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that will be described further below, submarines can
meaningfully contribute to a range of these Special
Forces tasks. Principally, the submarine offers one
of a few truly covert method of inserting Special
Forces ashore. It can do so in complete secrecy
and in areas where own forces don’t have air and
sea control. The submarine also has the capacity to
loiter, supporting and re-supplying a team or teams
ashore as required up until the time of extraction.
Special Force operations are not a fictitious
Throughout World War II, numerous countries
exploited the Special Forces – submarine synergy.
Since 1945 there have also been a number of
public or semi-public recounts of submarine Special
Forces operations in time of conflict.
During the initial stages of the 1982 Argentinean
landing of troops on the Falkland Islands ARA
SANTA FE launched a small group of Special
Forces who were tasked to swim ashore and
reconnoitre the Marine’s chosen landing beach at
the Island’s capital of Port Stanley. Two and half
hours later these men were used to guide Marine
Amtracs to their landing points.
One of HMS CONQUEROR’s planned roles
in the Falklands War was to conduct surveillance
around South Georgia and then land a party of
Special Boat Service personnel on the northern
part of the island. The SBS unit did not end up
landing but this does not detract from the fact that
the submarine provided the operational commander
with an option to do so.
In 1991 British conventional submarines HMS
OPOSSUM and HMS OTUS ventured into the
Persian Gulf during operation “Desert Shield” on
a mission so secret that the US Military were only
made aware of it after they detected one of them.
It is understood that the submarine was being used
to place British Special Forces behind Iraqi enemy
Finally, it has been revealed that in November 2003
US Special Forces were inserted by submarine into
Somalia to place camouflaged cameras at important
terrorist related sites in the country.
It’s a real role which deserves consideration.
POTENTIAL OPERATION IN THE
Australian submarines have, for a long time, had a
Special Forces capability.
Oberon Class submarines regularly conducted
operations with the army’s SAS Regiment based
in Perth and Commando Units in Sydney. Insertion
was constrained to operations where the submarine
could surface, typically at night, to place divers
under the casing for further covert transportation to
their target, or to disembark a team in either kayaks
or inflatable ribbed craft.
Clearly this approach involved a level of overtness,
a problem that has been rectified on Collins with the
retrospective fitting of a lock out-chamber which
allows for the dived release of Special Forces.
Australia retains the capability and for good
reason. There are many imaginable scenarios
where providing the Government with a variety of
submarine delivered Special Forces options would
be useful and appreciated; ranging from dealing
with sea related terrorist activity within Australian
territorial water in peace time, carrying out the
secret elimination of a terrorist cell operating from
within the northern archipelago, to a range of
SEA 1000 requires a Special Forces capability.
SUBMARINE SPECIAL FORCES
An amusing story stems from embarkation of
Special Boat Service personnel and equipment on
board HMS CONQUEROR as they prepared to
deploy for the Falklands War. Equipment, including
explosives, were loaded into the submarine’s
torpedo compartment. The senior sailor responsible
for the compartment ventured into the wardroom
and made representations to the submarine’s
Executive Officer (XO) that the explosives were
being stowed outside the bounds of regulation. The
XO grabbed a copy of Submarine Standing Orders
and marched to fore-ends with the Petty Officer
in tow. He entered the compartments, spied the
explosives, and then laid the Standing Orders on
top of them. The XO then turned to the complainant
and stated, “The stowage of these explosives is now
covered by the rules. PO, we’re off to war”.
The story highlights a serious point though.
Unloading Special Forces equipment from the
torpedo compartment so that the tubes could be
reloaded in a different configuration, based on new
tasking, was an unnecessary and possibly noisy
at sea distraction. Ideally, Special Forces must be
catered for in the design of a submarine.
The SF requirements for a submarine are relatively
straightforward. The submarine must be capable of
embarking and transporting personnel to the mission
area. Accommodation and preparation space must
be provided, as must the dry and wet stowage of
their equipment. The submarine must be able to
support deployment of the unit and it’s equipment,
and must also be able to support recovery of both.
Finally, they must be able to provide transport back
to port and disembarkation.
Having Special Forces personnel embarked can
place strain on the submarine crews because
of limited space. Whilst ‘hot bunking’ can solve
the personnel embarkation issue, it is not ideal
and, as such, a case for additional bunk space is
appropriate. Internal stowage space for equipment
must also be considered. Equipment that is large
and cumbersome, or does not fit into the submarine
due to hatch diameters or layout obstructions
must be stowed externally. Wet stowage areas
for pressure tolerant equipment, and dry stowage
areas for non-pressure tolerant equipment may
be required. In this regard, it is noted that some
submarines possess the ability to cradle large
pressure tight stowage chambers on, typically, the
after casing. Of course, it must be appreciated that
no advantage comes without disadvantage; in this
case laminar flow around the hull can suffer - which
can affect a boat’s acoustic signature, as well as the
submarine’s propulsion efficiency.
Deployment can be effected by surfacing
the submarine, as alluded to above, but some
form of lock out arrangement is preferred. Some
submarines allow for the deployment of Special
Forces through torpedo tubes, but this training
intensive method has largely taken a back seat to
lock-out chambers that now come as a standard
feature on all new entrant conventional submarines.
French Scorpenes, second batch German Type
212s and all Type 214’s and Spanish S-80’s all
have four man lock-out chambers (note that the
Throughout World War II, numerous countries exploited the Special Forces
In 1991 British conventional submarines HMS OPOSSUM and HMS OTUS
ventured into the Persian Gulf during operation “Desert Shield” on a
mission so secret that the US Military were only made aware of it after
they detected one of them.
4/09/14 2:29 PM
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