United Kingdom Special Forces

United Kingdom Special Forces (UKSF) is a directorate comprising the Special Air Service, the Special Boat Service, the Special Reconnaissance Regiment, the Special Forces Support Group, 18 (UKSF) Signal Regiment and the Joint Special Forces Aviation Wing.[2][3][4][5][6] In British freedom of information law, "special forces" has been defined as "those units of the armed forces of the Crown and the maintenance of whose capabilities is the responsibility of the Director of Special Forces or which are for the time being subject to the operational command of that Director".[7][8] The Royal Marine Commandos and the Ranger Regiment are special operations–capable forces, but they do not form part of UKSF.[9][10]

United Kingdom Special Forces
Active1987 (1987)–present
Country United Kingdom
BranchBritish Armed Forces
Size2,000 personnel (2009)[1]
Part ofStrategic Command
HeadquartersPermanent Joint Headquarters, Northwood Headquarters
WebsiteDirectorate of Special Forces at gov.uk
General Mark Carleton-Smith

The government and Ministry of Defence (MOD) have a policy of not commenting on the UKSF, in contrast to other countries including the United States, Canada, and Australia.[11][12] In 1996, the UKSF introduced a requirement that serving members sign a confidentiality contract preventing them from disclosing information for life without the prior approval of the MOD, following the publication of several books written by ex-service members.[13][14]



In 1987, the post of Director SAS became Director Special Forces. Since that time, the director has had control of both the Army's Special Air Service and the Navy's Special Boat Squadron, which was renamed the Special Boat Service during the formation. The directorate has since been expanded by the creation of the Joint Special Forces Aviation Wing, the Special Reconnaissance Regiment, 18 (UKSF) Signal Regiment, and the Special Forces Support Group.[15]

In 2015, the Royal Marines reported that approximately 40% of all UK Special Forces personnel were recruited from the Royal Marines.[16]

On 1 September 2014, the two Army Reserve SAS regiments, the 21 (Artists) Special Air Service Regiment (Reserve) and the 23 Special Air Service Regiment (Reserve), were removed from the UKSF and placed in the 1st Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Brigade (1 ISR Bde) under the command of Force Troops Command.[17][18][19] Their role as part of 1 ISR Bde was to conduct Human, Environment, Reconnaissance, and Analysis (HERA) patrols.[17][20] By April 2019, the two reserve regiments had returned to the UKSF.[21][22]

Special Forces Flight, No. 47 Squadron RAF which operated the Lockheed C-130 Hercules aircraft was formerly part of the UKSF.[23][24] No. 47 Squadron RAF was disbanded in September 2023 after the Hercules was retired from service in June 2023.[25][26]

Component units


The following units are part of UK Special Forces and UK Special Forces (Reserve).

Special operations–capable forces


The Armed Forces have raised special operations-capable forces that will conduct special operations to train, advise and accompany UK partner countries' forces in high threat environments.[31] These forces do not form part of UKSF.[10]

The Army formed the Ranger Regiment on 1 December 2021 within a new brigade, the Army Special Operations Brigade, established on 31 August 2021, that will take on some tasks traditionally done by special forces and work with partner forces.[32][33] The Ranger Regiment's battalions are to be restructured by April 2023.[32] The Chief of the Defence Staff has said that the Ranger Regiment will be similar to the United States Army Special Forces, known as the "Green Berets".[34][35] Two of the four Ranger Regiment battalions will be deployed to Africa, the third will focus on Eastern Europe and the fourth will be deployed to the Middle East.[36]

The Royal Navy is changing the Royal Marines through the Future Commando Force concept, adapting their role of amphibious infantry held at readiness to a versatile special operations–capable force.[37][38] The Marines will often be permanently deployed in two new Littoral Response Groups, with one in Northern Europe and the other in the Indian Ocean.[39]

See also



  1. ^ "SAS and other special forces to be expanded to defeat al-Qaeda". the telegraph. 25 April 2009.
  2. ^ a b Special Reconnaissance Regiment, publications.parliament.uk. Retrieved 21 February 2014
  3. ^ a b Elite special forces unit set up, BBC. Retrieved 21 February 2014.
  4. ^ a b c "JSFAW - Responsibilities and Composition". Royal Air Force. Archived from the original on 27 February 2014.
  5. ^ "SAS(R)". Ministry of Defence. Archived from the original on 2018-01-02.
  6. ^ a b "The secretive sister of the SAS". BBC. 16 November 2001. Retrieved 10 March 2010. (SBS)
  7. ^ Philip Coppel QC (2020). Information Rights: A Practitioner's Guide to Data Protection, Freedom of Information and other Information Rights (5th ed.). Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 633. ISBN 9781509922482.
  8. ^   This article incorporates text published under the British Open Government Licence v3.0: "Freedom of Information Act 2000", legislation.gov.uk, The National Archives, 2000 c. 36
  9. ^ "Defence in a Competitive Age" (PDF). Ministry of Defence. Retrieved 8 September 2022.
  10. ^ a b Atlamazoglou, Stavros (20 April 2021). "For decades, US special-operations units copied the British, but now the tables are turning". Business Insider. Retrieved 22 January 2022.
  11. ^ Secretary of State for Defence Geoffrey Hoon (14 January 2002). "Special Forces". UK Parliament. House of Commons Hansard. Archived from the original on 25 April 2010. Retrieved 14 April 2010.
  12. ^ Knowles, Emily (July 2016). Britain's culture of no comment (Report). London: Remote Control; Oxford Research Group. Retrieved 4 January 2021.
  13. ^ Evans, Michael (4 October 1996). "SAS troops ordered to sign contracts banning memoirs". The Times. p. 6.
  14. ^ "SAS men are ordered never to write books". The Independent. 4 October 1996. Retrieved 9 January 2021.
  15. ^ "Britain to double commitment to the war on terror with 'SAS Lite'". The Daily Telegraph. 17 April 2005. Retrieved 12 January 2017.
  16. ^ Royal Marines (August 2015). "'A CORPS OF SPECIALISTS' - A Careers Guide to The Royal Marines Specialisations" (PDF). Royal Navy (2015 ed.). p. 78. Archived from the original (PDF) on 28 March 2017.
  17. ^ a b "The Artists Rifles - From Pre-Raphaelites to Passchendaele" (PDF). ARQ Army Reserve Quarterly. Andover: Army Media & Communication. Autumn 2014. p. 21. Archived from the original (PDF) on 14 February 2015.
  18. ^ Releasable Extracts of Service Inquiry into the deaths of 3 soldiers in the Brecon Beacons Wales, in July 2013 (PDF) (Report). Ministry of Defence. 2017. p. 1.6 - 3. Retrieved 23 January 2022.
  19. ^ Rayment, Sean (3 March 2013). "Revealed: nearly half of Special Forces could go in deepest cuts in 50 years". The Telegraph. Retrieved 23 January 2022.
  20. ^ "Force Troops Command - Overview and Brigades" (PDF). British Army. 2014. pp. 11, 32. Retrieved 23 January 2022 – via The Future of the British Armed Forces.
  21. ^ "Force Troops Command Handbook". British Army. April 2019. pp. 6, 16–17. Retrieved 23 January 2022.
  22. ^ "21 & 23 SAS (Reserve)". British Army. Retrieved 22 January 2022.
  23. ^ "PLG Directive 73/07 Part 8, Restricted files - Administration Guide" (PDF). Veterans UK. Service Personnel and Veterans Agency (SPVA). December 2007. Archived from the original (PDF) on 14 July 2014.
  24. ^ Ripley, Tim (November 2015). "Order of Battle; Joint Special Forces Aviation Wing - The Royal Air Force in 2015 (Supplement)". AirForces monthly - Officially The World's Number One Military Aviation Magazine. No. 332. Bourne, Lincolnshire: Key Publishing Ltd. pp. 12, 14. ISSN 0955-7091.
  25. ^ "Standard of No.47 Sqn has been formally laid-up in ceremony at RAF Cranwell". Royal Air Force (Press release). 4 August 2023. Retrieved 7 March 2024.
  26. ^ "No. 47 Squadron mark the end of an era with a royal parade". Royal Air Force (Press release). 9 June 2023. Retrieved 7 March 2024.
  27. ^ Overstretched SAS calls up part-time troops for Afghanistan, www.telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 21 February 2014
  28. ^ "L Detachment - SAS". UK Elite Forces. Retrieved 2 November 2021.
  29. ^ Redshaw, Bernard (August 2005). "A New Royal Signals Unit" (PDF). The wire : The Magazine of the Royal Corps of Signals. Vol. 59, no. 4. Portsmouth: Holbrook Printers Ltd. ISSN 1462-9259. Archived from the original (PDF) on 10 January 2007.
  30. ^ "Special Boat Service (Reserve)". Ministry of Defence (United Kingdom). Archived from the original on 28 February 2014. Retrieved 21 February 2014.
  31. ^   This article incorporates text published under the British Open Government Licence v3.0: Ministry of Defence (March 2021). Defence in a Competitive Age (PDF). London: Ministry of Defence. pp. 12, 46, 68, 69. ISBN 9781528624626. Retrieved 22 January 2022.
  32. ^ a b "Future Soldier Guide" (PDF). British Army. 2021. pp. 17, 71. Retrieved 22 January 2022.
  33. ^ Ministry of Defence 2021, pp. 12, 52, 68, 69.
  34. ^ "New Ranger Regiment to be 'open to anybody in Armed Forces', CDS says". Forces News. England: BFBS. 1 April 2021. Retrieved 22 January 2022.
  35. ^ Mehta, Aaron (25 May 2021). "Why the UK is investing in a new ranger regiment". Defense News. Washington: Sightline Media Group. Retrieved 22 January 2022.
  36. ^ Brown, Larisa (25 November 2021). "British Army's elite Ranger force to fight extremists". The Times. Retrieved 22 January 2022.
  37. ^ Ministry of Defence 2021, pp. 48, 68.
  38. ^   This article incorporates text published under the British Open Government Licence v3.0: Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace (23 March 2021). "Armed Forces to be more active around the world to combat threats of the future". GOV.UK (Press release). Ministry of Defence. Retrieved 21 January 2022.
  39. ^   This article incorporates text published under the British Open Government Licence v3.0: "Defence review will forge a growing Navy with expanding horizons". Royal Navy (Press release). 22 March 2021. Retrieved 22 January 2022.