PART ONE: BACKGROUND
This article provides an overview of the Maritime Force of the Marines and Commandos (Force Maritime des Fusiliers Marins et Commandos (FORFUSCO) which is the French Navy’s Special Operations Forces (SOF) (MOD, 2016a).
FORFUSCO is composed of naval fusiliers and naval commandos, numbering approximately 2,500 personnel. FORFUSCO is the naval component of the French Special Operations Command, the Commandement des Opérations Spéciales (COS).
The aim of this article is to provide an overview of the French Navy’s Special Operations Forces (SOF).
The role of FORFUSCO is fourfold:
- Advanced force and reconnaissance operations from the sea;
- Special operations;
- Protection of key sites and vessels of the French Navy; and
- Provide security of elements of the naval forces.
PART TWO: ORGANISATION
This section describes the management (command and control, C2) of FORFUSCO and its organisation, providing a brief outline of each of the units and their organisation and roles.
FORFUSCO consists of:
- Naval Fusiliers: The marine rifle units that are the specialised naval protection and defence forces; and
- Naval Commandos: The marine commando units which are the special forces of the navy. They have evolved to be broadly comparable to the British Special Boat Service (SBS).
2.1 Chief of the Defence Staff
COS is an operational command under the authority of the French Chief of the Defence Staff (Chef d’État-Major des Armées or C.E.M.A), an OF-9 level officer.
2.2 Commander Special Operations
The Commander Special Operations (Commandant les Opérations Spéciales) is the title of the professional head of the COS (MOD, 2016b).
The post holder is an OF-6 level officer, either a Général de brigade (Brigadier General) or Contre-Amiral (Rear Admiral but equivalent to a Royal Navy Commodore); although in July 2016 the post holder was a Major General (OF-7) (Defense House, 2016).
Commander COS is under the direct command of CEMA and is the CEMA Advisor on special operations.
ALFUSCO (Amiral les Force Maritime des Fusiliers Marins et Commandos) is the title of the professional head of the French Navy’s Special Operations Forces.
The post holder is an OF-7 level officer, a Contre-amiral (Rear Admiral) (MOD, 2016a).
2.4 Headquarters and Staff
The headquarters and staff of FORFUSCO are in Lorient.
2.5 Naval Fusiliers
The naval fusiliers are one of two components of FORFUSCO with approximately 1,500 sailors across nine units:
- Two groups of marines in Brest and Toulon; and
- Seven companies of marine fusiliers in Cherbourg, South France, Ile-Longue, Lanvéoc, Lann-Bihoué, Rosnay, Sainte-Assise.
There is also a canine element that includes (roughly) 250 dogs, distributed among the units.
The naval fusiliers provide protection for the following sites:
- Military port of Cherbourg;
- Submarine Base in Île Longue and pyrotechnics in Guenvénez;
- Naval aviation base in Lann Bihoué;
- Communications centre in Rosnay, Indre;
- Communications centre in Sainte-Assise, Seineet-Marne;
- Communications centre in Villepinte France and South Saissac, Aude;
- Naval aviation base in Lanvéoc-Poulmic (unit created on 01 September 2011 after the closure of the naval aviation base in Nimes-Garons); and
- Naval Fusilier and Commando Training centre, Lorient.
These seven companies send detachments who take turns every four to six months to ensure the protection of the communications centers of Fort-de-France, Mahina Mahina Super and around Papeete, of Ouen Toro in Noumea, and Rufisque near Dakar. They also support operations of the Naval Commandos (Commandos Marine), augment boarding and landing parties and provide military training to the French navy.
2.6 Naval Commandos
The naval commandos are one of two components of FORFUSCO with approximately 650 personnel across seven units.
Five of the units are historical combat commandos (Jaubert, Trépel, de Montfort, Penfentenyo, Hubert) and two are new commandos (Kieffer and now Ponchardier). Six of the seven commandos are based in Lorient whilst Commando Hubert is based in Toulon. Each commando has their own mission specialism and they have evolved to be broadly comparable to the British SBS.
The five combat commandos have common capabilities (commando combat, intelligence, infiltration methods) and each has specific capabilities. The two newer commandos provide special support capabilities.
- The Trépel and Jaubert Commandos have groups specialised in counterterrorism and the release of hostages;
- The Montfort and Penfentenyo Commandos have special neutralisation and observation teams (ESNOs);
- The Hubert Commando has groups specialising in counterterrorism, hostage release and underwater operations with combat swimmers.
- The Kieffer Commando ensures the command capability of special forces grouping and implements specialised support units for the command and groups (e.g. military working dogs, drones, CBRN and intelligence);
- Commando Ponchardier provides operational support missions for the combat groups, with the implementation of maritime, air and land insertion facilities and specific operational equipment.
The naval commandos perform three roles:
- Offshore operations: maritime counter-terrorism, combating piracy, combating illegal activities;
- Operations from sea to land: amphibious (upstream/advanced forces), special reconnaissance and intelligence operations; and
- Special Operations onshore.
Since 1992, the commandos have been primarily utilised by the French Special Operations Command (COS).
2.7 Naval Fusilier and Commando Training Centre
The Naval Fusilier and Commando Training Centre (Ecole Des Fusiliers) is located at Lorient, and has been at this site since 1968.
The centre has several training facilities at its disposal, which include:
- Gymnasium and sports hall;
- Assault course;
- Firing range (both covered and outdoor); and
- Swimming pool.
The mission of the centre is to train naval personnel on both initial and career courses. To facilitate this mission, the centre is divided into several schools and departments:
- Officers Training School:
- School of Fusiliers Commando Officers: A level 1 school which trains officers for the Squad Leader role in a Commando. There is usually one course per year (June to October) with five students.
- The Upper School of Fusiliers and Commandos (CFHT): A level 2 school which trains officers for the Commander role in a Commando. There is usually one course per year (September to July) with four students.
- Initial Training Department;
- Technical Aptitude Certificate (Course); and
- Commando Department.
PART THREE: MISCELLANEOUS
3.0 Useful Links
- French Special Operations Command: http://www.defense.gouv.fr/ema/interarmees/le-commandement-des-operations-speciales.
- COS Special Operations Command (unofficial): http://le.cos.free.fr/cos.htm.
- FORFUSCO (Official): http://www.defense.gouv.fr/marine/organisation/forces/fusiliers-marins-et-commandos/force-maritime-des-fusiliers-marins-et-commandos.
- Museum (Facebook): https://www.facebook.com/musee.fusco/.
- Museum (Official): http://musee.fusco.lorient.free.fr/.
- Commando Hubert: http://commandohubert.free.fr/CHecofusil.html.
- Official Magazine: http://www.fuscomarine.fr/.
MOD (Ministry of Defence) (2016a) ALFUSCO. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.defense.gouv.fr/marine/organisation/commandement/alfusco. [Accessed: 18 December, 2016].
MOD (Ministry of Defence) (2016b) COS: Presentation. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.defense.gouv.fr/ema/interarmees/le-commandement-des-operations-speciales/le-cos-presentation. [Accessed: 12 December, 2016].
Defense House (2016) Maj. Gen. de Saint-Quentin, French Special Operations Command. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.defense-house.com/interesting-post/maj-gen-de-saint-quentin-french-special-operations-command/. [Accessed: 15 December, 2016].
MOD (Ministry of Defence) (2012a) What are Special Operations? Available from World Wide Web: http://www.defense.gouv.fr/jeunes/jeuneactu/que-sont-les-operations-speciales. [Accessed: 15 December, 2016].