Royal Bahamas Defence Force

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Royal Bahamas Defence Force
Bahamas Defence Force emblem.svg
Bahamas Defence Force emblem
Founded 1980
Service branches Navy, Special Operations Unit, Commando Squadron
Headquarters New Providence Island
Commander-in-Chief Queen Elizabeth II
Minister of National Security Dr. Bernard Nottage
Commodore Tellis Bethel
Military age 18 years of age for selection process, 18 years of age is actual serving age (As of 2007)
Available for
military service
84, 903[1], age 16–49 (2010 est.)
Fit for
military service
62, 779 [1] males, age 16–49 (2010 est.),
63, 954[1] females, age 16–49 (2010 est.)
Reaching military
age annually
2,840[1] males (2010 est.),
2, 758[1] females (2010 est.)
Percent of GDP In 2010 the total estimated capital and recurrent expenditure on the RBDF was $48,901,806 of a total Budgetary Expenditure of $1,819,306,320. This represents about 0.7% of GDP. (

The Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) is the navy of The Bahamas. Since The Bahamas does not have an army or an air force, its navy composes the entirety of its armed forces. Under The Defence Act, the Royal Bahamas Defence Force has been mandated to defend The Bahamas, protect its territorial integrity, patrol its waters, provide assistance in times of disaster, maintain order in conjunction with the law enforcement agencies of The Bahamas, and carry out any such duties as determined by the National Security Council. The Defence Force is also a member of Caricom's Regional Security Task Force. The task force has seen action in the United Nations mandate in Haiti 1994.


By an Act of Parliament, the RBDF became an official entity on 31 March 1980, falling under the Ministry of National Security. The Queen of The Bahamas, Queen Elizabeth II, is Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Force with her ceremonial role exercised by the Governor General of the Bahamas. The Defence Force also has adopted its own system of medals and awards.

The only combat action the RBDF has ever been involved in has been against Cuba. On 10 May 1980, the HMBS Flamingo attempted to arrest two Cuban fishing vessels, the Ferrocem 165 and the Ferrocem 54, for poaching in Bahamian waters. In retaliation, two Cuban MiG-21s invaded Bahamas airspace and fired on the patrol boat. The Cubans sank the ship with their 23 mm cannons, and fired upon Marines in distress in the water.[2] Fenrick Sturrup, Austin Smith, David Tucker and Edward Williams, all Bahamian Defence Force Marines, were killed in the attack.[3] Fifteen crewmen and the Commander made it safely to Duncan Town, on Ragged Island, after being picked up by the fishing vessels they had boarded. The poachers were convicted in July 1980, and Cuba eventually admitted responsibility, paying the Bahamas $10 million in compensation for the incident.

The Force[edit]

The RBDF is a strictly naval force, differing from the rest of its Caribbean and British Commonwealth counterparts in there being no regular land-based military formations. With about 1,600 members however, it is the largest of the Commonwealth Caribbean navies.

Serving members of the RBDF are assigned to one of six major sub-sections: Headquarters, Administration, Engineering, Supply, Operations and The Commando Squadron. The Operations Department contains the mobile arms of the RBDF and comprises the main operational units:

  • The (Patrol) Squadron - The maritime unit tasked with operating all RBDF ships and small craft of the Harbour Patrol Unit (a security sub-unit)
  • The Commando Squadron - An amphibious light-infantry unit, also tasked with additional national security/anti-crime duties
  • The Air Wing - Which operates a fleet of fixed-wing aircraft for airborne surveillance and support tasks

The Commando Squadron is a sizable force of 500 Special Marine Commandos. Training is conducted with U.S. Special Operations Forces and British equivalents (such as the Royal Marines) in special operations and maritime warfare. A common training practice is to have a marine recruit conduct a two-mile swim carrying a forty-pound rucksack.

Several changes in equipment have been seen in the recent history of the RBDF. Originally British-style uniforms were worn by RBDF personnel; now U.S. Marine Corps-style digital woodland camouflage is worn (as opposed to the U.S. Army universal camouflage worn by The Royal Bahamas Police Force Drug Enforcement Unit). Similarly, the first weapons employed by the RBDF were the British Sterling submachine gun and the L1A1 SLR; now the U.S.-manufactured M4 carbine and the Heckler & Koch UMP sub machine gun are employed for front-line duties.

The M101 105mm Howitzer towed artillery piece is also employed, with fifteen guns in RBDF service.


HMBS Bahamas P-60 in Nassau

There are two career tracks in the RBDF: Marine (rating) & Officer (ranks). The enlisted personnel ranks range from Marine Seaman to Force Chief Petty Officer. The Officer ranks range from Midshipman to Commodore. The force is organized and trained along the lines of the British Royal Navy and many of the officers attend British service academies.

The Headquarters of the Defence Force are at RBDF Base HMBS Coral Harbour, on New Providence Island. The commander officer, known as "Commander Defence Force" is Commodore Roderick Bowe, who relieved Commodore Clifford 'Butch' Scavella on the 21 of January, 2010. Additional bases are located in Matthew Town, Inagua and Freeport, Grand Bahama.

The RBDF uses the British Royal Navy style of rank insignia, and all ships carry the title HMBS (Her Majesty’s Bahamian Ship).

Due to a lack of ships, most RBDF members do not spend time at sea, and are used for other military or non-military roles. The Defence Force is primarily an armed service, whose roles also encompass some aspects of a coast guard as well as a disaster relief agency. These roles require Defence Force personnel to assume the duties of: Naval and infantry personnel, Police Officers (Peace Officer), Customs Officers, Immigration Officers, Fisheries Inspectors, Emergency Rescue Personnel, Search & Rescue, Sentry, Detention Center security and Maintenance of Navigational Aids.

The RBDF offers a cadet program for youth called the Rangers.

Peacekeeping missions have been conducted with the participation of RBDF members in El Salvador and Haiti.



The main ships in the force are two Bahamas-class and four Legend-class offshore patrol vessels.[4] The latter are the first part of the nine-vessel acquisition contract signed with the Damen Shipyards Group in April 2013.[5][6] Most of the missions consist of anti-poaching patrols, anti-drug patrols, immigration enforcement, search and rescue, or general National Defence missions.

Four of the new vessels will be Stan 4207 design, four of the new vessels will be Stan 3007 design, and the final vessel will be 55 metres (180 ft) landing craft style transport craft, Damen type Stan Lander 5612.

Class Photo No. Ship Commissioned Note
Patrol vessels
Bahamas class
United States
Hmbsnassau.jpg P 60 Bahamas 12 January 1999 Built by Moss Point Marine at Escatawpa, Mississippi
P 61 Nassau 12 January 1999 Built by Moss Point Marine at Escatawpa, Mississippi
Legend class
Damen Stan 4207
FROM A DISTANCE.jpg P 421 Arthur Dion Hanna 22 June 2014[4] Built in Netherlands
P 422 Durward Knowles 31 July 2014[4] Built in Netherlands
P 423 Leon Livingstone Smith 22 September 2014[7] Built in Netherlands
P 424 Rolly Gray 30 April 2015[8] Built in Netherlands
Damen Stan 3007
3007 CUTTING WAVES.jpg P 301 Lignum Vitae March 2015[9] Built in Netherlands
P 302 Cascarilla March 2016[9] Built in Netherlands
P 303 Kamalame 2016 Built in Netherlands
P 304 Madeira 2016 Built in Netherlands
Damen Stan Lander 5612
ALL DRESSED UP.jpg A01 Lawrence W. Major March 2016 [9] Built in Netherlands

Air Wing[edit]

The Air Wing was formed on November 26, 1981, two years after the creation of the defence force. Initially three Aero Commanders were purchased from Bahamasair and operated, but these were sold off in 1990. In 1992, a Cessna 402 was added with a Cessna 421 soon after. By late 2005, the delivery of a Beech 350 Super king Air took place. In May 2009, a Cessna 208 Turbine Caravan with floats and a Partenavia P68 were delivered and significantly improved the RBDF's surveillance and transport capabilities. The current fleet of the RBDF Air Wing consists of:

Call for an overhaul of the RBDF & Sandy Bottom Project[edit]

During a radio interview on the Bahamas radio station Love 97 Issues of the Day show on 5 December 2006, the RBDF commander stated that there were only two patrol boats operational and there is only one plane in service, but no pilot trained to fly the aircraft. He also stated that up to 25% of the ranks of the Defence Force are 'bad apples' and need to be weeded out.[citation needed]

The commander also stated that there are many programs being studied set to improve the Defence Force's capacity to provide security for Bahamian territorial waters. The future revitalization of the RBDF would include the provision of additional aircraft, increased manpower and salaries, base facilities and command outposts.

In the early summer of 2008, these overhauls had begun. The RBDF also reduced numbers by a third in order to remove undesirable personnel from the ranks. Service vehicles and patrol boats are in more regular use and both illegal immigrant seizures and illegal drug seizures have increased proportionately to the revamped force being used. One of the major seizures was undertaken by boat P-48. Roughly 692 kilogram-sized bales of marijuana were taken off a "go-fast" boat (a light offshore racing boat) with a local street value of roughly 750,000 USD and a Miami street value of well over 1.3 million USD.[citation needed]

The Sandy Bottom Project[edit]

The Sandy Bottom Project got its official start in 2014 after the Government made a commitment that year to invest almost one-quarter of a billion dollars ($232 Million) into the modernization of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force through the Project. The aim is to facilitate the decentralization of the Defence Force through the development of bases at strategic locations in the northern, central and southern Bahamas, while helping in the war on transnational crimes such as gun, narcotics and human smuggling and poaching.The Defence Force has already received nine state-of-the-art vessels as a result of the Sandy Bottom Project. These include the HMBS Lawrence Major, a 187-foot multi-functional cargo carrier; four, 140-ft patrol vessels, and four, 100-ft. patrol craft. Additionally, the harbours at HMBS Coral Harbour, Matthew Town, Inagua and Gun Point, Ragged Island, have been dredged to accommodate patrol craft. Quay walls and jetties have also been constructed under the agreement.

The Sandy Bottom Project will facilitate the implementation of the Defence Force’s decentralization program over the next two years. This extensive program includes the development of Defence Force bases at strategic locations in the northern, central and southern Bahamas, along with deployment of personnel, ships and aircraft. This strategy will also enable the Defence Force to provide operational coverage of the Bahamas’ 100,000-square-mile maritime domain in the fight against illegal migration, poaching of marine resources, arms smuggling, illicit narcotics, human trafficking and potential terrorist related activities. The decentralization strategy will also enhance the Defence Force’s overall efficiency in conducting search and rescue and disaster relief operations, in addition to maintaining marine navigational aids for the safety of lives at sea and ashore.


  1. ^ a b c d e Bahamas, The. "CIA – The World Factbook". Retrieved 23 February 2011. 
  2. ^ Webbe, Stephen (May 19, 1980). "Bahamas seethes over patrol-boat sinking". The Christian Science Monitor. Boston, MA. Retrieved 2013-03-12. 
  3. ^ Maura, Matt (May 13, 2011). "Prime Minister says country remains 'indebted' to marines of HMBS Flamingo". The Freeport News. Freeport, Bahamas. Retrieved 2013-03-12. 
  4. ^ a b c Jon Rosamond (2014-07-24). "Bahamas inducts first vessels in fleet renewal effort". London: IHS Jane's Defence Weekly. Archived from the original on 2014-07-27. Retrieved 2017-03-26. The first of four 42 m Legend-class (Stan Patrol 4207) offshore patrol craft, HMBS Arthur Dion Hanna (P421), was commissioned into service on 20 June, having completed its transatlantic delivery voyage in May, and commenced its maiden operational deployment on 27 June. 
  5. ^ "Royal Bahamas Defence Force contracts Damen for fleet of long range patrol craft 19 Apr 2013". Damen Group. 2013-04-19. Archived from the original on 2014-07-18. In addition, eight patrol vessels, four of the Damen Stan Patrol 4207 type and another four type SPa 3007, will join the Bahamas’ fleet. 
  6. ^ "Lock, Stock and a Sandy Bottom". Think Defence. 2013-05-13. Archived from the original on 2013-08-15. Retrieved 2014-07-18. 
  7. ^ "Bahamas PM Vows Even Greater Resolve to End Transnational Crime". The Bahamas Weekly. 22 September 2014. Retrieved 13 June 2015. 
  8. ^ "Hmbs Rolly Gray Commissioned In Exuma". Tribune 242. 30 April 2015. Retrieved 13 June 2015. 
  9. ^ a b c "Defence Force Bolsters Fleet With Three New Vessels, Mobile Base". Tribune 242. 18 March 2016. Retrieved 18 March 2016. 


External links[edit]