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PART ONE: BACKGROUND
First established in 1996, and activated in April 1997, the German Special Forces Command (Das Deutsche Kommando Spezialkräfte), commonly known as KSK, is the home of the German Army’s Special Forces.
Established with the aid of the British SAS, the selection process for entry to KSK is extremely tough, and in one selection process “only nine out of 350 applicants passed” the course (The Local, 2008).
Part One of this article looks at women and the KSK, then discusses the difference between tier 1 and tier 2 forces and highlights the methods of entry. It then outlines the roles and tasks of the KSK before finally providing a brief history on its origins.
Part Two looks at the organisation of KSK, including military oversight. Part Two outlines the role of the Commander KSK, before moving on to outline the various units within KSK.
Finally, Part Three provides some useful links and identifies other articles the reader may find useful.
I apologise if any of the translations are incorrect/imprecise.
The aim of this article is to provide an overview of the German Army’s Special Forces Command, Kommando Spezialkräfte (KSK).
1.2 Women and the Kommando Spezialkräfte
“The German military opened all units to women in 2001, and the KSK has also committed to recruit female elite soldiers, but so far only one woman has applied, and she failed the requirements.” (The Local, 2008).
1.3 Tier 1 and Tier 2 Special Forces
The Kommando Spezialkräfte has a mixture of Tier 1 and Tier 2 units. A ‘Tier 1’ SF unit is usually tasked with direct action. Other special operations forces are referred to as ‘Tier 2’ units as they, usually, fulfil a supporting role for the Tier 1 units.
1.4 Method of Entry
Individuals can join the Kommando Spezialkräfte through one of two methods:
- As a civilian with no prior military experience (Operators only); or
- As an in-service transfer, from any branch of military service (Operators, Supporters and Enablers).
An outline of the Kommando Spezialkräfte selection and training process can be found here.
1.5 Roles and Tasks
The role of the Kommando Spezialkräfte is to provide ready and relevant forces to conduct special operations across the operational continuum in a joint, combined or interagency environment.
Kommando Spezialkräfte facilities this overarching role through a number of potential tasks and, as such, Kommando Spezialkräfte assets undertake a number of tasks, with a degree of interaction and interoperability:
- Hostage rescue;
- Airborne operations;
- Direct Action;
- Unconventional Warfare;
- Covert Operations; and
- Intelligence operations.
The overarching mission of the Kommando Spezialkräfte is the protection of the German nation, in particular the rescue and recovery of German citizens.
1.6 Brief History
Although the Kommando Spezialkräfte was established in the 1990s, modern German Army Special Forces have a history dating back to the 1960s.
- 1962: Three Fernspäher Companies established (Fernspählehrkompanie 100, 200 and 300; FSLK 100, FSLK 200 and FSLK 300) based the Finnish Army’s WWII long-range patrol teams.
- 1979: International Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol School (ILRRPS) established and located in Weingarten, Germany (Johnson, 2009).
- 1996: Kommando Spezialkräfte established which absorbed personnel from FSLK 100 and 300.
- April 1997: Kommando Spezialkräfte activated.
- August 1997: ILRRPS moves to Pfullendorf, Germany (Johnson, 2009).
- May 2001: ILRRPS renamed the International Special Training Centre (ISTC) (Johnson, 2009).
- October 2011: Federal Ministry of Defence announces deactivation of FSLK 200.
- 2014: FSLK 200 disbanded (Volk, 2013).
- 2015: Special Operations Training Centre renamed Special Operations Training and Development Centre (Volk, 2013).
PART TWO: ORGANISATION OF THE KOMMANDO SPEZIALKRÄFTE
The KSK was established in the late 1990s to bring the Germany Army’s Special Forces under one unified command along the lines of the US Special Operations Command.
Although the Bundeswehr has a Special Operations Command, in contrast to the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia, the Bundeswehr organises its Special Forces as a component of the German Army rather than as a ‘fourth branch of military service’.
The KSK is a brigade-level formation of the Rapid Forces Division and has four major components/units, each described in this section. The KSK has between 1,100 and 1,200 personnel consisting of operators, supporters and enablers.
2.1 Rapid Forces Division
The Rapid Forces Division (Division Schnelle Kräfte) is headquartered at Stadtallendorf and is commanded by a Major General (OF-7). As part of the 2011 reorganisation of the German Army, the division is a subordinate element of the German Army HQ (German Army, 2014).
Two formations of note within the division include Airborne Brigade 1 [LINK TBC] and the Special Forces Command.
2.2 Bundeswehr Joint Forces Operations Command
“During routine duty, the Special Forces Command is administratively subordinate to the Rapid Forces Division. On operations, it is directed to cooperate with the Bundeswehr Joint Forces Operations Command, directly supporting its Special Operations Division.” (German Army, 2013, p.78).
“The Special Operations Division of the Bundeswehr Joint Forces Operations Command is the only division which reports directly to the Commanding General.” (JFOC, 2013, p.39), a Lieutenant General (OF-8).
2.3 Commander Kommando Spezialkräfte
The Commander Kommando Spezialkräfte, a Brigadier General (OF-6), is the title of the professional head of the German Army’s Special Forces Command.
2.4 Units of the Kommando Spezialkräfte
KSK is organised into a HQ element and three units:
- Headquarters KSK (Stab KSK);
- Force Development Group (Bereich Weiterentwicklung);
- Operational Forces (Einsatz Kräfte); and
- Support Forces (Unterst. Kräfte).
2.5 Headquarters KSK
The headquarters KSK is located in Calw (in the Black Forest), Baden-Württemberg, which is approximately 30 kilometres southwest of Stuttgart.
The staff of the headquarters KSK supports the Commander Kommando Spezialkräfte in the following areas:
- General management;
- Personnel management;
- Operational area;
- Psychological service;
- Language service;
- Information technology (IT); and
2.6 Force Development Group
The role of the Force Development Group (Bereich Weiterentwicklung) includes the development, procurement and introduction of material for the KSK:
- Development of specific operating procedures and regulations (aka Tactics, Techniques and Procedures, TTPs);
- The assessment of special weapons, vehicles and equipment; and
- The procurement of special weapons, vehicles and equipment.
2.7 Operational Forces
The Operational Forces (Einsatz Kräfte) of the Kommando Spezialkrafte consists of three elements:
- Four Commando Companies (Kommando Kompanie);
- Special Commando Company ((Spezial-Kommando Kompanie); and
- Special Operations Training and Development Centre (Ausbildungsu. Versuchszentrum or AVZ).
2.7.1 Commando Companies
Each Commando Company contains approximately one hundred personnel divided across five specialised platoons. Each platoon has a unique specialty which can be adapted to suit the terrain, situation and mission type:
- 1st Platoon: land insertions.
- 2nd Platoon: intelligence gathering and airborne operations.
- 3rd Platoon: amphibious operations.
- 4th Platoon: operations in special geographic or meteorological surroundings (e.g. mountains/arctic regions).
- 5th Platoon: reconnaissance gathering and sniper/counter-sniper operations.
Platoons are further sub-divided into four squads, each consisting of approximately four equally skilled members. Each squad member is specially trained as a weapons expert, medic, combat engineer or communications expert. Additionally, some squads may contain other specialists such as a heavy weapons or language experts.
2.7.2 Special Commando Company
The Special Commando Company is normally staffed with veteran members, taking on various supporting roles such as dog handlers and special pioneers, amongst others.
2.7.3 Special Operations Training and Development Centre
The Training and Development Centre (Ausbildungsu. Versuchszentrum or AVZ) or Special Operations Training Centre (Ausbildungszentrum Spezielle Operationen) was originally established in 1979 as an international school for long range reconnaissance patrol team.
The centre, located in Pfullendorf, is responsible for the initial (entry-level) and further (advanced) training of Special Forces and support personnel. The centre also delivers the aptitude/selection test (Eignungsfeststellungsverfahrens or EFV) for Special Forces aspirants.
“The training of special forces senior NCO candidates as well as special operations forces and personnel providing direct tactical support to special forces is conducted at the Specialised Operations Training Centre in Pfullendorf. Special Forces training and the support of exercises focusing on mission fulfilment in the context of national risk prevention complements the catalogue of tasks. Analogous international training is conducted at the attached International Special Training Centre.” (German Army, 2013, p.62).
As part of the Reorganisation of the German Army, the Special Operations Training Centre is one of eleven major centres/schools of the Army Training Command (German Army, 2013).
2.8 Support Forces
The Support Forces (Unterst. Kräfte) of the Kommando Spezialkrafte consists of four elements:
- HQ and Support Company (Stabs- u. Versorgungs-kompanie).
- Support Company (Unterst. Kompanie).
- Signals Company (Fernmelde Kompanie).
- Medical Company (Sanitäts Kompanie).
The vast majority of personnel within the Support Forces are not Special Forces-trained.
2.8.1 HQ & Support Company
The HQ and Support Company consists of:
- HQ Platoon.
- Material Platoon.
- Supply Echelon:
- Catering Section;
- Transport Platoon; and
- Ammunition and Refuelling Platoon.
2.8.2 Support Company
The Support Company consists of:
- Repair Platoon;
- Supply Platoon; and
- Parachute Equipment Platoon.
2.8.3 Signals Company
The Signals Company consists of three signal platoons.
2.8.4 Medical Company
PART THREE: MISCELLANEOUS
3.0 Insignia and Motto
- Beret and Badge: Members of the KSK wear maroon berets as a symbol of their roots in airborne units. A metal badge is worn which consists of a sword surrounded by oak leaves. The flag of the Federal Republic of Germany is depicted on the bottom of the sword.
- Kommandoabzeichen: The Kommandoabzeichen (Commando badge) is a cloth patch worn on the left pouch of the uniform. The commando badge’s design is similar to the metal badge worn on the beret. It depicts a silver sword on light green background surrounded by oak leaves. The badge was permitted to be worn in 2000 by Federal President Johannes Rau.
- Waffenfarbe: KSK units wear green as their Waffenfarbe, similar to Infantry units.
Motto: Facit Omnia Voluntas (The Will is Decisive).
3.1 TV Documentaries
Combat Swimmers – The Secret German Navy Division by Günther Hemel, first aired in May 2016. The documentary follows 120 aspiring candidates undergoing the gruelling screening test for the German Navy’s Special Forces Command (Kommando Spezialkräfte der Marine). Of the 120 applicants who started only 7 passed.
3.2 Useful Publications
- Elite Attack Forces. German Elite Forces: 5th Mountain (Gebirgsjager) Division and the Brandenburgers (Special Forces) by Mike Sharpe and Ian Westwell, first published in 2008 by Compendium Publishing.
- German Special Forces of World War II (part of Osprey’s Elite series) by Gordon Williamson, first published in 2009 by Osprey Publishing Ltd.
- Kommando Spezialkräfte 3 – Division Spezielle Operationen (German Edition) by Heinz Duthel, first published in 2015 by Books on Demand.
- Kommando Spezial-Kräfte by Reinhard Scholzen, first published in 2009 by Motor Book.
GSG 9 by Reinhard Scholzen and Kerstin Froese, first published in 2001 by Motorbycuhverlag.
- Werner, L. (2013) Adaptive Reorganization of German Special Operations Forces. Master’s Thesis. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?AD=ADA620506. [Accessed: 25 July, 2016].
3.3 Useful Links
- Bundeswehr Commando Course (Einzelkämpferlehrgang):
- Special Forces Untold Stories: German GSG-9 (2002).
- Official KSK Website:
- Federal Ministry of Defence:
- German Armed Forces (Bundeswehr):
German Army (2013) The Reorientation of the German Army. Second Updated Edition. Strausberg: German Army. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.deutschesheer.de/portal/a/heer/!ut/p/c4/04_SB8K8xLLM9MSSzPy8xBz9CP3I5EyrpHK9jNTUIr3c0pySzNzUlMxEvZT88ryc_MSUYv2CbEdFAF0-8l8!/. [Accessed: 18 July, 2016].
German Army (2014) The Organisational Structure of the German Army Headquarters. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.deutschesheer.de/portal/a/heer/!ut/p/c4/04_SB8K8xLLM9MSSzPy8xBz9CP3I5EyrpHK9jNTUIr3c0pySzNzUlMxEvZT88ryc_MSUYv2CbEdFAF0-8l8!/. [Accessed: 18 July, 2016].
JFOC (Bundeswehr Joint Forces Operations Command) (2015) Bundeswehr Joint Forces Operations Command. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.einsatz.bundeswehr.de/resource/resource/MzEzNTM4MmUzMzMyMmUzMTM1MzMyZTM2MzEzMDMwMzAzMDMwMzAzMDY5MzY3MjZiNzc2ZDZmMzUyMDIwMjAyMDIw/150225_Broschuere_eng.pdf. [Accessed: 18 July, 2016].
The Local (2008) German Special Forces Offer Cash to Recruits. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.thelocal.de/20080629/12773. [Accessed: 18 July, 2016].
Johnson, J. (2009) International Special Training Center and NATO Celebrate 30 Years of Teaching Special Forces. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.army.mil/article/23818/international-special-training-center-and-nato-celebrate-30-years-of-teaching-special-forces/. [Accessed: 28 July, 2016].
Volk, S. (2013) Neue Soldaten und Neuer Name fuer Kasernenstandort Pfullendorf. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.suedkurier.de/region/linzgau-zollern-alb/pfullendorf/Neue-Soldaten-und-neuer-Name-fuer-Kasernenstandort-Pfullendorf;art372570,6397414. [Accessed: 28 July, 2016].