Sri Lanka Navy celebrates 68th anniversary: Special Boat Squadron: masters of amphibious assault | Sunday Observer

Sri Lanka Navy celebrates 68th anniversary: Special Boat Squadron: masters of amphibious assault

One of the elite units of the Sri Lanka Navy is the Special Boat Squadron (SBS). This Squadron keeps a low profile despite their immense contribution to maritime safety operations. They are the toughest and well trained water borne fighters in the country. They perform their tasks with stealth, calculated speed and teamwork, thereby surprising the enemy.

During a visit to Trincomalee I was able to visit their headquarters located deep within a dense forest, at an undisclosed location. We drove through some isolated roads, along paths where herds of deer and monkey crossed at random. Upon reaching their camp the first image visible was that of a mounted black statue beneath which the squadrons’ motto was painted- ‘Fortune favours the Brave’.

The Commanding Officer of the SBS is Captain Aruna Weerasinghe, a veteran with 20 years of combat experience. The history of this outfit dates back to 1993 when a visionary young officer Lt. Cdr. Ravi Wijegunartne was inspired to form a special unit with rapid strike capability (he rose to become an Admiral, Commander of the Navy and later, Chief of Defence Staff). Along with a likeminded comrade Cdr. Cedric Martinstien there were 30 men who volunteered for this dangerous task at that time. They were the pioneers of naval ground-beach warfare.

Later, a total of 78 sailors also became part of the team. Training in the secluded beaches off Karainagar, the team enhanced their skills. Cdr. Cedric was later killed in action, and is venerated to this day for his significant contribution. Today, the Navy proudly uses the ‘Cedric’ boats designed and built by this innovative officer.

Joining the SBS is not an easy task. It is a process that tests your physical, emotional and mental endurance. Prospective candidates are enlisted persons from the Navy. They have to pass a tough PT test that includes swimming. Once chosen they are committed to one long year of training. Stage one has six weeks of orientation which transforms the recruit physically. During this year of training they do endurance marches beginning from 3Km and going up to 30 Km, carrying a full pack with assault rifle in the tropical forests and sunny beaches. The team’s firing capability is increased along with the swimming skills. Combat swimming is very different from swimming in a pool. Here, the fighter must not make any noise or cause ripples in the water, while carrying his weapon and demolition charges.

The teams operate in the sea, lagoon and river: each area of water presenting its natural hazards. Recruits are taught to stay submerged in the water for many hours, at times encountering jelly fish that cause a painful sting. The body gets used to the routine. During the jungle training phase these young men must travel through the forest paths by day and night. The jungle has its own wild threats from lone elephants, roaming bears, bees, wasps and venomous snakes. Each man must do a 4 km jungle trek at night, alone.

Eight man teams

Once they have completed the training the men operate in small teams. According to Capt. Weerasinghe the eight man team has a leader, scout, gunners, communicator and medic. They have undertaken dangerous missions, often going behind enemy lines. During these days they survive on high protein ration packs, as the fire and smoke from cooking would give away their concealed position. Those who excel in these tasks are absorbed into the highly covert LRRP Team (Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol). The SBS has members who specialize as snipers, combat divers and parachute jumpers.

Over the years the squadron has expanded its mission capability, being able to excel in jungle and maritime warfare, asymmetric warfare, urban fighting and VBSS. The VBSS teams (vessel boarding and sea search) are strong and agile. They are trained to climb onto any vessel at sea, while moving in their own rigid hull boats. It requires nerves of steel to do this in the sea. They excel in anti-ship hijack operations. The SBS has now reached new heights of excellence where they train naval commandos from USA, China, India, Pakistan and Nigeria. Joining the Navy and becoming a member of the Special Boat Squadron is the ultimate action filled adventure for any young man.