By: Warren Gray, Copyright © 2021
“Developing a lethal, professional, and technically-competent force requires openness to new ideas and new ways of doing things in an increasingly-complex world. We will change and adapt.”
— General Mark A. Milley, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army.
“What good is an idea if it remains an idea? Try. Experiment. Iterate. Fail. Try again. Change the world.”
— Simon Sinek, British-American author and motivational speaker
“A nice girl should never go anywhere without a loaded gun and a big knife.”
— Nancy E. Turner, author.
The Kingdom of Norway holds the rare distinction of having the world’s first, and only, all-female special forces unit, known as Jegertroppen (JT), or “Hunter Troop,” in English.
It’s officially part of the overall Forsvarets Spesialkommando (FSK), or Special Operations Command, within the Norwegian Special Operations Forces (NORSOF), and Jegertroppen was founded in 2014, initially as a one-year, pilot program, an experiment (codenamed “Tundra”), which was later extended to 2017, and was finally declared a success. Now, Jegertroppen is a permanent, Norwegian Special Forces unit.
During the War in Afghanistan, seasoned, male, FSK commandos working alongside American Special Forces units quickly discovered an operational need for female operators, who could communicate directly with local, Muslim women in their area of operations to collect intelligence data and foster good, community relations, since the men were forbidden from speaking to the indigenous women due to religious and cultural constraints. This exclusion of half of the local population severely limited the collection of intelligence, the formation of local relationships, and the evaluation of battlefield conditions.
Colonel Frode A. Kristoffersen, the current FSK commander, noted that, “When we deployed to Afghanistan, we saw that we needed female soldiers. Both as female advisors for the Afghan special police unit (training the Afghan National Police’s Kabul Crisis Response Unit, or CRU-222, a counterterrorist, SWAT team) that we mentored, but also when we did an arrest. We needed female soldiers to take care of the women and children in the buildings that we searched. One of the advantages that we see with an all-female unit is that we can have a tailored program, and a tailored selection for the female operators.”
The FSK, founded in 1982, is Norway’s premier, special forces and counterterrorist unit, which was not publicly acknowledged until 1999. Based in Rena, 85 miles north of the capital city of Oslo, and reporting directly to the Chief of the Army, it traces its roots back to World War Two, and the Norwegian Independent Company 1 of the British Special Operations Executive (SOE), and today it incorporates the FSK itself, plus the Army Ranger Command (HJK) and Parachute School, and Jegertroppen (FSK/JT.) Its wartime tasks include intelligence collection, special reconnaissance (SR), direct action, counterterrorism, hostage rescue, military assistance/advice, combat search-and-rescue missions, and VIP protection. They have seen action for many years in Afghanistan, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Croatia, Iraq, Kashmir (India), Kosovo, Macedonia, Serbia, and Syria, and serve as military advisors in the Jordanian/Syrian border area.
There is a very difficult, three-day selection process for the FSK, followed by a three-week selection period for suitability for special operations training. Once selected, there is a year-long, training process for FSK operators, followed by specialist training in such roles as sniper, combat medic, forward air controller, or other disciplines.
FSK commandos may wear the M/98 woodland camouflage uniform, the M/03 desert uniform, or more recently, a variation of the popular, MultiCam pattern. In garrison, they wear a maroon beret, the international symbol of paratroopers. Their primary weapons include the Colt Canada C8SFW(Special Forces Weapon) carbine in 5.56mm with 15.7-inch barrel, C8CQB (Close-Quarters Battle) variant with 11.6-inch barrel, HK416N carbine with 16.5-inch barrel, HK416K variant with 10.4-inch barrel, H&K MP7A1 submachine gun in 4.6mm, H&K USP9 pistol, or P-80 (Glock-17) pistol.
Sniper rifles include the H&K MSG-90, HK417A2, Accuracy International L115A1, Barrett MRAD in .338 Lapua Magnum, and Barrett M82A1. Among their machine guns are the FN Minimi in 5.56mm, FN MAG in 7.62mm NATO, and Browning M2HB in .50 BMG. Eternal Knives of Norway makes the rugged, Norwegian Combat Dagger, in both full-sized and miniature versions. FSK vehicles include the Mercedes Benz 270 CDI fast-attack vehicle, and much-larger, Supacat (British-made) HMT Extenda patrol vehicle, after 2017.
The FSK routinely cooperates and trains with the top, special operations forces from various, NATO nations, including the U.S. Army’s Delta Force, U.S. Navy SEALs, 75th Ranger Regiment, British Special Air Service (SAS) and Special Boat Service (SBS), and Germany’s KSK (Special Operations Command) and GSG 9 police counterterrorist unit.
Jegertroppen selection standards are based upon the physiological differences between the male and female bodies, and are tailored to develop strong, female operators over time, yet even though the standards are not as stringent as for men, there is still a 96-percent attrition rate among candidates. For example, in their first year alone (2014), 317 women applied for FSK/JT, but only 13 made it all the way through the lengthy process to become full-fledged, Jegertroppen members. The following year, they received only 14 new members. Most of the successful candidates had a strong background as high school athletes, already accustomed to pushing their bodies to the physical limits, and their ages ranged from 19 to 27. One of these ladies even told an American journalist that, “I wanted to see how far I could push myself.”
But the arduous, physical demands of the year-long, selection-and-training process are only part of the equation. Certainly, all of these women are extensively trained in marksmanship, long-range patrol skills, communications, parachuting, counterterrorism, survival course, medical training, Arctic warfare and survival, close-quarters combat, winter exercise, an offensive-driving course, and urban, special reconnaissance. But, after all of this advanced training, in order to be able to communicate with local women in other cultures, the Jegertroppenwomen must also be intelligent enough learn a difficult, foreign language, such as Arabic, Dari, or Pashto. In this respect, they are very similar to U.S. Special Forces soldiers, who all have various language skills.
The primary task of Jegertroppen is special reconnaissance in urban areas, where there are likely to be high concentrations of indigenous women, who can be great sources of intelligence information, since they move about the towns and see all types of activity. But, in order to travel with male, FSK commandos into combat zones, these Norwegian women must be fully-qualified, FSK commandos themselves. Currently, the troop is fairly small in numbers (probably 40 or less), and all of the women are enlisted soldiers in the ranks of private, corporal, or sergeant, with no mention of female, commissioned officers in the troop yet, if they exist. Their year-long, pipeline-training cycle in an all-female environment is carefully supervised by a male, FSK captain.
Once the initial year of training is completed, the full-fledged, FSK/JT women enter mixed-gender training with their male, FSK counterparts, for follow-on training in advanced parachuting, urban combat, land navigation, and Arctic skiing, which allows a seamless integration of skilled operators into a cohesive unit. Parachute training takes place from the Royal Norwegian Air Force’s four C-130J-30 Super Hercules transport aircraft, and the service’s 18 Bell 412SPutility helicopters.
The Jegertroppen women normally wear M/98 woodland camouflage uniforms in all training phases, except for Arctic warfare, and they are authorized to wear the maroon beret in garrison. More recently, they have sometimes been seen in MultiCam uniforms. They are most-frequently photographed carrying the Colt Canada C8SFW carbine with 15.7-inch barrel, or the H&K MP7A1 submachine gun. Other typical gear includes spare magazines for the main weapon, a first-aid kit, compass, radio, GPS receiver, survival knife, face mask, ear protection, and ballistic sunglasses.
These women will operate in two-person teams in combat, and they already exhibit a stronger sense of solidarity and “sisterhood” with their comrades than might be expected in military service. In media photos, their faces are usually covered to protect their identities, since many of them may operate undercover in the future.
Here in the United States, Special Forces duty is viewed as a decidedly “macho” occupation. In a 2014 Rand Institute study of U.S. Special Operations Command soldiers, 85 percent were opposed to women performing special operations tasks, and 71 percent were opposed to women joining their units in any capacity.
But in Norway, the perceptions are quite different, where there is increasing diversity in the armed forces. In fact, in 2015, Norway was the first European and NATO nation to implement mandatory conscription for both sexes, at age 19. In actual practice, only about 11.5 percent of all eligible males and females each year are drafted into military service, and of those, 20 percent are women. The U.S. Armed Forces, by comparison, are only 15 percent female in composition.
The Norwegians understand the physiological differences between men’s and women’s bodies in more-practical terms than we do in the United States, recognizing that there is still a need for highly-skilled, female FSK commandos. Their training officer puts it in perspective this way: “I don’t think you should view it as, ‘the girls are going to do the exact same as the guys.’ They are not going to win in hand-to-hand combat, but most of the time, we use guns, and a lot of the time, they shoot better than the guys...In this way, their physiological differences from their male comrades are recognized, but they are simultaneously valued as professionally equivalent.”
The U.S. Special Operations Command has repeatedly interacted with the FSK to gain invaluable information on how to successfully integrate female troops into special operation units, although the United States still lags well behind in this regard.
If the Hunter Troop commandos are primarily supposed to collect intelligence data from Muslim women in combat zones, then why do they take part in Arctic-warfare and snow-skiing training? The plain, ugly truth is that Norway has a shared, 122-mile border in the far north with the Russian Federation, and President Vladimir Putin, still an old, Cold Warrior at heart, maintains expansionist ambitions for his nation, and would gladly like to retake the former-communist, currently-NATO, Baltic States again for Russian control and influence. But he would also love to take advantage of a weak, liberal, pro-socialist administration in Washington, unlikely to come to Norway’s immediate support should he decide to roll over the northern half of the adjoining, NATO country with impunity, before anyone can stop him. It would only take a few days.
Norway has the remote, Sør-Varanger (“South Fishing-Village Fjord,” in Norwegian) garrison near Kirkenes, just 6.5 miles from the border, manned by 600 border guards and four-man, reconnaissance patrols, but those are mostly young, inexperienced, conscript troops, and they’d be little more than a temporary speed bump for Russia’s 41 T-80BVM tanks, the 14th Army Corps, 61st Naval Infantry Brigade, 420th Naval SpetsNaz Brigade, and the other tens of thousands of Russian naval and ground troops from their Northern Fleet at Severomorsk in a very-heavily-militarized region, with the SpetsNaz (similar to U.S. Navy SEALs) garrison in Pechenga, only 11 miles from the border, which is hardly coincidental.
In the unlikely, yet still-possible, event of a Russian invasion, the four-man patrols from Sør-Varanger have trained to operate as hit-and-run, ambush teams to harass the Russians. T-80 tanks, in particular, burn exceptionally well (as the Russians learned to their great dismay in Chechnya), because they are gasoline-powered, not diesel, and they’re used in the Northern Fleet area because the extreme, cold temperatures are not conducive to reliable, diesel operations. Norway’s FSK commandos, including the women of Jegertroppen, would parachute in behind enemy lines to harass and sabotage the invaders, and to assist the infantry recon teams in ambushing enemy vehicles and convoys.
Many FSK commandos, and some Jegertroppen soldiers, are also qualified as forward air controllers, able to direct airstrikes from the ground by Norwegian F-16AM Fighting Falcon jets and F-35A Lightning II stealth fighters, at least until Norwegian and other NATO ground reinforcements can arrive on-scene to push back the invaders.
Meeting the extensive challenges of FSK selection and Hunter Troop duty over several years is an enormous confidence booster, and some of these women later go on to the Norwegian Military Academy (officer school), with increased opportunities for career advancement and command positions. After all, someone who can successfully qualify as an FSK commando, whether male or female, has already excelled in the toughest, most-hazardous assignment in the Norwegian Army, and usually garners above-average test scores on the officer entry exams. A college degree is not necessarily required, but they must have completed high school, and a one-year, NCO (sergeant’s) course.
Some Jegertroppen women have already gone on to serve as commissioned officers in the Defense Intelligence College, the Intelligence Battalion, and the elite, Telemark Battalion (wearing emerald-green berets) of mechanized infantry, also stationed at Rena.
Hunter Troop’s female, FSK commandos have not yet been operationally deployed in a combat zone, but it’s only a matter of time before the right circumstances exist. They’re already exceptionally well-trained, highly-respected, and enormously-valued as special operations warriors with unique skills, setting the example of successful, Special Forces integration for the rest of the world to follow.
Warren Gray is a retired, U.S. Air Force intelligence officer with experience in joint special operations and counterterrorism. He served in Europe and the Middle East, earned Air Force and Navy parachutist wings, and four college degrees, including a Master of Aeronautical Science degree, and was a distinguished graduate of the Air Force Intelligence Operations Specialist Course, and the USAF Combat Targeting School. He is currently a published author and historian. You may visit his web site at: warrengray54.vistaprintdigital.com.
Photos are courtesy of the Norwegian Army (public domain).