The Role of Spec Ops Forces in the Era of Hybrid Warfare

How military adapts to the ever-evolving conditions of modern warfare.

10/10/2023 - 10:19

Special Operations Forces in the Era of Hybrid Warfare

In the era of 21st-century threats, characterised by hybrid and asymmetric warfare, a growing potential for cyber warfare, and global terrorism, nations are continuously refining their national security systems. Our own country has always paid close attention to this matter. However, the mass unrest that occurred earlier this year in Kazakhstan prompted contemplation on a significant enhancement of the army's combat readiness. The country's leadership drew certain conclusions regarding the reform of the Armed Forces, which are tasked with safeguarding the citizens and the sovereignty of the state from threats of any nature and scale.

Specifically, on January 19, 2022, the Head of State, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev signed a Decree on the establishment of the Special Operations Forces Command of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Kazakhstan. These forces are designed to address special tasks within the framework of ensuring the country's defense capability and military security, including participation in counter-terrorism operations and countering illegal armed formations.

The beginning of the current century has been marked by the emergence of new local wars where precision and unconventional weapons based on new physical principles have come to play a crucial role. Additionally, elite special operations forces, also known as Special Forces (SF), have assumed a vital role. Today, no armed conflict or counter-terrorism operation can be undertaken without the involvement of special forces. The growing significance of the "information component" in military operations, command systems, military and industrial facilities operating in the rear, coupled with the expansion of terrorist organisations, further underscores the importance of SF.

The primary form of deploying special forces by leading world powers is through special operations, defined as a complex of measures for the combat use of units, formations, and units of special operations forces in the interests of the state's (or bloc of states, such as NATO) policy. Special organisations engage in direct actions, special reconnaissance, actions involving special weapons and tactics, psychological operations, counter-terrorism actions, humanitarian assistance, search and rescue operations in the enemy's rear, and more.

Special Operations Forces worldwide undertake the following tasks: organising counter-terrorism actions against insurgent, rebellious, and partisan movements aimed at destabilising the situation in a country and overthrowing its government; gathering intelligence data; accumulating weapons and materiel in necessary areas for conducting special operations during wartime; disrupting, distorting, and confiscating enemy information, spreading disinformation, and so forth.

During wartime, Special Operations Forces are additionally tasked with disabling or capturing critical military and industrial facilities of the enemy, disrupting their communication lines, state and military command systems, and rear support. They also conduct adjustments for aerial, missile, and artillery strikes, conduct raids in the enemy's rear to capture documents, demoralise the enemy personnel, and even the local population.

Analysis of SF usage indicates that a professionally trained group of personnel from this unit can, within 24 hours, identify coordinates for 3-5 critical objects, hit one stationary object, and three mobile targets. A single saboteur operating in an ambush can eliminate up to 20 enemy servicemen. Furthermore, these units are designed for creating breach points, deploying mines, and using small-sized nuclear munitions. According to NATO experts, the likelihood of successfully completing a combat mission by special operations forces is akin to using precision weaponry for the same tasks.

The utilisation of special operations forces in the modern world is on a steady rise. For instance, in the structure of the US Armed Forces, the number of SF personnel increased by 42.6 thousand. In Germany, after the creation of the Special Operations Forces Command (1996), the personnel of such formations increased by 4.3 times. Unlike general-purpose forces, units and formations of special operations forces are specifically trained for operations in different regions. Alongside nuclear weapons and the conventional military, some Western analysts consider special operations forces the "third force." Contemporary local wars demonstrate that the actions of special operations forces during peacetime are covert. Their actions are directly controlled by the highest military and political command.

Now, let's examine examples of the creation and utilisation of special operations forces in various countries:


By the end of the 20th century in Russia, in addition to the GRU special forces, there was also the Special Purpose Directorate within the Presidential Security Service and the Border Guard special forces. The creation of special-purpose border troops, possessing unique tactics and weaponry, played a significant role in the construction of Russia's armed forces. The leadership placed the main emphasis on the physical and moral-psychological qualities of personnel in the preparation of special operations forces.

Russian special forces have accumulated unique experience in conducting various wars over the past century.

United States

The United States Special Operations Forces are part of all three branches of the armed forces. During the Korean War (1950-1953), the formation of special-purpose groups began based on the six surviving ranger platoons. Subsequently, army corps units formed deep reconnaissance platoons. In 1962, by order of the President of the United States, a new special forces unit, the "Green Berets," was created. Soon, there were already six special purpose groups within the U.S. Army and seven more within the National Guard and reserves.

The operational purpose of all special formations is strategic intelligence, raid operations, assisting foreign allies in ensuring security, counterterrorism, and combating international crime. The "Green Berets" have been involved in actions in Grenada, Somalia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Persian Gulf region, and Afghanistan. At the start of the Iraq War in 2003, the strength of the U.S. Special Operations Command exceeded 46,000 personnel, including several deep reconnaissance platoons of army corps, intended for operations in the operational-tactical depth of the enemy.

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom's Special Operations Forces are mainly represented by units of special purpose within the British Army's SAS (Special Air Service) and the Royal Navy's SBS (Special Boat Service). They have a long history and rich combat traditions, having participated in many operations during World War II (at that time, they were called "commandos") and serving as a model for similar formations in the United States.

In the British Army, the regular 22nd Special Air Service Regiment (SAS-22) is the primary counterterrorism unit, formed during World War II. Their most successful operations include actions in Ireland (against the Irish Republican Army), the Netherlands, and Germany. They have participated in thousands of operations, from the Sahara to Malaysia. The most famous operation known to the public is the rescue of hostages at the Iranian embassy in London in 1980. The combined unit of the regiment's personnel known as Increment operates in the interests of external intelligence MI6. The 21st and 23rd SAS Regiments are part of the territorial army and are reservist units.

The Special Boat Service (SBS) of the United Kingdom consists of several smaller units. The tasks, training, armament, and equipment of the UK's Special Operations Forces are nearly identical to those in the United States. SAS units and the 3rd Commando Brigade of the Royal Marines (which includes the 40th, 42nd, and 45th Commando Units) were actively used against Iraq in 1991 and 2003.



In 1992, following the example of other NATO member countries, the French Ministry of Defense established GCOS, tasked with managing all special operations units, detachments, and special-purpose units responsible for reconnaissance beyond the country's borders and conducting sabotage operations on enemy territory. Currently, GCOS includes units and divisions from land and marine reaction forces. GCOS is responsible for:

  • Providing military assistance to other allied countries, as well as training special forces fighters from other countries and providing humanitarian assistance. France has signed agreements with several African countries on military aid.
  • Conducting special military operations, deep raids into enemy territory, day and night landings, and peacekeeping missions.
  • Combating terrorism, rescuing hostages captured by terrorist groups, and evacuating French citizens from other countries.

The increase in the number of conflicts in the world has led to the establishment of special operations forces in many countries. Currently, such units exist in China, Iran, Egypt, Ukraine, Italy, Canada, and Cuba. Establishing special operations forces in our country will help prevent the growth of illegal formations and monitor their activities beyond our borders.



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