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Fast on water.


British naval operations during the opening stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom refocused the spotlight on maritime special forces operations as troops from the British Special Boat Service (SBS) assisted the capture of the Al Faw peninsula to open a route of entry for humanitarian supplies into Iraq's second city of Basra, and also to establish a beachhead for Coalition forces.

Small, highly trained maritime and riverine Special Operations Forces are a potent weapon in the Global War on Terror. They can be applied to a host of situations from boarding vessels suspected of carrying everything from Kalashnikovs to weapons of mass destruction to manoeuvring from the sea to seize vital coastal targets during amphibious operations. As far as homeland security is concerned, water-borne special operations forces play an important role in helping to safeguard against illegal immigration by inspecting vessels. They continue to play a major role in the fight against narcotics trafficking and in the ongoing battle against maritime piracy. The tools of the trade for special operations forces waterborne mobility revolves around fast craft such as Rigid Inflatable Boats/Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (Rib/Rhib), hovercraft, midget submarines and swimmer delivery vehicles along with specialised diving equipment such as re-breather apparatus. Across the world, a number of navies and special operations units have dedicated craft and technologies at their disposal.

Africa and Asia

With a long coastline spanning two oceans, the South African Navy has a large area to patrol along with key port facilities at Cape Town, Durban, East London, Port Elizabeth, Richards Bay and Saldanha Bay. To this end, the Navy uses two Delta-80 LCU fast boats which are deployed with the Drakensburg logistics vessels and are used by the Navy's Combat Divers.

In China, the People's Liberation Army Navy (Plan) makes significant use of fast patrol craft for naval special forces operations by the 1st Marine Corps. These craft have often been captured from drug smugglers. The Plan also has a number of stealthy high-speed insertion craft that have been in service since 1996 and are used to intercept narcotics traffickers. They operate around China's coastal waters and beyond and there have even been sightings of these boats around the Philippines.


Another country using large numbers of fast special forces craft is the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) Navy which uses a curious semi-submersible craft design which may be deployed with the 137th Naval Squadron; the force thought to be tasked with marine insertion. A large quantity of these craft have been constructed and they are thought to be particularly difficult to detect on radar due to their low profile. On the surface, these craft are reckoned to be capable of speeds in the region of 45 knots (83 km/h) while they can travel at four knots (7.4 km/h) when submerged.

Singapore has a major merchant marine fleet of 1063 ships in excess of 1000 Gross Register Tonnes and the city itself is a major port. The country has several maritime special forces units including the Coastal Command, Alpha and Bravo Naval Diving Units, the Singapore Commando Battalion, the amphibious brigade of the 21st Division of the Army and the Police Coastguard. They make use of four assault craft built by Singapore's SBEC, Rhib harbour patrol boats, Boston Whaler-constructed high-speed interceptor craft (used by the Naval Diving Unit) and also camouflaged high-speed interceptor craft.


The notable hovercraft operator in Asia is the Republic of Korea (RPK) Navy which uses an unknown number of air cushioned vehicles and may be planning to equip the country with around 20 such craft for use by the Naval Special Operations Unit; thought to be the primary user of such vessels. The RPK Navy also deploys the Solgae class which bears an uncanny resemblance to the Landing Craft Air Cushioned vehicles used by the United States Marine Corps and which may be capable of speeds of up to 65 knots (120 km/h). The Plan also uses Jingsah II hovercraft which may have since been upgraded to an improved design with a bow door.

To the north of the RPK, in addition to the plethora of semi-submersible craft that the DPRK uses, the navy has also made significant use of around 21 Sang-O class midget submarines for infiltration missions into the south. Construction of the Sang-O vessels was completed in 1997 and the boats are thought to be able to fire 533 mm (20 in) 53-65KE anti-ship weapons. One vessel was captured by South Korea on 18th September 1996. As well as anti-surface attack, the submarines can be used for periscope-depth swimmer debarkation. Other vessels used by the DPRK navy include Una class midget submarines of Yugoslav origin that can navigate submerged for up to 50 nautical miles (93 km). The Una boats can embark up to six special operations forces personnel and carry two 400 mm (15.7 in) torpedo tubes. Exports of three of these vessels may have been completed, with a single unit equipping the Iranian Navy for use by that country's Combat Divers, with another two vessels supplied to the Vietnamese Navy also for use by Combat Divers.


The Navy of Pakistan uses midget submarines, notably a homegrown variant of the Italian MG-110 design for use by the Naval Special Services Group. Three of the vessels were built under licence from Cosmos and have been upgraded to carry a pair of CF2FR60 Swimmer Delivery Vehicles (SDV), along with CE39 periscopes. The craft has a range of 2000 nautical miles (3704 km) and a 20-day endurance.



A modernisation initiative for the Finnish Navy during the 1990s resulted in the force procuring the Jurmo class fast boat which is designed for coastal operations and amphibious warfare, and is used by the Leivaston Erikoistoimintayksikko Naval Special Operations Unit, Nyland Brigade and 1 Ramnikkojaakarkomppania Marine Commando Battalion. This same design of craft is also in operation with the Hellenic and German navies equipping the Monada Yporixionb Kastrafan and Kampfschwimmerkompanie naval special forces units respectively. The Royal Malaysian Navy will also acquire the vessels.

In addition to the Jurmo boats, the Greek Navy makes use of Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats built by Fabio Buzzi of Italy. Meanwhile, the highly successful Swedish Combatboat 90H design is used by that country's Amphibious Corps along with small Gruppbat raiding craft; a variant of which is deployed with the Finnish special forces. The United Kingdom's SBS and Royal Marines are equipped with VT Halmatic's Arctic 28 Rib with a 50-knot (92 km/h) top speed and 200-nautical mile (370 km) range. These boats can also be airdropped by C-130K/H/H-30 aircraft. In addition, the force also uses the Arctic 22, Pacific 22 and Pacific 28 designs. Other fast boat designs used by the British include the Fic-145 and VSV high-speed interceptor craft and these air-portable designs can reach 55 knots (101 km/h). Along with the boats, British special operations forces use Divex Shadow re-breather equipment which can provide around six hours of air.

European special operations forces hovercraft operators include Finland, which deploys the Aker Finnyards T-2000 medium lift vehicle; a single unit of which was delivered in 2000. It is expected that the Finnish Navy will eventually receive a total of four air-cushioned craft. These will operate alongside the navy's Singsby SAH-2200 light hovercraft. The other Nordic hovercraft operator is Sweden, which uses the ABS M-10 medium-lift air-cushioned vehicle with a 50-knot top speed and 600-nautical mile (1111 km) range. Meanwhile, Sweden announced at the 2007 DSEi exhibition in London that it would buy three Griffon 8100TD vehicles.


To their east, by far the biggest special operations forces hovercraft operator in Europe is Russia. Around 25 Aist class vehicles are in Russian naval service. The Aist displaces around 170 tonnes empty. Since their entry into service in the 1970s these hovercraft have been upgraded with new anti-corrosion engine filters. Their capacity is notably larger than hovercraft designs used elsewhere in the world, which tend to focus on moving troops or light vehicles. For example, the Aist can carry up to four PT-76 amphibious tanks. They are also equipped with a pair of 30-mm (1.18 in) anti-aircraft/surface warfare guns. The Zubr class hovercraft are bigger than the Aist design and can carry up to ten Armoured Personnel Carriers or 360 troop at speeds of up to 60 knots (112 km). The Zbur design has also been sold to the Ukraine and Greek navies. Other hovercraft in Russian service include the Lebed class heavy-lift air-cushioned vehicles and also the Czilim light hovercraft which entered service in 2001 and operate with the Russian Border Guards special operations forces contingent.

The other hovercraft are in service with the Spetsialnaya Naznacheniya naval special operations forces and the Morskaya Pekhota Russian Naval Infantry force. The British Royal Navy uses the Griffon-2000TDX(M) light hovercraft for Royal Marine operations, having purchased two of the vessels.


The former Yugoslavia and Italy dominate special operations forces submersible production in Europe. Brodosplit of Croatia have built a number of midget submarines, including the two-person R-2 design with a 3.3 kW electric motor which has a range of 23 nautical miles (42 km) and a 4.4-knot (8.1 km/h) maximum speed. The company's R-1 design is a single-person swimmer delivery vehicle with a three-knot (5.5 km/h) top speed and a six-nautical mile (eleven km) range. Both designs are used by Russian special forces in addition to Croatia's Combat Divers and Serbia's 82nd Combat Divers Unit, both of which also use the Una class midget submarine as do Sweden's Kurstjaegerskolam combat divers.


Italy's MG-120/ER attack submarine is deployed with that country's Commando Raggruppamento naval special operations forces unit with the vessel configured for shallow water anti-ship combat as well as special forces operations. The armament carried by the vessel can include up to 20 limpet mines, twelve ground magnetic/acoustic mines and up to four wire-guided torpedoes. The range of the vessel is thought to be in excess of 1600 nautical miles (2960 km) when surfaced and the boat can embark up to 15 combat divers. Like Thailand, the UK also uses the SSK-96 Subskimmer constructed by KSA (Underwater). This is a Rhib that can be converted to a submerged swimmer delivery vehicle in around 90 seconds. Surfaced, the Subskimmer has approximately a 70-nautical mile (129 km) range and a 25-knot (46 km) top speed.


Latin America

Argentina equips its Buzo Tacticos combat divers, Infanteria de Marine naval infantry brigade and Pagina Anti-Terrorismo special operations forces units with Guardian-class Ribs; each of which is equipped with twin 150 hp outboard motors developing a top speed of 35 knots (64 km/h). Each boat can carry up to eight troops. Colombia, meanwhile, operates larger Eduardono class assault craft for its Cuerpo de Infanteria de Marina (Colombian Marine Corps). The same service also uses the Tenerife class riverine patrol craft built by Boston Whaler of the United States. Operating at 35 knots, these craft have a 330-nautical mile (611-km) range, are air-transportable and used extensively for Colombian anti-narcotics operations. Equally important for riverine operations are the Swiftsure class river patrol craft that can carry up to eight troops and are used by the Ecuadorian Infanteria de Marine Marine units.


Middle East

The Royal Jordanian Special Forces operate the Hashim class patrol boats which can carry up to 30 troops at a top speed of 28 knots (51 km/h). Meanwhile, for patrols in the Persian Gulf, the Kuwaiti Maritime Special Forces Group uses the French-built Manta design of high-speed boats built by Simoneau. These craft are able to travel at 35 knots for around 243 nautical miles (451 km). One of the largest users of special forces craft in the Middle East is Iran. The country has the Pasdaran Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which has numerous vessels at its disposal including Wellington BH.7 medium-lift hovercraft, which are thought to be maintained in service by Iranian Aircraft Manufacturing Industries, al Sabehat SDVs which can carry three combat divers, Una class midget submarines, Ashoora assault boats, jet-ski based assault craft, Mig-G-0800 fast boats and Type 4 fast patrol vessels. Other hovercraft users in the Middle East include Saudi Arabia's maritime special operations forces which operate Slingsby Sah-2200 air cushioned vehicles while the Shayetet Shlosh Estrai Israeli maritime special operations forces make use of the South African-built Stingray Interceptor patrol boat, which has a range of 260 nautical miles (481 km) at 35 knots. Other major users of rapid special forces craft in the Middle East include the United Arab Emirates, which operates Arctic 28 and Al-Shaali Ribs along with domestically-produced Class 4 and Class 5 SDVs; sophisticated craft which carry sonar, navigation equipment and GPS to a range of 60 nautical miles (111 km); both are used by the UAE Navy Special Operations Group.


Central and North America

Nicaragua has opted to purchase a number of Colombian-built fast craft for maritime and riverine operations. These Eduardono class vessels are used by the Prefectura de Unidades de Fuerzas Especiales special operations forces unit. To the north, Mexico operates a fleet of Interceptor class fast patrol vessels that can travel at 50 knots, along with a number of Piranha class boats. These vessels are reinforced with Isla class fast boats, built by VT Halter Marine in the United States, and are also used by US Navy Seals for the infiltration and exfiltration of special operations forces units with a 456-nautical mile (844 km) range at 35 knots.


Unsurprisingly, the largest user of special operations forces craft in the Western Hemisphere is the Untied States which has a large array of craft that can be used both in the homeland security role and also for overseas operations. Along with the Mk 5 boats which are known in Mexico as the Isla class, US Special Operations Command uses the Boston Whaler-designed light patrol boat. These air transportable vessels feature a single 7.62 mm and triple 12.7 mm machine guns. USMI constructs larger Ribs for the Seals that can carry up to eight troops and are fitted with Mk 19 Mod 5 grenade launchers along with one 12.7 mm and 7.62 mm machine gun.


In terms of SDVs, the United States received the Mk 8 Mod 1 aluminium-framed vessel which superseded the Mk 8 Mod 0 version designed by the US Naval Surface Warfare Centre. This latest craft will not only equip American special forces but also their British counterparts and can travel at nine knots (16 km/h) for 36 nautical miles (66 km). In order to deliver these vehicles, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics have designed Dry Deck Shelters which can be installed on a nuclear submarine to deliver the SDV into coastal waters. The advanced SDV-X system, created by Colombia Research, will augment the Mk 8 Mod 1 design and can convey eight troops 56.5 nautical miles (104.5 km) at five knots (9.26 km/h). The largest SDV system in service with the US Navy is the Advanced Seal Delivery System which can carry up to 16 troops for a distance of 125 nautical miles (230 km). These vessels will be carried to their area of operations by a nuclear submarine; notably six of the Los Angeles class SSNs which will be suitably modified, along with all of the boats in the Virginia class. To increase their mobility, the ASDS are also air-portable in both C-5A and C-17A Globemaster-III air freighters. The first ASDS was delivered in 2003 and can be deployed from either the USS Charlotte or Greenville, the first two Los Angeles class SSNs configured to carry the ASDS.
Select Asian/African Special Forces Craft

Country Service Craft

Sri Lanka Independent ABS M-10 medium
 Special lift hovercraft
 Forces Group
Thailand Royal Thai Navy Griffon 1000TD
 Seal Team, lift hovercraft
 Royal Thai Navy SSK-96 Subskimmer
 Marine Corps Rib
Egypt Egyptian Combat Seafox- class SDV
India Marine Commando Griffon 8000TD
 Force medium hovercraft
 Chariot CE2F/X100T
Indonesia Kesatuan Gurita Cakra (209) SSK
 Combat submarine
Libya Combat Divers R-1 SDV R-2 Mala
Malaysia Pasukan Khas Laut high-speed patrol/
 Combat interceptor craft,
 Divers/special fast patrol boats
 operations forces
Republic Seal Unit, Naval MG-120ER shallow
of Korea Special Operations water attack
 Unit and Republic submarine
 of Korea Marine
Sudan Sudanese Navy Ashoora class
 inshore raiding

Select European Special Forces Craft

Country Service Craft

Germany Kampfschwimmerkompanie Orca SDV
Norway Marinejaegerlag Naval Combatboat 90H
 Special Operations
Sweden Kurstjaegerskolan Spiggen-II midget
 Combat Diver Unit submarine
UK Special Boat Service Mk VIII Mod 1 SDV

Select Latin American Special Forces Craft

Country Service Craft

Argentina Buzo Tacticos Chariot CE2F/K100T
 Combat Diver Unit SDV
Bolivia Battalion de Marina Pirana Mk. II
 Almirante Grau Marine riverine patrol
 Unit boat
Colombia Grupo de Comandos MG-120/ER Swat
 Anfibious combat Midget submarine
 divers of unknown type
Uruguay Cuerpo de Fusileros Nuevos Ayres
 Navales riverine
 Marine Battalion patrol boat
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Author:Withington, Thomas
Publication:Armada International
Date:Dec 1, 2007
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