What does the term “Tier One (Tier 1) Special Forces” mean?

DEVGRU / SEAL Team 6 operators posing for photo during training
US Navy SEAL Team 6 operators at undisclosed location and at unknown mission (Photo: Unknown author)

I might be wrong, but from what I understand only Tier One (Tier 1) units are entrusted with executing the most delicate missions. Then come the Tier 2 units, which are also very highly capable, but their task is to provide support for the Tier 1 units – the 24 SOS, the ISA, the Ranger Recon Company etc. Tier 3 is the special operations units within the special operations commands of the different services – Green Berets, SEALs, Marine Raiders, Air Force CSAR etc. When a Tier 3 unit is attached to JSOC to provide support for a mission (for example if Pandur APCs from the 75th Rangers or helicopters from the 160th SOAR are needed) then for the duration of the mission this unit is reclassified from Tier 3 to Tier 2.

In fact, special mission units are Tier One units, and are commanded and controlled by Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) of U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). In addition to performing highly classified activities, the special mission units are also tasked with “special missions”, sometimes referring to unconventional warfare, counter-terrorist activities, direct action, Special Reconnaissance, and/or black operations. So far, only four SMUs have been publicly disclosed:

  • The Army’s 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment – Delta
  • The Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment: Regimental Reconnaissance Company
  • The Navy’s Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU)
  • The Air Force’s 24th Special Tactics Squadron (24 STS)

Some people love to say that Tier 1, in fact, refers to the amount of government spending on the Special Operations units classified as “Tier 1.” And really, these units receive much more funding than conventional units and “White” SOF Units.

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