An SOF Role For UK’s Royal Marines?

According to a number of newspaper reports, the future of the Royal Navy’s Royal Marines may see them transformed into a special operations force (SOF) designed to counter Russian and Chinese aggression in maritime ‘grey zone’ operations as part of the Future Commando Force concept currently being defined by the UK Ministry of Defence.

A Special Purpose Task Group (SPTG), described as “a new experimental force”, will be operational by 2021 and is likely to provide a larger SOF capability to operate alongside and in support of the Royal Navy’s Special Boat Service (SBS). As part of the Future Commando Force, the SPTG, may operate from planned littoral strike ships that would act as floating SOF bases in a similar fashion to the USSOCOM concept of “expeditionary mobile bases”.

The alleged move would see the SPTG equipped to stage their own unmanned aerial vehicles and conduct both electronic warfare and cyber operations. The news comes as a larger redefinition of the future roles of UK Special Forces (UKSF) is occurring as UKSF begin to focus on countering the so-called ‘grey zone’ or ‘hybrid warfare’ threat.

As Overt Defense reported earlier this month, the proposal, named the ‘Special Operations Concept’, would see UKSF deployed on ‘grey zone’ missions around the world, working unilaterally or with local partner forces in a covert capacity to counter aggression from state actors such as Russia or China. The mooted SPTG seems to dove-tail with the larger ‘Special Operations Concept’.

Royal Marines from 40 Commando are experimenting with a range of new technologies likely to support the SPTG during Commando Warrior, a series of exercises throughout 2019 which will help refine the Future Commando Force. One recent exercise saw Royal Marines employ an unmanned waterborne surveillance craft and QinetiQ Titan armed unmanned ground vehicles as part of the Autonomous Advance Force concept where Marine operations would be led by unmanned vehicles.