The Special Boat Service is the maritime special operations forces of the United Kingdom Special Forces and the counterpart of the British Special Air Servicewith both under the operational control of the Director Special Forces. Special Boat Service is just like SAS the rolemodel for a lot of the world’s maritime special operations forces. In October 2001, full command of the SBS was transferred from the Royal Marines to the Royal Navy whilst retaining the Green beret. On 18 November 2003, the SBS was given their own cap badge with the motto “By Strength and Guile”. This follows opening recruitment from only the Royal Marines to all three services of the British Armed Forces. The SBS has traditionally been manned mostly by Royal Marines Commandos.
The SBS can trace its origins to the Second World War to the Army Special Boat Section formed in 1940. After the Second World War, the Royal Marines formed special forces with several name changes with Special Boat Company adopted in 1951 which was re-designated as the Special Boat Squadron in 1974 and on 28 July 1987 to the Special Boat Service after assuming responsibility for maritime counter terrorism.
The principal roles of the SBS are Surveillance Reconnaissance, including information reporting and target acquisition; Offensive Action, including direction of air strikes, artillery and naval gunfire, designation for precision guided munitions, use of integral weapons and demolitions; and Support and Influence, including overseas training tasks. The SBS also provide immediate response Military Counter Terrorism and Maritime Counter Terrorism teams.
The operational capabilities of the SBS and the SAS are broadly similar. However, the SBS (being the principal Royal Navy contribution to UKSF) has the additional training and equipment required to lead in the maritime, amphibious and riverine environments. Both units come under the operational command of HQ Directorate of Special Forces and undergo an identical selection process. They enjoy significant interoperability in training and on operations.
All of the SBS’s four squadrons, C, Z, M and X, are configured for general operations and rotate through the Maritime Counter Terrorism Role, also known as Black Role. The SBS also operates on land, with recent operations in the mountains of landlocked Afghanistan and in the deserts of Iraq. Their main tasks include intelligence gathering, counter-terrorism operations, sabotage and the disruption of enemy infrastructure, capture of specific individuals, close protection of senior politicians and military personnel, plus reconnaissance and direct action in foreign territory.