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...