Das Spezialoperationen-Bootsteam (SBT)

With the transition of the Armed Diver Group (Waffentauchergruppe) into the new organizational framework of the Specialized Operational Forces of the Navy (Spezialisierte EinsatzKräfte der Marine) or SEK-M in July 2003, the German navy formed a unique battalion. The SEK-M supports the operational freedom of the German maritime forces in the face of developing and changing scenarios and threats; it is a decisive instrument of national readiness. In the course of the transition to the SEK-M, an organic support unit was formed within the Kampfschwimmer Company (Kampfschwimmerkompanie or KpfSchwKp). This support unit is designated the Maritime Operations Group (Einsatzgruppe See or EinsGrpSee).  The formation of this support group was the result of cumulative operational experience gathered by Germany’s oldest special operations unit, the Kampfschwimmer.

In this context the Kampfschwimmer also benefitted from the experience of allied units, first and foremost from the intensive cooperation with the US Navy SEALs. Beginning with the Personnel Exchange Program initiated in 1975, lessons learned from the SEALs were incorporated into the Kampfschwimmer Standard Operating Procedures and operational doctrine. By forming the Special Boat Teams (SBT) in 2002 the SEALs created a highly mobile and hard-hitting tranpsortation unit. The SBT have frequently (and inaccurately) been portrayed as a byproduct of the Naval Special Warfare (NSW) Boat Support Units created in the 1960, but in fact today the SBTs form the backbone of NSW maritime mobility.  The EinsGrpSee is the German equivalent to the SBTs, albeit much smaller in size, and organized to fit Kampfschwimmer requirements. Members are recruited from selected petty officers serving as boatswain’s mates and in engineering. Command and lead positions are filled by Kampfschwimmer officers and senior NCOs.  Waterjet-powered Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIB) are the vessel of choice because of their shallow draught, high speed, firepower and maneuverability. The boatswain’s mates and engineering petty officers who form the personnel core of this unit complete numerous courses during their qualification as RHIB-crewmen. These include extended power boat operations training including operations in coastal and inland waterways and additional nautical training. The training also includes the following courses: GMDSS Course (Global Maritime Distress and Safety System) Radio and Communications Course for SOF Ranger Training Parachute Training (manual and automatic opening) Survival at Sea Course Combat First Responder Course A/B Military Vehicle Driving School Basic and Advanced training on all weapons used in the EinsGrpSee (KpfSchwKp) These personnel are capable of supporting Kampfschwimmer operation by day and night, in all climate zones. If seaward egress is cut off they are capable of marching or fighting their way overland together with the Kampschwimmer operations team. It is important to note: “special” refers to the boat crews, not the boats. The EinsGrpSee enables the Kampfschwimmer ops teams to quickly penetrate enemy controlled territory (operations in depth), be it in coastal waters, deltas or deep inland via rivers. On the open sea the boats can be used for various operations and constitute an element of national maritime readiness for developing crises. The comprehensive training provided the EinsGrpSee  personnel, coupled with the deployment of Kampfschwimmer personnel as boat captains and flight commanders enables them to conduct such operations as: Intelligence gathering and reconnaissance at sea and along the coastline; Patrol-, surveillance and blockading operations; Counter Improvised Explosives Device (C-IED) Fire-support (various calibers) for friendly forces Infiltration and Exfiltration of operational forces Logistical support/resupply of operational forces Armed transport of military forces Evacuation of civilians Support for host-nation armed forces Support for CIMIC (Civil- Military Co-operation) und Information Operations Support of the German Army’s Airborne Signals Intelligence Platoon LEKE (Luftlandefähige Komponente für den Elektronischen Kampf) Search and Rescue/Recovery under fire During large scale NATO exercises the EinsGrpSee has demonstrated the ability to operate from the sea and to work harmoniously with naval helicopters carried aboard German naval vessels; this clears the way for forward deployment in the context of Sea Basing. Equipped with surveillance gear, the EinsGrpSee can discover detectable anomalies in ship traffic and contribute to maritime situational awareness. Other potential applications for the unit (beyond pure special operations missions) include: supporting other service branches; delivering humanitarian aid far inland via riverine transport following natural catastrophes and in crisis regions. The unit can participate in Joint and coalition operations.   In 2010 Vice Admiral Wolfgang Nolting, at that time Chief of Naval Operations (equivalent) wrote: “A vital task for naval forces is crisis prevention and crisis containment overseas in order to prevent risks and threats reaching Europe.” (MarineForum 3-2010 P. 6). Deployment of the Kampfschwimmer and the EinsGrpSee in the face of developing crises and threats is one option for demonstrating Germany’s capability to act, and for conducting appropriate risk mitigation whenever military intervention from the sea is mandated.

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