Speed is the essence of war. Take advantage of the enemy's unpreparedness; travel by unexpected routes and strike him where he is defenceless. In theory and practice Special Forces,on land, sea or from air are always a force multiplier that would deter the enemy to an extent of forcing its fighting mechanism self-defence rather than an offensive.one Special Forces are able to confuse the enemy in unprecedented manner in clandestine operations disturbing the enemy's war fighting capability and opening operational advantage to conventional forces. Navy realized the value of special operations in the early stages of confronting separatist terrorism that devastated the country for over three decodes.

      History and Background

      Due to frequent resistances and various Asymmetric tactics near the naval troop deployed areas in country, the Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) recognized the imminent need to raise a specially trained counter terrorist team and realized the value of special operations in the early stages of confronting separatist terrorism that devastated the country for over three decades. Although not formerly commissioned, the urge for action of few young and eccentric officers and men who were more than willing to put themselves in the harms' way at enemy's door step,was evident in the early confrontation with the LTTE. Among them, Lieutenant Commander Shanthi Bahar had been a pioneer to lead a small team of specially trained sailors seeking the LTTE hideouts in jungles and thickets of Trincomalee. His untimely death in action delayed the foundation of a naval special force by many years.

      The LTTE grew from a guerrilla group to quasi-conventional force and Sea Tigers to a considerable strength. The LTTE and its war fighting mechanism solely depended on the Sea Tiger force for survival, first the logistic train from high seas kept open in spite of determined offensive of the Navy. Secondly, Sea Tigers have been an irritable distraction that lodged Navy's resources to keep sea lines of communication with the Northern Peninsula. Thirdly, Sea Tigers mastered asymmetric warfare with suicide boats, divers, mines and littoral attacks in coastal waters and lagoons

      The Special Boat Squadron (SBS) was formerly inaugurated on 18th January 1993 at SLNS Elara in Karainagar, the major naval base in Jaffna Peninsula in early nineties. The first batch of aspiring two officers and 76 sailors, mostly recruits and few Leading rates, joined on voluntary commitment to form the future elite commando of the Navy. Nevertheless, the toll of training attrition was high as only the strong remained and weak fade away right throughout the rigorous training process. Finally, both officers and 25 of ratings survived to form nucleus of Special Boat Squadron under the charismatic leadership of Lieutenant Commander RC Wijegunaratne. Two subalterns, Lieutenant Channa Jayasinghe and Sub Lieutenant SW Gallage were willing and dedicated officers who would dare the impossible to strike enemy as it had proven again and again in small group raids they did during their stints Moreover SBS developed training on special boat tactics to fight in brown waters and coastal shallows. Sooner the squadron grew up into a versatile force capable of covert and overt operations on land and sea. Capacity building and rigorous training made the force capable of clandestine waterborne entry and even air mobile to operate deep in the enemy controlled land.The versatility includes pre assault special missions in amphibious landing and small boat tactics to battle with enemy in the close quarter surface combat

      The first litmus test on SBS to examine their readiness came even before completion of training to establish amphibious lodgement to reinforce besieged Poonaryn camp. The entire amphibious landing had been a joint affair,though SBS alongside boat crews of in shore patrol craft and dinghies had played a pivotal role in the assault wave under enemy fire.

      Starting as a small element by securing significant victories, Special Boat Squadron fought with heavily armed, highly manoeuvrable arrow craft, to fasten the fate of the LTTE until the end of separatist war against LTTE.

      Command Control and Tasking

      The SBS is functioning under the direct command and control of Naval Headquarters, Under Director General Operations who may deploy SBS troops as per the operational requirements. Director Marine Special Forces and Deputy Director Marine Special Forces are to assist the DGO in all operational and training matters. Also DGO is responsible to deploy SBS troops for their classic duties.

      Role and task

      Following special tasks are considered as classic role for the SBS

      * Support in securing a beach head prior to an amphibious operation.
      * Beach reconnaissance.
      * Gathering intelligence by observation in enemy controlled to enemy dominated and high risk territories in coastal areas.
      * Clandestine operations to destroy enemy personnel, boats or enemy locations/installations/ infrastructure by waterborne infiltrations in such areas.
      * Offensive mining, mine clearance and demolition.
      * Anti-ship hijack and hostage rescue missions.
      * Special small boat operations in littoral and internal waters.
      * LRRP operations in deep inland.
      * Combat Diving operations.
      * Hostage Releasing and Counter Terrorism Operations..
      * VIP/VVIP Protection.
      SBS Insignia
      * Three headed snake depicts the surface protection as a water-borne special force
      * Pair of frog legs depict underwater combat capability.
      * Bat wings depict the stealth, air-borne and night operation capability.

      The Rapid Action Boat Squadron is a force element squadron that provides expertise in small boat operations in support of littoral operations amphibious and riverine activities. The squadron is equipped with Inshore Patrol Craft and Arrow speed boat that provide high degree of firepower along with high speed and maneuverability.

      When the LTTE Sea Tiger wing was formed in 1984, the fledgling insurgent force used small boats to ferry guerrilla fighters and their equipment by means of sea route from South India to Northern tip of Sri Lanka. Gradually the LTTE had begun using speed craft with more powerful engines which were able to ferry large shipment of weapons across the Palk Strait forcing SLN to look for an alternative solution. As a result the SLN purchased Israeli-built Fast Attack Craft (FACs) and utilized them in action in late 1980s. Since then Sea Tigers the encountered difficulties to meet challenges with these FACs. Subsequently, the LTTE developed high power suicide boats and used swarming tactics to overwhelm the FACs thereby the outfit was able to launch significant successful attacks against the SLN fleet. The very first suicidal attack of this nature was on 29 August 1993.

      Gradually, the LTTE was improving and developing their tactics with the concept of cluster attack which comprises number of both suicidal and attack craft would mingle with fishermen or disguised as fishermen creating numerous difficulties to the SLN fleet units. These intense battles have taken place in close quarter thus making them fierce. These LTTE craft were manufactured and design with low profile high speed maneuverability and were capable of projecting heavy fire power. During this era the SLN fleet units found it difficult to counter such threat from the LTTE Sea Tiger wing thereby encountered number of losses and damages.The LTTE Sea Tiger wing launched most of their attack in littoral waters where even FACs experienced difficulties in operating due to navigational hazards.


      The LTTE's small boats could be operated conveniently in shallow waters and are highly maneuverable and capable of moving fast thus launching surprise attack on the SLN vessels, particularly on large vessels. This scenario posed a huge challenge and threat for sea units of the Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) and major ports which are considered to be economi hubs such as Colombo, Trincomalee, Kankasanthurai, Galle etc. were also constantly under LTTE suicidal threat during more than 3 decades of nasty war against the LTTE.

      Owing to such scenario the SLN was convinced, after extensive research studies that the most appropriate solution to counter such threat scenario was to form a flotilla of small boats which has speed, maneuverability and capable of projecting superior fire power thereby deterring the enemy and countering such attacks effectively.This resulted to form Rapid Action Boat Squadron under the able directive of the then Commander of the Navy Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda in year 2007. On 01st March 2007 the first ever basic training of the RABS was conducted for 05 officers and 18 sailors at SLNS Vijaya ( at NSU Baththalangunduwa) under the supervision of Commodore Rohan Amarasinghe who was the first director of the squadron. During initial training, RABS personnel were attached to SBS HQ, NAD and FAF 4 in Trincomalee, where they have under gone specific training in respective modules such as weapon training, boat maneuvering and joint operations particularly with FACs and IPCs , Physical training ,Combat medicine, Swimming etc.


      During this period, the need of newly formed squadron was at its peak, hence craft of the squadron were equipped with modern weaponries and accessories such as GPS, IR Strobe, SART, night vision goggles, VHF head set with headgears within a short period of time. Meanwhile a special uniform package was also introduced thus giving them peculiar recognition.

      As mentioned above the squadron was developed rapidly to meet and counter emerging threat from the LTTE particularly from suicidal boats. Thus the SLN was geared to increase its production of arrow craft with in association with modern equipment.Hence, the SLN was able to produce 100 arrow craft to its fleet within a short span of time. A special ceremony was held to mark the special occasion of manufacturing the 100th Arrow craft at Naval Boat Yard, Welisara on 30th August 2008.

      Thus the need of recruitment of personnel was existed as a result 10 no of officers and 400 sailors were recruited to the squadron gradually. The continuous training was given to make them confident on Asymmetric warfare. 10. After all hard and planned work SLN was able to design and develop a better platform to counter emerging threat from LTTE which resulted in introducing a better platform small craft known as 'Arrow craft. These Arrow craft could operate in shallow waters with high speed remarkable maneuverability which were equipped with weaponries could project superior fire power when operating in numbers together had certainly outnumbered and overpowered the LTTE control at sea thus forcing them to retreat or die, thereby LTTE sea tiger asymmetric tactics were crushed effectively. Hundreds of indigenously produced fiberglass crafts have been built in three variants for operation in different and demanding conditions. The smallest being 18ft and 23ft Arrow craft, the second class being 14m long and third class being 17m command fighting boat known as Wave Rider craft joined the squadron subsequently. The highly trained sailors on these platforms were able to pin-down LTTE sea tiger wing and such elite group was named as Rapid Action Boat Squadron (RABS).


      The concept of the RABS is based on 'swarming – tactics' in which a flotilla of small boats, operating as a 'swarm' confronts enemy's small boats. The RABS will be deployed to exercise Sea Control and Sea Denial in a limited maritime domain, by means of offensive deployments. Their strength lies on the 'swarms' and not in single boat unit.

      Introduction and Evolution

      With the dawn of peace in year 2009, RABS was ease-up with their daunting primary role out at sea and the need for a specialized rescue squadron was felt following the devastating floods during recent past as existing system of flood relief response was found to be seemingly inadequate and inefficient in a wide spread disaster at the time of introduction of specialized rescue squadron in year 2011.

      Hence the Rapid Response Rescue and Relief Squadron (Identified as 4RS in short form) is established specially to respond swiftly in to flood relief assistance and rescue flood victims even in difficult and swift waters despite the time of the day. The squadron will also be deployed for rescue and relief duties during other disasters caused by Tsunami, Cyclones etc.

      The core strength at the inception of the squadron will be rescue and relief work equipped with a multitude of craft with different applications that could be deployed under varying and extreme conditions caused by floods. Currently, skills of Officers & sailors of 4RS have been developed accordingly, thus that they could be deployed effectively in rescue and relief work during many types of disasters too. The squadron will also undertake training of sister service personnel and civil personnel who engage in disaster relief operations in liaison with Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Disaster Management.