17 August 2018

Romania’s Navy Seal - the Romanian (ROU) Naval Special Operations Forces (NSOF)

Daniel Ilie

Who are the ROU NSOF? How do they train? How do they conduct missions?We are used to celebrating Romania’s Marine Day all at once with Saint Maria’s Day, each year, on 15th of August. This is an opportunity for citizens to watch either TV broadcasted, or at the location of the Navy’s Parade, right after the National Anthem and Colors Ceremony (dressing the ships with the nautical signal flags, the largest national ensign, the great decorations displaying on the board of the ships, and the the 21 gun salute) the different military demonstrative exercises, the air show parade (either Navy’s or Air Forces’ aircrafts), the frogmen’s performance, but also other structures’ from the National Defence, Public Order, and National Security System (accordingly), and, of course, the long-awaited naval parade.

Image source: Mediafax

Among all the performers, one can notice, each single time, there are a few different military service members, elite operators, special operations divers, the commando divers. We can differentiate them from the others by how they “move”, in other words, by the techniques, the tactics and the procedures they learned, rehearsed and use when conducting their specific missions, by how they are organised, trained, and equipped.

They usually are those parachutists who begin the demonstrative exercises, launched from a high altitude, equipped with high performance parachutes, and who, during their evolution on the path, are proudly flying Romania’s flag.

They are those sailors that use for insertion on the sea high-speed combatant crafts, the so-called Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIB), with a 12-15 men crew ready to conduct strategic reconnaissance, early warning patrols, Direct Action (DA), special operations in support of Maritime Interdiction Operations (MIO), Counter-Terrorism (CT) operations, and Combat Search & Rescue (CSAR).

They are those Navy Special Operations Forces operators who infiltrate through air, from helicopters (including Navy’s), using Fast Rope Insertion Extraction System ( FRIES) techniques to board ships, or floating platforms, ready to kill or capture terrorists, rescue hostages, and recover sensitive equipment.

They are those divers specially equipped with scuba closed circuit underwater breathing apparatus, rebreathers, undetectable frogmen who suddenly emerge (the element of surprise) wearing black wetsuits, wearing flippers, and practically dropping water and fear, full armed with individual weaponry and state of the art vision googles and scopes (including night vision) ready to conduct specific missions and tasks on sea, air, or land.

They are but a handful of brave, tenacious and dependable people, men and women, enthusiastic, quite professionals specially organized, trained, and equipped ready to conduct specific missions (Special Reconnaissance - SR, Direct Actions - DA, and Military Assistance - MA, as well as other complementary missions) on on sea, air, or land.

They learned and trained along the famous US’s elite Navy’s troops, the well-known The United States Navy SEAL (Sea Air Land), the ones who, in 2011, under the coordination of admiral Bill McRaven (at that time commander of The US Joint Special Operations Command), planned and conducted the identification and elimination raid of the most wanted terrorist of 21’s century, the leader of Al-Qaeda group, Osama bin Laden.

The performance of these operators during such events or demonstrative exercises, as well as the videos broadcasted online, might look really spectacular. But, behind their performance one can find sustained efforts, important commitment of human, financial, material, and time resources, all along with a lot of dedication and love for their country.

It can last between 1 and a half and 3 years to train such an operator who can be eventually integrated in an operational detachment. After he passes the period of individual training phase, then he takes the collective training phase to integrate him in the detachment as a team member, through theoretical and practical activities that form and test their execution abilities on sea, air, or land. It is about diving, techniques, tactics and procedure of underwater combat, underwater demolition, parachuting, quick insertion/extraction through FRIES techniques from helicopters or high-speed combatant crafts, specific shootings from unstable platforms, using different types of explosives, survival, escaping, resistance and extraction (SERE) techniques, and so forth.

Some time ago, Admiral (retired) McRaven was saying: “One of the things you very quickly find out when you pass the SEAL training process is that you will rarely find yourself among the smartest, quickest or strongest. Practically, SEAL training humiliates you. This is what make you realize that you must count on the other members of the team, and, more than that, that you must count on them for all the things you have to do. You will soon find out that, if you do not work with the team, you will go nowhere. And, when it comes to a team, it cannot be about you, it will never be about you. SEAL training will get you down to earth.“

About the challenges and the difficult tasks that a candidate must pass through during the qualification course, before he receives the commando diver qualification, talks the actual commander of The ROU NSOF, the only Romanian who received such a qualification in The United States, who made it to enter their small and exclusive community “Frogman Brotherhood”, of the so-called “frogmen” (a designation given by the American forward reconnaissance divers, in the World War II).

The Diving Center of the Romanian Navy, the national certified authority in the diving activities with over 50 years of experience in this realm, as well as the new Romanian Special Operations Forces School (enacted on 1st of June, 2018), under the ROU Special Operations Forces Command’s subordination, both of them play an important role in the professional formation and career advancement of the NSOF’s operators.

What kind of equipment do the ROU NSOF use?

The replication of sea, air, and land dimensions of the battle space that allows NSOF to train at the highest standards for their missions, requires the access of such elite structures to a proper training, day to day business, and force projection facilities built at nowadays standards. Today and within the current security challenges, for instance, it would be unacceptable that such capabilities lacked direct and 24/7 access to dedicated military classified digital networks that provide battlefield intelligence collection and exploitation capabilities.

Now, when Romania committed to appropriate 2% of its GDP for defense, the capital expenditures (equipment and infrastructure) became priorities and military leadership need to be keen on sharing out the required financial resources to properly equip the unique ROU NSOF structure with the peculiar equipment they need (high-speed combatant crafts, underwater delivery vehicles, diving gear, high performance parachutes).

The proper force equipping of ROU NSOF detachments with the required wheeled vehicles for objective insertion, for the tasks they have to carry out on land (according to the plans, ROU NSOF acts as an action arm structure within the National System of Preventing and Combating Terrorism) must be a priority of the decision makers, along with the other concerns about providing the necessary resources for research & development (R&D), infrastructure’s operation & maintenance (O&M), and all of the other weaponry, equipment, and systems needed.

One of the 5 SOF truths refers to quality, which is more important than quantity. We cannot talk about quality without considering the technology, which is decisive when it comes to a mission’s success. The armed conflict’s history showed us that the technological superiority increases, most of the times, the chances to win a battle.

Therefore, it is interesting to see which are the current trends when it comes to equip similar capabilities, let’s take for instance The US Navy SEAL. A suggestive example would be The US SOCOM’s intention to purchase suicide drones, in fact loitering munition systems, to equip The US Navy SEAL’s stealth high-speed boats in order to enhance these capabilities’ ability to counter asymmetric and conventional threats, on either sea, or land. And the Americans are not the only ones to acquire this type of systems. Israel, Poland or Azerbaijan are also seeking to acquire certain types of kamikaze drones. 

In an article recently published on “TheDrive” website[1], in TheWarZone section, its author says that this type of capabilities can be very important for the approach and resolution of some possible regional conflict’s (with different components, hybrid and conventional, of small or large intensity), including areas like The Black Sea and The Baltic Sea.

What are these suicide drones?

The suicide drones (intelligent loitering munition) are weaponry systems that once launched from different unstable or stable platforms, they can fly over for a limited period of time around the area where the enemy target is and can execute the attack (hitting the target) only after the target was positively identified. Based on the information collected from target’s area, these can also decide, selectively, if the mission will be executed or abandoned, being able to return to base or to self-destruct by exploding when hitting the target, using GPS coordinates identification.

[1] http://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/21813/u-s-special-operators-eye-adding-suicide-drones-to-their-stealthy-speedboats



How could ROU NSOF use such systems?

These weaponry systems are significantly improving the quick reaction (essential characteristic of NSOF capabilities) against armoured or hidden targets and are also improving force’s protection, as these can be launched from a safe distance, reducing the risks to operators, the risks to mission, and the risks of collateral damage, as well.

Commando divers’ insertion platforms equipped with such weaponry systems can strike from the sea, with surgical discretion and precision, certain terrorist elements, or objectives that the military operations planners and policymakers designed and approved as being highly strategic and operative important. These could be enemy systems for air defense, anti-ship defense, radars, ballistic missile mobile launchers, or weapons of mass destruction caches. Therefore, NSOF could strike targets deep behind the enemy lines from a safe distance from the objective and could gain more time to secretly execute the extraction. Consequently, ROU NSOF operators could be successfully used for special reconnaissance missions in the proximity of the enemy’s occupied positions, on coast’s areas (where they could also deploy new forces), but also on the littoral areas where important military operations could be ongoing.

Comparing with closed air support missions that require prior extensive (time consuming) planning, coordination, and synchronisation, important infrastructure and important resources consumption, these weapon systems provide a more flexible response to the rapid changes and dynamics of the conflict, and to time sensitive intelligence. Depending on the system configuration, the high-speed crafts and their crews would benefit from quicker subsequent striking capabilities, if an initial attack failed.

Intelligent loitering munition launched from such high-speed water insertion platforms, or even by commando divers once they reached the soil (in portable configuration), could substitute for a limited time, a very important, appreciated, and required close air support like capability for other special operations forces operators who could conduct missions behind the enemy lines and who could not be air supported by friendly forces.

On sea, the suicide drones could be also useful against the hostile small crafts, which can transport smuggled weaponry, equipment, and materials, could support maritime interdiction operations, the systems providing a direct method to stop or even destroy such hostile elements, which could try to escape the rule of law, significantly reducing the risk of collateral damage.

A profound analysis of the employment methods and effects of using such weaponry systems in the resolution of potential conflicts, looking at the cost-effectiveness, against the regional security risks and threats in The Extended Black Sea Region, could tell us about the opportunity to equip ROU NSOF, as a force multiplier, with loitering munition. Whitout doubt we cannot ignore the technological revolution, the artificial intelligence development and its use in the military, factors which will decisively influence the evolution of future armed conflicts.

How professional the ROU NSOF operators are?

The ROU NSOF, the naval component of the ROU Ministry of National Defense’s elite troops (the Special Operations Forces) proved their professionalism each single time they successfully accomplished the following: 

  • Specific missions during the European Union Operation Atalanta, a counter-piracy military operation at sea off the Horn of Africa and in the Western Indian Ocean, against Somali piracy, aboard the ROU Navy’s “Regele Ferdinand” frigate;
  • Specific missions to train, advise, and assist Afghan Special Security Forces in the Theater of Operations Afghanistan;
  • Specific missions to train, advise, and assist some military structures from partner countries in Alliance’s Mediterranean Dialogue, embedded into a Special Operations Component Command Element, during the NATO Operation Sea Guardian, in the Mediterranean Sea.

Yet, the performance and freedom involve also sacrifices, including supreme ones. For these brave fighters is about two sailors, heroes, who sacrificed themselves for the country and for the freedom, giving their lives in combat during their tour mission in Afghanistan. To them, along with other heroes of this nation, we owe eternal recognition, 1st Lieutenant (PM) Adrian POSTELNICU and 1st  Lieutenant (PM) Vasile POPA. May Them Rest in Peace.