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GNFOS
- Grupul Naval - Forte pentru Operatii Speciale -

Transformed from the Grupul Scafandri Incursori, the Naval Group - Special Operations Forces is the equivalent of the SEAL unit in the US Navy. In fact, Navy SEAL instructors took part in the selection and organization of the group in the late 2000s.

This unit is located in the port city of Constanta, at the shores of the Black Sea. The Romanian divers have proved to be the best divers in the entire region of the Black Sea, where six other countries also have borders (Ukraine, Russia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Georgia and Azerbadjan).

US Equivalent: US Navy SEALs, Navy SEAL SBU


The value of a military naval force, even of one small in size, lies in good naval weaponry, well chosen and maintained, and in properly selected personnel, trained especially at sea.

Vice-admiral Ioan Balanescu

A country which has been gifted with navigable waters and access to the sea, but neglected these gifts, condamns itself to suicide.

Vice-admiral Ioan Balanescu

diver from the 39th Diving Center during a training exercise

Location: Constanta | Photo: Petrica Mihalache

History
Characteristics
Admission
Training
Weapons
Order of Battle
Exercises
Operations
Stories

History

The military created a divers unit during a major reorganization and transformation process which started in 1968 and ended in the late 70s. After the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, Romanian president Nicolae Ceausescu realized his country was at the forefront of the Soviet wrath and was on a constant threat of being invaded as well. Romania was a lone wolf inside the Warsaw Pact group, being the only country which did not participate with ground troops to the alliance's annual exercises and one of the two countries which did not participate in the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. The other country, Albania, exited the alliance soon after. The Soviets have massive troop deployments around Romania which were quite permanent, and they would not miss any occasion to threaten the country with an invasion. After World War II, they have also disbanded Romania's Mountain Hunter units, as well as its Paratroopers and Marines. Starting with the 1960s, all these units were re-established, the last one of them to be brought back to life being the Marine Battalion in 1974. Two years later, the 39th Divers Center was created in the port city of Constanta.

Since its creation, the Center had a dual purpose, to create EOD and combat divers for the military as well as license civilian divers for naval or construction purposes, being the only such institution in the country.

The French company COMEX and the French Navy helped providing equipment and expertese for the center. After only ten years, Romanian military divers would set two consecutive world records, diving to depths of over 60 meters in 1986. Their records were however soon surpassed by new records achieved by their French counterparts.

After the fall of communism, the Center begun participating in meetings of the NATO Standardisation Agency (NSA) and became a full member of the UDWG Comission in 2005.

Between 1976 and 2010 the Center licensed over 1,000 divers in various specialities, both civilian and military

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Characteristics

Until the late 2000s, the Romanian SEAL/EOD force was a combat naval divers force capable of executing all the range of missions specific to such units. Although its name was "SEAL/EOD" (Sea, Air and Land Explosive Ordnance Disposal), that unit should not be compared to the US Navy SEALs, as the divers do not have dedicated air and land training.

They were airborne and did training stages in mountaineous regions, however most training focused on diving operations and establishing beach-heads. Because their primary mission was underwater action, they should be compared to the UDT types of units. The unit had only one fully functioning diving equipment facility in the late nineties, but since the 2000's, a serious equipping and modernization program has started.

Starting from the 90s as well, the combat group had more or less regular training exercises with US Navy SEALs and US Navy Combat Divers, while the high depth divers had a few common exercises with the US Navy's high depth divers as well. All these exercises did not include an airborne or ground component and focused only on naval operations.

GNFOS

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GNFOS operators during a parachute jump

That however was about to change, when in the early 2000s a major reorganization program started in the Romanian military regarding all elite units. It was decided to create a special operations unit in each one of the three branches - ground forces, air force and navy.

The Ground Forces today include the 6th Special Operations Brigade "Mihai Viteazul" (1 SF bn, 2 Para bn's) and the Air Force employes a small CSAR detachment called DCSL. In its turn, the Navy transformed its combat section of the 39th Divers Center into GNFOS, or the Naval Group of the Special Operations Forces.

Today's GNFOS have a selection process which is identical to the one of the US Navy SEALs and comprises of three detachments which can perform operations in all environments, may they be sea, air or land.

GNFOS

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GNFOS operators training in preparation for Atalanta 2012 mission

Incursion Divers

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Romanian-made IAR-330 Puma helicopter dropping a combat diver during a demonstration

Navy Day, Constanta, august 1991. Photo via Navy.ro

That however was about to change, when in the early 2000s a major reorganization program started in the Romanian military regarding all elite units. It was decided to create a special operations unit in each one of the three branches - ground forces, air force and navy.

The Ground Forces today include the 6th Special Operations Brigade "Mihai Viteazul" (1 SF bn, 2 Para bn's) and the Air Force employes a small CSAR detachment called DCSL. In its turn, the Navy transformed its combat section of the 39th Divers Center into GNFOS, or the Naval Group of the Special Operations Forces.

Today's GNFOS have a selection process which is identical to the one of the US Navy SEALs and comprises of three detachments which can perform operations in all environments, may they be sea, air or land.

Marte divers ship

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Marte (Mars) - one of the two combat divers ship of the Romanian Navy

Navy Day, Constanta august 2001. Photo via Navy.ro

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Admission

Since its creation in 1976, the selection process was one of the hardest in all of the armed forces. Added to that, a would-be combat diver must sustain a pressue of 2.2 bars in the hyperbaric chamber in order to be admitted in the unit.

After the creation of GNFOS the usual failure rate of the selection process is 80 percent. Before GNFOS, the admission rate of the incursion divers combat group was between 75 and 90 percent, relatively the same as today.

GNFOS

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GNFOS operator during individual training

After passing selection course, the would-be GNFOS operator must further pass the following individual courses:

  • - autonomous diver course
  • - combat diver course
  • - special forces course
  • - mountain climber course
  • - explosives ordnance disposal (EOD) course, known abroad as demolitions course
  • - various vehicle driving courses (4x4, APC, tank, truck)
  • - parachutism course
  • - survival course

GNFOS

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GNFOS operator during individual training

GNFOS

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GNFOS operators on group training

After the completion of these individual courses, the operators are able to dive with open, closed and semi-open diving equipment, they are able to shoot using all types of weaponry and drive any type of vehicle. This period usually lasts around 3 years.

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GNFOS operators on group training

GNFOS

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GNFOS operators during group training

The individual training process is then followed by a group training process. They will join an active detachment and will continue with live fire exercises, live ordnance disposal, group survival courses, special reconaissance, parachiting from a helicopter, jumping off fast attack boats and others. When this process is completed as well, the detachment members will decide wether or not the new operator is to remain as an active soldier in their unit.

GNFOS

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GNFOS operator during group training

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Training

GNFOS training

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GNFOS operators preparing for Atalanta 2012

Usually training takes place at the location of the 39th Divers Center in Constanta. Hand-to-hand combat, live fire exercises, martial arts and theoretical studies are done every day for at least 6 hours. From time to time, the operators travel around the country to train in different environments, such as the Danube Delta or the Carpathian mountains.

After the official creation of GNFOS, its operators train at least once a year with their counterparts from the other two branches, namely the Eagles battalion (ground forces) and DCSL (air force).

In these side images you can view members from a GNFOS detachment training in preparation for Atalanta 2012. Atalanta is a European Union mission to protect international shipping freight from pirate attacks on the coasts of Somalia.

Romania will send its F221 King Ferdinand Type-22 fregate to the mission in late 2012 for a 6 month period.

GNFOS training

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GNFOS operators preparing for Atalanta 2012

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Weapons

Under constructions.

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Order of Battle

The Romanian Navy is the branch that commands the 39th Divers Center, located in the seaside city of Constanta. The Center is composed of a Training and Diving Research Section, a Submarine Section and a Diving Ships Division.

In its turn, the Diving Ships Division is mainly composed of the High Depth Divers Section and the Combat Divers Section. Previously the EOD (Explosives Ordnance Disposal) divers were a separate part of the Combat Divers Section, while the incursion divers (sf) were another. It is unclear today if the EOD section still exists as a separate identity.

In the mid 2000s the Grupul Scafandri Incursori or the Incursion Divers Group was transformed into the Grupul Naval - Forte pentru Operatii Speciale or Naval Group - Special Operations Forces. The GNFOS is the naval component of the military SOF capability, joined by the 6th Special Operations Brigade of the ground forces and DCSL of the air force.

GNFOS comprises of three detachments which are called DNFOS. It is unclear how many teams or combatants each detachment has. The first detachment of DNFOS 1 was declared operational for international missions in 2010 by a NATO inspection team. By 2012 all three detachments are declared fully operational and some of their operators are on active duty in Afghanistan with their US counterparts.

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Exercises

 

  • - Cooperative Diving 1996, Spain
  • - Rescue Eagle 1997, Romania & Poland
  • - Phiblex 1997, Romania
  • - Cooperative Partner 1997
  • - Cooperative Diving 1998, Spain
  • - Rescue Eagle 2002, Romania & Poland
  • - Cooperative Engagement 2003, Croatia
  • - Blue Road 2004, Romania (with Serbian forces as well)
  • - Layman Teacher 2005
  • - Rescue Medceur 2005, Georgia
  • - SMEREX 2005, Turkey
  • - Steadfast Jaguar 2006, Cape Verde Islands (NRF exercise)
  • - Tuminex 2006, Turkey
  • - Cooperative Mako 2006
  • - SOUFEX 2007, Bulgaria
  • - ROUSOFEX 2007, Romania (international certification exercise)
  • - Tuminex 2007, Turkey
  • - Common Quest 2007 (international exercise with Miroverve US and UK combat divers and SF)
  • - ROUEX 2007
  • - ROUSOFEX 2008 (CT exercise)
  • - Jackal Stone 2008 (with forces from USA, Bulgaria and Lithuania)
  • - Cooperative Lion 2009, Albania
  • - Poseidon 2009
  • - Black sea partnership 2009
  • - Sail Boston 2009
  • - Blackseafor 2009
  • - Sail Boston 2009
  • - JCET 2009
  • - Jackal Stone 2009 (SF exercise)
  • - Ro Delta 2009 (rescue and emergency exercise)
  • - ROUEX 2010
  • - ROUSOFEX 10 (2010) [CT exercise]
  • - Jackal stone 2010

GNFOS training

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GNFOS operators. Photo by Romania Libera

This list does not include the yearly or sometimes bi-annual exercises with the US Navy SEALs.

GNFOS during Jackal Stone 2011

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GNFOS operators clear the deck of ROS Midia during Jackal Stone 2011

Photo by Kim McLendon, US Navy, 17 September 2011

The Jackal Stone series of exercises is a multiannual event which usually employes special operations troops from various NATO and sometimes PfP countries as well.

GNFOS during Jackal Stone 2011

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GNFOS operators clear the deck of ROS Midia during Jackal Stone 2011

Photo by Kim McLendon, US Navy, 17 September 2011

GNFOS fast rope on ROS Midia during Jackal Stone 2011

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GNFOS operators clear the deck of ROS Midia during Jackal Stone 2011

Photo by Kim McLendon, US Navy, 17 September 2011

Jackal Stone 2011 took place in Romania, Bulgaria and the Ukraine and enjoyed the participation of SOF operators from 9 allied and partner countries.

GNFOS guard ROS Midia during Jackal Stone 2011

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GNFOS operators guard the deck of ROS Midia during Jackal Stone 2011

Photo by Kim McLendon, US Navy, 17 September 2011

Admiral James Stavridis greets GNFOS after Jackal Stone 2011

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US Admiral James Stavridis greets GNFOS operators after Jackal Stone 2011 exercise

Photo by Cody Thompson, US EUCOM, 20 September 2011

Special Forces from Romania, Bulgaria, the Ukraine, Croatia, Hungary, Lithuania, Norway, Poland and the United States took part in exercise Jackal Stone 2011.

GNFOS operators approach Queen Mary frigate using a RHIB

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GNFOS operators use RHIB "Lightning 2" to approach ROS frigate Queen Mary during exercise Jackal Stone 2011

Photo by Kim McLendon, US Navy, 17 September 2011

US Navy SEALs and GNFOS during Jackal Stone 2011

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US Navy SEALs (front) and GNFOS (back) clear the deck of ROS Midia during Jackal Stone 2011

Photo by Kim McLendon, US Navy, 17 September 2011

GNFOS operators often use the Romanian-made IAR-330N Puma Naval helicopter.

The helicopter is a navalised version of the IAR-330 Puma helicopter, fitted with flotation and new fastroping devices. Avionics are identical with the ones onboard IAR-330 Puma SOCAT and IAR-330M Puma NATO/Puma MEDEVAC versions.

GNFOS during Jackal Stone 2011

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Ukrainian SOF and GNFOS fastroping from an IAR-330 Puma Naval during Jackal Stone 2011

Photo by Kim McLendon, US Navy, 12 September 2011

Norwegian, Ukrainian and Romanian combat divers during Jackal Stone 2011

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Norwegian, Ukrainian and Romanian combat divers fastrope from an MH-60 Seahawk and an IAR-330 Puma Naval during Jackal Stone 2011

Photo by Kim McLendon, US Navy, 12 September 2011

Three such helicopters from the Aviation Group of the Romanian Navy. One helicopter is assigned to each of the three frigates of the Romanian Navy (F221 King Ferdinand - admiral ship, F222 Queen Mary and F111 Marasesti). The first two are ex-Royal Navy Type-22 frigates while the third is a locally built ship currently used as a frigate but with a displacement which would rather fit a destroyer or a light cruiser.

Before the introduction of the Puma Naval, the Navy's aviation group employed Romanian-built IAR-316B Alouette III helicopters. However, incursion divers of the time used older IAR-330H/L Puma helicopters for insertions and not the smaller Alouette's.

GNFOS and Croatian Special Forces during Jackal Stone 2011

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GNFOS, Croatian Special Forces and US SF from the 10th Special Forces Group fastroping from an MH-47 Chinook during Jackal Stone 2011

Photo by Kimberly Tiscione, US Army 160th SOAR, 15 September 2011

GNFOS on ROS Midia during Jackal Stone 2011

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GNFOS operator on ROS Midia during Jackal Stone 2011

Photo by Kim McLendon, US Navy, 17 September 2011

GNFOS and Ukrainian Special Forces during Jackal Stone 2011

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GNFOS and Ukrainian Special Forces fastroping from a US MH-60 Seahawk helicopter during Jackal Stone 2011

Photo by Kim McLendon, US Navy, 12 September 2011

IAR-330 Puma Naval during Jackal Stone 2011

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IAR-330 Puma Naval helicopter approaches ROS Midia to drop GNFOS operators during Jackal Stone 2011

Photo by Kim McLendon, US Navy, 17 September 2011

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Operations

Staring with 2009, small groups of GNFOS operators are active in Afghanistan on a 6 months rotation period. They are involved in combat operations embedded in larger Romanian SF detachments and sometimes with their US Navy counterparts.

GNFOS in Afghanistan

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GNFOS operator in Afghanistan

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Stories

A Romanian EOD diver in USA

From Quantico to Fort Bragg

SEAL. Sea, Air, and Land. The three environments where the respective soldier must thrive in. A SEAL is tough and rough, ready for any mission, anytime, anywhere. Armed only with a knife and his skills, always among his team mates, a group of elite men, same as himself.

The experience of lieutenant-commander Marin Marian, the commander of the Romanian Explosive Ordnance Disposal Divers Group (Force SEAL/EOD of the 39th Naval Divers Center) is revealing and seems to match the legend of the lonely SEAL.

Marin Marian started his commando experience in 1994. At that time, he was sent by the Romanian Armed Forces at a commando training session of the Royal Marine Commandos. It had been several years since the fall of the Iron Courtain, and now Romania was starting its first military cooperation programs with the West.

Between june and august 1994, Marin Marian was a part of those programs, participating at an exercise with the former "enemy".

Reconaissance training, small unit operations, ambushes and other such exercises were conducted by some of the RMC's during those months. The exercises were conducted in a forrested area of the UK, a foggy hill surrounded by large marshes. At the end of the training session, all the graduate officers were to be integrated according to their domains, in their countries' commando forces. The base where Marin Marian trained was a selection base for the British Green Berets. Here, british officers who were already licensed as commando's were participating at a special development course which lasted a year and a half.

Before this first training session in a foreign country, lt. Marian was already a combat diver in the 39th Center for 2 years, and he was familiar with some of the basic missions that the Scouts were conducting.

After returning home, he was transfered to the Incursion divers section of the 39th center, who's missions are closer to the commando/SEAL skills that he has aquired abroad than the ones of his former EOD collegues. Shores, maritime platforms and ships incursions are the usual missions of the Incursion divers.

Lt. Marian also participated at a training course together with the USMC officers, course which took place in Quantico, Virginia. Since the English language was a hobby for him since a long time ago, communicating with the Americans was easy. In Quantico he learned new things about mission planning, and after that, between july of 1999 and may 2000, lt. Marian took a Special Forces training module in Fort Bragg. There, at the Special Forces Training Center of the US Marines, he also took the selection course for combat divers of the SF.

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Ceremony of the establishment of the Naval Operations Command
Constanta, 31st of March 2003

The minimum requirements here were minimum experience in commando/SEAL operations and a lot of winning desire. The Special Forces Combat Divers belong to the US Marine Corps, while the SEALs belong to the US Navy's Department for Special Naval Warfare. The course that lt. Marian took was the Marines' one, however the standards there were the same as the ones of the SEALs.

Moreover, the SEAL course starts from scratch, as the people taking it are former civilians. But the sessions here at the USMC's facility are harder, due to the fact that the applicants are already familiar with Special Forces, and therefore the instructors start from the idea that if you're there, you're already a qualified combat diver, and you have to finish this course as an improvement of your capabilities.

The instructors warned the applicants before the start of the course, that many times the course ended with no graduates! Even more, the instructors themselves have abandoned it several times when they were in the applicants' position, before becoming instructors. An oxygene mask and an ambulance were present near the facility at all times.

All ranks can apply for this course. Lt. Marian discovered that the Americans have lower physical strength requirements than the Romanians, but they put more accent on team work. The key of success is concentration and a closely-knit link between willing and having the capacity to act.


A diving exercise conducted jointly by Romanian naval divers and US Navy SEALs from Ars Grapple
Constanta, 1998

During the training the applicants were encouraged to stay underwater for as long as possible, even until the loss of consciousness there. This way, they would learn not to fear anything.

That year, Lt. Marin Marian was the only foreigner in the course, because this course is extremely difficult usually countries are reluctant to send their troops there, in fear of failure..

On the other hand, many countries around the world send their troops to complete the US Army Rangers course instead. But those countries send a single individual, once every few years, to the USA, to finish the selection course, not to participate at a training session. Furthermore, their individual is sent to attend the Army Rangers selection course, while it is known that Rangers are not considered "special forces", like the Green Berets, SEALs or the USMC Combat Divers. There are reasons why those countries send their operatives to such courses instead of others. First of all, due to the fact they lack operatives qualified enough to take more advanced courses. Second, in case of failure their operative would become an embarassment. It is easy to state that your country's special forces are "the best in the world", right after your men got slaughtered by terrorists, but it takes a real professionist to finish several renowned international courses in a row.

Even so, out of the applicants who subscribe for this course, most leave during the first day.

The underwater environment is not healthy for anybody, and the instructors and psychologysts were helping the applicants to understand that. It was a unique experience for lt. Marian, where every minute of sleep mattered in an exercise where sleep was a luxury seldom permitted by the instructors.

All the standards of the Americans were about team work, and the instructors insisted about that. Any mistake of imperfection was punished by the instructors, who sanctioned the entire team. The applicants were trying to prolong for as long as possible their stay underwater, and they got to a point where each member knew when his own body was starting to fail.


Divers from the Combat Incursion division recovered from a mission

Asked what was the nicest moment spent at this course, lt. Marian answered that it was the moment when they realized that they all passed the high standards, in a team [the ones that were still there at the end]. The toughest moments were the ones where someone had to quit because of medical reasons.

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