The backbone of the conventional military: The role and importance of Tier 3 units

The 101st Airborne: The Only Force In The World That Can Do This 2
101st Airborne (Photo: Pinterest/101st)

It is well-established knowledge regarding Tier 1 and Tier 2 special forces, but what constitutes Tier 3? The United States has exhibited a strong interest in U.S. Navy SEALs and Military Special Operations Forces since Operation Neptune Spear (the raid on Osama Bin Laden). Informally, three tiers classify units within the hierarchy of United States military special operations forces.


It is important to note that the United States Military uses no official system to rank their Special Operations units based on effectiveness, missions, capabilities, training, or security level. Furthermore, the use of “Tier” in such a non-existent ranking system is not endorsed by the Department of Defense manual on terms.

A soldier from 82nd Airborne Division takes cover during a controlled detonation. The 82nd Airborne Division is considered as Tier 3 military unit
A soldier from the 82nd Airborne Division takes cover during a controlled detonation. The 82nd Airborne Division is considered a Tier 3 military unit (Photo: Reuters)

The Tier system, devised by JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command), categorizes military units within the United States. Tier 1 is designated for the elite units. Tier 2 is for regular special operations forces units such as Navy SEALs, and Tier 3 is earmarked for large, conventional warfare units.

While the origin of the Tier system is tied to funding, with Tier 1 units receiving the most funding and Tier 3 units receiving the least, it has evolved to be associated with unit prestige and skill. It should be noted that this is not an official classification and does not determine the prestige of a unit.

Tier 3 forces are seen as significant and conventional warfare units, with the largest number of personnel and the lowest level of funding compared to the lower Tiers. Their training is typically considered more “basic” than Tier 2 and Tier 1 units.

Tier 3 units

Tier 3, called “White,” comprises prominent infantry support elements. These units are not special forces, but they provide extensive support in terms of manpower for large-scale engagements. Some examples are:

The “hammer” in the analogy of “Hammer and Scalpel” is often associated with Tier 3 units, as they bring significant firepower to the fight.


  1. Hello,
    Quick question, Where does the 173D ABN/BDE “SKY SPLDIERS” fall into the tier system?
    I am not sure where a BDE with its own shoulder sleeve insignia falls in? Hopefully this is not a FNG Question?
    Steve P.C.

  2. Sorry but Force Recon is closer in training an missions to other ” official” tier 2 units with 75th Rangers regiment amd Navy SWCC rounding out the Tier 2 list ( and I would argue that Division Recon is at the top of ” tier 3″ along 82nd and 101st Airborne due to training and skill sets/ missions)

  3. Ben Spolarich, I would agree brother. I worked a lot with different branches and units and those of us that served know some of the units that are the unsung badasses and those that get movies made of them. lol

  4. Force Reconnaissance Marines are by no means considered “Tier 3 SOF,” and should never be categorized with conventional Infantry units such as the 10th Mountain Division. The credibility of this website has been significantly diminished by you all publishing this. I would like to know where you all got this information from and more about your experience with Force Reconnaissance Marines / what makes you think you are qualified to speak about their role in the US military in a public forum.

    Force Reconnaissance Marines, in most cases have more training and combat experience than Seals and most other Tier 2 units mentioned here. In reality, when Force Recon is employed overseas they operate more along the lines of units such as CAG. They easily operate in a capacity that is the equivalent to the Ranger Regiment’s Regimental Reconnaissance units, and while deployed their funding is very much the same, meaning Force Reconnaissance is a Tier 1 unit while being utilized in an operational capacity.

  5. Unless you are in one of the “so called tiers” it is just psychological ops. It is what they want you to believe. I do not put down my breathers in the Seals, Delta, Special Forces, etc…. Often it depends on who is closest that is engaged. Within each of these great organizations there are levels and skills (specialist). Remember if you are not one everything else is just speculation…..

  6. If you want to take over city called the 82nd airborne. Force recon is probably tier 2 but nowhere near ranger reconnaissance attachment RRD. One of the most picked over units for 1st ABN

  7. The dude who wrote this article is probably a gamers and eats hot Cheetos ad sits on his ass bc there is no way he understands the tier system. And, you’re really gonna put force recon in tier 3. Now that’s funny.

  8. For everyone saying that Force RECON is a tier 2 unit obviously never served or just thinks he knows. Any tier 2 unit is part of JSOC, which Force RECON Isn’t. Making them not a tier 2 unit. Force RECON are directly under USMC COMMAND but unlike the rest of of the tier 3 units Force RECON as a whole is considered “SOC” or “Special operations capable”. This means that up to the individual marine; in Force RECON, is trained and ready for Special operations. That doesn’t automatically make them Special Operations. Basically the marines have an extra “Special operations unit” that isn’t considered to be special operations by joint command so they’re used by USMC command as they wish.

  9. The Tier system is about money available to a group! Pure and simple. Tier 1 will receive higher funding and for the most part have more schools available It does not mean a tier 1 guy is any better than a tier 2 or 3. That is strictly a individual thing.

  10. One must keep in mind that there are select units within the 82nd and 101st that train extensively and are assigned to Tier 2 operations….


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