The Forsvarets Spesialkommando (FSK) are part of the most capable operators acting in the Arctic environment and possibly in the world. The Norwegian traditions of SOF trace back to World War II (WWII) under the British command of the Special Operations Executive (SOE). Lessons learned after the war highlighted the efficiency of small units of well-trained personnel conducting operations of high strategic value.
In Norway, the combination of mountains, sea, and fjords offers highly challenging areas of operation. Therefore, the Norwegian topography and challenging terrain enable the training of highly skilled personnel, which constitutes a significant advantage but even more so when attracting joint exercises with SOF units worldwide.
2.0. The Norwegian Special Operations Command
The Norwegian Special Operations Command (NORSOCOM) is coordinating the two SOF branches in Norway, the FSK and MJK [source]. The two chapters have different characteristics and objectives but frequently conduct joint operations and exercises. Examples are counterterrorism operations or intelligence gathering deep beyond enemy lines. In peacetime, the former is a central part of their readiness and protecting critical energy installations at sea and on land.
The FSK and MJK operators are expected to operate efficiently in any environment, solving any demanding warfare task. Such capabilities range from conducting Arctic warfare to operating in the jungle or urban setting. Hence, they learn parachuting, diving, climbing, and other specific skill sets that set operators up on the basis for success [source].
3.0. Forsvarets Spesialkommando
FSK is a highly flexible and operative special operations force able to conduct any task in the spectrum of special operations. However, FSK mainly focuses on national and international missions countering terrorism and handling hostage situations. FSK is recognised worldwide as a top tier SOF unit.
The organisation selects and trains spesialjeger, the SOF operators. Moreover, FSK trains female conscripts for the special women-only Jegertroppen and Norwegian paratroopers [source]. Even though trained under the FSK, these units are not special operation forces equivalent to the FSKs’ spesialjeger. However, after completion of basic training, as a conscript in Jegertroppen or as a paratrooper, the soldier will have good opportunities to proceed into FSK or MJK [source].
International equivalents to FSK’s spesialjeger regarding operational focus are the US Delta Force or the UK 22nd Special Air Service Regiment (22 SAS). Its training facilities are located across the country, but its headquarters are in eastern Norway, at Camp Rena [source].
4.0. Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures
4.1. Minimum Physical Requirements
- Pull-ups – 8
- Push-ups – 45
- Sit-ups – 50 in 2 minutes
- Back extensions – 25
- Swimming 400 metres – 11 minutes
- Running track 32 laps (1 lap = 15m x 7m x 15m x 7m) – 10 minutes
- Marsh in combat gear (approx. 28 kg) – 4 hours, 40 minutes.
The first requirement for eligibility to the selection process is the completion of initial military service in the Norwegian Armed Forces. After passing the general selection, a three-day process conducting the physical assessment outlined above, the applicant starts the SOF selection. The general selection is a three-week process that extends over two years and includes one year of training as a conscript within various special forces disciplines, followed by one trial year at an operational squadron. They continuously evaluate the applicant along the way regarding progression, learning ability, and motivation. Service during the trial year places very high demands on professionalism, as well as professional and cooperation skills.
After passing the general and one-year selection process, the applicant completes further training, including weapon specialisation, shooting training, deployment training, liaison training, patrol service, survival training, and close combat. Candidates spend the first four weeks on shooting courses, followed by introductory jumping and climbing courses. After that, a SERE (Survival, Escape/Evasion, Resistance, Extraction) course follows. Further on, the autumn starts with courses in communication and sanitation and ends with a seven-week patrol course at Rena, followed by five weeks of training in the jungle. They conduct winter and urban warfare courses and maritime counterterrorism courses during the winter and spring semesters before starting the deployment specialisation.
After completing the trial year, the applicant is eligible for FSK service and is expected to operate as a SOF operator on a modern battlefield.
As with most SOF units, tactical information and equipment details are often classified. Even though not intended as an exhaustive list, below is some available information on weapons used by the FSK:
- Colt Canada C8SFW and C8CQB
- Heckler & Koch HK416
- Heckler & Koch MP5
- Heckler & Koch MP7
- Heckler & Koch MSG-90
- Heckler & Koch HK417
- Accuracy International AWM
- Barrett MRAD
- M82 Barrett
- Heckler & Koch USP
- Glock 17
- Heckler & Koch AG36 (for C8SFW)
- M320 Grenade Launcher Module (for Heckler & Koch 416)
- Heckler & Koch GMG (for Mercedes Benz SF vehicles)
- FN Minimi
- FN Mag
- Browning M2
- Remington 870
- Benelli M4
- M72 LAW
- Carl Gustaf 8.4 cm recoilless rifle
5.0. Forsvarets Spesialkommando: History
Like many European SOF, NORSOCOM has its roots originating from the resistance movements of WWII. Under the command of the British SOE, Norwegian commandos of Norwegian Independent Company 1 (later renamed Company Linge) staged attacks along the Norwegian coast. From this resource, the SOE coordinated Operation Gunnerside. The operation successfully sabotaged the German heavy water facility in Rjukan, preventing, or at least delaying, German attempts to develop an atomic bomb.
The Norwegian military command later disbanded the highly skilled small sabotage units developed during the war. The idea of small unconventional units was not reevaluated until the 1950s with the development of Norway’s first SOF unit, the predecessor of today’s MJK.
The then Minister of Defence, Jens Christian Hauge and head of intelligence, Vilhelm Evang, were involved in forming the frogman department established in 1953 at Bolærne in the Oslo fjord. The idea was to develop an unconventional warfare capability modelled by the US Navy special forces [source].
5.1 One Command, Two Entities
In the 1960s, they established NORSOCOM as two separate entities. Apart from the MJK, an Army SOF unit took shape. The result was a paratrooper unit, Hærens Fallskjermjegerskole (HFJS), specifically focused on counter-terrorism operations. Together with the MJK, a special Naval unit specialised in surveillance and reconnaissance and operating in extreme climates, these two entities formed NORSOCOM until this day.
Following the developing international terrorism and Norway’s newfound energy resources, the government established a more specialised counterterrorism unit drawing from the HFJS 1979, which today is FSK [source].
The two entities were modernised and expanded after the Cold War. Today Norwegian SOF has a great reputation worldwide after a series of international operations. For example, FSK has operated alongside NATO partners, first in the Balkans and later in Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, Norwegian SOF received the Presidential Unit Citation, the highest honour a US President can bestow upon Allied Forces [source].
6.0. Forsvarets Spesialkommando: Global Relevance
NORSOCOM is today a leading actor in strengthening the network of global SOF partners. When launching the establishment of the NATO SOF Headquarters and then the support of the international SOF liaison division at the US Special Operations Command, NORSOCOM is further developing the close coordination between SOF counterparts since their operations in Afghanistan [source]. Norwegian SOF efficiently contributes to any joint operation with valuable experiences from a wide range of modern conflicts.
7.0. Forsvarets Spesialkommando: International Presence
As with most SOF units, operational information and details of an international presence are often classified. The reason for secrecy is most often a legitimate one. However, below is some openly available information on the global presence of the FSK and MJK.
Operating alongside other SOF units, namely the British Special Air Service (SAS), FSK conducted several operations during the Kosovo conflict. When pushing for a peace deal between the Serbians and the Kosovo Albanians, FSK was the first SOF unit to enter the town of Pristina in order to promote negotiation and mission success [source].
Since 2016, the Norwegian Armed Forces have been operating in Jordan, fighting ISIL. FSK has conducted joint exercises with Jordanian special forces since 9 April 2019. More recently, in September 2020, Norwegian SOF units spent two weeks in Jordan [source].
Between 2001 to 2021, NORSOCOM had an established presence in Afghanistan. During this time, Norwegian SOF units were conducting a broad range of demanding missions, including:
7.3.1. Operation Anaconda
Between 2001-2002 the FSK participated in Operation Anaconda, fighting Al-Qaeda and Taliban insurgents in the mountainous areas of southeastern Afghanistan. President George W. Bush later awarded the Norwegian contribution the Presidential Unit Citation.
7.3.2. Operation Enduring Freedom
In 2003, the Norwegian SOF conducted operations in southern Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom. Further on, they operated in northern Helmand during the Winter of 2005-2006. Orlogskaptein Trond André Bolle led the Norwegian contribution. In 2011, Bolle was posthumously awarded the Norwegian War Cross with swords for the operation.
Between 2008-2009, NORSOCOM units participated in the ISAF mission. They trained and gave consultation to the Afghan police’s unit CRU 222 to prevent attacks in Kabul. The main objectives were to gather information and arrest insurgent leaders.
7.3.4. Resolute Support Mission
FSK and MJK were deployed to the NATO-operation Resolute Support Mission between 2015 and 2021. The mission focused on training and consulting CRU 222. The contribution is the longest in Norwegian history, Including several demanding missions. Among them is the rescue operation of the Norwegian citizen Arne Strand, who the MJK rescued during a terrorist attack on Hotel Intercontinental on 20 January 2018 [source].
Following a Swedish invitation, Norway sent a few soldiers, along with two officers, to take part in the Swedish contingent of Task Force Takuba. The Norwegian parliament initially rejected a contribution to Takuba, arguing their presence should be through international bodies like MINUSMA or EUTM Mali. However, the small contribution signified an ambition to promote European cooperation and enhance the Scandinavian contribution.
8.0. What’s Next?
The contemporary development in Europe and the emergence of Russian active measures in Europe and Norway present a new security environment calling for action. Norwegian energy assets make up a high-value target for Norway’s opponents, highlighting the purpose and focus of NORSOCOM units. Furthermore, international terrorism, mainly developments by the Islamic State (IS) in former operational environments in the Sahel, is a still developing threat with spill-over to the coastal West African states.
With important transport routes being more accessible in the Arctic region and a tense security situation, the importance of the Norwegian SOF capabilities for NATO and European security is striking. The importance of adequate military resources to operate efficiently in the Arctic will increase, which will call for closer relationships and cooperation with the SOF in the Arctic countries. Here, the FSK, as part of the most capable operators acting in the Arctic environment, constitutes a crucial actor in terms of capability and enhancing regional security.