Top 10 Special Operations Forces Around the World in 2020

New Zealand Special Air Service
New Zealand Special Air Service are often seen as the toughest unit in the New Zealand Army. They were formed on July 7, 1955, and it is also abbreviated as theNZSAS. As their name suggests, they were closely modelled on the British Special Air Service (SAS). Their history traces its origins to the Second World War and the famousLong Range Desert Group that a number of New Zealanders served with. For the New Zealand Government, the NZSAS is the “premier combat unit of the New Zealand Defence Force”.

To determine the list of the top 10 special operations forces around the world in 2020, there are somethings needed to be cleared. First, most of the special operations forces around the world use similar tactics, weapons, and training. It means that they often train together with other units and even exchange operators in special exchange programs to teach and learn from each other.

So there is no one specific “best” unit and there is no way to truly rank them but … since you asked a question, here is a list of some of the best in the world that actually have recent combat experience. Among the training, history, equipment, and the military strength of the country, combat experience is the most ranking factor. The positions are from 1 to 10.

Special Air Service / SAS (United Kingdom)

Top 10 Special Operations Forces Around the World - British Special Air Service
Operators from the British Special Air Service (SAS) posing for a photo (Photo: XY)

The Special Air Service (SAS) is a special forces unit of the British Army. The SAS was founded in 1941 as a regiment and later reconstituted as a corps in 1950. The unit undertakes many roles including covert reconnaissance, counter-terrorism, direct action, hostage rescue, and human intelligence gathering.

The corps presently comprises 22 Special Air Service Regiment, the regular component, under the operational command of the United Kingdom Special Forces, and 21 (Artists) Special Air Service Regiment (Reserve) and 23 Special Air Service Regiment (Reserve), which are reserve units under the operational command of 1st Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Brigade.

Regarding its history and the unit’s combat experience, Special Air Service is still considered as the leader of the list of Top 10 Special Operations Forces Around the World.

1st SFOD-D / Delta Force (United States)

Top 10 Special Operations Forces Around the World - delta force operator
Delta Force (1st SFOD-D) operator standing guard during the firefight (Photo: XY)

The full name of this unit is the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta. In addition to counter-terrorism operations, Delta Force can also take part in hostage rescue, raids, reconnaissance, and less covert direct action operations. The group was formed in 1977 as a result of an increasing number of high-profile terrorist operations.

Since then it has been composed largely of soldiers who have served in US Special Forces like the Green Berets or 75th Rangers. To be considered for training, potential candidates must be male, at least 21 years old, score highly on an aptitude test, and be between the rank of corporal and master sergeant.

A series of grueling physical and mental tests all copied and based on the SAS training and selection process, coupled with its own added mix of physical and mental tests aim to weed out the weak. Allegedly, the dropout rate of Delta has been reported at almost 96% (considered one of the toughest if not the toughest training cadres in the world) to the 6 month-long training course coupled with the original year and a half training procedures of the enlistees original MOS.

Delta force won a unit citation in 2012 for the assault on an enemy compound that previously the SAS could not take due to a casualty they took on the way. Delta remains the American’s most heavily guarded and secretive Black Operations unit with missions from the United States to Europe into Afghanistan, the Middle East, and Asia. Delta Force missions remain a heavily guarded secret, most of which have never been released. Rest assured, wherever the US or its allies find themselves, we can assume they are right there too!

In the last quartal of 2019, they lead the raid in Northern Syria hunting down the most wanted terrorist at the time, notorious ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. On the raid on his hideout, they forced him to retreat to the tunnel beneath his compound. With no way out, he triggered his suicide vest killing himself and his two children.

The long history of excellence puts the Delta Force in #2 place on the list of Top 10 Special Operations Forces Around the World.

SASR (Australia)

australian SASR - Top 10 Special Operations Forces Around the World
Australian SASR operators (Photo: XY)

After the dramatic events of 11 September 2001, the Canberra government has decided to increase its military instrument to fight against terrorism by setting up two of the people for special tasks, which are joined to the existing Special Air Service Regiment (SASR), the only real component Special Forces (per NATO standards) Australian armed forces.

There is no need to speak further about SASR. It is widely known that they are highly skilled and highly capable operators with significant combat-experienced gained through their deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan in the recent decade. They made their way up to the #3 position of Top 10 Special Operations Forces Around the World list.

JTF-2 (Canada)

JTF training mission
JTF2 during training mission (Photo: CTVNews.ca)

A squad of elite warriors in the Canadian Forces (CF) is working under the name of Joint Task Force 2 or just JTF2. Their operations include counter-terrorism operations and armed assistance to other government departments in a military manner.

JTF2 is a successor of the Special Emergency Response Team of the RCMP, who was in service regarding these security questions from 1986 to 1993 when the federal government restructured Canadian military forces. Today, JTF2 serves with the other Canadian Special Operations Regiment, the 427 Special Operations Aviation Squadron, and the Joint Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Defence Company. They are acting as a part of the Canadian Special Operation Forces Command.

JTF2 is placed on position #4 of the Top 10 Special Operations Forces Around the World list.

NZSAS (New Zealand)

NZSAS operators in Afghanistan
NZSAS operators in Afghanistan Photo: XY)

New Zealand Special Air Service is often seen as the toughest unit in the New Zealand Army. They were formed on July 7, 1955, and it is also abbreviated as the NZ SAS. As their name suggests, they were closely modeled on the British Special Air Service (SAS). Their history traces its origins to the Second World War and the famous Long Range Desert Group that several New Zealanders served with.

For the New Zealand Government, the NZSAS is the “premier combat unit of the New Zealand Defence Force”. They had taken part in particular missions where their operators showed why they are number one in their country. They are placed at position #5 of the Top 10 Special Operations Forces Around the World list.

SEAL TEAM 6 / DEVGRU (United States)

devgru operators
Seal Team 6 / DEVGRU operator (Photo: XY)

You knew these guys were going to have to show up sometime. DEVGRU is a Tier 1 American Special Operations Group created After Operation Eagle Claw which has achieved near-mythical status. This in part is thanks to Operation Neptune Spear – the mission in which SEALs flew into Abbottabad, Pakistan in May 2011 and killed Osama Bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaeda.

DEVGRU is elite and the physical and mental strength required to make it in this force is ridiculously high. Training behind as an average tier 2 SEAL takes over two years and most applicants can’t even get past the physical qualification test which involves a lot of swimming, push-ups, sit-ups, and running, all accomplished in a very strict time limit.

Get past that and you enter general training. Pass that and you move on to SEAL qualification training which then opens the door to specialized training. All of this ensures that SEAL members are physically and mentally as tough as nails and capable of undertaking the most difficult operations in the world, wherever that may be.

After a few years in the teams, SEALs are selected by DEVGRU instructors that fit all criteria, they then begin a three-week physical fitness exam and a two weak mental wellness check. Less than 20% make it last this block alone, the ones who do move onto selection which according to Mark Owen’s book ‘No easy day’ takes up to six months.

Once completed, less than 5% is left standing of which instructors may only pick up to one or two to join the highly elite team although the entire graduating class could also be chosen, it all comes down to how the instructors think you did.

The list of Top 10 Special Operations Forces Around the World could not be complete without the Seal Team 6 / DEVGRU. They are placed on the #6 position on this list.

KSK (Germany)

German KSK Kommando Spezialkräfte (Special Forces Command, KSK)
KSK Kommando Spezialkräfte operators (Photo: XY)

KSK Kommando Spezialkräfte (Special Forces Command, KSK) is an elite special forces military unit composed of special operations soldiers handpicked from the ranks of Germany’s Bundeswehr and organized under the Rapid Forces Division. KSK has received many decorations and awards from NATO, the United States, and its affiliates, and KSK operators are frequently requested for joint anti-terror operations, notably in the Balkans and the Middle East.

Germans are devoted to world peace, so they take every opportunity to support the NATO mission. Under those missions, their commandos gaining experience all around the world.

Alpha GRU (Russia)

Alpha Group training
Alpha Group training (Photo: FSB)

Alpha Group (Alfa), also known as Spetsnazgruppa “A”, is a special unit within the Center for Special Operations of the Russian FSB. Alpha’s are the most famous special force in Russia, founded in 1974. They are the guards of the Russian state and its security, the most powerful unit in the country and among the main forces that have ensured the Olympics in Sochi.

There is no need to speak about Russia’s most elite military tactical unit. In the last few years, they were very active in Syria where they gained significant combat experience while fighting alongside the Syrian Army. Enough to place them on the #8 of the Top 10 Special Operations Forces Around the World list.

MJK (Norway)

The operator from Norway's Marine Jager unit
The operator from Norway’s Marine Jager unit (Photo: XY)

Marine Jaeger is one of two special force units in Norway. The Marine Jaeger have their own under the Defence Command North (Forsvarskommando Nord). They can be compared to the British SBS (Special Boat Squadron) and the US Navy SEALs. Every second year they go to train with the Navy SEALs. Their primary missions are deep penetration reconnaissance and sabotage on enemy naval installations.

Operators belonging to the MKJ were deployed to Sudan and Afghanistan (ISAF-Enduring Freedom).

Irish Army Ranger Wing (Ireland)

Irish Army Ranger wing training drills
Irish Army Ranger Wing training drills (Photo: IAF)

The Irish Army Ranger Wing (ARW) is the special unit in the Irish Defence Forces. The Army Ranger Wing is Ireland’s hostage rescue unit and they are closely related to the specialized Irish Emergency Response Unit (ERU). Sciathán Fiannóglach an Air (Irish: Army Ranger Wing) and An Garda Síochána (Emergency Response Unit) are training together and in any hostage situation, the Irish Ranger Wing could be requested to support the ERU.

In 2020, they were deployed to Mali where they gained new combat experience. That experience put them on the Top 10 Special Operations Forces Around the World list.

1 comment
  1. Interesting article… as far as it goes. What about the Special Forces of the rest of the world?

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