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U.S. Navy Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewmen (SWCC) from Special Boat Team (SBT) 20 gave Sailors from USS Peleliu (LHA 5) and USS Dubuque (LPD 8) a three-week training course focusing on visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) tactics Nov. 2-24 on Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek.
VBSS is the term for maritime boarding actions designed to capture enemy vessels to combat terrorism, piracy and to conduct customs, safety and other inspections. This particular course, facilitated by the special warfare boat operators, consisted of basic small boat navigation, basic engineering, and basic craft boarding.
"Our focus during this training is to give these Sailors the opportunity to learn a skill set that they can take back to their individual commands, and then teach to other Sailors," said Chief Special Warfare Boat Operator (SWCC) Ben Westmoreland, a rigid-hulled inflatable boat (RHIB) detachment commander at SBT 20.
"With the opportunity for these Sailors to execute a modified level 3 VBSS, we are contributing the mission of the conventional Navy to maintain, train and equip combat-ready naval forces capable of winning wars, deterring aggression and maintaining freedom of the seas," said Senior Chief Special Warfare Boat Officer (SWCC) Dave McClain, training department leading chief petty officer for SBT-20.
VBSS threat levels 1 and 2 are low threat, compliant situations, while a VBSS Level 3 involves non-compliance after an official request to inspect a ship in sovereign waters. Level 4 would involve overt armed resistance and will continue to be a mission set solely belonging to special operations.
"It's physically demanding. You're out there on the water and at times these boats get air born, they crash down, you really take a beating," said Lt. j.g. Danny Rigdon, a boarding officer for Peleliu. "I'm excited to take this back to the fleet – we're learning from the best subject matter experts in the field."
VBSS is conducted by modern military and police forces globally. These mission sets played an important role in the creation of Naval Special Warfare. For example, they helped reduce drug smuggling through the Panama Canal in Operation Just Cause, and prevent Iraqi craft smuggling armament during Operation Desert Storm.
The ability to perform VBSS help set the conditions for security and stability in the maritime environment, as well as complement the counter-terrorism and security efforts of regional nations. These operations seek to disrupt violent extremists' use of the maritime environment as a venue for attack or to transport personnel, weapons or other material.
Naval Special Warfare forces conducted more than 120 non-compliant boardings in 2001, just in the Central Command area of responsibility. These numbers continued to rise until 2004 when the conventional Navy began taking on more of these missions without Special Operations Forces help. This training, a proof of concept for preparing conventional Navy VBSS teams for more advanced boardings, is another step in the evolution of this mission set.