The Unidad de Operaciones Especiales (Special Operations Unit – UOE) is the premier special operations force of the Spanish Navy and Marines (Infantería de Marina). The unit is integrated into the Tercio de Armada and is under the direct control of the admiralty and the Spanish Naval Special Warfare Command. The unit is currently based in San Fernando, Cádiz, and has approx. 170 men organized into three operational teams (Estoles) as well as command and support personnel.
The UOE traces its roots to the Amphibious Climbing Company, established in 1952 as an all-volunteer unit tasked with coastal assaults and infiltration. In 1967, using the US Navy SEALs and British SBS as its guides, the unit expanded its mandate and range of skills to include combat diving, underwater demolitions, airborne insertions and direct action missions. In 1985 the unit was re-designated COMANFES (Comando Anfibio Especial), but reverted to its original name in the early 1990s.
After completing basic training and having served in a conventional unit, aspiring candidates must pass a rigorous selection course that includes training in commando skills, combat swimming, mountaineering and survival techniques. The attrition rate for this process averages from 70-80%, though occasionally can be as high as 100%. Successful candidates are immediately sent to parachuting school upon arrival at the unit and proceed to more advanced and specialized training (diving, HALO-HAHO, etc.)
The unit’s first operational deployment occurred in 1969 when it spearheaded evacuation of Spanish citizens from the former Spanish colony of Equatorial Guinea in Africa.
The unit has seen extensive action against Basque ETA terrorists operating inside Spain. It has also deployed to the former Yugoslavia as part of the Spanish IFOR and SFOR contingents. In December 2002, while participating in Operation Enduring Freedom in the Indian Ocean, UOE commandos stormed a suspect North Korean vessel, the So San, transporting a shipment of SCUD missiles destined for Yemen.
The UOE is a central element of the Spanish Maritime Counter-Terrorism capability.