Special Forces: Upgrade or Duplicate?

(To Tiziano Ciocchetti)

This article presents some "capacitive" insights into the Special Operations component of the Army together with some merit assessments, as far as possible, on the results of the so-called "strengthening" project of the Special Operations Sector, strongly desired by the previous military leaders of the Army to the point of creating a dedicated Command and training institute1 and to elevate to the rank of Special Forces "Tier 2" two conventional regiments with glorious traditions of alpine infantry and paratrooper artillery2.

In particular, we will focus on the so-called "environmental capabilities" expressed today by the Army Special Operations departments, on the operational requirements that are at the origin of these capabilities, on their objective sustainability and on any implications, including financial ones, that an expansion of these capacities entails.

As always, we will base our discussion on documents open sources, authoritative testimonies (for example the hearing of the commander of the Joint Command for Special Forces Operations - COFS - in the Defense Commission) and further contributions of the utmost reliability.

Environmental capabilities: departments Animal 2 national vs directives on training procedures

All the departments of Special Forces in the world have at least one essential environmental capacity in common: the aviation-launching one. The military paratrooper license is, in fact, conditio sine qua non for the subsequent acquisition of the patent of operator of special forces all over the world (or almost). This particularity derives from the double requirement of timeliness of use and depth of penetration to which these units must necessarily meet.

The aviation launch, especially the one with the binding rope and automatic opening technique, guarantees to use the nuclei of special forces in a very short time and in depth in the adversary device, against a limited training and supply of cost-effective equipment. initial and very affordable maintenance, moreover common to parachute departments.

The aviation-launch capability

That said, it should be noted that, in the military field, there are three capacitive macro-types in terms of insertions / infiltrations by air launch:

  1. the wire rope hoists (FV), at low altitude (generally no more than 1.300 feet3 Above Ground Level - AGL), with automatic opening parachute (generally not directionable or limited to direction) by means of a rope specially tied to a static cable inside the cockpit of the air carrier;

  2. Air drops with the Free Fall Technique (TCL), from altitudes NOT exceeding 13.000 feet Above Mean Sea Level - AMSL (about 4.000 m.), With directional airfoil parachute and opening controlled by the operator (generally by means of a special handle) at a predefined altitude (generally around 4.000 ft AGL - about 1.200 m.) And without the use of oxygen equipment by air-launched personnel4;

  3. Air drops from high / very high altitudes (altitudes greater than 13.000 feet AMSL), which require the use of oxygen equipment by both air-launched personnel and flight crews, with manual opening of the parachute (similar to what happens with TCL launches) which can take place at low altitude (and fast landing) or at high altitude and navigation "under sail" for a few tens of km before landing (in jargon, respectively, High Altitude Low Opening / High Altitude High Opening - HALO / HAHO).

Without going into technical / tactical considerations that describe the advantages and criticalities of each of these techniques, from the aforementioned description, however succinct, a first impression is nevertheless obtained about the particular level of specialization required for the conduct of the different air raids and the consequent distinct and growing need for training to maintain the capacity and related equipment over time (what, in jargon, is called "currency").

Constrained air launch requires "minimalist" training (all conscripts under the paratrooper brigade thunderbolt were patented Paratroopers Rope of Constraint), an equipment of easy maintenance, rustic and economic as well as a reduced training to maintain the capacity5.

Moreover, this type of air-release, precisely due to the requirements of simplicity, rusticity and cheapness, has proved to be very up-to-date and effective even in recent war experiences, both conventional and "special". In this regard, we mention the operations conducted by the 2nd REP of the foreign legion in Timbuktu in 2013 to isolate the city and allow the taking of the airport and Menaka in 2018 and the further very recent operations conducted by small groups of special forces, also French, as part of the transaction Barkhane (photo).

The TCL aircrafts and, even worse, the HALO / HAHO ones require a much more stringent training and much more valuable resources and equipment. But what do the national directives on capabilities for special forces say about it? In other words, what are the operational requiremements?

In general, in the special forces departments of the "first world" there are absolutely no stringent requirements, inherent to the aviation-launching capabilities, if not referred to the bonding rope capacity: simple, effective, easy to maintain and cheap. The renowned 22 Special Air Service (SAS), for example, does not have all TCL or HALO / HAHO qualified operators, on the contrary, only a small, extremely specialized component follows this type of training. The same applies to the 1st RPIMA and the 13th French RDP, or the US Special Forces Groups. In Italy, however, the situation is different… who knows for what reasons?

Within the Italian Army, the 9th regiment With Moschinhas always been the only department whose raider operators had to be TCL qualified (qualification necessary to obtain the raid license). The operators of the 9th, since the 80s, then all acquired the HALO / HAHO qualification and this capability was intended to cover the operational needs of all the Italian armed forces, both conventional and special forces. That is, if there was an operational need to carry out an operation that required an insertion via HALO / HAHO launch, the 9th regiment was able to satisfy it for the benefit of any entity, department, Task force, operational group, brigade or division that is. And this is still the situation today. A rational, effective, commensurate and intelligent choice considering above all the niche of specialization required and the enormous burdens to seriously maintain capacity.

Currently, however, Directive 7020 "Selective and training process for operators of the Army Special Forces", establishes that the training of Incursor operators and Objective Acquisitors requires mandatorily the execution of the TCL course6. An internal directive of the 9th rgt d'ass. par. With Moschin (Animal 1), descending from the superordinate and classified ones of the Defense Staff (SMD) and the Joint Forces Command for Special Forces Operations (COFS)7, as well as the mission profiles ("mission statements") Recently approved by the Chief of Defense Staff, also state that all regimental operators, once they have been certified as Incursore, must attend the HALO / HAHO course8 (moreover inside the department). On the contrary, the training of operators Cleaning (Animal 2) stops only at the bonding rope capacity, which is mandatory for the achievement of the qualification creak.

This distinction between TCL and FV derives, as it is logical, from a clear operational requirement which, although profoundly different by nature, "unites" in a certain sense the operators Animal 1 of the 9th With Moschin to those Animal 2 of the 185 ° rgt Reconnaissance and Objective Acquisition (RAO) thunderbolt, or, the need to operate for small groups9 during the conduct of the principal SOs assigned to them. The 4th rgt alpine paratroopers Monte Cervino instead it has a more unbalanced use, so to speak, on the concept of "mass"10 and impact power, which is why the bridle course is the most appropriate response to the particular operational requirement. In this regard, we would also believe that only a part of the 185 ° acquirers, which we could quantify in 40-50% of the acquirers in operational service of the unit, could require the TCL qualification, taking into account the real and sustainable capacity maintenance capabilities. and the real advertising needs of this type to which the department would be required to respond. Above all because the TCL type insertion, i.e. from altitudes not exceeding 13.000 feet (about 4.000 meters) beyond which the use of oxygen by paratroopers is essential, does not present significant tactical advantages and in any case exposes the aerial assets to all types of threats including MANPADs as well as making them visible and traceable by all radars.

That said, it does nothing but raise some perplexity to learn that, more and more often, and with ever greater numbers, the staff of the 4th rgt. Monte Cervino frequent (although NOT mandatory for qualification purposes Cleaning) TCL courses at the Brigade's Parachuting Training Center thunderbolt, occupying the already limited places available and necessary (obligatorily) for the specialized training of the 4 Defense Raiders departments.11 Moreover, this aviation-launching technique requires the use of parachutes whose purchase (about € 27.000 each) and maintenance is particularly expensive (making a parallelism with the materials used in the civil field we are talking about annual revision of the sails, five-year revision. safety devices and their replacement every 12 years, for a cost of about € 9000 per single replacement), and the use of which, therefore, CANNOT and MUST NOT be extended to large numbers as it is financially unsustainable, as well as not operationally sensible . And it is for this reason that all the other European countries and even the United States of America itself (whose budget allocated annually to the Department of Defense is not remotely comparable to the Italian one) limit the use only to Incursors (or a little more). of the Free Fall Technique. And referring to European countries, we cannot fail to mention the Netherlands, one of the "frugal" countries which, coincidentally, accuses Italy of being wasteful and spendthrift as well as inefficient, an appellation that, for those who do not focus on it immediately, it relates the resources used with the achievement of a specific goal (link).

Moreover, in the last decade, Italy has expanded the ranks of the Paratroopers brigade bringing it to a staff of about 5.000 paratroopers12. For heaven's sake, also the history and traditions of the glorious thunderbolt are just as unique, but we would like to say that perhaps we should, if not reduce, at least avoid further capacitive expansions, especially if not required and if not sustainable in terms of military air transport capacity (the Air Force transport line, currently can count only on 3 or 4 C-130s SuperHercules efficient). Furthermore, a serious and pragmatic reflection on minimum aviation-launch training to guarantee a credible capability in the sector would be at least necessary.

But that is not all! From information received (and verified) we understand that the departments Animal 2 nationals have submitted, within the Armed Forces Army, a request for the acquisition of the very expensive materials for the conduct of HALO / HAHO airplanes (about € 35.000 per single operator, only for parachutes and oxygen masks, to which are added the several tens of thousands of euros for maintenance and hundreds of thousands of euros for "ward" materials for oxygen). And all this without having the slightest know-how ed experts and, above all, without any operational requirement and no need expressed by the Defense! But it will be enough to order the 9th regiment to share what has been built with enormous sacrifices (we refer in particular to all the fallen in TCL and HALO / HAHO activities of the Department) in over 70 years of activity and the game will be done. In short, it is enough to have some authoritative sponsors in the right seat and everything would seem to be resolved. Fortunately (for taxpayers' pockets), as far as we know, that request remains currently outstanding due to lack of FA funding.

Try asking Palazzo Marina if anyone could ever imagine ordering the Incursori Operational Group (GOI) to share their knowledge peculiar specialists with staff from other departments. And what for then?

Will Holland be right?

The ability Maritime

Another typical "environmental" ability of national raiding departments (and of much of the world) is to conduct Special Operations in the environment maritime (e.g. theOpposed Ship Boarding, just to name one type) or, at least, to conduct underwater and / or surface insertions / infiltrations and exfiltrations / extractions.

Nationally, the department Animal 1 leader in the environment maritime is the Incursori Operational Group (GOI) of the Italian Navy. The other Infiltrator departments are required to maintain their capacity maritime underwater and surface both for the competition to the GOI in case of need, and for the conduct of special operations in the environment Country (domain of the 9th regiment) whose insertion / infiltration and / or exfiltration / extraction requires the use of naval assets / equipment (objectives in coastal areas or adjacent to inland waters).

Also in this field some peculiarities "reproduced on a reduced scale" appear at least questionable and probably, once again, without the necessary know-how ed experts in departments whose main tasks do not necessarily require such assets and equipment.

To give a concrete example, just think of the boat Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat (RHIB) of the 185th Reg. RAO, however "The first model in the world of its kind and designed on the specific needs of the department", as boldly advertised by their own official in a video from 2013 still available on YouTube, moored and visible to all passers-by at the pier of the Guardia di Finanza in Livorno (photo). And so, for the well-known principle of special forces confidentiality, while the objective purchasers are preparing for the conduct of training activities with the use of the precious surface structure, they are “acquired” by the prying eyes of passers-by who stop to buy fish from the fishing boats moored in front of the aforementioned pier.

With a simple webcam placed near the monument of the 4 Moors, an archive could be kept up to date on all the occasions in which the 185th uses the boat! And as if this weren't surreal enough, for the avoidance of doubt, someone also had the brilliant idea of ​​bringing the name of the department in plain sight on the left side. Certainly a choice not too much in line with the confidentiality that distinguishes those who define themselves as belonging to the special forces ... But "Videre nec videri" is their motto!

Not to mention the operational considerations regarding the usefulness of an arrangement of that type. In fact, without going into unscrupulous military operations, even those who simply go offshore fishing do not take to the sea except with two boats ...

In summary, what operational capacity does a department that counts on a single boat express? But even if it had two, knowing that you never go out at sea if with at least 2 platforms for simple, elementary and well-known safety considerations, the day that one of the 2 boats were to carry out maintenance, the operational capacity of the department would be reduced to zero. ! It would therefore be a department with a "hiccup" capacity.

Furthermore, when the department "he gifted himself", In total autonomy, of this vessel, has seen fit not to include aviation-launchability among the requirements of the boat. Thus, unlike the 9th and GOI boats that can be air-launched thanks to the PURIBAT platforms acquired and tested by COFS for some time, the 185 ° boat is "Sedentary" that is, it cannot be shown in a short time and in places that are hard to reach by other means of transport.

The choice of the inboard engine is also very questionable and makes the management of the trim much more rigid. Having several outboard motors that can be used for the same boat, in fact, it is possible to cancel the periods of downtime for mechanical maintenance by replacing the propellers and also guarantee a considerably higher reliability and efficiency in case of prolonged use of the trim in distant operational areas. from the motherland.

In summary: I train the staff, they procure (on their own) a very expensive boat despite not having a logistical base where to maintain and store it and do not have a means and a system to project it quickly and discreetly, I have the crew do expensive specialized courses, I spend in equipment, maintenance and management of the boat and in maintaining the skills of the staff but the operational output is ZERO!

The platform Hurricane has a cost of about € 600.000 and is used, for example, by the 9th Raiders Regiment (which has always had an "operational capacity in the sector" and various assets of the same type also in order to ensure the minimum necessary redundancy functional to the operational output) for the competition to the Ministry of the Interior (according to a Defense-Interior memorandum of understanding13) and, as already mentioned, as a possible integration of the operational capabilities of the GOI. Moreover, the 9th, like the GOI, has a special "discreet naval base"14 for storage, maintenance and preparation of all platforms maritime and for personnel sector training.

Tasks from Animal 1 therefore, duplicated in departments Animal 2 for the well-known principle of "generalized weakness" with all due respect, in our opinion, of a not really prudent use of public money, perhaps on the verge of damage to the tax authorities (but this is up to others, possibly, to ascertain it).

To give another example, and always for the sake of the taxpayer who sees the money from his taxes being dissipated by pursuing the aforementioned principle of "generalized weakness", it is easy to dwell on stand propaganda of these departments Animal 2 to observe glittering equipment and equipment for conducting underwater activities. Too bad that among these there are also, on display, open-circuit air breathing apparatus (ARA) which, as known, when used release very conspicuous and noisy air bubbles on the surface. For non-experts (including Armed Forces personnel of any grade / category unrelated to the subject and perhaps present and unwittingly compliant), we specify that these respirators are the same ones used by diving centers of all the seaside resorts around the world. This is because the military currently authorized to attend courses for the use of closed-circuit oxygen self-contained breathing apparatus (ARO) (which do not issue any bills and are therefore absolutely stealth) at the GOI are exclusively the Raiders of the other Armed Forces (in addition, of course, to the same Raiders of the GOI). This exclusivity is obviously due to operational, logistical, maintenance and financial aspects.

Staff Animal 2, on the other hand, accesses the courses for Underwater Operators of the Safety Service Qualified for Work in the Hull (OSSALC) at the Underwater Operating Group (GOS) of the Navy. Yes, you got it right, these are courses that enable the attendant staff to conduct underwater cleaning and inspection of the hulls of naval units. A necessary and respectable task, God forbid, but certainly NOT operational. Nevertheless, again for the sake of the taxpayer, these departments still acquire, on the basis of "theexperts"Of the OSSALC course, very expensive underwater drivers (about € 25.000 each, complete with accessories) for operational use, like the Incursori departments, to then use them in their own training activities (underwater infiltrations / exfiltrations and, even, in surface) in the company of only the air bubbles emitted by their dispensers.

Some considerations

On a national level, the project to upgrade the Special Operations component, launched around the year 2000 by the FA Army alone with the introduction of two new qualifications, that ofanger and that of target acquirer has increasingly taken on the semblance of an ambition single Service rather than a "national project" based on concrete strategic-operational requirements. As it happens, after several, useless and drowned attempts, the elevation to FS rank of today's wards Animal 2 of the Army took place in 2018, at a time when both the commander of the COFS and the chief of staff of the defense came from the Army.

This singular situation denotes, at least, a lack of "socialization" in the defense sector15 of a need felt by the Army alone. Starting from this consideration, we wonder if rather than sharing the already meager financial resources once allocated to the single Army special forces department with two other "limited capacity" departments it was not more appropriate to bring the need for the OS enhancement of FA to the attention of the other FFAAs and converge, perhaps, in a shared project of real enhancement of the 4 Defense Raiders departments (if the need was really felt in the Defense field).

In other words, in terms of motorsport, wouldn't it have been better to invest in the development of the current and already competitive F1 single-seaters and aim for the title rather than putting more F2 performance cars on the track? Also because we know, over time, and in the absence of further investments, the owner team is forced to share the same budget on several single-seaters, he risks moving from Ferrari to Haas management. All this while the other teams (the other Armed Forces) continue to concentrate their efforts on the development of the existing single-seaters (only raiding departments).

Returning to the subject, we ask ourselves what the criteria for assigning financial resources of the Army Special Forces departments are today, and whether they take into account:

  • the different operational capacity expressed by the departments and the consequent different equipment that must necessarily be kept efficient;

  • the number of patented operators within the department;

  • actual use in COFS-led Special Operations;

  • the 4 exclusive national tasks of Animal 1 in addition to the 3 NATO tasks shared with Animal 2;

  • the level of readiness and availability of the operators of the Animal 1;

  • the additional infrastructures (in addition to the head office) of the Animal 116, also at least to be maintained and maintained in efficiency;

  • the multiple operational commitments of the Animal 1.

If, and we reiterate "if", the resource allocation criteria did NOT take into account at least the aforementioned points, we would find ourselves in a situation of potential "capacitive flattening", or in the situation of owning a more conspicuous number of single-seaters but all in Formula 2!

A situation, in our opinion, of dubious usefulness and potentially deleterious for the country system as well as from the capacitive point of view also, as already mentioned, from the financial point of view.

1 Army Special Forces Command (COMFOSE) and Army Special Operations Training Center (CEADDOS), both co-located in the “Dario Vitali” District in San Piero a Grado (PI).

2 Respectively 4th rgt alpine paratroopers Monte Cervino and 185 ° rgt artillery paratroopers thunderbolt.

3 Abbreviation of "feet”(Feet), unit of measurement for distances universally adopted in the aeronautical field (1 ft = 30,48 cm).

4 For the flight crew, the aeronautical legislation instead requires the use of oxygen equipment starting from altitudes above 10.000 feet (about 3000 m)

5 In Italy, the standard has always provided for a minimum training of 6 launches per year to maintain capacity. In reality, the departments of the parachute brigade in the last 6/7 years have rarely passed a minimum training of more than 2/3 jumps per year. But we are not the only ones in this situation: in the UK, for example, to cope with the shortage of aircraft assets, the "currency" was reduced by requiring a single launch per year (fully equipped) to maintain capacity. specific. Contrary to the other techniques, the bound launch requires "basic" skills from the paratrooper as the specific technique does not provide for an entire phase of the aviation launch which is that of "free fall". Furthermore, the constrained parachute generally simplifies the landing phase which instead requires greater and technically more advanced skills on the part of the parachutist who uses an airfoil parachute.

6 Specialized training (compulsory), common to all 4 Defense Incursori departments and only to the 185 ° RAO Regiment in the field Animal 2.

7 Strategic Directive on the use of Special Forces SMD-FS-001 \ R ed.2021; Joint training directive SMD-AJ-001 ed. 2004; Special Operations (OS) Fund Training and Operations Directive ed. 2016; Directive for the enhancement of the OS sector ed. 2018.

8 Advanced environmental specialist training only for Incursori operators of the 9th rgt d'ass. par. “Col Moschin”.

9 Operational Detachments or even fractions of them.

10 Generally not lower than the organic Platoon level.

11 9th rgt d'ass. par. “Col Moschin” (EI), Incursori Operational Group (MM), 17 ° Stormo Incursori (AM), Special Intervention Group (CC).

12 The Paratroopers Brigade, in the face of the exit from its ranks of the 9th and 185th, acquired a genius regiment, a cavalry regiment and an artillery regiment with the result that, today, the patented personnel of the brigade rarely manages to carry out, in average, more than one launch per year with a clear decline in the aviation-launch capacity of the Great Unit.

14 The Incursori Training Base (BAI) located near the mouth of the Arno river (PI).

15 For example, in the Committee of the Chiefs of the Defense Staff.

16 We refer to the aforementioned Incursori Training Base (BAI) and the multifunctional training area "Felix" within the training area of ​​Valle Ugione (LI).

Photo: author / US Marine Corps / Italian Army / Navy