The Ukrainian Special Operations Forces (UASOF) are a special operations command and one of the five branches of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Born and based in Kyiv in 2017. Moreover, UASOFs are often tasked with dangerous and politically sensitive operations, which other regular units would not be able to conduct.
The UASOF motto is “I Come At You!” (Іду на ви! In Ukrainian) and is from Sviatoslav The Brave, a Grand Prince of Kyiv in the 10th century. Known for his bravery, Sviatoslav managed to defeat great armies and expand his reign.
The emblem of the Special Operations Forces represents a silver wolf with a gold belt. Behind the wolf, there is a wreath of silver leaves. The motto is written on a gold ribbon under the wreath.
1. History of Ukrainian Special Operations Forces
The Special Forces Command was founded from remnant units of the Ukrainian Chief Directorate of Intelligence (HUR), which were originally formed from Ukrainian-based Soviet GRU Spetsnaz (then Ukrainian SSR).
In 2007, the then Defence Minister Hrytsenko published a document describing the creation of the Special Operations Forces. The Office of the UASOF and the training centre were officially formed and the training with the US special forces began.
However, in 2011, the Ukrainian MoD decided to dismantle the Special Operations.
At the beginning of 2014, during the Crimea Crisis, most of the Ukrainian military units were already deployed around the world, such as in Kosovo and Somalia. Consequently, the government decided to call the Ukrainian Spetsnaz forces. These forces were inherited from the Soviet armed forces and were the only ones at that time suitable to defend Ukraine.
During that period, Ukrainian Spetsnaz forces were able to neutralise terrorist cells, and clear cities captured by the enemy.
In September 2014, due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, specifically Crimea, and the threat that Russia was posing, the then Ukrainian President Poroshenko decided to accelerate the process to form again the UASOF.
In order to accomplish this task, first deputy commander and chief of staff of the Ukrainian airborne forces, Sergei Krivonos, was appointed as the head of the Special Operations Directorate of the General Staff of Ukraine. By the end of 2014, the unit was ready, with around 4,000 operatives.
1.1. A New Chapter for the UASOF
In April 2015, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces took the decision to give control of the UASOF to the Ministry of Defence. Consequently, the MoD decided to dismantle and restore the unit.
A new concept for the Special Operations Forces was provided in the Strategic Defence Bulletin of Ukraine on the 5th of January 2016.
The MoD of Ukraine then appointed Major General Igor Lunvov as Commander of the UASOF and Krivonos as the First Deputy Commander. After the first 29 recruits graduated from the UASOF training, President Poroshenko decided to establish the Special Operations Forces Day on the 29th of July.
Three years later, on the 24th of June 2019, the 140th Special Operations Forces Centre, a unit of the UASOF, became eligible to join the NATO Response Force (NRF). The NRF is a multinational force that consists of air, land, sea, and special forces units. Its main features are its high readiness and its technological advance.
For the first time, a non-NATO unit was certified as a Special Operations Forces (SOF) unit.
In that same year, the MoD decided to implement a new course of information and psychological operations, to add skills to the UASOF operators.
Due to the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence increased the number of operators of the Special Operations Forces, adding 1,000 members. The current number of UASOF members is around 3,000.
2. Structure of the UASOF
In 2015, the structure of the UASOF deeply changed and expanded.
The Special Operations Forces are divided in:
Command of Special Operations Forces, based in Berdychiv, Zhytomyr region
- 99th Command and Support Battalion
- 142nd Education and Training Centre
Land warfare and special purpose units
- 3rd Special Purpose Regiment “Prince Svetoslav the Brave”, based in Kropyvnytskyi, Kirovograd region. The unit was formed on the basis of the Soviet 10th Special Purpose Brigade.
- 8th Special Purpose Regiment “Iziaslav Mstislavich”, formed on the basis of the Soviet 8th Special Purpose Brigade, is based in Khmelnitsky, Khmelnitsky region.
- 140th Special Operations Forces Centre, based in Khmelnitsky, Khmelnitsky. This is the most elite unit in the UASOF and it also took part in the hostilities in Donbass in 2014.
The tasks of these three units are special reconnaissance missions and direct-action operations.
Aviation special purpose unit
- 35th Mixed Aviation Squadron, based in Havryshiyka Air Base, Vinnytsia region. This unit is subordinate to the 456th Transport Aviation Brigade of the Air Force of Ukraine.
Established in 2019, this unit is mainly involved in the extraction, resupply, and rescue of small unit teams in Ukraine.
Naval special purpose unit
- 73rd Maritime Special Operations Centre, inspired by the Soviet 17th Naval Special Purpose Brigade, is based in Pervomaisky Island, Mykolaiv region.
This unit focuses on maintaining security in the Black Sea and also counterterrorism maritime missions.
Information and psychological warfare units
- 16th Information Warfare and Psychological Operations Centre, based in Huiva, Zhytomyr region
- 72nd Information Warfare and Psychological Operations Centre, based in Brovary, Kyiv region
- 74th Information Warfare and Psychological Operations Centre, based in Lviv
- 83rd Information Warfare and Psychological Operations Centre, based in Odessa
3. Responsibilities of the Special Operations Forces
The Law on Defence of the Ukrainian government defines a special operation as a set of interconnected and coordinated special actions. These actions both involve the Ukrainian Special Operations Forces (UASOF) and the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
The UASOF tasks include:
- Taking part in raids behind enemy lines
- Collecting intelligence
- Building an intelligence network
- Carrying out counterterrorism activities
- Being able to search and evacuate either hostages or prisoners
- Cooperating with international special forces units
- Carrying out psychological operations
- Participating in operations aimed to fight drug and arms trafficking
- Training of foreign police and armies
4. UASOF Training
The Special Operations Forces training centre is based in Khmelnitsky and this is where the recruits go through the UASOF Qualification Centre. The selection course, also funded by the United States, was developed with NATO partners from Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia.
The requirements to access the selection course are extremely high and only 10% of the candidates are usually selected.
The training program lasts five weeks and each week is characterised by harsh training and difficult tests aimed to bring down the weakest recruits.
- Swim for 100m
- Run for 3km with an average pace of 5 minutes per km
- Loaded march of 16km in less than three hours with a 14kg rucksack
- A test of general physical training such as push-ups, pull-ups, and sit-ups
- 50 squats carrying a 16kg rucksack
- Run for 8km with an average pace of 5 minutes per km
- Loaded march of 13km in less than two hours, carrying a 16kg rucksack
- Sets of push-ups and pull-ups
- 50 squats with an 18kg rucksack
- Run for 10km with an average pace of 4’20’’ per km
- Loaded march of 19km in less than four hours with an 18kg rucksack
- Sets of push-ups and pull-ups
- 50 squats with a 23kg rucksack
- Run for 10km with an average pace of 4’20’’ per km
- Loaded march of 29km in less than four hours and 45 minutes with a 23kg rucksack
- Swim for 500m
- Run for 5km with an average pace of 3’45’’ per km
- Loaded march of 29km in less than four hours and 30 minutes carrying a 23km rucksack
After completing the selection course, the UASOF training focuses on heavy weapons, combat medicine, gathering intelligence, mountain warfare, military freefall, and combat engineering.
5. UASOF Weapons and Equipment
The Special Operations Forces units are equipped with a variety of weapons including:
- Glock 17
- Glock 19
- Beretta M9
- Stechkin APS
- Makarov PM
- AK-74 (Fab Defense and Crook furniture, SRVV sling, Magpul FG, PEQ-15, Trijicon ACOG, EOTech and Aimpoint optics)
- Fort 221
- IPI Malyuk
- FN M4A1
- Fort 301 as a sniper rifle
- Barrett M82A3 as a sniper rifle
- Fort 401
- PKM light machine gun
- FGM-148 Javelin
- SAAB NLAW
- FIM-92 Stinger
- PKM and PKP
- RPG-7 or ATGL-L with PG-7M/PG-7L plus various others BULSPIKE-AT, 9K38 Igla, 9M111 and 9M113 ATGM
- Arc’teryx LEAF Minotaur Half Shell
- Ops Core FAST High-cut
- L3 Harris GPNVG-18 w/ battery pack
- Crye Precision High Back Blast Belt w/ suspenders
- WarTech UP-102 “Spotter” pouch
- MTAC AK single mag pouch
- Bastion “FORT” double grenade pouch
- USGI NODs pouch
- VX600 radio
Ukraine and, in particular, the UASOF received military equipment from various countries such as the United States.
In June 2020, the US State Department agreed to the selling of 16 SAFE Boats International Mark VI patrol boats to the Ukrainian Special Operations Forces.
In February 2021, Ukraine also received 84 small boats and 20 high-mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicles (HMMWVs).
The aviation unit has access to Mi-8 Hips and Mi-2 Hoplites helicopters, both made in Russia, and An-26 Curl planes. Since 2018, the UASOF has also used Mol H125 and H225 helicopters, made by a French company called Airbus Helicopters.
6. Joint Military Exercises
In the past 10 years, the Special Operations Forces participated in many joint military exercises with both NATO and non-NATO partners. The United States and other Western special forces extensively supported the training of the UASOF.
6.1. Northern Light
In 2003, the UASOF took part in the Northern Light 03 (NL 03) which took place in the Irish Sea. Twelve NATO nations and two partner nations, Sweden and Ukraine participated in this exercise focused on Crisis Response Operation.
The scenario used for that specific exercise depicted an armed insurgency in a non-NATO country that was threatening the international security interests.
In 2017, the UASOF, in particular, the 140th Special Operations Forces Centre attended the Flaming Sword 2017 Exercise in Lithuania. The exercise lasted three weeks and more than a thousand operators from nine countries took part.
This exercise, aimed to improve the interoperability and the readiness of the units, comprehended 16 nations and more than 5,500 soldiers.
This was the first time that the UASOF took part in this exercise.
In 2020, the UASOF did a joint exercise with reconnaissance operators of the British Royal Navy. The operation was to board and clear the Royal Navy’s “Dragon” destroyer in Odessa. The training focused primarily on abduction, boarding, close combat, and clearing the vessel.
6.2. UASOF Activities in 2021
In 2021, the Ukrainian Special Operations forces participated in many joint exercises.
In June the UASOF conducted a Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) defence training in the Chernobyl exclusion zone (in Pripyat). During the exercise, the Ukrainian Special Operations Forces had to look for a chemical laboratory, suspected to be the place where a terrorist group created a bomb. This exercise was part of the NRF evaluation process certification.
6.3. Sea Breeze
Between the 28th of June and the 10th of July, the US Sixth Fleet and the 73rd Maritime Special Operations Centre took part in the Sea Breeze 2021 Exercise in the Black Sea region.
Ukraine and the United States started this cooperation in 1997, in order to bring together NATO members and its partners. Further, The 2021 Exercise focused on diving operations, interdiction operations, anti-submarine warfare, land manoeuvre warfare and rescue missions.
6.4. Saber Junction
In Early September the Ukrainian SOF took part in Saber Junction 21 in Hohenfels, Germany. While, European and African countries took part in this US-led exercise focused on land operations in a joint combined environment and readiness.
6.5. Rapid Trident
From the 20th of September to the 1st of October the UASOF took part in Rapid Trident 2021 Exercise in Yavoriv, Ukraine. The Rapid Trident is a US-led exercise and in 2021 focused on defence capabilities, readiness, and interoperability.