The Italian Special Forces

The Italian special forces are Italian units designed to conduct special operations. These units are from distinct branches such as the Italian Armed Forces, the Navy, the Air Force, and the Arma dei Carabinieri.

The first special forces units were formed during the First World War, in 1917, and they consisted of the so-called Arditi, which were specialised soldiers.

The main tasks of the Italian Special Forces are:

  • Counterterrorism operations
  • Direct Actions operations such as sabotages, search and rescue, reconnaissance
  • Evacuation of Italian personnel from hostile countries or areas
  • Military support
  • Special reconnaissance

Italian Special Forces’ Branches

The Tier-1 units part of the Italian Special Forces are six and they belong to four different branches.

Tier-1

Within the Italian Armed Forces there are the 9th Paratroopers Assault Regiment “Col Moschin”, the 4° Reggimento Alpini Paracadutisti “Monte Cervino”, and the 185th Paratroopers Reconnaissance Target Acquisition Regiment “Folgore” (Army).

The fourth special forces unit is the Operational Raiders Group (GOI – Gruppo Operativo Incursori) and it is part of the Italian Navy.

Within the Italian Air Force, there is the 17th Raiders Wing and, within the Arma dei Carabinieri, there is the Special Intervention Group (GIS – Gruppo di Intervento Speciale).

Tier-2

Moreover, there are Tier-2 units tasked of support the special forces units, which are defined as “unità di supporto operative per operazioni speciali” (operative support units for special operations).

  • 3rd Special Operations Helicopter Regiment “Aldebaran” (Army)
  • 21st Tiger Group of the 9th Stormo “Francesco Baracca” (Air Force)
  • Airborne Assault unit of the 1st Helicopter Group of the Italian Navy
  • 11th Signal Regiment (Army)
  • 28th Regiment “Pavia” (Army)

Tier-3

There are also Tier-3 units which can support the planning and the operativity of a mission. Also defined as “unità di coronamento per operazioni speciali” (crowning units for special operations), these units are:

  • 183rd Paratroopers Regiment “Nembo” (Army)
  • 186th Paratroopers Regiment “Folgore” (Army)
  • 187th Paratroopers Regiment “Folgore” (Army)
  • Lagunari Regiment “Serenissima” (Army)
  • The 3rd Regiment “Savoia Cavalleria” (Army)
  • Combat support unit of the 1st San Marco Regiment (Navy)
  • 1st Carabinieri Paratroopers Regiment “Tuscania” (Carabinieri)
  • Fuciliere dell’aria of the 16th Wing of “Forces Protection” (Air Force)

Joint Special Forces Operations Command (COFS)

The COFS (Comando interforze per le operazioni delle forze speciali) is the Joint Special Forces Operations Command. Established on the 1st of December 2004, it is responsible, at the operational level, for the Tier-1 special forces units. If necessary, it can also ask the temporary control of the Tier-2 and Tier-3 units. The COFS is located at the Airport “Francesco Baracca” in Centocelle, which is also the first military airfield in Italy.

In 2008, NATO validated the Command as a NATO Component Command for Special Operations within the NATO Response Force framework. Since 2021, it reports into the Comando Operativo di Vertice Interforze (COVI – Joint Operations Command).

Italian Special Forces
Parachuting training on the occasion of the establishment of the COFS

The COFS’ motto is “etiam si omnes ego non”. It comes from S.Paolo and it highlights how the determination of a man would allow him to leave according to virtue and emerge from the crowd, taking advantage of his ethical and spiritual qualities.

Italian Special Forces
COFS badge

The Commando’s badge is a red shield which contains three swords. These swords represent the sky, the sea, and the Earth. They are kept by just one hand, and on the four corners of the shield, there are the symbols of the four Italian armed forces: Army, Navy, Air Force, and Carabinieri. The symbol of the swords and the hand was inspired by the “Oath of the Horatii”, a painting by the French artist Jacques-Louis David.

COFS’ Units

The COFS consists of six different units, which are:

  • 4° Reggimento Alpini Paracadutisti “Monte Cervino” (Army)

The Monte Cervino specialises in mountain combat and the Italian army officially established it on the 25th of September 2004. It took its origins from the 4th Alpini Paratroopers Regiment, which dates back to 1882. It also takes the name from the Battaglione Sciatori “Monte Cervino”. In 1999, the unit officially acquired the status of “Ranger”.

  • 9th Paratroopers Assault Regiment “Col Moschin” (Army)

The Col Moschin takes his origins from the 9th Assault Unit and the Arditi, during the First World War. This unit acquired its current title on the 24th of June 1995, and in 2019, in honour of the Arditi, the Col Moschin received the grey-green beret. This unit, considered the equivalent of the British SAS, is able to operate in all kinds of environments.

  • 17th Raiders Wing (Air Force)

Based in Furbara, Rome, this unit it is the “youngest” Italian special forces unit. Its origins date back to the Second World War and they are drawn from the ADRA (Arditi Distruttori della Regia Aeronautica). This unit often focuses on missions with a strong connotation of aviation.

Organisational chart of COFS
  • 185th Paratroopers Reconnaissance Target Acquisition Regiment “Folgore” (185º RRAO) (Army)

The 185th Paratroopers Reconnaissance Target Acquisition Regiment “Folgore” specialises in reconnaissance and target acquisition. It dates back to 1941 and it officially became part of the Italian Special forces in 2002. Only in 2017, this unit was upgraded to Tier-1 unit.

  • Operational Raiders Group (GOI – Gruppo Operativo Incursori) (Navy)

The GOI is part of the Comando Raggruppamento Subacquei e Incursori “Teseo Tesei” (COMSUBIN). Its origins can be found in the Decima Flottiglia MAS during the Second World War. In the 1970s, the SAS also trained the GOI, especially for hostage rescue and counterterrorism missions.

  • Special Intervention Group (GIS – Gruppo di Intervento Speciale) (Carabinieri)

The Italian government established the GIS on the 6th of February 1978, due to an increase in terrorist attacks in Italy. The GIS has both civil and military responsibilities. It received training from the German Grenzschutzgruppe 9, the GOI, and the British SAS.

Army Special Forces Command (COMFOSE)

In September 2013 the Italian Army established the COMFOSE (Comando delle Forze Speciali dell’Esercito), which is the Army Special Forces Command. The main task of the COMFOSE is to standardise the different methods and processes of training for the Italian special forces units.

The COMFOSE is based in S. Piero a Grado, Pisa.

Italian Special Forces
COMFOSE Badge

Its badge is a red shield, and it consists of a silver legionary eagle who is grasping a silver sword.

The special forces of the COMFOSE are:

  • 9th Paratroopers Assault Regiment “Col Moschin”
  • 4° Reggimento Alpini Paracadutisti “Monte Cervino”
  • 185th Paratroopers Reconnaissance Target Acquisition Regiment “Folgore”, part of the COMFOSE since 2014.
  • 28th Regiment Pavia

The 28th Regiment Pavia unit is based in Pesaro and, in 2004, it became the Psychological Operations unit of the Italian Army. Their training focuses on foreign languages, communication systems, HUMINT, and the analysis of the different socio-anthropological realities which characterise a specific area.

Organisational chart of COMFOSE
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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