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Sri Lanka Navy’s RABS/SBS Concept: An Operational and Tactical Edge over Sea Tigers - Video

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Sri Lanka Navy’s RABS/SBS Concept: An Operational and Tactical Edge over Sea Tigers - Video
Yaer 2006 and Beyond
Tactical and Operational Edge
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“Indirect tactics, efficiently applied, are inexhaustible as Heaven and Earth, unending as the flow of rivers and streams; like the sun and moon, they end but to begin anew; like the four seasons, they pass away to return once more”. Sun Tzu


Naval tactics used in the present world scenarios are discussed at higher military forums which draw the attention of modern technology, sophisticated weaponry, high defined detection systems etc. But in all these discussion forums, the dialogue is primarily about an enemy that is presented well away from ones territory, from ones weapon ranges and obviously one who is very much away from detection systems spread in a four dimensional environment.

 But Sri Lankan experience in terms of its maritime warfare for the past three odd decades has changed amazingly during the last two years. One can with out any argument name Sri Lanka Navy as the “Only Operational Navy” in the world today. This is not an exaggeration of our own small navy but even the navies of the powerful countries have agreed considering the “Operational Role” played by our small navy. One should at the same time ask the important question of” why only now all these things are emerging, why not in the past many years?

Well the answer to this question was rightly delivered by the Secretary Defence during his speech at the 100th Arrow boat launching ceremony in Welisara Colombo few weeks ago. He stated that many ask why the Security Forces are winning now in all the fronts, but not in the past many years. The Secretary said” today the Security Forces are fighting with what they want in the way they want, that is the secret behind, he quoted the Arrow boat concept developed by the Navy as an example.

Consistency Victories Against Enemy: The Key

For the Navy, the maritime threat have been projected mainly from two dimensions i.e. the surface (sea/land) and the underwater. One looking back at all the confrontations related to the navy will see that Navy did manage to counter ground threat quite effectively but have been facing ups and downs when countering the seaborne threat. One should be able to mark consistent victories against terrorists if they are to be eliminated permanently.

Analyzing the past two years and the years before that will see a remarkable change in the naval tactics. This study will give a slight idea of what the navy lack during the previous years and what it achieved during the past two years against a battle harden terror out fit which claimed to be the only terrorist organization that maintained a powerful naval out fit.

What the present naval higher command have understood during past couple of years is that if the navy to pin down the sea tigers out in the sea, they need to be consistent in defeating the enemy when ever he comes out to sea. If the Navy to become a consistent winner against a reputed enemy, a careful analysis of all maritime related activities, capabilities, tactics, manpower, weaponry, international links, intelligence, logistic network etc is needed.

Year 2006 and Beyond

Year 2006 can be termed as the most important year for the Sri Lanka Navy in many ways. Its change of Command which took place in the later part of year 2005 and subsequent projected plans and operational directives issued from the top were quite evident and the navy as a whole stepped towards making their minds adjusted to a change that is going to place not only the navy in the books of history but also the country as a whole in the world march against eradicating terrorism.

Number of Sea Tiger encounters with the navy during year 2006 is around 21. This does not include the tiger activities on the ground which was primarily aimed at disturbing naval ground convoy movements. The naval top brass took notice of these developments and went onto map a plan which aimed at completely destroying LTTE maritime capabilities both in Sri Lanka and overseas. During the 21 odd confrontations the naval fleet units along with the operational elements made number of discoveries and gathered immense intelligence on sea tiger activities. Following these, the navy decided if they are to destroy sea tiger capabilities effectively, they have to counter LTTE’s deep sea movements, small boat movements and sea tiger fighting elements.

The capture of quite a number of LTTE multi day fishing trawlers, destruction of some of them and obviously the destruction of LTTE rogue ships both in year 2006 and 2007 took the navy to an unprecedented level among the other navies in the world. Much have written about these victories and I will not spend time on the tactics the Navy used in those battles but will next look into how the navy went onto sinking the LTTE fighting element i.e. the sea tiger attack fleet with total surprise.

Concept of RABS/SBS


 The concept of RABS(Rapid Action Boat Squadron)/SBS(Special Boat Squadron) was not introduced overnight. Along with the destruction of LTTE’s bigger arms transporting ships, navy understood the necessity of destroying LTTE fighting elements which comprises of suicide boats, fighting craft of various sizes and other underwater tactics quite often utilized by the sea tigers. Experience gathered through number of close quarter confrontations, the navy understood that if the LTTE fighting elements are to be countered effectively, the navy required acquiring better platforms suited to our own fighting environment.

The maritime fighting environment which the navy face today is unique and the conditions required to sustain confrontations arising from it also required to be unique in all aspect. Even though there are number of efficient platforms available for deep sea operations in the open market it is extremely difficult to find ready made platforms to face what the Sri Lankan navy has been encountering for the past many years. In this backdrop, the requirement to develop a unique platform that could attack Sea Tiger units with much accuracy, lethality and surprise was required.

Considering these factors and many other aspects the navy decided to launch its own boat constructing mechanism to suit its requirements at home rather than waiting till some one do the needful for them. The special boat construction project which started in year 2006 mainly concentrated in building Inshore Patrol Craft followed by the most important small speed attack boats named as the “ARROW” boat. With in a very short time period navy was able to launch its 100th boat recently.

The concept of RABS came as an innovation following the two year long study of cautious analysis of confrontations that took place since year 2006. Naval hierarchy understood that if the LTTE fleet units are to be effectively countered, they need to introduce a combination of already available SBS with the newly introduced RABS. Navy by then have understood those platforms they have been using for the last many years do need to be either incorporated with this concept or they are required operate in isolation achieving total surprise. These elite units of the present navy have proved that they are the best combination that the navy can find to effectively face the seaborne tiger threat.

Tactical and Operational Edge


Naval authorities after analyzing the importance of combining these two units took steps to deploy them in strategically important places. The ability to move these units discretely from one place to the other along with its stealth nature give little or no chance for the sea tigers to monitor sudden movement of these elements from one theatre to the other. To achieve surprise during an attack, this is important as the enemy is kept wondering about the possible launching pads of the RABS/SBS units.

The design if the ARROW boat itself is unique in nature. One looking at the boat carefully will see that it is capable of taking rough seas and have the capability of continuing fire power accurately. The credit should go to the unique design of the boat and to the navy’s engineers who put their maximum effort in making it the platform for the present scenario. The area cross section (viewed from front-rear axis) of the ARROW boat compared to the Fast Attack Craft is very less.

In addition to the significant design, this boat has provided plenty of space to place important weapons in crucial places of the boat without compromising its maneuverability or any other operational aspect. Even though I would be not able to highlight the exact caliber and its weapon outfit, recent confrontations have proved that these boats utilized by both the RABS and SBS have got the best combination they can get. A recent confrontation which broke off the Iranathivu Island can be seen as the best case in point. During this particular confrontation, Security Forces monitoring sea tiger communication revealed that sea tiger cadres informing their sea tiger top saying that they cannot face the fire power directed by the naval units and repeatedly requested orders to withdraw from the battle. Even though this piece of communication is quite small, it does give away a big message. Thos who are experts in analyzing sea tiger communications will agree with me that this kind of communication has not been heard during previous battles.

The ability to detect enemy units with discrete and then to take them with total surprise followed by a huge and effective fire power can be termed as the most important characteristics of the combination of these two units. High speed and unique maneuverability of these boats definitely have added icing to the cake.

With this concept, the navy will be able to keep sea tigers on the back foot in all the occasions. They (Sea Tigers) will be not able to conduct their covert operations mingling with Indian trawlers or they will be not able to launch their suicide boats discretely to target naval fleet units as the navy has the tactical and operational advantage of deploying these units by combining to any of their other platforms.

Above all the commitment showed by the naval personnel starting from the present naval commander down to the recruit in the Navy has been always high. In addition to all these, the men who stand behind the weapons and the wheels of these boats have been given the best possible elite training along with a high standard of morale and discipline embedded on them to face an enemy once thought and praised high of its abilities by many westerns and so called war experts.

The combination of the SBS and newly developed RABS can be seen as the most effective tactical exploitation of naval units to counter any kind of a sea borne attack from the LTTE’s sea tiger wing. RABS/SBS concept quite surely has taken the sea tigers by surprise in the recent confrontations and these units will continue to hunt down any Sea Tiger boat/s no matter in what number they come as the new concept provides RABS/SBS to concentrate enough units within a very short time to deliver a lethal blow.

Quite rightly, the present navy commander had the correct plan in wiping the LTTE sea capabilities since the start of year 2006. He initially concentrated at the much important LTTE international maritime network and within a very short time period the Navy was able to wipe out LTTE’s arms supply network along with the small boats which took part in its operations. Then the navy made a significant move by introducing new fleet tactics which primarily aimed at destroying the sea tigers fighting wing.

The summary of confrontations will tell the story in a manner we all can understand. In year 2006, Navy confronted LTTE 21 times. In 2007, number of confrontations was 12. Year 2008 (up-to-date) Navy confronted sea tigers only 04 times. These figures show the rate in which the Navy had reduced LTTE sea activities and importantly their fighting capabilities. Today LTTE sea wing not only suffer from lack of supplies from out side but they also face severe shortage of experienced sea tiger cadres and importantly of fighting platforms.

We all can remember how high the Sea Tiger wing and its activities were couple of years ago. But today with the exploitation of new tactics along with a right combination of men and material behind, Navy has achieved what no other navy fighting terrorism could achieve during a very short time span. For sure in their success story, the RABS/SBS concept will have a separate chapter with all the great sea battles they fought.

The term “ Sri Lanka Navy: The Only Operational Navy” will continue to grow further along with many other new tactics and operational inductions.

By Ravin Edirisinghe - Asian Tribune -


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