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.