Last Updated: 11 January, 2017
This article provides a brief overview of the selection and training process for the French Special Forces (SF).
Although the French SF is unified under the French Special Operations Command, the Commandement des Opérations Spéciales (COS), each branch of military service organises its own selection and training programme:
- Land component: French Army’s Special Forces Command, Commandement des Forces Spéciales Terre (COM FST).
- Naval component: 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).
- Air component: French Air Force’s Special Forces Command, (Le Bureau Forces Spéciales Air, BFSA).
2.0 General Duties of Special Operations Forces
Special Operations Forces (SOF) personnel are required to infiltrate and exfiltrate to and from operational areas dismounted, carrying heavy loads and manipulating personal and support weapons systems and other heavy equipment. SOF personnel perform insertions and assaults on targets by:
- Parachuting onto ground or into water;
- Climbing ladders and cliffs;
- Conducting close-quarters battle (CQB); and
- Battle drills in varying types of terrain and climatic conditions day or night.
SOF personnel are also required to board ocean vessels while they are underway from another floating or airborne platform in all sea states day or night, and where speed and stealth are imperative. These duties are performed while wearing heavy rucksack and body armour. SOF personnel perform individual CQB and detainee handling which may require the individual to:
- Combat and detain another person using blocking strikes;
- Ground fighting;
- Grappling; and
- Moving a non-compliant person.
There is no tolerance for a lapse in attention when conducting CQB and other assaults while wearing night vision goggles as well as Special Operations Insertion and Extraction (SOIE) techniques. Accurate discrimination of non-combatants and precision engagement of enemy combatants requires extreme concentration.
Similarly, high-risk roped and un-roped insertions with no redundant safety systems require constant attention. SOF personnel require the ability for continuous analysis of the situation, environment, mission aims and unique foreign societal complexities during operations.
3.0 Method of Entry
The French Special Forces (SF) does accept direct entry applicants, i.e. civilians with no prior military experience, for the various SF units. As a result, volunteers for SF may be accepted from French military personnel (both officer and enlisted) from any branch of military service to serve with SF units.
Consequently, there are two recognised pathways to become a member of the French SF:
- Join as a Special Forces (SF) Operator, also known as Commandos; or
- Join as a Special Operations Supporter (either in a combat support (CS) or combat service support (CSS) role).
4.0 Selection Process
Candidates will undertake a series of psychological and physical tests designed to measure and assess their ability to serve in the SF.
Candidates for French Army SF units will undertake the French Army SF initial training programme (formation initiale forces spéciales Terre or FI-FST).
5.0 Preparation Courses for SF Training
Once the right candidate has been identified and approvals obtained, they will be encouraged to undertake the SF Military Parachutist Preparation Course (préparation militaire parachutiste force spéciale or PMP-FS).
The PMP-FS is not a mandatory entry point for SF training but attendance is strongly encouraged to provide candidates with an insight to the SF environment. By 2015, almost half of SF initial commitments are graduates of the PMP-FS.
However, each year the French Army’s Special Forces Command, Commandement des Forces Spéciales Terre (COM FST) recruits approximately 160 non-commissioned members (NCM) from its conventional forces/units. After completing an interview with the desired unit, they integrate with the training programme.
EVAT (?officers) and NCMs are seconded to their SF unit for the first six months; if they sustain an injury or feel it is not for them they are returned to their original unit. Only after the six months’ passes will they be officially transferred.
6.0 Initial SF Training
Once a candidate has been selected they will enter an initial training programme consisting of several courses that must be successfully completed.
It takes approximately 2-3 years for a SF Operator to be considered operationally ready.
Each unit provides dual training/learning and it is after this 20-week joint training (known as specialised commando combat or combat commando spécialisé) that personnel will undergo a specialisation period of more than six months. The first phase allows newcomers to integrate into the SF system.
SF Operators will undertake training in one of four specialisations, which include:
- Air Combat;
- SAS Combat;
- Airborne Research (AR); and
- Strategic Transmissions.
7.0 4th Special Forces Helicopter Regiment
The 4th Special Forces Helicopter Regiment (4e Régiment d’Hélicoptères des Forces Spéciales, 4e RHFS) is located at Pau.
The unit is commanded by a Colonel (OF-5) and forms the aviation component of the COM FST.
Established in 2009, 4e RHFS is responsible for providing air transportation and support anywhere in the world to France’s Special Forces.
The unit consists of several elements:
- Regimental HQ;
- One Transport Helicopter Squadron;
- One Gunship Helicopter Squadron; and
- Maintenance Flight.
All personnel of 4e RHFS (whether a pilot or mechanic) must undertake the three-month SF integration course known as the Helicopter Operator Training Regiment Special Actions (Opérateur Régiment Hélicoptère Actions Spéciales or ORHAS).
The course introduces personnel to SF procedures they must master when conducting operations.