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SOFINS 2023 Special Forces Capability Display Part 3

French Army Special Forces at Camp de Souge following the SOFINS 2023 capability display [© Bob Morrison]

French Special Forces from all three services participated in the SOFINS 2023 capability display in a series of mutually supportive set-piece actions, reports Bob Morrison.


France’s recently restructured Special Operations Command essentially consists of Army Special Forces, Maritime Marine Commandos, and Air Special Forces. The primary Army constituents are 1st Marine Infantry Parachute Regiment or 1er RPIMa, 13th Parachute Dragoon Regiment or 13e RDP, and 4th Special Forces Helicopter Regiment. The Navy constituents are five Assault Commandos (Jaubert, Trépel, de Montfort, de Penfentenyo, and Hubert) and two Special Operations Support Commandos (Kieffer and Ponchardier). The Air Force constituents are Nos. 10 and 30 Air Parachute Commandos plus 3/61 Poitou Transport Squadron and 1/67 Pyrénées Helicopter Squadron. Elements of many of these units, along with a small contingent of Belgian Special Forces contributed to the display.

A mobile air defence system (represented by a French Air and Space Force MAMBA) in the hands of Irregular Forces needed to be eliminated by a small SF team before the main force could successfully infiltrate [©BM]

Unsurprisingly, bearing in mind everything happening in the world at present, including of course the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the 2023 SOFINS display did not include all the elements we saw at the last SOFINS before the COVID-19 pandemic, and there was only a single presentation rather than three. Realising that this year I would only get one bite at the cherry, on the morning of the main dynamic display I approached the crew preparing the Caracal Special Forces helicopter on the Camp de Souge helipad and asked them for a brief run-through of the action so that I could try to determine the best camera position. Shortly before the designated P-hour I next asked a team leader overseeing the laying of pyrotechnics where, from a boots on the ground standpoint, he reckoned the best place for photos would be and his opinion matched the airman’s. It was then just a case of positioning myself at the best point along the safety zone demarcation line and assuring the nearest soldier providing security that although I was right on the extreme edge he did not need to worry about me trying to push the envelope because I knew and understood the limitations and risks.

Irregular Forces roleplayers wiring explosive charges next to the MAMBA before the main action commenced [©BM]
The assault team move forward to their start line ~ the maroon beret in the pocket and the subdued camo pattern uniform of the third man suggest they belong to 1er RPIMa [© BM]

The basic scenario essentially involved Special Forces being sent into a unstable and war-torn region to rescue hostages and capture a ‘high value target’ terrorist leader, but before the main effort was launched it was necessary to shut down a potentially highly dangerous air defence system (represented by a SAMP/T ‘Mamba’ launcher) under the control of Irregular Forces. To do this, a small group of operators from 1er RPIMa was inserted by HAHO (High Altitude – High Opening). For various reasons this year the insertion was notional, with the personnel commencing their final assault from the far side of the runway rather than parachuting in, but is you refer to Part Two of this mini-series you should get an idea of what would have been involved.

A Special Forces operator inserts under a HAHO/HALO canopy ~ this photos was taken the day before the capability display [© BM]
Some of the initial Special Forces team on their start line on the other side of the runway from the MAMBA ~ on operations a HAHO/HALO insertion would usually take place in darkness 24 hours or more in advance and some distance away [© BM]
The SF team strike in front of watching expo delegates and defence manufacturer representatives ~ I intentionally missed out on close-in photos to secure a better camera position for the rest of the action
[© BM]
In a fast flurry of action the threat to the main operation posed by the Irregular Forces was successfully eliminated [© BM]

Once the air defence system had been captured and the threat neutralised, the ten-man team withdrew and awaited fast extraction by SPIE (Special Patrol Insertion / Extraction) system beneath an Air Special Forces Brigade Caracal transport helicopter.

With the air defence system neutralised the team was whisked away by SPIE ~ outside the perimeter wire another SF team is moving into position for their serial [© BM]
After the display the team was flown back in for photos ~ note how they still wear the black SPIE harness over their MultiCam uniforms ~ blue pistols are simulation training weapons [© BM]

To be continued

[images © Bob Morrison]


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Footnote: Over the next few days we do not anticipate posting quite as much fresh content as usual ~ if things go to plan all should be revealed over the weekend.
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