United Kingdom Special Forces

The 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 Signal Regiment and the Joint Special Forces Aviation Wing, as well as the supporting No. 47 Squadron.[2][3][4][5][6] In UK law, “special forces” means 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]

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.[8][9] 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.[10][11]


In 1987, the post of Director SAS became Director Special Forces. From that time, the incumbent has had control of both the Army's Special Air Service and the Naval Service'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 Signal Regiment and the Special Forces Support Group. Approximately 40% of all UK Special Forces personnel are recruited from the Royal Marines.[12]

Following the Army 2020 reforms, in 2014, 21 (Artists) Special Air Service Regiment (Reserve), 23 Special Air Service Regiment (Reserve) and the Honourable Artillery Company were shifted from DSF's command to 1st Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Brigade.[13][14] This change was partly reverted in 2019, with both 21 Special Air Service Regiment (Reserve) and 23 Special Air Service Regiment (Reserve) becoming an integrated part of the United Kingdom Special Forces.[15]

Following Army 2020 Refine, the Army Special Operations Brigade and British Army Ranger Regiment were formed.[16] Though not part of UKSF, these units have a special operations remit, including Foreign Internal Defense (FID).[17][18] Creating these units will relieve the pressure on UKSF units to perform FID, allowing them to focus more on the remainder of their mission sets. This is thought to be inspired by the U.S. Army Green Berets[18] who fulfil a similar mission, complementing and reliving pressure on units within JSOC - the American equivalent of UKSF.[19][20] There are other British Special Operations Forces which also fall outside UKSF, such as the Pathfinder Platoon[31] and the Brigade Patrol Troop and other Royal Marines mountain leaders of the Mountain Leader Training Cadre.[32][33][34]

Component unitsEdit

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

See alsoEdit


  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. ^ Blackstone's Statutes on Criminal Law 2019-2020, ISBN 978-0198838715
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ Knowles, Emily (July 2016). Britain's culture of no comment (Report). London: Remote Control; Oxford Research Group. Retrieved 4 January 2021.
  10. ^ Evans, Michael (4 October 1996). "SAS troops ordered to sign contracts banning memoirs". The Times. p. 6.
  11. ^ "SAS men are ordered never to write books". The Independent. 4 October 1996. Retrieved 9 January 2021.
  12. ^ "Royal Navy Career Guide" (PDF). p. 78.
  13. ^ Janes International Defence Review, May 2014, page 4
  14. ^ Army Briefing Note 120/14, NEWLY FORMED FORCE TROOPS COMMAND SPECIALIST BRIGADES, Quote . It commands all of the Army’s Intelligence, Surveillance and EW assets, and is made up of units specifically from the former 1 MI Bde and 1 Arty Bde, as well as 14 Sig Regt, 21 and 23 SAS(R).
  15. ^ "21 & 23 SAS (Reserve)". www.army.mod.uk. Retrieved 2020-06-03.
  16. ^ Mehta, Aaron (25 May 2021). "Why the UK is investing in a new ranger regiment". Defense News. Retrieved 2 November 2021.
  17. ^ Sengupta, Kim (19 March 2021). "British Army to establish new special operations brigade to tackle emerging threats". The Independent. Retrieved 2 November 2021.
  18. ^ a b Warrell, Helen (19 March 2021). "UK looks to new 'Ranger' regiment to tackle emerging conflicts". Financial Times. Retrieved 2 November 2021.
  19. ^ Boguslavsky, Eyal (22 March 2021). "British Army setting up new special forces brigade". Israel Defense. Retrieved 2 November 2021.
  20. ^ Atlamazoglou, Stavros (Apr 20, 2021). "For decades, US special-operations units copied the British, but now the tables are turning". Business Insider. Retrieved 2 November 2021.
  21. ^ Blakeley, David (2014). Maverick one : para, pathfinder, renegade, the making of a warrior : one way to live, a thousand ways to die. London: Orion. ISBN 978-1409146636.
  22. ^ Heaney, Steve (2015). X Platoon. London. ISBN 978-1409148487.
  23. ^ Heaney, Steve (2014). Operation Mayhem. London: Orion. ISBN 978-1409148432.
  24. ^ Blakeley, David (9 May 2013). Pathfinder : a special forces mission behind enemy lines (Hardback ed.). Orion. ISBN 978-1409129028.
  25. ^ Ensor, Josie (10 March 2013). "Iraq War stories: Captain in the Pathfinders recalls his first mission of the invasion". www.telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 2 November 2021.
  26. ^ Della-Ragione, Joanna (1 June 2012). "Revealed: Britain's secret soldiers". Express.co.uk. Retrieved 2 November 2021.
  27. ^ Judd, Terri (5 May 2012). "Betrayed behind enemy lines: Army captain breaks silence on elite". The Independent. Retrieved 2 November 2021.
  28. ^ "Pathfinders: Into The Heart of Afghanistan". Pathfinders: Into The Heart of Afghanistan. Season 1. Episode 1. 2008. Sky News.
  29. ^ Bunkall, Alistair. "British troops perform largest parachute drop for decades 'to show solidarity' with Ukraine". Sky News. Retrieved 2 November 2021.
  30. ^ Caswell, Cliff (December 2020). "Rise of the Pathfinders". Soldier: Magazine of the British Army (December 2020): 35–38.
  31. ^ [21][22][23][24][25][26][27][28][29][30]
  32. ^ Boswell, Rodney (2021). Mountain commandos at war in the Falklands : the Royal Marines Mountain and Arctic Warfare Cadre in action during the 1982 conflict. Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military. ISBN 978-1526791627.
  33. ^ Ashby, Phil (2003). Unscathed : escape from Sierra Leone. London: Pan. ISBN 978-0330491471.
  34. ^ "Fain Would I Climb". Behind the Lines. Season 1. Episode 1. 1985. BBC.
  35. ^ "Special Boat Service (Reserve)". Ministry of Defence (United Kingdom). Archived from the original on 28 February 2014. Retrieved 21 February 2014.
  36. ^ Overstretched SAS calls up part-time troops for Afghanistan, www.telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 21 February 2014
  37. ^ "L Detachment - SAS". UK Elite Forces. Retrieved 2 November 2021.
  38. ^ "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.
  39. ^ 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.
  40. ^ 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.

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