|Elite & Special Forces Main Page||German Elite & Special Forces Main Page|
PART ONE: BACKGROUND
This article provides an overview of the German Navy’s Special Forces Command or Kommando Spezialkräfte der Marine (KSM) selection and training process.
“During the course of the three-year training period, around 70 percent of applicants fail to make the grade. That’s actually an improvement on previous levels, which saw a washout rate of around 90 to 95 percent.” (Newdick, 2015).
Candidates can apply from any Arm or Service of the Bundeswehr, as well as civilians with no prior military experience. After an administrative check, the first physical hurdle for candidates is a visit to a recruitment centre to be assessed in the specific selection criteria for the KSM. “Around half of all applicants to the organization now come from other branches of the armed forces.” (Newdick, 2015).
Although the KSM employs a variety of personnel in Enabler and Supporter roles, there are only a small number of Operators, at approximately 130 (Newdick, 2015).
Training is rigorous and very demanding, and after passing a variety of physical and weapons test candidates will then train in collective skills such as diving, parachuting, land warfare, specialised weapons or powered boats.
“Operating in groups as small as four or five men, the Kampfschwimmer units each had a team leader, forward air controller, sniper, medic and a radio operator. Typical missions included watching convoy routes and roads, as well as gathering intelligence.” (Newdick, 2015).
From boot camp to fully operational, a candidate may undertake three and a half years of training.
Part One of this article looks at women and the KSM, then discusses the difference between tier 1 and tier 2 Special Forces (SF) and highlights the general duties of special operations forces (SOF). Part Two looks at the entry standards for the KSM, before Part Three outlines the selection and training process for a kampfschwimmer. Part Four briefly outlines the training organisations involved in the training of kampfschwimmers. Finally, Part Five 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 describe the fundamental entry requirements, selection process and training for personnel seeking to become a member of the German Navy’s Special Forces Command.
The article details the selection and training process for Combat Swimmer (Kampfschwimmer) aspirants who will fulfil roles in the operational forces, not Supporters or Enablers who fulfil roles in the support forces.
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). As of 2016, no women had passed the KSM selection process.
1.3 Tier 1 or Tier 2 Status
The Kommando Spezialkräfte der Marine 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 (SOF) are referred to as ‘Tier 2’ units as they, usually, fulfil a supporting role for the Tier 1 units.
1.4 General Duties of 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.
PART TWO: ENTRY STANDARDS AND APPLICATIONS
The Bundeswehr does accept direct entry applicants, i.e. civilians with no prior military experience, for the KSM (needs verification). As a result, volunteers for the KSM may be accepted from both civilians and Bundeswehr military personnel (both officer and enlisted) from any branch of military service to serve with the KSM.
Consequently, there are three recognised pathways to become a member of the KSM:
- Join as a Special Operations Supporter/Enabler;
- Join as a Special Forces Operator (in-service transfer from any branch of military service); or
- Join as a Special Forces Operator (as a civilian with no prior military service).
2.1 Recruitment Centre
Recruitment for kampfschwimmer candidates is undertake at the naval base in Wihelmshaven (needs verification).
2.2 General Requirements and Eligibility for All Candidates
Subject to the requirements outlined below, all Bundeswehr officers and enlisted (other ranks) personnel are eligible to attend the KSM training programme.
General Requirements for all candidates:
- They are German or German within the meaning of Article 116 of the Basic Law;
- No criminal convictions;
- Obtain approval from chain of command;
- High school education or higher;
- Complete basic military training;
- Qualify for Boatswain training (the decision is made at the recruiting centre in Wilhelmshafen);
- Pass appropriate diving medical examination (Section 2.3).
- Pass appropriate diving screening test (Section 3.2);
- Pass appropriate naval commando screening test (Section 3.3); and
- Be parachute-trained or willing to undertake parachute training.
2.3 Diving Medical Examination
As part of the selection process for the German Navy’s Special Forces Command, individuals must attend and successfully pass a special physical screening test for both diver and naval commando candidates.
This day-long physical examination is conducted at the German Navy’s Maritime Medicine Institute (Schifffahrtmedizinisches Institut der Marine) in Kiel/Kronshagen, and includes relevant health aspects such as an eye examination, ENT, blood and urine tests, and so on.
Candidates must also undertake a simulated dive in a hyperbaric chamber and an oxygen tolerance test (breathing a gas mixture with a higher than normal proportion of oxygen), as the diving equipment used by the German Navy Special Forces uses a higher than normal oxygen to nitrogen ratio. Simplistically, an individual will tolerate the gas mixture or they will not; hence the oxygen tolerance test can be a common ‘failure’ point for candidates.
Once the candidate has completed the ‘physical’ tests they will be interviewed (aka ‘mental’ test) by a psychologist.
Successfully passing both the mental and physical tests are prerequisites for successfully passing the diving medical examination.
As I understand it, if a candidate passes the diving medical examination they will be transferred from their current unit or directly from basic training to the Ship Security Training Centre in Neustadt/Holstein for the Basic Diving Course.
PART THREE: OUTLINE OF SELECTION AND TRAINING
Learn to Suffer without Complaint
(Lerne Leiden, Ohne Zu Klagen!)
As part of the recruitment and selection process, kampfschwimmer aspirants must successfully complete three fitness/screening tests, as outlined in Sections 3.1 to 3.3, before they even start the KSM training programme.
The purpose of the selection process (auswahlverfahren) is to assess a candidate’s character, and mental and physical suitability for a career in the KSM.
After successfully completion of the selection process, candidates will then undertake further training, lasting up to 3 years, at a variety of training centres within Germany and internationally.
During the KSM training programme, candidates should appreciate the difference between two important factors:
- Physical load;
- Psychological load.
With unstructured/informal training the physical load can be eased/ameliorated, however, the psychological load is somewhat more problematic to overcome without specialised training which candidates may not have access to; especially those straight from basic training.
One of the most important elements of the KSM training programme is the overcoming of fear, remembering that candidates will be training (and working as future Operators) in cold, dark and austere conditions within close distance of the enemy.
The KSM training programme includes, amongst others topics, swimming, diving, navigation, close combat, weapons handling and parachuting. A final exercise puts all of these skills to the test.
3.1 Basic Fitness Test
The basic fitness test (BFT) is a combination of three exercises which must be completed within 90 minutes.
- 11 x 10 metre sprints in 60 seconds or less.
- Score = 1100-16,667x sprint time (in seconds).
- Using a heave bar, the candidate must hang (with straight arms) for as long as possible.
- Score = 75 + 5x hang time (in seconds).
- Run 1000 metres in a maximum of 390 seconds.
- Score = 100 + ([390 – run time in seconds] x 1.81818181).
3.2 Diving Screening Test
To qualify for the Basic Dive Course candidates must:
- Pass the physical and psychological screening described above (Section 2.3);
- Run 5 kilometres within a maximum of 25 minutes;
- Swim 300 metres, fully clothed, within a maximum of 8 minutes;
- Perform a minimum of 3 heaves;
- Dive to a depth of 5 metres and retrieve two rings weighing 5 kg each;
- Swim 25 metres underwater without surfacing;
- Qualify for the (bronze) lifesaving badge; and
- Complete the BFT.
Once admitted to the training centre at Neustadt the candidate is trained, through a demanding curriculum, to become a professional diver. The weather, the daily diving regimen and long hours of strenuous activity require a robust constitution and stress tolerance.
Successful completion of the Basic Dive Course means progression to the Special Operations Training Company to undertake Kampfschwimmer training which commences with, you guessed it, another physical fitness test.
3.3 Kampfschwimmer Entrance Test
The physical fitness test or Kampfschwimmer Entrance Exam consists of:
- A 5 kilometre run within a maximum of 22 or 23 minutes;
- A 1,000 metre swim within a maximum of 23 or 24 minutes;
- Remaining submerged for a minimum of 60 seconds;
- Swimming 30 metres underwater without surfacing (turning around halfway through);
- Performing a minimum of 8 over-arm heaves (i.e. thumbs facing each other);
- Bench pressing a minimum of 50Kg weight (15 repetitions) or bench press 70% of own bodyweight (10 repetitions) (not sure which); and
- A completed BFT.
Candidates should note that the above are the minimum required to pass; on average, successful candidates will achieve much better scores/times.
Once candidates have successfully completed all of the above steps (Sections 3.1 to 3.3) they will be informed if they have been selected for the German Navy’s Basic SF training programme.
Successful completion of these steps does not imply an automatic right to progress onto the three year Kampfschwimmer training programme. Besides their physical ‘prowess’, candidates are also assessed (amongst other attributes) on their:
- Individual resolve;
- Mental resilience;
- Physical resilience;
- Teamwork; and
- Ability to learn (quickly).
Once candidates have successfully completed the selection process, they will undertake approximately three years of training.
3.4 KSM Training Outline
As outlined in Table 1, the three year Kampfschwimmer training programme is divided into two phases of training, with each phase consisting of a number of courses.
- Der Fachlehrgang 1 (Specialty Course 1): This 12 month programme is designed to select qualified candidates for Kampfschwimmer training and to provide them with an intensive initial training package. It consists of five consecutive stages.
- Der Fachlehrgang 2 (Specialty Course 2): This 24 month programme is designed to provide candidates with a wide range of further skills, leadership training and professional development with the general aim of making a more rounded SF soldier.
In late 2005, for two reasons, the KSM training programme was extended from 15 months to 36 months. The first reason was due to lessons learnt from (then) recent operational experience. The second reason was due to changes in the Kampfschwimmer rank structure due to the Bundeswehr dispensing with the practice of conscription. Previously sailors with the rank of Maat (broadly equivalent to the US Navy’s Petty Officer 2nd Class) or above could serve as Kampfschwimmers.
Since 2006, the lowest serving rank within the Kampfschwimmer Company is Bootsmann (broadly equivalent to the US Navy’s Petty Officer 1st Class or Royal Navy’s Petty Officer). This required adding Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) training elements into the Kampfschwimmer training programme so that lower ranking trainees could be promoted upon completion of their SF training.
For the first (or introductory) stage of training, candidates are pushed hard both physically and psychologically through set exercises/training evolutions. The objective of these exercises is to:
- Increase self-confidence;
- Develop underwater skills;
- Remove/diminish a candidate’s fear of the water; and
- Help make them feel secure in a maritime environment.
For example, one of the exercises is known as bound swimming (Gefesseltes Schwimmen) in which the candidate, who will be wearing full combat clothing and have their hands tied behind their back and feet tied together, is ‘pushed’ into the swimming pool where they must remain (underwater) for at least 30 seconds. As I understand it, this exercise is also completed in the dark/at night. This is a controlled exercise with a number of safety measures in place such as a diver in the water next to the candidate, who will also bring the candidate to the surface on completion of the exercise.
Candidates will also become familiar with ‘Hate Week’. As well as the normal daily routine of swimming, diving and press-ups, candidates will ‘enjoy’ sleep deprivation by conducting night exercises and night runs.
Another ‘fun’ exercise is training to exit and enter a submarine through a torpedo tube (a very claustrophobic experience)!
|Table 1: Outline of KSM training programme|
|Basic Fitness Test||
|Diving Screening Test||
|Basic Dive Course||
|Kampfschwimmer Entrance Test||
|Der Fachlehrgang 1 (Specialty Course 1)||12 Months|
|Kampfschwimmervorausbildung (Hallenausbildung) – Combat Swimmer Pre-Training (Natatorium)||
|Kraftbootführerschei (Boat Operations)||
|Sprenghelferlehrgang mit Tauchereinsatz (Underwater Demolition Assistant Training)||
|Einsatzausbildung/Freiwasserausbildung (Operational Training/Open Water Training)||
|Kampfschwimmertaktikausbildung (Combat Swimmer Tactical Training)||
|Der Fachlehrgang 2 (Specialty Course 2)||24 Months|
|Unteroffizerslehrgang 1/2 (NCO Academy 1/2)||
|B, C, E Führerscheine (Military Driver’s License)||
|Einzelkämpferlehrgang (EKI) (Ranger Training)||
|Fallschirmsprungausbildung mit Automatischer Schirmöffnung (Static Line Parachute Training)||
|Tauchereinsatzleiterschulung (Dive Operations Leadership School)||
|Sprengleiterausbildung (Demolition Leader Course)||
|Kampfschwimmerkampftruppführer Teil 1-4 (Squad Leader Training)||
|Sanitätslehrgang für spezialisierte Kräfte (SOF Combat First Responder Training)||
|Überlebenslehrgang für spezialisierte Kräfte (SOF Survival Training)||
|Fallschirmsprungausbildung mit manueller Schirmöffnung (Advanced Parachute Training)||
|Luftlandeeinsatzverfahren (Airmobile Techniques)||
|Bau von Sicherungsanlagen (Mountaineering Safety)||
|Englisch Lehrgang (English Language)||
Candidates will receive recognition of existing qualifications, meaning if they already possess qualifications which are on the training curriculum – for example if they have already graduated from the NCO course or already are certified to operate combat vehicles or boats – they are not required to repeat those courses. Whilst their candidate colleagues undertake those courses, they will be assigned to other training courses deemed pertinent to their future SF career.
There are a number of additional/alternative/complementary courses to the standard Kampfschwimmer training programme:
- Absetzerlehrgang (Jumpmaster Training): A four week course at the Airborne/Airmobile School which trains the jumpmasters assigned to German military aircraft. Jumpmasters are responsible for the safe and successful execution of jump operations.
- Patrol Course: A four week practical planning course conducted at the International Wing of the Special Operations Training Centre. Operational planning procedures for team level missions are taught in accordance with the Military Decision Making Process (MDMP). The course is taught in English and includes international participants.
- Platoon Commanders Planning Course: A four week theoretical planning course conducted at the International Wing of the Special Operations Training Centre. Operational planning procedures for platoon level missions are taught in accordance with the MDMP. The course is taught in English and includes international participants.
- Combined Joint Special Operations Planning Course: A two week theoretical planning course conducted at the International Wing of the Special Operations Training Centre. Staff level leadership procedures for special operations are taught in accordance with the MDMP. This course includes only German participants, but from all branches of service. The course is conducted in English, and ends with a final exam.
- Rettungssanitäter/Rettungsassistent (Para Medic/Para Medic Assistant): Courses taught at military hospitals to teach emergency medical procedures. This is one of the few qualifications which service members can use professionally after leaving the military.
- Finally, some specialised courses normally taken after graduation from Kampfschwimmer qualification can be taken early, in order to better utilise training time once assigned to the Kampfschwimmer Company.
PART FOUR: TRAINING ORGANISATIONS
This section of the article provides an outline of the various stakeholders who have some input to the selection and training process for the German Navy’s Special Forces.
4.1 Training Group
The KSM Training Group (Die Gruppe Ausbildung des Kommando Spezialkräfte der Marine) is responsible for initial Frogmen training (Kampfschwimmer-Ausbildung) and ongoing training of SF and SOF personnel.
I believe Training Group’s title can also be translated as Ausbildungsinspektion (needs verification).
4.2 Special Operations Training and Development Centre
In 1979, the International Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol School (ILRRPS) was established in Weingarten, Germany (Johnson, 2009). In April 1997 the Kommando Spezialkräfte was activated and in August 1997 the ILRRPS moved to Pfullendorf, Germany (Johnson, 2009), becoming a school of the Special Operations Training Centre.
In May 2001 the ILRRPS was renamed the International Special Training Centre (ISTC) (Johnson, 2009).
In 2015, the Special Operations Training Centre (Ausbildungsu. Versuchszentrum or AVZ) was renamed the Special Operations Training and Development Centre (Volk, 2013).
As part of the Reorganisation of the German Army, the Special Operations Training and Development Centre is one of eleven major centres/schools of the Army Training Command (German Army, 2013). The Centre is commanded by a Colonel (Oberst) (OF-5) and is headquartered in Pfullendorf (Volk, 2013).
The centre 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).
PART FIVE: MISCELLANEOUS
The German Navy’s Special Forces branch is open to all male and female commissioned and enlisted personnel of the Bundeswehr. German Navy Special Forces training seeks to attract determined, highly-motivated, intelligent, reliable and physically fit individuals to serve with the Kommando Spezialkräfte der Marine community. This article provides the basic information to allow individuals to make an informed judgement before applying for KSM training.
5.1 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].
- Bundeswehr (2012a) Das Kommandofeldwebelanwärterprogramm. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.deutschesheer.de/resource/resource/MzEzNTM4MmUzMzMyMmUzMTM1MzMyZTM2MzEzMDMwMzAzMDMwMzAzMDY4MzU3MDYyNmQ2NzMyNzMyMDIwMjAyMDIw/Das_Kommandofeldwebelanwaertermodell.pdf. [Accessed: 27 July, 2016].
- Bundeswehr (2012b) Eignungsfeststellungsverfahrens Teil 1. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.deutschesheer.de/resource/resource/MzEzNTM4MmUzMzMyMmUzMTM1MzMyZTM2MzIzMDMwMzAzMDMwMzAzMDY4MzM2Nzc3MzE2YTYzMzIyMDIwMjAyMDIw/KSK%20Brosch%C3%BCre%20Eignungstest%20Teil%201.pdf. [Accessed: 27 July, 2016].
5.2 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):
- Bundeswehr Commando Course (Einzelkämpferlehrgang):
- German Navy’s Maritime Medicine Institute (Schifffahrtmedizinisches Institut der Marine):
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].
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].
Newdick, T. (2015) German Combat Divers are Busy on Land and Underwater: The Kommando Spezialkräfte is One of Berlin’s Most Elite Units. Available from World Wide Web: https://warisboring.com/germancombatdiversarebusyonlandandunderwater7c6cd8ad56ef#.gxvscho1a. [Accessed: 01 August, 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].
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].