SRR: The UK Army Special Reconnaissance Regiment

1.0 Introduction

The  Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR) is a `Tier 1´ special reconnaissance unit of the British Army that conducts a wide range of covert surveillance and reconnaissance for the United Kingdom Special Forces (UKSF). Much of the information about the SRR is highly classified. The unit is not commented on by either the British government or the Ministry of Defence (MoD) due to the secrecy and sensitivity of its operations.

The SRR was established on 6 April 2005 to have a specialised unit conduct covert surveillance and reconnaissance instead of the Special Air Service (SAS) and the Special Boat Service (SBS), which conduct a broader set of operations. Like these units, the SRR is under the operational command of the Director of Special Forces (DSF) and is part of the UKSF.

In this article, we analyse the history of the unit, its purpose and organisation, and its most relevant operations.

2.0  Symbols and History 

2.1 Symbols

The emblem of the SRR consists of a Corinthian-style helmet (Argos) on a blade which resembles the mythical sword Excalibur. Below is the word “RECONNAISSANCE” on a scroll (source).  

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Cap badge of the Special Reconnaissance Regiment. (Source). 

2.2 History

2.2.1 The creation of the UKSF

In 1987, the British Command created the United Kingdom Special Forces (UKSF), when the post of Director of the Special Air Service (SAS) became Director of Special Forces (DFS). The UKSF was born when the MoD assigned the DSF control of both the SAS and the Navy’s Special Boat Squadron, which would later be renamed as Special Boat Service (SBS). 

Since then, the directorate has expanded with the creation and unification of new units. In 2001, they created the Joint Special Forces Aviation Wing (JSFAW) which specialises in covert battlefield insertion and extraction. This consists of the 7th Squadron (RAF) and the 658th Squadron (Army Air Corps). In 2005, the DSF created the Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR) to support the SAS and SBS in reconnaissance and surveillance tasks. That same year the MoD also created the 18th Signal Regiment. In 2006, the MoD expanded the Directorate with the Special Forces Support Group (SFSG). This unit serves as a quick-reaction force to assist Special Forces missions (source; source).

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UKSF Emblem (source).

These new British Special Forces regiments are designed to help in “the long war”. This responded to the need to have special forces made up of small, well-trained, and well-supported units that can act as “force multipliers” (source; source).

2.2.2 The SRR

The UKSF created the SRR on 6 April 2005. This was to relieve the Special Air Service (SAS) and the Special Boat Service (SBS) of the reconnaissance and surveillance function. The unit acts as a combination of SAS and normal infantry. The idea behind the SRR is that it supports the reduced numbers of SAS by moving in and out of an operation. It is based alongside the SAS at the Stirling Lines barracks, Herefordshire (source). 

The UKSF created the SRR to meet the demand for a special reconnaissance capability identified in the 2002 “Strategic Defense Review (SDR) New Chapter”. This was a response to the 9/11 attacks. The regiment formed around a core of the already established 14 Intelligence Company (`The Det´). This unit, created in 1973, played a similar role against the Provisional IRA in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.

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r/MilitaryPorn - British SRR (UKSF) Operators [629x439]
SRR operators at an unidentified location. Source

3.0 Purpose

The UKSF created the SRR, and other SF regiments, to help in the “long war” and asymmetric war. This responds to the need for special forces of small, well-trained, and well-supported units operating on battlefields where combat lines are poorly defined and enemies mix among friends. These special forces are understood as “force multipliers”. This means small teams of operators can achieve results comparable to those of larger forces (source; source).

The SRR deploys to support both special forces and existing conventional forces in a variety of military operations. Its main tasks are:

Today, much of the surveillance and reconnaissance (SR) function of the UKSF falls to the SRR. This has freed up 22 SAS, the SBS and the SFSG to focus on offensive action alongside influence and support. In collaboration with members of the 18th Signals Regiment (UKSF), the SRR also provides tactical signals intelligence (SIGINT) for special operations missions.

Aside from these traditional tasks, the role of British special forces today is very focused on waging the global war on terrorism. The SRR, along with the other UKSF units, is therefore increasingly prepared for irregular and asymmetric combat.

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SRR operators during a training exercise. (Image courtesy of YouTube.com).
SRR operators during a training exercise. (Source).

3.1 SRR Doctrine

The SRR has unique capabilities to conduct special reconnaissance and close target reconnaissance (CTR) operations, as well as advanced force operations (AFO).

The SRR’s mission is very specific, although its operators are highly skilled in specialised disciplines to carry out different types of very demanding missions. Its competencies are mainly oriented towards providing covert reconnaissance and intelligence, in particular SIGINT, to other special forces. The SRR is therefore specialised in intelligence gathering and ISTAR. The SRR is especially intended to support the SAS and SBS in their operations. This is to free them from these tasks which allows them to focus on direct action (DA). In addition to support and influence, when required, the SRR is also oriented towards offensive action (OA).

This highly specialised and secretive unit is known for carrying out some of the most dangerous and challenging missions in the world.

The SRR was formed based on the 75th Ranger Regiment’s Regimental Reconnaissance Company (RRC) belonging to the US JSOC. The SRR also performs intelligence tasks for the UKSF which is similar to the JSOC Intelligence Support Activity (ISA).

4.0 SRR Organisation

The SRR is part of the United Kingdom Special Forces (UKSF). This is a directorate that manages the assigned joint capabilities of the three-armed services. The SRR is under the operational command of the Director of Special Forces (DSF). The DSF is a senior role within the Ministry of Defence (MoD). The DSF is also the head of the UKSF, which reports to the so-called Strategic Command (StratCom). The StratCom was formerly known as the Joint Forces Command (JFC). They are governed by the Permanent Joint Headquarters (PJHQ) which are located at Northwood Headquarters (source). 

The SRR headquarters (HQ) is located in Stirling Lines, Hereford, England (source). Not much information is available on this unit. At the time of its formation, the MoD announced that the SRR would consist of between 500 and 600 operators (source

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5.0 Recruitment and Training

5.1 Recruitment

The UK Joint Special Forces Selection (UKSFS) is the selection and training process for candidates for the UK Special Forces. This includes SAS, SBS and SRR. SAS and SBS personnel undergo a joint selection process culminating in the award of a sand-coloured beret to SAS personnel. After this, SBS candidates undergo further selection for the title of Canoe Swimmer, and SAS personnel receive additional specialist training. SRR candidates go through the aptitude phase, before moving on to their specialised training in covert surveillance and reconnaissance (source).

5.2 Selection

All current members of the UK Armed Forces are eligible for selection into the Special Forces. However, the majority of candidates historically come from the Royal Marines or the Parachute Regiment (source). Selections are twice a year, once in summer and once in winter. 

To be eligible for selection, a candidate must be under 32 years of age (30 for officers). They must have also served in the military for at least two years. They must also be recommended for service in the UKSF by their commanding officer (CO) (source).

The training and selection process for candidates lasts approximately 32 weeks (6 months). After completing this initial training, candidates join the regiment as troop soldiers. Here they receive additional basic training related to their speciality. The entire training process for UKSF personnel can take up to three years. However, this depends on the availability of specialized training programs (source; source).

Briefing Assessment Course (BAC)

This five-day programme tests basic fitness and skills such as swimming and map reading. The swim test consists of a high-water entry (10m) and treading water for 9 minutes. Following is 500m of timed swimming and then a 10m underwater swim to retrieve a small weight from the bottom of the water. Candidates are then interviewed individually about their motivation for joining the UKSF (source).

Phase 1: Aptitude

The second phase of selection is known as the endurance or fitness and navigation stage. It is commonly referred to as the “Hills Phase”. The hill stage lasts 4 weeks and takes place in the Brecon Beacons and Black Hills in South Wales. Candidates have to perform increasingly difficult loaded marches, navigating between checkpoints individually using only a compass and hand-drawn sketch map. It is the endurance part of the selection and tests the candidate’s physical fitness and his or her mental toughness. To pass this phase, a high level of determination and self-confidence is vital.

The endurance phase culminates in “the long haul” or “Long Drag”. This is a 40-mile (64 km) trek carrying a 55-pound (25 kg) bergen. This part must be completed in less than 20 to 24 hours. Candidates cannot use paths and trails.

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A member of British Armed Forces training in the Brecon Beacons, potentially on UKSF Selection, above Llyn y Fan Fawr. (Source).

Phase 2: SF Techniques

After this phase, SRR candidates go through an arduous selection and training process. This phase lasts 8 weeks. Candidates train in various special forces techniques. This includes resistance to interrogation, escape and evasion (SERE), close combat (CQB) high altitude low opening (HALO) and high altitude high opening (HAHO) parachuting. This process is independent but based on the SAS and SBS selection.

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Phase 3: Specialized Training

After passing this selection, the SRR’s specialisation differs from the other units. This divergence focuses on intelligence gathering. Given the importance of photography in surveillance, candidates learn basic skills up to infrared night photography. They also study how to hide visual recording devices inside their clothing. Candidates learn numerous surveillance methods. This includes camouflage and concealment, remaining hidden on rooftops, covert surveillance of a target on foot, and conducting vehicle surveillance. Each operator develops the ability to observe, follow and communicate covertly by radio.

Operators also study how to install electronic listening devices (wiretaps) and covert cameras. They learn how to place tracking devices in vehicles, weapons depots and on individuals. They also learn to pick locks and copy keys to facilitate covert entry into homes and businesses and to be able to place listening devices without being exposed. SRR operators also learn the language skills best suited to their area of operations.

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SRR Beret at the National Army Museum, Chelsea. (Source).

5.3 After Selection

Typically, only 10% of candidates make it through the initial UKSF selection process. From a pool of approximately 200 candidates, most will drop out in the first few days, and fewer than 30 will remain at the end (source; source).

SRR personnel retain the uniforms of their parent organizations with the addition of an “emerald grey” beret and SRR cap insignia (source).

6.0  Equipment

It is not known what equipment the SRR operators have. In 2005, a spokesperson said the MoD could not comment on SRR funding for “security reasons” (source). However, it is highly likely that apart from the standard range of weapons used by the British Army, SRR men have access to a wider selection of firearms and other weapons than the average British soldier. The operators are likely to use similar equipment to SAS and SBS.

6.1 Weapons

Guns

Glock 17(T) /19; local denomination L131A1/L132A1 and L137A1

Rifles

  • C8 Carbine; local denomination L119A1/A2 (source)
  • KS-1 Carbine; local denomination L403A1 (Royal Marines) (source)
  • SA80 A2 L85 (standard British Armed Forces rifle)
  • M6A2 UCIW
  • HK G3, HK 33/53, HK G63

Others

  • Arwen 37 (tear gas canister launcher)
  • Flash-Bang (stun grenade)
  • ACOG Sights (rifle scope)
  • AN/PEQ-2 (laser attachment)
  • Laser Target Designators (LTD)
  • Personal Role Radio (PRR)
  • FIST Thermal Sight (FTS)

Furthermore, to achieve its mission, the SRR counts modern electronic instruments. These may include but are not limited to, high-quality cameras and listening devices, as well as rangefinders and laser designators to pinpoint the exact location of a target. They must also have electronic and technical countermeasures, such as burst transmission, that help reduce the chances of being located (source).

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6.2 Personal Equipment

Not much information is available on the personal equipment of its operators except for photos. The SRR operators are likely to use similar equipment to SAS and SBS.

Helmet

UKSF forces use the Ops-Core Future Assault Shell Technology (FAST) helmet, also known as the FAST helmet (source).

Combat body armour

The standard Royal Marines combat ballistic/plate-carrying body armour is the C2R CBAV (Commando Ballistic Armour Vest), which forms the core of the Modular Commando Assault System (source).

Respirator

The Royal Marines use General Service Respirator (GSR) which replaces the old S10 respirator. This respirator is used by the (source).

Uniforms

As part of the Future Commando Force program, the standard uniform for the Royal Marines since 2020 is the standard Crye Precision design with a MultiCam camouflage pattern. It replaces the Multi-Terrain Pattern Personal Clothing System uniform previously used, which continues to be used by the rest of the British Armed Forces (source).

7.0  Notable Operations 

In the last decade, the SRR and other British special forces have been involved in covert operations in 19 countries. Due to the secret nature of its mission, its activity inside and outside the country is rarely public. 

The following is a list of the most important SRR operations:

7.1 From 2005 to 2010

  • 2001-2014. War in Afghanistan.
    • The SRR deployed several times to Afghanistan, supporting the SAS and SBS in pursuing high-value Taliban leadership targets (source). 
    • On 27 June 2006, a 16-man unit formed by the SAS C Squadron, the SBS and the SRR carried out Operation Ilois. This operation covertly captured four Taliban leaders in compounds outside Sangin, Helmand province (source).
  • 2003-11. Iraq War.
    • The SRR was active during the Iraq War as part of Task Force Black/Knight alongside the SAS and SBS, as well as the American Delta and DEVGRU (source).
  • 2005. Islamic Terrorism in the UK.
    • In the aftermath of the 21 July 2005 London bombings, the SRR attached one of its members to each of the Metropolitan Police Service’s surveillance teams to provide additional capacity to an overstretched SO12 (Special Branch of the “Met” Police) (source).
  • 2009. Dissident Irish Republican Campaign.
    • In March 2009, Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde informed the Police Board of Northern Ireland that he had requested the deployment of the SRR to Northern Ireland. This was to assist the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) in collecting information from intelligence on dissident republicans (source; source).
    • In April 2011, the Telegraph reported that an SRR surveillance team had spent three weeks tracking a four-man cell belonging to Óglaigh na hÉireann (ONH), a dissident Irish republican paramilitary group operating in Northern Ireland and made up of members who split from the Real IRA. Members of the SRR worked with the Metropolitan Police’s Counter Terrorism Command (source).

7.2 From 2010 to Today

  • 2011. First Libyan Civil War.
    • In late July 2011, a joint team consisting of 24 men from the 22 SAS D Squadron and the SRR deployed to Libya to train and assist anti-Gaddafi groups during the Libyan civil war (source).
  • 2016. Yemen and Somalia.
    • In April 2016, it was reported that members of the SRR were seconded to MI6 teams in Yemen to train Yemeni forces fighting Al-Qaeda, as well as to identify targets for drone strikes (source; source). Along with the SAS, they have been playing a similar role in Somalia (source; source). 

8.0 Summary

In the context of growing demands on special forces units, the SRR was created to shoulder the burden of covert reconnaissance and surveillance missions. Its success has led British authorities to view the unit as a useful tool that can be deployed quickly and safely around the world. The SRR emerged in response to new threats derived from terrorism. This is how the SRR, like the UK Special Forces Directorate, is now an expert in responding to this threat.

The SRR is today a lethal and flexible force on the battlefield. This unit loyally fulfils its mission, providing other special forces, as well as the rest of the British Armed Forces, with precious information to accomplish their missions. Its history, training and weaponry make this unit highly effective and efficient in its field. For this reason, the British military and political authorities entrust him with the most dangerous and delicate missions. In an increasingly hostile world, and given the continued need to respond to threats, the SRR is more than likely to play an important supporting role wherever British and Allied interests lie.

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