185º RAO: The Folgore Paratroopers


    The 185º Reggimento Paracadutisti Ricognizione ed Acquisizione Obiettivi “Folgore” (185º RAO – 185th Paratroopers Reconnaissance Target Acquisition Regiment “Folgore”) is a special forces unit of the Italian Army. This unit specialises in special reconnaissance and target acquisition.

    1.0. History the 185º Reggimento Paracadutisti Ricognizione ed Acquisizione Obiettivi “Folgore”

    The 185º RAO traces its origins to 1941 and the 1st Parachute Infantry Regiment.

    The unit also consisted of a paratrooper-divers unit and, by the end of the year, acquired the denomination “185th Parachute Infantry Regiment” and the name “Folgore”.

    After various months of training and various changes in the structure, in 1942, the 185th became part of the “Nembo” Division. The Italian government then sent the regiment t to Calabria and Sicily to face the Anglo-American invasion.

    The 185º Reggimento Paracadutisti Ricognizione ed Acquisizione Obiettivi “Folgore”
    Italian airborne division Folgore during the WWII

    With the armistice of the 8th of September 1943, the Regiment split into two. Many soldiers of the III Battalion of the 185th remained loyal to the Germans. On the other hand, the other battalions and the remaining soldiers of the III one, led by Captain Carlo Gay left the German side and joined the Allies. Operating under the XIII British Army Corps, the unit became the 1st Special Autonomous Unit, with tasks related to intelligence services. This unit, also referred to as 1st Reconnaissance Squadron “F”, was able to conduct missions of sabotage, infiltration, and intelligence gathering in Italy.

    In 1944 the unit took the name of 185th Arditi Paratroopers Unit “Nembo” and it was reduced to battalion size.

    1.1. The re-establishment of the unit

    The unit changed many times in the next years, until the 3rd of April 2000, when it took the name of 185th Terrestrial Artillery Regiment (Target Acquisition Paratroopers) “Folgore”. It also began to train its members in order to become target acquirers.

    The 185th was divided into the 1st Battery “Draghi”, able to operate in alpine areas, the 2nd Battery “Aquile”, in desert areas, and the 3rd Battery “Diavoli” specialised in the continental terrain.

    In 2002, the “Folgore” officially became part of the Italian Special Forces. Two years later, in 2004, the Italian army established the 85th Target Acquisition Artillery Regiment “Folgore”, whose origins were inherited from the 185th Artillery Regiment “Folgore”.

    After being dissolved once again, in 2013, the Italian army re-established the 185th Parachute Regiment “Folgore”. And in 2017, the unit was upgraded to a Tier-1 special forces unit.

    2.0. 185º RAO Structure

    Since 2014, the 185º RAO is part of the COMFOSE (Comando delle Forze Speciali dell’Esercito), which is the Army Special Forces Command.

    The other special forces of the COMFOSE are:

    • 9th Paratroopers Assault Regiment “Col Moschin”
    • 4° Reggimento Alpini Paracadutisti “Monte Cervino”
    • 28th Regiment Pavia
    Organisational chart of COMFOSE

    Since 2018, at the operational level, the unit is under the COFS (Comando interforze per le operazioni delle forze speciali), which is the Joint Special Forces Operations Command.

    The COFS consists of six different units, which are:

    Organisational chart of COFS

    The 185º Reggimento Paracadutisti Ricognizione ed Acquisizione Obiettivi “Folgore” consists of:

    • Regiment Command
    • Command and Logistic Support Unit (Compagnia Comando e Supporto Logistico)
    • 3rd Target Acquirers Battalion “Poggio Rusco”, divided into Target Acquirers Companies
    • Operational Support Battalion

    3.0. 185º RAO “Folgore”: Responsibilities

    The 185º Reggimento Paracadutisti Ricognizione ed Acquisizione Obiettivi “Folgore” specialises in reconnaissance and surveilllance, especially in hostile environement. By adopting unconventional methods, the unit is able to gather and verify intelligence and data.

    Reason why, the External Intelligence and Security Agency (AISE) often requires the intervention of the 185º RAO.

    The 185º Reggimento Paracadutisti Ricognizione ed Acquisizione Obiettivi “Folgore”
    185º RAO soldiers during a training session

    Other than these duties, the unit also specialises in Direct Action and Terminal Guidance Operations. These operations aim to identify and determine the precise location of a target.

    Due to its abilities and skills, the unit often supports and trains foreign units.

    4.0. Training

    In order to become part of the 185º RAO, the recruits have to undergo training which lasts about two years.

    The first phase is the selection phase. It takes place at the Training Centre for Special Operations and consists of physical and phycological tests, in order to assess the skills of the recruits.

    Following the selection phase, there is the Common Basic Training Phase, which focuses on the parachuting course and the Basic Operator for Special Operators course (OBOS – Operatore Basico per Operazioni Speciali). The aim of this course is to train the candidates in special forces basic skills. Among these, there are courses on how to read topographic maps, military procedures and tactics, and first aid training.

    (Video; 185º RAO Training Exercises; via Heroes Corner on Youtube)

    The third phase is the specialisation phase, which lasts around 50 weeks.

    In these weeks, the candidates have to attend and pass various modules:

    • Special Reconnaissance Course for Target Acquirer
    • Intelligence Course at the Centro Interforze di Formazione Intelligence
    • Terminal Guidance Operations Course
    • Amphibious Mobility Course
    • Free Fall Technique
    • Skiing Course
    • Mountaineering Course

    After succeeding this course, the candidates officially become part of the 185º Reggimento Paracadutisti Ricognizione ed Acquisizione Obiettivi “Folgore”.

    Following the admission of the candidates, the training and learning do not stop.

    Many other courses of specialisation are available for the members of the 185º RAO, such as:

    • Various courses at the International Special Training Centre in Germany and at the NATO Special Operations School, in Belgium.
    • Languages courses in Perugia.
    • Various courses regarding intelligence.
    • OSSALC Course, which is the Operatore del servizio di sicurezza abilitato ai lavori in carena (Security Service Operatore authorised to work in the hull).
    • Military rescuer
    • MCM course, which is the Metodo di Combattimento Militare (Military Combat Method).

    5.0. Equipment of the 185º Reggimento Paracadutisti Ricognizione ed Acquisizione Obiettivi “Folgore”

    185º RRAO badge

    The unit motto is “Come folgore”, which literally means “as a lightning”.

    The unit badge is divided into four parts:

    • The first one on the top left represents a gold lion with a palm and it supports a red flag with a silver cross
    • In the second part, there is a bolt of gold lightning on a blue background
    • In the third part, there is a silver nebula on a blue background
    • The last one represents a red cross on a silver background with Virgilio’s torso and a silver cross on a red background.

    The 185º RAO is equipped with a variety of weapons including:

    Assault rifles

    • Beretta SCP 70/90
    • Colt M4
    • Heckler & Koch G36
    • Steyr Mannlicher AUG

    Sniper rifles

    • Accuracy International Arctic Warfare
    • Barrett M82
    • Heckler & Koch G3SG/1
    • Sako TRG


    • Benelli M4 Super 90
    • Beretta 92FS
    • Glock 19
    • Heckler & Koch MP5 and MP7
    • MG 42/59
    The 185º Reggimento Paracadutisti Ricognizione ed Acquisizione Obiettivi “Folgore”
    Afghanistan, during Operation Enduring Freedom

    Regarding the vehicles, the unit is equipped with:

    • Cagiva W12
    • Defender 90
    • Hilux
    • VTLM “Lince”
    • Zodiac Hurricane inflatable boats

    6.0. Missions of the 185º RAO

    In 2001, the 185º RAO took part in Operation Amber Fox in Macedonia. This operation, led by NATO, aimed to stabilise the country and the local government. The Italian unit’s goal was to gather information and support the other unit of the task force, in case of need.

    The 185º Reggimento Paracadutisti Ricognizione ed Acquisizione Obiettivi “Folgore” was deployed more than once in Afghanistan.

    In 2003, the unit became part of the Task Force “Nibbio”, alongside the “Monte Cervino”.

    The 185º Reggimento Paracadutisti Ricognizione ed Acquisizione Obiettivi “Folgore”
    185º RRAO soldiers in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom

    In 2009, the 185º RAO, part of the Task Force Victor, was located in the Regional Command West and in the Train Advise Assist Command West, which were Italian-led international commands.

    The unit’s task was to perform reconnaissance and surveillance, gather data, and identify and locate various targets in these vast territories.

    In 2003, the 185º RAO was deployed in Iraq to join Operation Ancient Babylon, alongside other Italian special forces units.i

    In 2020, various Italian units took part in Task Force Takuba in Mali. Among these units, there were the 185º RAO, the Col Moschin, and the GOI.

    6.1. 185º RAO International Training

    In 2017, the Italian army sent once again unit to Iraq to support and train the local Emergency Response Force (ERF).

    The 185º Reggimento Paracadutisti Ricognizione ed Acquisizione Obiettivi “Folgore” trained for five weeks the ERF in sniper shooting, first aid in combat, and combat techniques.

    On a different occasion, the ERF took part in the two-week “Basic Amphibious Course”, led by the Italian unit and the Royal Netherlands Marine Corps.

    Since 2015, the 185º RAO, alongside Col Moschin and other Italian units, is part of the Missione Militare Bilaterale Italiana in Libano (MIBIL – Italian Bilateral Military Mission in Lebanon). Its goal is to train the Lebanese Armed Forces in various courses and techniques, such as Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance and Target Acquisition one.

    Since 2018, the Italian government approved the Missione Bilaterale di Supporto nella Repubblica del Niger (MISIN – Bilateral Mission of Support in the Republic of Niger).

    With the GIS, the 185º RAO managed to train the National Guard of Niger in policing and sniper shooting techniques and Special Medical Combat Responder courses.

    Rachele Momi
    Rachele Momi
    Rachele Momi is a graduate in Intelligence & Security Studies at Brunel University and in Middle East Politics at SOAS. Her research is mainly focused on the Middle East region, tradecraft, and defence issues.

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