Blood on the Sand: Green Beret vs. Spetsnaz

May 12, 2009

Tonight at 10pm, Deadliest Warrior pulls the Cold War out of the deep freezer, and when Spetsnaz confronts Green Beret, mutually assured destruction is a guarantee.

This week we're looking at our most modern matchup to date, a confrontation between Spetsnaz and Green Beret. These are two warriors who fall squarely in the category of elite modern soldiers.

The formal name for each force includes the words "Special Forces." Green Beret is the colloquial name we apply to the United States Army Special Forces, while the full title of the Spetsnaz can be transliterated as "Voyska Spetsialnogo Naznacheniya," a name that also contains the phrase "special forces" or "special purpose." But what sets them apart from one another, and frankly, what makes them both "special?"

Astute readers will point out that there are different Spetsnaz forces within different branches of the Russian Federation's military, intelligence, and internal affairs services, a tradition held over from the Soviet Union, who oddly enough, borrowed the practice of internal police and gendarmes from the Russian Empire before them. However, the Spetsnaz who dealt primarily with fighting on foreign soil, were Spetsnaz GRU.

It is also important to make note here that we are looking at Cold War-era fighters, our Spetsnaz being Soviet Spetsnaz, drawn from the late '80s, while our Green Berets are drawn from the same time period.

The Green Berets, have a shorter tradition, having been formally established in 1952. Their origins can be traced back to units under command of the OSS (Office of Strategic Services) in World War II, like many of the U.S. Military's other clandestine or otherwise "special" forces. Still, their legacy isn't quite as long as that of their counterparts.

Photo: Tom Weber/The Image Bank/Getty Images

What makes this fight interesting beyond the usual what-ifs is the role that both forces played on the frontlines of the Cold War, with both sides seeing deployment in foreign countries as a way of projecting the influence of either super power. But that's a commonality. To get into differences, let's turn to the philosophies each side embraced in arms and armament.

To simplify the matter a great deal, the fighting style and skills of the Green Berets reflect American ingenuity, know-how, and think-on-your-feet problem solving. Their weaponry is built to a slightly higher level of technical sophistication. One of the key roles a Green Beret plays is to train and equip foreign forces friendly to American interests. Just look to their motto, De Oppresso Liber, "to free the oppressed." Proficient (given sufficient briefing) with nearly any firearm going back to the turn of the twentieth century, the Green Beret can train and prepare a local fighting force while supplementing their abilities with his already formidable fighting skills.

On the other hand, the Spetsnaz is outfitted with a set of good generalist weaponry rugged enough to take anywhere and survive (nearly) any set of conditions. He's not as comfortable working as a specialist who adapts the situation to his aims, but he can adapt himself to the situation around him. He knows his weaponry is reliable, and he's just as likely to learn from whomever he's fighting alongside as he is to teach them a tactic from his formidable arsenal.

Part of this difference can be seen in the different philosophies both sides have regarding marksmanship and motion on the battlefield. Our Green Berets claimed that the majority of their training time was spent honing their marksmanship skills, and then learning how to move tactically to in order to make the best use of those skills.

Read between the lines, and their initial strategy becomes clearer: to use coordinated firepower to disable their opponent first, before he can affect them. The best defense is a good offense.

Our Spetsnaz claimed something different: for them, tactical movement and marksmanship were inextricably interlinked. They claimed to have spent an equal amount of time learning to shoot as they did learning to move (in order to dodge, to advance, to gain the terrain advantage, to fall back elegantly, etc.).

Again, read between the lines, their strategy is something like: persevere, react, and control the flow and tempo of the battle around you, and you control the battle.But these are broad outlines and they are not mutually exclusive. The hallmark of elite warriors is their flexibility and the ease with which they successfully change strategies during battle.

There is one final commonality that may offer hints as to who will be victorious in tonight's confrontation. Both forces have fought as part of a larger deployment of troops in Afghanistan. The Spetsnaz during the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s, and the Green Berets are there now. It's not an ideal comparison as modern Green Berets have the advantage of 20 years of military advancement over our Cold War Green Berets, although the difference technology makes in this time period is arguable.

Afghanistan isn't a cakewalk now, but looking back, it isn't for nothing that the Soviet Invasion is remembered as Russia's answer to the Vietnam War. War-torn Afghanistan is, sadly enough, the best clue to this conflict we have.

Finally, I want to end this week's blog by thanking our experts this week, Matt Anderson, Sonny Puzikas, George Gomez, and Maxim Franz. Whatever your nationality may be, it is because of men and women like them all over the world that the vast majority of us will never have to see a real battlefield or know the struggles of war first hand.

On Deadliest Warrior, we're looking to history's greatest warriors for the answer to a hypothetical question. But for our troops fighting overseas and working hard to protect us, war isn't a hypothetical question. It's a reality harsher than any amount of scientific testing or computer simulation can properly convey. We owe them our support and our gratitude, and we owe it to them to exercise our freedoms to their fullest extent, to celebrate the very liberty they have sacrificed so much to protect.

That said, enjoy tonight's show, and we're looking forward to your questions and comments for this week's Aftermath.

Morituri te salutant,

Max Geiger is a game designer and graduate of USC's Interactive Media Division.
You can follow him on Twitter (@MaxGeiger), as well as Geoff Desmoulin (@GeoffDesmoulin) and Dr. Armand Dorian (@ArmDor).