Special Forces


People form the basis of the defense of any country. Their patriotism, dedication, and commitment determine the course and outcome of the majority of wars and armed conflicts. Certainly, in terms of preventing aggression, any country will give preference to political, diplomatic, economic, and other nonmilitary means of solving conflicts. However, national interests require sufficient accumulation of military power. Nowadays, countries cannot exist without armed forces. They need to defend national interests in the international arena, contain and neutralize military threats and dangers that, taking into consideration some trends of the modern military-political situation, are more than real. The policy against international terrorism and intensive military preparations of the current US administration, including the conduct of large-scale activities aimed at strengthening combat power of the Armed Forces, and improvement and increase in number and composition of military units and Special Forces, which are part of all the three branches of the Armed Forces, prove the statement. The purpose of the paper is to study the role and functions of Special Forces in the structure of the Armed Forces.

History of Special Forces

Historically, US Army Special Forces date back to the days when, in the struggle for independence, the British colonies in North America opposed the British army using the tactics of American indigenous inhabitants. Subsequently, in the United States, there were groups which used unconventional tactics allowing a small number of people to cause serious damage to the enemy. During World War II, units, which became the prototype of the modern US Special Operations Forces, were created. All of them used tactics of partisan and diversionary warfare. In Southeast Asia, the Office of Strategic Services created a special unit for operations in Burma named Detachment 101. The Detachment gathered special intelligence and generalized it. It prepared partisans and guided active actions against the Japanese. Causing huge losses to the Japanese, the Detachment lost only two hundred people. The experience of this group formed the basis of modern regulations on US Special Forces.

General Notion of Special Forces

US Special Forces are of extreme importance to the defense of the country. “As America enters the twenty-first century, its Special Operations Forces have gained vital new importance in the scheme of national defense” (Southworth 1). In peacetime, the main purpose of Special Forces is to create conditions and participate directly in organization of actions, collect intelligence, and set free  citizens and prisoners of war. In wartime, in addition to the above-mentioned tasks, they conduct reconnaissance operations behind enemy lines and gather intelligence in the interests of different departments of US Armed Forces. Their task is also destruction of important strategic objects in the back areas of the enemy, disruption of communication lines and disorganization of the work of the rear, as well as carrying out psychological attacks against the enemy.

US Special Forces are considered to be the best in the world. “The United States now not only possesses the world’s most powerful conventional forces but also the world’s most versatile, highly trained, and unconventional warriors” (Southworth 1). The personnel of Special Forces undergoes excellent physical and professional training in survival in extreme natural conditions. They are trained to skydive and snipe in any weather conditions. All soldiers in Special Forces are trained to use small nuclear mines, as well as toxic substances and bacterial agents. Total operation and maintenance of parts and units of Special Forces is exercised by Chiefs of Staff on behalf of the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces – the US President and Secretary of Defense through the commanders-in-chief of US Forces in the regions.

Military and political leadership of the United States views Special Forces as an effective tool to achieve goals in peacetime, when the use of conventional forces is considered premature and inappropriate for political purposes. Based on this, military leadership uses Special Forces in various local conflicts and undeclared wars against other nations. Special Forces participate in all armed conflicts the United States is involved in. One of the scenarios of the war in Iraq provided a massive use of Special Forces to neutralize Saddam Hussein, destroy command centers of the Iraqi army, and take control over main facilities in the country. US Special Forces held similar operations in Afghanistan. In addition, the special division takes an active part in conducting counterterrorism operations.

The exact number of US Special Forces is unknown. Special Forces in the United States are now the most numerous and best-trained in the world. US Armed Forces are traditionally divided into five types of troops – marines, army, air force, navy, and coast guard. They all have their special forces. All US Special Forces have similar combat training system, use similar weapons and equipment, and can perform a wide range of combat missions.

The Green Berets

The progenitor of the Green Berets is considered to be the US-Canadian volunteer brigade formed in 1942 and trained in Indian tactics of warfare. Soldiers of the battalion participated in the battle with Germany. However, the Green Berets can be considered the brainchild of the Cold War. In its present form, they were created in 1952. Their development was associated with President John F. Kennedy’s concept. He believed that large-scale war with countries of Soviet Bloc was unlikely (Hamilton 8-9). Therefore, the emphasis in the construction of the US Armed Forces should be on the ability to wage a guerrilla and counterinsurgency war in different regions of the world.  The Green Berets actively participated in the Vietnam War, the war in Iraq in 1991 and the antiterrorist operation in Afghanistan.

The division of the Green Berets protects internal interests of foreign countries, conducts special reconnaissance, and is engaged in counterterrorism activity. “The main mission of the Green Berets is to train foreign military forces to defend their country and the interests of the United States” (Hamilton 2). “Green Beret troops are some of the best-trained fighters in the US military” (Hamilton 1). A candidate for the Green Berets can be any US military soldier who has experience in skydiving. The three-week course of evaluation and selection is divided into three phases. During these three weeks, the candidates are prohibited to have contacts with the outside world including the phone calls to families or friends. During the first phase, the emotional and psychological state of the candidate is estimated by conducting written and practical tests. The second step is checking endurance and physical strength. Applicants complete the obstacle course, take part in forced marches, and swim wearing clothing and footwear. At the same time, they are constantly checked for their ability to navigate the terrain and work under stressful conditions. The third phase is designed to assess leadership qualities of the candidates, as well as the capacity for collective actions. An independent commission of senior officers and sergeants determines the degree of suitability of the candidates. For those who passed the selection there is a qualification course. It is also divided into three phases. During the first one, the soldiers study general subjects – topography, tactics, and combat skills. The second phase is dedicated to the study of major disciplines of the chosen specialty. All training takes place at Fort Bragg and lasts from 13 to 45 weeks. During the training, they take in-depth courses in weapons, engineering training, medical training, and communication. The third phase is complex drills.

Joint Special Operations Command is part of the United States Special Operations Command. The main standard weapons and equipment include small arms, sets of explosive devices, electronic equipment, radio and satellite communication, light vehicles, and airborne equipment. The group also has light aircraft and stations of radio intelligence (Hamilton 15).

US Army Rangers

75th Ranger Regiment is part of the first Special Operations Command of US Armed Forces. This unit has a long history. The first reference to the Rangers dates back to the end of the 18th century. Later, to fight Indian tribes, the first special unit was formed. Unlike the regular army, it was trained to carry out quick attacks at any time, as well as raid and conduct secret missions. In the 17th century, there was the so-called Corpus of Rangers that succeeded in completing military deception missions during the American Revolutionary War. The Rangers also performed reconnaissance missions and border patrolling. There is information about Ranger units activity during the Anglo-American War and the American Civil War (Southworth 5-6).

Currently, the 75th Ranger Regiment consists of three battalions of 610 men each. The battalion consists of a headquarters company and three companies of rangers. In addition to the three platoons, the structure of each company includes a heavy weapons platoon. Battalions are stationed in Hunter (GA), Fort Lewis (Washington), and Fort Benning (Georgia). Recruitment into the Rangers Regiment is slightly different from other elite units. Passing the preliminary selection, the candidate is attached to one of the battalions for a year. Only then, the candidate is permitted to do the main course (Rottman 58).

The battalions are primarily intended for conducting reconnaissance and sabotage operations in the enemy rear. Moreover, they can also perform air assault tasks. The main actions of Rangers in a combat situation are raiding in the enemy’s rear, patrolling, and ambushing. Divisions of Rangers act extremely effectively in counterinsurgency operations. Their inventory includes automatic rifles, submachine guns, pistols, knives, hand grenades, as well as light and heavy machine guns, manual and automatic mounted grenade launchers, anti-tank systems, MANPADS, special engineering equipment, various explosive devices, optical instruments, and radio and electronic communication (Rottman 62-63).

US Air Force Special Operations Command

The first Special Forces of US Air Force were formed in 1943. Then, the US military studied the experience of British troops operating against the Japanese in the jungles of Burma. They decided to create a similar unit. The British became the first instructors of the newly formed unit. The commandos were trained to support the actions of the pilots. For example, during the war in Iraq in 1991, Land Special Forces found Iraqi minefields, and Air Special Forces destroyed them. Special units of the US Air Force took an active part in numerous anti-terrorist operations (Southworth 9-11).


Navy SEALs are the legendary US Army Special Forces. “No other American special operations force has drawn as much media attention as the modern-day United States Navy SEALs” (Bahmanyar 3). Cadets applying for a place in the squad pass extreme an course of preparation. They are trained to perform combat missions on the ground, in water, and in the sky. SEAL is an acronym for Sea – Air – Land. SEALs must be prepared to fight in any conditions. The particular emphasis is placed on training of their actions on the water. It is believed that SEALs date back to the Civil War of 1861, when northerners used frogmen to find and defuse mines. The first US Navy Special Forces were formed in 1943 for the war with Japan. “The SEALs’ intended purpose was to conduct military operations in maritime and riverine environments, the staple since World War Two for naval frogmen and Underwater Demolition Teams” (Bahmanyar 3). At that time, the Japanese widely used combat swimmers. Navy SEALs participated in the bloodiest battles of the Second World War including the Battle of Iwo Jima and the Allied landings in Normandy. The current Navy SEALs were established in 1962. President John F. Kennedy can be considered their godfather. The US Navy SEALs were actively involved in the wars in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

Being one of the best Special Forces in the world, Navy SEALs have at their disposal the best samples of technical equipment. To navigate across the land, SEALs use the Desert Patrol Vehicles. In water, SEALs are moved on ultra small submarines Mark 8 Mod 1 SDV. They originate from larger submarines. For landing, SEALs use launchers Pegasus, Cyclone, and SOC-R. Airdrop is made by the helicopter Seahawk and the aircraft Lockheed C-130 Hercules. Navy SEALs have very rich combat experience. Since the inception, they have participated in almost all military conflicts starting from the Vietnam War and ending in the current war in the Middle East (Bahmanyar 98).

1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta

Delta Force is the most recent creation and one of the most secretive US Special Forces. “Delta Force is also known as Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta” (Alvarez 4). It was created in 1977. “The government even denied that Delta Force existed for many years” (Alvarez 6). Delta Force specializes in counterterrorism operations. British Special Forces served as a model for the creation of Delta. Traditionally, US military units are divided into three combat units, which receive the call letters in alphabetical order – Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie. Delta was named after the Greek letter “d”. The soldiers of Delta Force speak several foreign languages. During the operation, they may use civilian clothes and pretend to be local residents. Delta has been involved in all anti-terrorist actions of the US Intelligence performed over the past decade in Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. During the war in Iraq in 1991, soldiers of Delta Force successfully adjusted the fire of allied forces. They left radio beacons on the important Iraqi sites, to which missiles and bombs were directed. It is also known that Delta was the first to land in Afghanistan in 2001.

The main place of dislocation for Delta is Fort Bragg. There are the headquarters, training center, living quarters for staff, warehouses, and a technical park. Delta is intended for secret military operations outside the United States. “Delta Force missions include counterterrorism and hostage rescue” (Alvarez 6). Its task includes freeing hostages and American soldiers who were captured, fighting against terrorists and guerrillas, capturing or destruction of military and political leaders hostile to the United States, and obtaining secret documents, samples of weapons, military and other sensitive equipment. “Many Deltas carry the M4 carbine” (Alvarez 8). Soldiers of Delta have a wide variety of rifles, machine guns, rocket launchers, guns, missiles, mines, and roadside bombs of the US and foreign production. Among them, there are experimental samples produced in quantities of several copies. In planning and conducting of specific operations, the personnel of the unit is not particularly limited in the choice of the necessary weapons and special equipment manufactured in the United States and other countries. 


To date, special purpose units have become an integral part of the armed forces of many countries. In the army of any country, there are elite military units, service in which is considered to be extremely prestigious. The United States of America is one of the world leaders in the number of Special Forces. In the US, the reconnaissance and sabotage units are included in all types of armed forces. Today, servicemen of the Green Berets, Rangers, US Navy Seals, and others are considered the most prepared. They have the best military equipment and take part in the most difficult military operations.

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