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Naval Spetsnaz [Spetsialnaya Razvedha]

The term spetsnaz is a composite word made up from spetsialnoye nazhacheniye, meaning `special purpose'. The name is well chosen. Spetsnaz differs from other forms of razvedka [`reconnaissance' ] in that it not only seeks and finds important enemy targets, but in the majority of cases attacks and destroys them. More simply, the chief missions of SPETSNAZ are reconnaissance and sabotage.

The mission of the SPETSNAZ is to conduct what the Soviets call Special Reconnaissance (Spetsialnaya Razvedka). According to the Soviet Military Encyclopedia, Special Reconnaissance is defined as, "Reconnaissance carried out to subvert the political, economic and military potential and morale of a probable or actual enemy. The primary missions of special reconnaissance are: acquiring intelligence on major economic and military installations and either destroying them or putting them out of action, organizing sabotage and acts of subversion; carrying out punitive operations against rebels; conducting propaganda; forming and training insurgent detachments, etc. Special reconnaissance is ... conducted by the forces of covert intelligence and special purpose troops."

The basic SPETSNAZ unit is a team of eight to ten men. The team is commanded by an officer, may have a warrant officer or senior sergeant as deputy, and includes a radio operator, demolitions experts, snipers, and reconnaissance specialists. Team members have some degree of cross-training so a mission can continue if a specialist is lost. Each Soviet fleet would have a brigade of "naval assault pioneers" with a wartime strength of up to 1300 men and capable of deploying about 100 teams. A SPETSNAZ brigade consists of five SPETSNAZ battalions, a signal company, support units, and a headquarters company containing highly skilled professional soldiers responsible for carrying out assassinations, kidnappings, and contact with agents in the enemy rear area. The organization of a naval SPETSNAZ brigade reflects its emphasis on sea infiltration, with up to three frogman battalions, one parachute battalion, and a minisubmarine battalion, as well as the signal company, headquarters company, and support elements.

Naval spetsnaz wear the uniform of the naval infantry although they have nothing in common with that force. Spetsnaz units operating midget submarines wear the usual uniform of submariners. In the Navy spetsnaz units are accommodated in the military settlements of the naval infantry. The fact that they wear the same uniform and go through roughly the same kind of battle training makes it very difficult to detect spetsnaz.

Naval infantry are commanded by the same commander as naval spetsnaz: every fleet commander has one brigade of the latter and a brigade (or regiment) of infantry. Consequently these two formations, both intended for operations in the enemy's rear, co-operate very closely. Normally when the naval infantry makes a landing on an enemy coastline, their operation is preceded by, or accompanied by, spetsnaz operations in the same area. Groups of naval spetsnaz can, of course, operate independently of the naval infantry if they need to, especially in cases where the operations are expected to be in remote areas requiring special skills of survival or concealment.

The spetsnaz naval brigades are much better equipped technically than those operating on land, for good reasons. A fleet always had and always will have much more horsepower per man than an army. A man can move over the earth simply using his muscles, but he will not get far swimming in the sea with his muscles alone. Consequently, even at the level of the ordinary fighting man there is a difference in the equipment of naval units and ground forces. An ordinary rank and file swimmer in the spetsnaz may be issued with a relatively small apparatus enabling him to swim under the water at a speed of up to 15 kilometres an hour for several hours at a time. Apart from such individual sets there is also apparatus for two or three men, built on the pattern of an ordinary torpedo. The swimmers sit on it as if on horseback. And in addition to this light underwater apparatus, extensive use is made of midget submarines.

A naval Spetsnaz brigade was assigned to the Soviet Northern Fleet. Naval Spetsnaz would almost certainly have been used against targets in Norway in the event of war, no matter what the overall Soviet strategy may be. The targets would include military command posts, airbases, ports, lines of communications, and the political and military leadership. Thus, Spetsnaz forces would normally support the general military offensive. However, if the Soviets simply wished to deny NATO use of Norwegian facilities for a limited period, Spetsnaz may become a prime instrument in implementing the strategy. Spetsnaz lacks the strength or logistics to maintain such a strategy for long.

There was midget submarine activity within territorial waters in October 1982 in Sweden and in August 1983 in Japan. The midget submarines probably belonged to naval SPETSNAZ and may have been delivered to the target area by specially equipped India-class submarines. Discovery of tracks from the submarines also coincided with reports of unknown divers appearing on shore, leading to speculation that SPETSNAZ were conducting penetration exercises in foreign countries. The true reasons for this activity may never be known, but the boldness of the operations had the undeniable effect of enhancing the reputation of SPETSNAZ.

Russian naval special-designation forces, or spetsnaz, have been less visible in the wake of the USSR's dissolution. However, in 1998 the Russian navy's commander in chief, Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov, reaffirmed that naval special-operations units - which have a long, active history in the Soviet armed forces - remain assigned to the Russian Baltic, Northern, Pacific, and Black Sea fleets. Although the admiral provided few specifics on the size and capabilities of the units, he did indicate that they were elite, that they were equipped with special weapons (including small submarines), and that they were comparable to U.S. Navy SEALS or the Israeli Navy's 13th Flotilla. Stating that these units have no special name beyond their "combat swimmer" or "naval spetsnaz" designations, the admiral indicated that most of the units are directly subordinate to their respective fleet commander. Of particular note, Kuroyedov said that he retained naval spetsnaz subunits under his direct control as well, "for resolving fleet tasks and rendering assistance."

By the end of the 1990s there was only one full-strength spetsnaz naval brigade, at Ocharkov on the Black Sea, although during a war the Russian MOD could deploy one brigade for each fleet; there areseveral bases that would accommodate these brigades if necessary. These are located at Severomarsk; Primarsk at Baku; and on a Russian Island near Vladivostok. During wartime, the 42nd Naval spetsnaz brigade would be situated there.

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Page last modified: 03-06-2014 19:42:42 ZULU