United Kingdom Special Forces

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United Kingdom Special Forces
Active1987 (1987) – present
Country United Kingdom
BranchBritish Armed Forces
Size2,000 personnel (2009)[1]
Part ofStrategic Command
HeadquartersPermanent Joint Headquarters, Northwood Headquarters
WebsiteDirectorate of Special Forces at gov.uk
General Mark Carleton-Smith

The United Kingdom Special Forces (UKSF) is a directorate comprising the Special Air Service, the Special Boat Service, the Special Reconnaissance Regiment, the Special Forces Support Group, 18 Signal Regiment and the Joint Special Forces Aviation Wing, as well as the supporting No. 47 Squadron.[2][3][4][5][6] In UK law, “special forces” means those units of the armed forces of the Crown and the maintenance of whose capabilities is the responsibility of the Director of Special Forces or which are for the time being subject to the operational command of that Director.[7]

The government and Ministry of Defence (MOD) have a policy of not commenting on the UKSF, in contrast to other countries including the United States, Canada and Australia.[8][9] In 1996, the UKSF introduced a requirement that serving members sign a confidentiality contract preventing them from disclosing information for life, without the prior approval of the MOD, following the publication of several books written by ex-service members.[10][11]


In 1987, the post of Director SAS became Director Special Forces. From that time, the incumbent has had control of both the Army's Special Air Service and the Naval Service's Special Boat Squadron, which was renamed the Special Boat Service during the formation. The directorate has since been expanded by the creation of the Joint Special Forces Aviation Wing, the Special Reconnaissance Regiment, 18 Signal Regiment and the Special Forces Support Group. Approximately 40% of all UK Special Forces personnel are recruited from the Royal Marines.[12]

Following the Army 2020 reforms, in 2014, 21 (Artists) Special Air Service Regiment (Reserve), 23 Special Air Service Regiment (Reserve) and the Honourable Artillery Company were shifted from DSF's command to 1st Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Brigade.[13][14] This change was partly reverted in 2019, with both 21 Special Air Service Regiment (Reserve) and 23 Special Air Service Regiment (Reserve) becoming an integrated part of the United Kingdom Special Forces.[15]

Component units[edit]

The following units are part of UK Special Forces and UK Special Forces (Reserve).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "SAS and other special forces to be expanded to defeat al-Qaeda". the telegraph. 25 April 2009.
  2. ^ a b Special Reconnaissance Regiment, publications.parliament.uk. Retrieved 21 February 2014
  3. ^ a b Elite special forces unit set up, BBC. Retrieved 21 February 2014.
  4. ^ a b c "JSFAW - Responsibilities and Composition". Royal Air Force. Archived from the original on 27 February 2014.
  5. ^ "SAS(R)". Ministry of Defence. Archived from the original on 2018-01-02.
  6. ^ a b "The secretive sister of the SAS". BBC. 16 November 2001. Retrieved 10 March 2010. (SBS)
  7. ^ Blackstone's Statutes on Criminal Law 2019-2020, ISBN 978-0198838715
  8. ^ Secretary of State for Defence Geoffrey Hoon (14 January 2002). "Special Forces". UK Parliament. House of Commons Hansard. Archived from the original on 25 April 2010. Retrieved 14 April 2010.
  9. ^ Knowles, Emily (July 2016). Britain's culture of no comment (Report). London: Remote Control; Oxford Research Group. Retrieved 4 January 2021.
  10. ^ Evans, Michael (4 October 1996). "SAS troops ordered to sign contracts banning memoirs". The Times. p. 6.
  11. ^ "SAS men are ordered never to write books". The Independent. 4 October 1996. Retrieved 9 January 2021.
  12. ^ http://www.royalnavy.mod.uk/-/media/careers-section-redesign/pdfs/20151027-_440-rm-career-guide-2015-r---specialisms.pdf?la=en-gb, page 78
  13. ^ Janes International Defence Review, May 2014, page 4
  14. ^ Army Briefing Note 120/14, NEWLY FORMED FORCE TROOPS COMMAND SPECIALIST BRIGADES, Quote . It commands all of the Army’s Intelligence, Surveillance and EW assets, and is made up of units specifically from the former 1 MI Bde and 1 Arty Bde, as well as 14 Sig Regt, 21 and 23 SAS(R).
  15. ^ "21 & 23 SAS (Reserve)". www.army.mod.uk. Retrieved 2020-06-03.
  16. ^ "Special Boat Service (Reserve)". Ministry of Defence (United Kingdom). Archived from the original on 28 February 2014. Retrieved 21 February 2014.
  17. ^ Overstretched SAS calls up part-time troops for Afghanistan, www.telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 21 February 2014
  18. ^ https://www.eliteukforces.info/special-air-service/l-detachment/
  19. ^ "PLG Directive 73/07 Part 8, Restricted files - Administration Guide" (PDF). Veterans UK. Service Personnel and Veterans Agency (SPVA). December 2007. Archived from the original (PDF) on 14 July 2014.
  20. ^ Ripley, Tim (November 2015). "Order of Battle; Joint Special Forces Aviation Wing - The Royal Air Force in 2015 (Supplement)". AirForces monthly - Officially The World's Number One Military Aviation Magazine. No. 332. Bourne, Lincolnshire: Key Publishing Ltd. pp. 12, 14. ISSN 0955-7091.
  21. ^ Redshaw, Bernard (August 2005). "A New Royal Signals Unit" (PDF). The wire : The Magazine of the Royal Corps of Signals. Vol. 59 no. 4. Portsmouth: Holbrook Printers Ltd. ISSN 1462-9259. Archived from the original (PDF) on 10 January 2007.

External links[edit]