Kommando Spezialkräfte Marine (KSM): German alternative to US Navy SEALs

Kommando Spezialkräfte Marine Operator during the training
Kommando Spezialkräfte Marine Operator during the training (Photo: German Army)

The elite detachment of combat divers, Kommando Spezialkräfte Marine (KSM) is a special unit of commandos of the German Navy that may serve as Germany’s response to the US Navy SEALs. Against the background of the current situation in the world (cold wars, sea piracy, etc.), KSM acts as an important tool of Germany’s foreign policy and they are ready to strike anywhere and anytime if Berlin’s interests are questioned.

KSM was established solely for special operations under the water.

History

Special forces in the naval forces of Germany appeared relatively recently. First-ever German military divers were trained in France in 1959. The task of the German battalion “Specialized operational marine forces” (Spezialisierten Einsatzkräften der Marine) included special operations on land and under the water. From 2003 to 2014, the battalion was one of the most sought-after units of the German army.

This previous unit combined frogmen with other naval warfare specialists, including mine-clearance divers and boarding soldiers. But as part of a major reorganization across the German military, the naval commandos split up into independent organizations. The combat swimmers/divers (Kampfschwimmer) at Eckernförde became the KSM, and are now responsible for handling their own training, logistics and operations.

Kommando Spezialkräfte Marine (KSM): German combat swimmer secure a beach during an exercise at Eckernfoerde
Kommando Spezialkräfte Marine (KSM): German combat swimmer secure a beach during an exercise at Eckernfoerde (Photo: Bundswehr)

Mission

Kommando Spezialkräfte Marine (KSM) have three main courses of action:

  • the divers reconnoiter port facilities, beaches and hinterland
  • direct action—which can involve freeing hostages or seizing material or equipment.
  • training of foreign military and police units

Operations

Special operations were conducted in Afghanistan, Cyprus, Lebanon, Kosovo and Somalia. In the process of the recent reorganization of the German Navy, the battalion was divided into several groups. In April 2014, a fundamentally new military organization was created – special forces of commando divers – Kommando Spezialkräfte Marine, or KSM.

While their exploits were not widely publicized, combat divers were active in Afghanistan, Cyprus, Lebanon, Kosovo and Somalia. Typical missions included watching convoy routes and roads, as well as gathering intelligence.

“In the last 10 years our partner units in the United States, the Navy SEALs, or the British SBS, were heavily involved in desert-like areas in Afghanistan.”

— an unnamed KSM soldier told the German armed forces’ official publication.

In Lebanon, a force of around 45 mine-clearance divers carried out harbor security operations, while their comrades stayed on German warships patrolling off the coast. Near Somalia, operators contributed to the European Union’s anti-piracy mission known as Operation Atalanta.

Organization

The Kommando Spezialkräfte Marine is based in the German city of Eckernförd, where the entire fleet of German submarines is deployed.

Kommando Spezialkräfte Marine (KSM): German alternative to US Navy SEALs
Kommando Spezialkräfte Marine (KSM): German alternative to US Navy SEALs (Photo: FILE)

The tasks of Kommando Spezialkräfte Marine (KSM) special forces include reconnaissance and sabotage activities on the water, under the water, and in the coastal zone. Missions can also be life-saving, peacekeeping, aimed at protecting and ensuring the security of any objects (ships, oil, and gas offshore platforms). The work of the unit is often conducted under the aegis of NATO or the UN.

“The new military structure has a narrow specialization, this allows us to better perform the tasks set. Guys do their work professionally, and it is the most important thing for me.”

— the commander of KSM, Jorg Buddenbaum

Structure

Each mission usually involves four or five military divers – a commander, a sniper, a medic, a radio operator and an observer. Their diving equipment includes German rebreather Dräger LAR-V, dry and wet suits from 5 to 7 mm, fins and masks, navigation gadgets, knives, underwater watch and underwater pistol P11 Heckler&Koch (silently fires steel arrows). KSM divers use submarine scooters to move underwater, while air cushions, speedboats, kayaks, etc. are used on the water surface.

Selection and training

The German Armed Forces do not disclose any information on the number of Kommando Spezialkräfte Marine operators. According to various reports, it goes about 130 men (only men can serve in KSM).

Training

The KSM regularly trains with the U.S. Navy SEALs in a partnership that dates back around 40 years. At any time, at least one SEAL instructor embeds with the KSM, in exchange for a German frogman. The naval commandos also maintain close ties with the French navy’s combat swimmers, known as the Commando Hubert.

KSM Combat Divers during the training
KSM Combat Divers during the training (Photo: FILE)

Selection

KSM candidates have to undergo an exceptionally intense 3-year training course. In the process of training, candidates master the knowledge and skills necessary for naval commandos: diving, parachute jumping, rock climbing, counter-terrorism training, boat, and ship navigation. As a rule, only 30 percent of candidates join the rank of KSM servicemen. To date, KSM is considered one of the most highly trained special units of the German army.

Weaponry and gear

KSM has at its disposal the most modern equipment and weapons available in the West. From equipment for diving missions to equipment and weapons for hostage rescue missions, combat divers mainly use HK416 as their primary weapon while at their disposal as sidearms are Glocks and SIGs.

Among the equipment available to the combat divers are the locally-made Dräger LAR-V chest-mounted rebreather, which produces next to no bubbles. They also have the secretive P11 underwater pistol developed by Heckler & Koch, which fires steel darts rather than conventional ammunition.

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