NORSOCOM: Norway’s Special Operations Command

1.0. Background

Since the formation of Norway’s Special Operations Command (NORSOCOM) the global and regional security situation has changed alongside Norway’s defence and foreign policy objectives. However, the traditions of Norway’s special operations Forces date to the Second World War (WWII) and the Special Operations Executive (SOE). Norwegian Independent Company No. 1 stands out as the most prominent among the Norwegian units serving under British control. The unit, better known as Kompani Linge, conducted extensive intelligence and sabotage operations during the German occupation [source].

The Norwegian armed forces shut down the British-trained units after the war. Still, they regained attention in 1953 when establishing the predecessor to today’s Marinejegerkommandoen (MJK). Drawing on a small specialised group within the Norwegian Navy, MJK was organised and trained to carry out intelligence and sabotage operations on land and underwater.

Norway special operations new and old

When establishing the Norwegian Army’s parachute school in 1962, they developed a special unit similar to Kompani Linge. The unit, later known as Hærens Jegerkommando (HJK), went on operating with a similar focus as MJK but on land. With an increasing terrorist threat came the decision to establish a new unit in the late 1970s, Forsvarets spesialkommando (FSK). What today is known only as FSK is a merger of the former FSK and HJK [source].

1.1 Further evolution

Initially, the two branches of Norwegian special operations forces were coordinated from the nation’s military branches, i.e., the navy and the army. The units evolved over the years to the extent that they often brought similar capabilities to the same theatres conducting no significant joint operations. The need to bring them into a common structure became apparent, and in 2014, the MJK and FSK were taken out of their respective branches and placed under the joint command of the NORSOCOM [source; source].

Apart from MJK and FSK, the 339 Special Operations Aviation Squadron (339 SOAS) constitutes a third component within NORSOCOM. Initially established in 1956 as a fighter squadron, it was reorganised in 1964 into a helicopter squadron. Until 2019, the 339 Squadron’s primary task was to provide tactical support for the Army. Today, the SOAS is specially adapted and designed to support Norway’s SOF units [source; source].

Furthermore, the need for an all-female unit became evident during the Norwegian missions in Afghanistan during the contribution to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Hence, the all-female Jegertroppen was created in 2014 and is today a part of the FSKs education department and the Norwegian paratroopers, Fallskjermjegerkommandoen [source; source].

Operators from Forsvarets Spesialkommando (FSK), Norway 2019. Image: Torbjørn Kjosvold.

2.0. NORSOCOM Units

The Norwegian armed forces’ special command is a standing operational department with full-time enlisted soldiers, which is organised into combat squadrons.

2.1. FSK

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 and is widely recognised worldwide.

The organisation selects and trains spesialjeger, the SOF operators. Moreover, FSK has its department for training conscripts within Jegertroppen and Fallskjermjegerkommandoen [source].

FSK Operators during an exercise in Norway 2022. Image: Torbjørn Kjosvold.

2.2. MJK

MJK is the maritime component of NORSOCOM. The organisation is developed to solve highly complex tasks on land, air, and sea independently and with high precision. The core within MJK is the Marinejeger, soldiers selected and trained to conduct a broad spectrum of special operations whenever and wherever necessary. After basic training, the marinejeger specialises in a specific area, such as sniper, attack controller, or K9 handler. Furthermore, the MJK trains spesialbåtoperatører, i.e., special boat operators responsible for transporting and manoeuvring high-speed boats [source].

The special boat operators make up an essential part of Norway’s maritime capability. The operators are specialists in mobility and manoeuvring several seagoing vessels conducting special missions at sea and along the coasts of Norway. They solve tasks under the most demanding conditions independently and in close cooperation with the marinejeger units. The special boat operators also conduct counter-terror operations with Norwegian police units when necessary [source].

The MJK headquarters is located at Haakonsvern Naval Base in Bergen. Its close distance to the civil sea defence, offshore industry, and large populations on the Vestlandet allows for great training opportunities and quick response time. Moreover, a training- and readiness facility is located at Ramsund Naval base, which offers excellent training opportunities in the Arctic environment [source; source].

Operators from Marinejegerkommandoen. Image: Torbjørn Kjosvold.

2.3. 339 SOAS

The 339 SOAS is a helicopter squadron developed to assist and support FSK and MJK [source]. The unit is subordinate to the 134 Air Wing in the Norwegian Air Force. Also, it is coordinated on a tactical level by the SOF command. It has its headquarters at the Rygge air station. In addition, and apart from SOF support, the 339 SOAS is continuously alert for enforcement assistance in collaboration with the police emergency squad [source].

3.0. NORSOCOM Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures

As with most SOF units, tactical information and equipment details are often classified. Therefore, even though not intended as an exhaustive list, below is some available information on weapons, vehicles, and selection processes used and conducted by Norwegian SOF units.

FSK Operator during an exercise in Norway, 2020. Image: Torbjørn Kjosvold.

3.1. Weapons

Assault rifles

  • Colt Canada C8SFW and C8CQB
  • Heckler & Koch HK416

Submachine guns

  • Heckler & Koch MP5
  • Heckler & Koch MP7

Sniper rifles

  • Heckler & Koch MSG-90
  • Heckler & Koch HK417
  • Accuracy International AWM
  • Barrett MRAD
  • M82 Barrett

Pistols

  • Heckler & Koch USP
  • Glock 17

Grenade launchers

  • Heckler & Koch AG36 (for C8SFW)
  • M320 Grenade Launcher Module (for Heckler & Koch 416)
  • Heckler & Koch GMG (for Mercedes Benz SF vehicles)

Machine guns

  • FN Minimi
  • FN Mag
  • Browning M2

Shotguns

  • Remington 870
  • Benelli M4

Anti-tank weapons

  • M72 LAW
  • Carl Gustaf 8.4 cm recoilless rifle

[source; source; source].

3.2. Vehicles

3.2.1. FSK

  • Geländewagen/MB270 CDI FAV vehicle armoured and EOD protected with three weapon stations (2 MG3 and 1 M2 or GMG).
  • Supacat HMT Extenda vehicle [source].

3.2.2. MJK

  • Goldfish 36 RIB (modified version) by Goldfish Boats AS [source].

3.2.3. 339 SOAS

  • Bell-Boeing CV-22 Osprey aircraft
  • Bell 412 SP helicopter [source; source].

3.3. Selection and physical requirements

3.3.1. Spesialjeger

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 [source].
Selection

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. In essence, the general selection is a three 3-week process that extends over two years. It includes one year of training as a conscript within various special forces disciplines, followed by one trial year at an operational squadron. Also, the applicant is assessed continuously along the way regarding progression, learning ability, and motivation. In the end, service during the trial year makes very high demands on professionalism and professional 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. The first four weeks are spent 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 seven7-week patrol course at Rena, followed by five weeks of training in the jungle. Winter and urban warfare courses and maritime counterterrorism counter-terror courses are conducted 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.

FSK Operators during an exercise in Norway, 2019. Image: Torbjørn Kjosvold.

3.3.2. Jegertroppen

Minimum physical requirements

  • 2 pull-ups
  • 20 push-ups
  • 35 sit-ups in 2 minutes
  • 20 back extensions
  • Swim 200 metres, 10 metres underwater

First selection

  • 7 km packing run with your own 22 kg bag
  • Attire: sportswear and trainers
  • Time requirement: 54 minutes

Before the conscript process

  • 7 km packing run with a 22 kg bag provided
  • Outfit: uniform, marching boots and weapons
  • Time requirement: 54 minutes [source].
Jegertroppen operator during winter warfare training
Jegertroppen operator during winter warfare training.

3.3.3. Fallskjermjeger

Minimum physical requirements

  • 5 pull-ups
  • 30 push-ups
  • 35 sit-ups in 2 minutes
  • 20 back extensions
  • Swim 400 metres

First selection

  • 7 km packing run with your own 22 kg bag
  • Attire: sportswear and trainers
  • Time requirement: 45 minutes

Before the conscript process

  • 7 km packing run with a 22 kg bag provided
  • Outfit: uniform, marching boots and weapons
  • Time requirement: 49 minutes [source].

3.3.4. Marinejeger

Minimum physical requirements

  • Pull-ups – 8
  • Push-ups – 45
  • Brutal bench – 14
  • Swimming 400 metres – 10 minutes
  • Swimming underwater – 25 metres
  • Running 5 kilometres – 25 minutes
  • 15 kilometres rucking 20 kg rucksack + weapon – 2 hours, 30 minutes
  • Lifesaving test – 4,5 minutes

The results above are primarily indicators of the bare minimum. They are by no means a guarantee of passing the initial selection. Last year, the average results were as follows:

  • Pull-ups – 12
  • Push-ups – 51
  • Brutal bench – 17
  • Swimming 400 metres – 7 minutes 33 seconds
  • Swimming 25 metres underwater – pass
  • Running 5 kilometres – 21 minutes 13 seconds
  • Lifesaving test – 3 minutes 30 seconds [source].

Selection

The first criterion for eligibility to the MJK is at least ten months of initial service. After the initial physical tests, a 22-week-long selection process follows at the Dykker- og Froskemannsskolen at Haakonsvern Naval Station outside Bergen. After that, further training awaits at the Ramsund Naval Station [source]. Before finishing the selection process, as one of the final phases, candidates carry 60 kg on marches when chased by the “enemy”. The exercise transitions into SERE training when caught [source].

Like the FSK process, continuous assessment characterises the MJK training. Continuous evaluation in demanding situations characterises the MJK training. The applicant must pass every moment of the training to proceed. After completing the 1-year training, the applicant continues with specialised training until completion [source].

A Marinjegerkommandoen operator during an exercise in Norway, 2020. Image: Torbjørn Kjosvold.

3.3.5. Special boat operators

Minimum physical requirements

  • Pull-ups – ​8
  • Push-ups – 45
  • Sit-ups – 40 in 2 minutes
  • Swimming 400 m – 10 minutes
  • Swimming underwater 25 m – Pass
  • Running 5000 m – 25 minutes
  • Running 3000 m – 12 minutes
  • Lifesaving test – 4 minutes 30 seconds

The results above are primarily indicators of the bare minimum. They are by no means a guarantee of passing the initial selection. Last year, the average results were as follows:

  • Running 5000 m – 23:38
  • Pull-ups – 11
  • Push-ups – 50
  • Sit-ups – 58
  • Swimming 400 m – 07:53
  • Swimming underwater 25 m – Pass
  • Life-saving test – 03:16 [source].

4.0. NORSOCOM International Missions

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 NORSOCOM units.

MJK Operators training Afghan Special Police Unit 222 (CRU222). Image: Torbjørn Kjosvold.

4.1. FSK & MJK

4.1.1 Bosnia-Hercegovina

Between 1999-2000, MJK led the Norwegian Joint Commission Observers contribution as a part of the NATO-led Implementation Force (IFOR) and Stabilisation Force (SFOR) in Bosnia-Hercegovina. The mission was the first Norwegian international special operation conducted since WWII [source].

4.1.2. Kosovo

Operating alongside other SOF units, namely the British Special Air Service (SAS), FSK conducted several operations during the Kosovo conflict. For example, when pushing for a peace deal between the Serbians and the Kosovo Albanians, FSK was the first SOF unit to enter Pristina to promote negotiation and mission success [source].

4.1.3. Somalia

During the Autumn of 2009, a unit from the MJK embarked on the frigate KNM Fridtjof Nansen as a part of the European Union’s (EU) maritime operation Atalanta. The mission was to counter piracy outside the coast of Somalia, in the Gulf of Aden, and in the Indian Ocean. Similar contributions were sent in 2013 under the command of NATO’s Operation Ocean Shield [source].

4.1.4. Jordan

Since 2016, the Norwegian Armed Forces have been operating in Jordan, fighting ISIL. FSK has conducted joint exercises with Jordanian special forces since April 9th 2019. More recently, during two weeks in September 2020 [source].

4.1.5. Operation Inherent Resolve

In 2014, FSK took part in Operation Inherent Resolve in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria. Norwegian special forces also contributed to the fight against the terrorist organisation by training Iraqi security forces [source].

4.1.6. Afghanistan

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:

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.

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. The Norwegian contribution was led by orlogskaptein Trond André Bolle, who, in 2011 and for the first time since WWII, was posthumously awarded the Norwegian War Cross with swords for the operation.

ISAF

Between 2008-2009, NORSOCOM units participated in the ISAF mission. They trained and gave consultation to the Afghan police unit CRU 222 to prevent attacks in Kabul. The main objectives were to gather information and arrest insurgent leaders.

Resolute Support Mission

Between 2015 and 2021, FSK and MJK were deployed to the NATO-operation Resolute Support Mission. The mission focused on training and consulting CRU 222. The contribution is the longest in Norwegian history and was characterised by several demanding tasks. Among them is the rescue operation of the Norwegian citizen Arne Strand, who the MJK rescued during a terrorist attack on Hotel Intercontinental on January 20th 20th, 2018 [source].

4.2. Jegertroppen

Jegertroppen has yet to be deployed on special operation missions abroad [source].

4.3. 339 SOAS

  • Bosnia in 1992
  • Kosovo in 1996
  • Afghanistan between 2008-2012 [source].

5.0. Summary

Since the formation of NORSOCOM the global and regional security situation has changed as well as Norway’s defence and foreign policy objectives. As Norway constitutes a target of Russian active measures and covert operations, there are prospects of an increased national focus on the country’s SOF capabilities, primarily protecting critical energy infrastructure and conducting counterterrorism and counter-intelligence operations. History has shown a significant degree of adaptability among NORSOCOM units. This valuable capability will most likely generate an efficient response to the developments among Norway’s neighbours, countering domestic and foreign threats.

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