

I realise analysing an article in the way I am about to can be perceived as aggressive, and be taken personally, so I will outline my reasoning for doing so.

Airsoft International, as a hobby and industry magazine with journalistic articles, opinion pieces, and guides, is trusted by a large number of people, across the airsoft community. The fact something is in print and on a shelf suggests a degree of reliability and research has gone into its making, and the information within can be trusted as being solidly researched and delivered without undue bias. Lately – this has not been the case.

Those new to the hobby, or impressions, may well rely upon the magazine for information on how to build impressions, and while the article does recognise that it is not perfect, it does give a lot of information and advice which will lead people wanting to achieve the same look to go out and spend their hard earned money on achieving an impression. I think it is reasonable therefore to expect the information to be right, or where corners have been cut for cost or ease, to highlight this.

Indeed AI’s social media posts would have you believe they are the biggest and best airsoft publication about, so I do not think it unfair to dig a bit deeper into an article to see if these claims are justified. The motivation for doing so was the fact that a rather disastrous and misleading attempt at a MARSOC impression guide was published recently, so upon hearing a Task Force Black impression guide was going to be published, this piqued the interest of impressionists who have an interest in this era.

To clarify though, I have no bone to pick with Airsoft International personally, beyond the above belief they should adhere to the standards and quality of the sort of publication they purport to be, out of respect for their customer base. Indeed I was heavily involved in the last UKSF Impression article they published, the modern UKSF Counter Terrorism kit guide in collaboration with E27 found in Volume 12, Issue 12.

I understand AI has to operate in an industry which is under pressure, and cannot have expertise in absolutely everything, but a basic knowledge of the subject matter should be attainable, and there are people who will offer input and guidance on specific areas within the community for free or little cost – indeed E27 didn’t receive or ask any payment for the article they assisted with.

The number of errors in some articles is staggering, and a cynic might suspect that often these are not always the product of ignorance, but rather ensuring a substantial portion of the suggested kit purchases for an impression or setup are available from the magazine’s sponsors.

General Criticisms

The article kicks off with a bit of background information about what Task Force Black was, and this is a worthwhile approach, I always think it is vital when putting together kit to understand clearly who uses it, what their job was and what they used it for. The synopsis however seems somewhat meandering and could certainly have been trimmed into a punchier, more informative overview.

Next the piece moves onto a paragraph musing on the choice between DCU and CCU uniform cuts, before basically saying you can use whichever you like – certainly a lot of patterns and cuts were used, but again this could have been a lot less waffly and more focused.

Then, we have five paragraphs on the MICH 2000 helmet. Those looking to build a Task Force Black impression will be disappointed to find out that those five paragraphs neglect to actually tell you how to put together a TFB helmet setup. The bulk of the section is devoted to the history and various models of the MICH – which wasn’t actually used by UKSF who instead used the Gentex TBH-II available at the time (not to be confused with its modern iteration). Often however replica MICH 2000s are used as TBH-II stand ins, since they are near identical. The varied paint jobs of TFB lids, the helmet covers they sometimes used, and the distinctive ‘choc-block’ counter weights are not mentioned, while the similarly ubiquitous and identifiable PVS-21 mounts also get scant mention.

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We next encounter another paragraph on the history of DCU and CCU – because the first obviously left us wanting more.

Then we’re onto the RAV. We’re informed a Flyye RAV has been used since real Paraclete RAVs cost £300-400. The price of RAVs fluctuates a lot, dependant on availability, and it has been between about £400 to as little as £70 at various points in the last few years – and while they might be listed on ebay for substantial prices, I very much doubt they sell for that. The Flyye RAV is apparently £205 from Military 1st – I would be surprised however if you couldn’t get a real Paraclete RAV on the forums or ebay for around £200 with abit of patience.

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It is also worth noting a fact which wasn’t completely made plain that while the Flyye effort isn’t a terrible replica, it has notable differences. Most obviously it is olive green rather than Smoke Green, like the Paraclete original. Additionally the Velcro on top isn’t properly interfaced with the shoulder elements, and the zip is green rather than black. It would certainly pay to go for a real RAV, considering the sizable cost of the replica – advising otherwise appears to benefit no one but Military 1st.

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Then onto pouches, which for the kit should be primarily Blackhawk Industries molle pouches in Olive Drab – instead the article advises using Flyye patches in OG (they say Smoke Green is more accurate – but here they seem to have got mixed up with the RAV). Given the cost of the Flyye pouches, I am certain real Blackhawk is now very much cheaper on the second hand market. This section should have advised that, and cautioned against the Blackhawk versions using speed clips, but instead it again went for an easy option which benefits a sponsor. The example RAV also features a rather strange pouch setup which would make shouldering a rifle problematic, and is unlike anything I have seen in reference pictures. This feature really should have looked at the real products, common setups, differences between the RAV and RMV to help readers avoid common mistakes.

They correctly identify that the Serpa adaptor they show is the wrong type, but note, quite rightly, the real thing here is hard to source and commands a pretty substantial price.

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Finally things are rounded out with another paragraph giving a brief history of ACU – because why not. A last box listing products used suggests 99% were available from Military 1st, which mathematically is not nearly the case. The accompanying L119A1 feature which follows will be reviewed in a follow up article.

For clarity I am not suggesting Military 1st  directly influenced the writing or content of the article (I like the company and order from them semi regularly), I believe that to be the responsibility of AI.  It just seems the magazine took the easy option in putting forward information that benefits a sponsor over the reader.

Reference Criticisms

Task Force Black is one for the few eras in UKSF history about which a substantial amount is known publicly. The book Task Force Black by Mark Urban details a great deal of what went on at the time, and the number of leaked pictures from the era is sizable. Therefore lack of reference material should be little impediment to a TFB impression, indeed the article features sixteen real reference pictures supporting it. Unfortunately of the sixteen photos accompanying the article, two are of Delta Force, two are of SFSG, two are of airsofters and one is of SEALs.

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This immediately misleads readers, and given the huge amount of reference material the issue can’t be availability. I can only assume lack of research.

Copy Error, Paste Error

One of the increasingly irksome things about Airsoft International is that the magazine is increasingly dominated by advertisements – and most insidiously, advertisements masquerading as articles. This would be more forgivable if the guides and information that aren’t directly related to selling the products of sponsors were of good quality and original.

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This is sadly not the case – the aforementioned MARSOC article in a previous issue contained a few prominent lines on the front of an article which were roundly mocked. This incongruous historical flourish may have been dismissed as simply as an unfortunate attempt at supporting context, but it suggested two things: Firstly a staggering lack of historical knowledge or ability to fact check before putting something into a magazine – Secondly a seeming lack of comprehension of how BC/AD dates work.

Everyone has an off day though, surely as photos of the lines juxtaposed with images of ancient Greek or Roman armour were circulated in the comments sections of Facebook posts the editor might just write off that little mistake and move on.

Alas not – the next month it has been copied and pasted, word for word, entirely uncorrected, into a prominent position in one of this month’s articles.

This seems to be outright disrespectful of the readership – recycling content a mere month after it first made an appearance, while getting it wrong. The intent of any publication should be to inform and entertain readers – not just fill space between ads.

Summary

Certainly I would encourage AI in the future, when putting together similar articles, to try and explore the possibility of having them compiled by someone who has at least a basic knowledge of the subject matter.

I would also say that while they obviously need to mention sponsors etc for commercial reasons, doing so in what is purportedly an article, not an advertisement, is misleading. This is especially the problem when the items they suggest be bought from said sponsor are often not correct, and nor in several cased are they cheaper than the correct option.

The magazine is slick, well presented and has a reputation in the community, but that is very fragile and a number of advert filled volumes replete with staggering amounts of filler and misinformation have knocked it – certainly it takes a lot more time to build a reputation than lose one.

If you follow the magazine’s guide, you will probably produce an Impression which is recognisably UKSF form the Task Force Black era. The major criticism though is that while recognisable, it will be some way off an accurate impression, and it won’t really save any money to counterbalance this inaccuracy. You may as well do it for the same cost and have the end product looking better and more accurate.

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