We contrast the British SAS and the US Navy SEALs, two of the best special forces in the world. Which of the two elite units has the best soldiers and better reputation? Find out more about other top military elite units and share your knowledge about them.
Best Special Forces in the world: SAS vs Navy SEALs
The Navy SEALs and SAS have become well known thanks to the success of some of their operations, and also due the popularity of some movies and video games based on them. Not only are the UK SAS and the US Navy SEALs similar special forces, but they are also set to join efforts in the fight against global terrorism. We debate which of the two deserves to be considered the most prestigious and effective special operations force in the world. We also list other units you may consider among the most elite special forces in the world.
The Special Air Service (SAS) was created by the british army on 1941 during World War II. The SAS serves as a model for special forces around the world. The unit undertakes a number of roles including covert reconnaissance, counter-terrorism, direct action and human intelligence gathering. The Special Air Service comprises three units: one Regular and two reserve Army Reserve units. Their motto is: “Who Dares Wins” and reflects the bravery required in their operations. They became popular in 1980 during the assault on the Iranian Embassy in London SAS have had a huge impact within different armies, being an inspiration for other governments when creating their own special forces units such as the New Zealand Special Air Service, Australian Air Service, and US Delta Force. Most recently SAS operations in Iraq against Islamic State fighters have brought them back into the spotlight.
The recruitment process is very selective for the SAS. Historically the SAS had a strength of 400 to 600 men, but it is set to grow in the next few years. Only current members of the UK Armed Forces are considered, usually only those with a Commando or Airborne forces background. Fitness and endurance tests include 40 miles marches with full equipment concluding with a 4 mile run and 2 mile swim. They also conduct survival tests in the jungle either in Malaysia, Belize or Brunei, as well as parachute courses. Moreover, SAS candidates must endure the famous resistance to interrogation (RTI) test which lasts 36 hours. Less than a fifth of the candidates initially pre-selected manage to join the SAS operational squadron.
Watch this documentary on the history of SAS
The US Navy SEALs (Sea, Air or Land) are the principal special operations force and a part of the Naval Special Warfare Command and United States Special Operations Command. The Navy SEALs are trained to operate in any environment and climate from the desert to the Artic. The CIA elite Special Operation Group (SOG) recruits its members from SEAL teams. We can trace their origins to different units operating in WWII such as Amphibious Scouts and Raiders, Naval Combat Demolitions Units or OSS Operational Swimmers. The motto of the Navy SEALs is: “The only easy day was yesterday” and captures the extremely tough training and selection process and operations their members need to face. Their main tasks are similar to those of the SAS: covert reconnaisance (often before ), counter terrorism, unconventional warfare, and direct action. The SEALs have conducted operations in Vietnam, Panama, Iraq and Afghanistan among other countries. They became extremely well known on May 2011 after the killing osama Bin Laden.
The recruitment process of the SEALs is meant to select the toughest and best soldiers in the world. The size of this force is approximately 2,500 men. Many psychological and physical tests need to be passed to be accepted as a prospective candidate. The SEAL physical screening test (PST) includes a 500 yards swim in 12:20 min, 42 push-ups in 2 minutes, 50 sit-ups in 2 minutes, 6 pull-ups and a 1.5 mile run in 10:30 minutes. Then recruits must attend a 8-week Naval Recruit Training, 8-week Naval Special Warfare Prep School, 24-week Basic Underwater Demolition / SEAL school, 5-week Parachute Jump School and a 26-week SEAL Qualification Training program. After graduation they follow an 18-month predeployment training programme. The acceptance rate is 20-25%, but to reach certain elite teams within Navy SEALs, such as the famous "Team Six" it is much more difficult.
Watch this interesting documentary about the Navy SEALs
All military analysts praise the training and effectiveness of both groups, but which of the two do you admire the most?
Other top special forces worldwide
- Pakistan's Special Services Group (SSG): this special operations force of the Pakistani Army is often considered the best special force in the world and has received numerous awards and recognitions. It is composed of 5,600 men. These soldiers demonstrate the capacity to survive in critical conditions without water and food. It was created in 1956, for the defense of Pakistan. Today they engage frequently in counter-terrorism, such as the famous liberation of 39 hostages from the Taliban in October 2009. They are also known as the "Black Storks" due to their black headgear.
- US Delta Force: the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, popularly known as "Delta Force" is the equivalent of the Navy SEALs in the US Army. It was created in 1977 by the Green Beret Charles Beckwith and ever since the Delta Force has participated in many high profile military and counter-terrorism missions worldwide, for instance in Grenada, Panama, Afghanistan, Iraq and Lybia. CIA uses Delta Force commandos in many of its secret operations. It is believed to have about 1,000 soldiers.
- Germany's GSG 9: the Grenzschutzgruppe 9 der Bundespolizei or GSG 9 is counter-terrorism special operations police unit created in 1973 in response to the terrorist attacks by the Palestinian movement Black September during the Munich Summer Olympics in 1972. GSG 9 has currently about 1,800 operators and its organization and methods were directly inspired by the British SAS and the Israeli Special Operations. It is one of the best hostage rescue groups in the world. They have been involved in more than 1,500 missions in Germany and abroad.
- Poland's JW GROM: Jednostka Wojskowa GROM is the most elite and best trained unit of the Polish Armed Forces, with only 650 members. It was created in 1990 as a counter-terrorism force and was modelled after the Delta Force, Navy SEALs and SAS. They have engaged in international protection and peace-keeping missions in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq.
- France's GIGN: the Groupe d'intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale is the special operations group of the French Gendarrmerie, a police force integrated in the French Armed Forces. This elite group was formed in 1973 and has less than 400 members. Although most of its missions take place in France, they operate also in international military missions of the French Armed Forces. So far they have rescued more than 600 hostages.
- Israel's Shayetet 13: this special forces unit of the Israely Navy was created in 1949 is one of the most respected in the world. Its men must commit for a period of at least 4 and a half years. Shayetet 13 commandos have been involved in many high profile operations in Israel and abroad, often collaborating with Sayeret Matkal and Mossad operatives. The training of its commandos is considered the toughest of those in the Israel Defense Forces.
- Russia's GRU Spetsnaz: the Russian elite military force under control of the Main Intelligence Directorate is one of the most formidable in the world. Originally founded in 1949 during the times of the Soviet Union, the Spetsnaz commandos have been involved in unconventional warfare and counter-insurgence missions all over the world. Their speciality is reconnaissance, infiltration and the destruction of enemies' commands posts.
- Russia's Alpha group: this counter-terrorism group created in 1974 was originally the task force for the KGB and now operates under command of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). Although its organization and composition remains secret, the Alpha group is currently estimated to have 700 operatives. It operates domestically and abroad. Some of their most notorious operations have taken place in ex-Soviet republics.
- Other notable special forces: Spain's FGNE (former UOE), US Army Rangers, Brazil's BOPE, Israel's Sayeret Matkal, Austria's EKO Cobra, Italy's GIS, India's Marcos, Indonesia's Kopassus.
If you change your mind, you can change your vote simply by clicking on another option.
SAS vs Navy SEALs: best military special forces in the world
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