Special Forces Training

In order to realistically achieve this training goal, the Basic Operators Training Cycle, (duration approximately 1 year), requires the students to undergo thorough and detailed initial training in all Special Forces disciplines – that being land, seaborne and airborne operations, in any terrain or environment, in any climatic condition, under any amount of stress or strain, in a focused, calm and professional manner.


Thereafter, all students who successfully qualify as South African Special Forces Operators will be posted to a specific Regiment where they undergo specialised training in that Regiment’s specific field of operations for a further year.


This is equivalent to, in the American context, students undergoing training equivalent in the duration and much of the skills training, to the full basic US Navy SEAL and US Special Forces initial training cycles; and thereafter going to one of these units to receive further specialised training in that particular unit’s specialities for a further year.

In the UK context, it is equivalent to students undergoing training equivalent in the duration and much of the skills training, to the full Special Air Service and Special Boat Service initial training cycles and thereafter being posted to one of these units to receive a year’s further specialised training in that unit’s particular fields of expertise.


In this situation, all the Operators from all the Regiments are familiar with each other, are fully competent in all the required disciplines, and can easily work closely together in joint operations where a variety of different skills are required. All Special Forces operations for all of the Regiments are commanded from the same Headquarters, and all the Regiments’ various personnel, strengths and specialities can therefore be coordinated and utilised to maximum effect during operations.


Details of the types of courses and of the courses themselves will not be provided here for security reasons. Some of the basic course names appear on the site of the Special Forces Brigade, but even these list only some of the main headings of the basic and some advanced courses.


The training cycle, courses and course contents were initially developed through the study of various other Special Forces internationally during the establishment and early phases of Special Forces – as adapted for African conditions.


Thereafter, the war in Angola – which continued for almost 15 years – contributed greatly to the learning of lessons, the intense honing of skills, requirements and methods, as well as the development of unique and effective skills and methods of operation.


It is said that – in a military sense, especially insofar as development and honing of skills is concerned - one year of war is the equivalent of five to ten years in peacetime.  This being the case, during the Angolan war, the South African Special Forces underwent a process of development of skills and procedures in the equivalent of 75 to 150 years of peacetime development.


All of these lessons learned, honing of skills and development of unique skills and tactics were passed on to the training of the Special Forces Operators. This included not only the training in military skills, but in the Selection process – in order to ensure that the right profile of person was selected to become a Special Forces Operator.


Other than being highly qualified in Special Forces courses, Special Forces Operators also attend the skills, proficiency and other courses of the Regular Army to further increase their knowledge and abilities in a military sense.


They also undergo the most detailed and thorough training in planning, assessments and military appreciations, as well as command, control and leadership of personnel – both in Special Forces and in the Regular Army.


Generally, a Special Forces Operator is the most well rounded soldier that one can find in a military environment – both in terms of his unparalleled military knowledge, skills and experience, as well as in his well-rounded and balanced psychological profile.


In order to provide an insight into how potential Special Forces Operators are selected, we will provide here a general description of the initial period that potential Special Forces Operators undergo Selection – in order to establish who will, in fact, be allowed to attend the Special Forces Basic Operators Training Cycle.








The South African Special Forces Selection is the most arduous of any Special Forces Selection in the world.  It is also carefully designed so as to be physically impossible for the human body to complete on finite physical resources alone. It is the Ultimate Challenge.  All persons applying to attempt the Special Forces Pre Selection and Selection are volunteers and may request to leave the course at any time of their choice, which request is immediately granted.


Pre-selection Interviews and Tests

Prior to being able to attempt Selection, potential candidate must comply with the educational and clean background requirements for Special Forces Operators. If these are acceptable, a potential candidate must undergo Pre Selection interviews and tests. These include psychological, psychiatric and aptitude tests to ensure that only persons with the most stable, calm, strong, well-rounded and mature psychological profiles, and who are in possession of the required aptitude, are admitted. After that, detailed interviews are conducted to further assess potential candidates, and finally demanding physical tests to ensure a minimum entry level of fitness and strength.  Potential candidates who pass these Pre-selection interviews are permitted to attempt the Pre -selection phase. Usually, only 30% of potential candidates will successfully pass the Pre-selection Interviews and Tests, and 70% will be turned down.


Pre-selection Phase

The South African Special Forces Pre Selection Phase - referred to through the years by various names - is equivalent to most other Special Forces Selections. It duration is six weeks or more.  During this period, potential candidates may at any time ask to leave the course, or they will be removed from the course by the instructors if they fail any of the weekly academic and physical tests, or display indiscipline or any other undesirable  personality or psychological characteristics under pressure. Other than providing the students with basic infantry training to ensure that the potential candidates are all brought onto the same standard militarily, the Pre -selection Phase has two primary aims, they being:-


  1. To place the potential candidates under consistent extremely stressful physical and mental circumstances for an extended period, which will further reduce the number of potential candidates for Selection, as only the most strongest potential candidates – physically and mentally – and those who possess great resources of determination and stamina, can possibly complete the Pre-selection Phase.
  2. To build up the physical strength and stamina of the potential candidates to the highest possible level prior to Selection, as otherwise the very real possibility would exist of death occurring amongst potential candidates during Selection, due to the incredibly extreme physical exertion experienced during it.

For the duration of the Pre-selection Phase, potential candidates undergo a 6-and-a-half day week, of up to 18 to 20 hours a day. The routine includes basic infantry lectures and training, extreme and continuous PT sessions, increasingly long route marches with increasingly heavy kit, and other similar challenges – including daily and weekly PT and academic tests that must be passed. Every day, steadily increasing PT tests must be passed or the potential candidate will be taken off course. Similarly, the route marches are speed marches, which must be completed in the given time, or the candidate is taken off course. Weekly written examinations on relevant subject matter must be passed, or the candidate is taken off course. Other than the extreme and continuous PT and other extreme physical pressure, the Phase is planned and implemented to as to apply the most extreme and consistent psychological pressure on the potential candidates too. This, combined with very little sleep, ensures that only potential candidates who can remain calm, focused and stable under very extreme circumstances, and who really have the strongest possible patience, will, self-confidence, self-discipline and determination to continue and succeed under any circumstances, and who have tremendous physical and psychological strength and stamina, will complete the Pre-selection Phase, and be allowed to attempt the Special Forces Selection.  Usually, less than a third of the potential candidates who are allowed to attempt the Pre-selection Phase will successfully complete it, and be allowed to attempt the Special Forces Selection.



Selection is an event during which candidates are placed in an extremely mentally and physically demanding set of situations and circumstances through which they must pass. It is approximately a week long.


Selection is carefully and specifically designed so as to be impossible for a human being to complete on finite physical resources alone.  In order to be able to complete selection, one has to draw on the infinite resources of the mind, as well as resources of will and spirit, to possibly continue and complete.


For the duration of Selection, the candidates do not sleep or eat, and have no rest period at all.


At all relevant stages of Selection (most of Selection) potential candidates are accompanied by Qualified Operators, as well as psychologists, who monitor and control the potential candidates at all times. Psychometric tests are also given to potential candidates at various stages of Selection.


Any candidate who exhibits signs of overt aggression, hostility, inability to work in a team, or other undesirable characteristics will be immediately removed from the course by one of the qualified Operators or Psychologists accompanying the candidates. This is in addition to candidates who request to leave the course or fall out.


The purpose of the selection is to simulate the most extreme physically and mentally stressful conditions that could ever possibly be experienced by a human being operationally,in order to see how the potential candidates. will adapt to the situations. This is done to ensure that only the most stable, disciplined, self-disciplined and resourceful persons - who are able to tap into the infinite strength of the mind as opposed to merely physical attributes - are able to succeed and pass.  Many persons who pass selection have a physically small or weak appearance and many who fail are physically immensely strong. 


As mentioned, Selection is designed to be physically impossible for a human being to complete on finite physical resources alone, forcing the candidate to utilize all of his physical and mental capabilities in order to succeed in completing the seclection.


However, once the subtle barrier to the mind has been passed, the candidates are able to – using this infinite power of the mind - control all feelings of fear, anxiety, stress, exhaustion or any other aspect and are able to will their bodies to continue indefinitely under any circumstances, while undergoing physical conditions and demands that would otherwise be humanly impossible to achieve.


Once a candidate reaches this stage, nothing will stop him and he would be able to continue under these circumstances indefinitely.  Also, once a candidate reaches this stage – where he has effectively completed and is completing the impossible – the concept of something being “impossible” is broken forever. This is why the South African Special Forces are able to undertake operations and endure physical and mental conditions that for others are impossible – because after Selection – nothing is impossible for us anymore.


Only an extremely small percentage of persons who begin Selection ever pass it. On occasion no candidate has managed to pass Selection,and there are other instances where or only 1 or 2 persons out of an entire Selection group manage to pass.

About 95% to 100% of persons who complete Selection will go on to complete the rest of the Special Forces Operators Basic Training Cycle.


Further training

Candidates who pass Selection then complete the Basic Operators Training Cycle, which continues for approximately a year. The various courses on this cycle are also extremely physically and mentally demanding. Some Operators have said that they found some of the courses on the cycle to be just as challenging – if not more so – than Selection itself.


For the duration of the cycle any candidates who fail to comply with any of the physical or academic requirements of the course, or who display any undesirable psychological or personality traits will be removed from the cycle.


The Basic Operators Training Cycle ensures that each Special Forces Operator who has completed this cycle is extremely well qualified in an in-depth manner in all aspects of sea, air and  land operations, in any terrain or environment, under any climatic or other conditions.


During the time of the war in Angola, one of the courses prior to Qualification as a Special Forces Operators included an actual operation / attack against an enemy position inside Angola.


Once a Special Forces Operator has qualified, he will be posted to one of the Special Forces Regiments, where he will undergo further training in a field or fields of specialisation for up to a year thereafter, (although Operators will also during this period be deployed on operations as required).


After this, he is ready to be deployed.