Articles

Special mission faceoff: Delta Force versus Spetsnaz

There's a nasty villain who's holed himself up in a compound somewhere in BadGuyLand. Both the United States and Russia want to nab this guy – and get him bad. Then, there is a need to rescue some hostages being held at a second compound.


The United States will send elements of the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment – Delta, better known as "Delta Force." Russia will send elite spetsnaz troops. Who do you send where?

Let's put the movies starring Chuck Norris aside (even if they were pretty awesome – and where can I get that motorcycle?). The real Delta Force is filled with very deadly operators.

Founded in 1977, and taking over for an interim unit known as Blue Light. Some Delta operators have risen to great heights: Gen. Peter Schoomaker became Army Chief of Staff, while Lt. Gen. William G. "Jerry" Boykin rose to command Army Special Operations Command and the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center.

Delta operators are recruited from across the military, but the 75th Ranger Regiment seems to be a primary source, according to a 2006 statement during a Congressional testimony.

Delta Force is part of Joint Special Operations Command, which targets high value individuals and terrorist groups. (Photo from U.S. Army)

Delta was primarily a counter-terrorist group, but has since evolved to carry out a variety of missions, including the capture of high-value targets.

One such operation in 1993 turned into the Battle of Mogadishu. The unit was also involved in the capture of an ISIS chemical weapons expert this year, and reportedly also helped capture the Mexican drug lord known as "El Chapo" this past Janaury.

During Operation Just Cause, Delta operatives rescued Kurt Muse from one of Noriega's prisons. Delta also carried out a major raid on an ISIS prison in Oct. 2015 that freed seven prisoners. Sergeant 1st Class Josh Wheeler was killed in the raid.

Russia's spetsnaz were created for a different purpose.

Founded by the Soviet Union, they worked for the Main Intelligence Directorate, known as the GRU. Their mission was to track down and destroy American tactical and theater nuclear systems like the MGR-3 Little John and the MGM-31 Pershing missile.

But their mission evolved into hunting other targets.

When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, spetsznaz took out the Afghan president. Spetsnaz have also seen action in Russia's intervention in the Ukraine, the 2008 Russo-Georgian War, and the Syrian civil war. Russia trained a lot of them – according to Viktor Suvarov, a defecting Soviet officer, there were 20 brigades and 41 companies of spetsnaz in 1978.

That number went up after the invasion of Afghanistan.

Russian Spetsnaz in small arms training.

Spetsnaz and Delta each boast the usual small arms (assault rifles and pistols). The spetsznaz have some unique specialized gear, like the NRS-2 survival knife that can fire a pistol round, and the VSS Vintorez sniper rifle that is capable of select-fire. The large size of spetsnaz – 12 formations of brigade or regimental size in 2012 – means that they are not as selective as Delta.

So, who do you send where? Since the spetsnaz are almost mass-produced, it makes more sense to send them after the high-value target. If the guy lives to be turned over to people like Jose Rodriguez and James Mitchell who can… encourage him to talk, fine.

But Delta Force will be needed for the hostage rescue mission, since they have performed it very well in the past.

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