Special Boarding Unit
|Special Boarding Unit|
Official pin badge of the SBU
|Active||March 27, 2001 - Present|
|Branch||Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force|
Domestic and International Counter-Terrorism
TKI (In Japanese)
|Engagements||Battle of Amami-Ōshima (Did not intervene)
Anti-piracy operations in Somalia
|Captain Yanagi Nobuo|
|Captain Toru Yamaguchi|
|SBU Pin Badge|
The Special Boarding Unit (特別警備隊 Tokubetsukeibitai?) is a special forces unit established by the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Forces on March 27, 2001 in response to a previous spy ship incursion that occurred on the Noto Peninsula in 1999. The unit was created to perform similar roles to those undertaken by American Navy SEALs and the British SBS. Its structure is based on that of the SBS. They are based in Etajima, Hiroshima.
Their roles involve maritime anti-terrorist duties, including operations where arms are known to be involved. However, their duties and responsibilities overlap with those of the Special Security Team, the Japan Coast Guard's counter-terrorist unit.
Since the SBU is a special forces unit, any kind of matters regarding acquisition of information on personnel, training and weapons are forbidden since they are highly classified. Its operators are seen publicly wearing balaclavas to protect their identities.
After a failed Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Forces mission to stop North Korean spy ships that were in Japanese territorial waters off the Noto Peninsula, the SBU was established with its headquarters in Etajima, Hiroshima. The unit had conducted some covert training in Etajima without any public knowledge after its creation, including exercises on boarding tactics to enter ships. Training was completed in 2000, a year after the SBU was created. A reported ship that illegally entered Amami Ōshima was seen nearby, which led to the mobilization of the SBU. The ship, however, was said to have been scuttled while the unit waited for orders from the Japanese Defense Agency. The unit had made its existence known to the public in 2007 during a training exercise, which involved the deployment of Howa Type 89–armed SBU operators via RHIBs and SH-60J helicopters.
When the unit was created, it had requested training with the US Navy SEALs, but had not been able to do so due to schedule problems. To resolve this, the SBU had requested training assistance from the SBS to help in founding the unit. However, it trained later with the SEALs.
Due to the nature of their duties and responsibilities, an amendment had been passed to raise their salaries.
It was announced recently by Yasukazu Hamada that the SBU will possibly be deployed for its first mission to Somalia to engage in anti- piracy operations. SBU operators had left Japan on March 14, 2009 deployed on board the Murasame-class destroyer JDS DD-106 Samidare and the Takanami-class destroyer JDS DD-113 Sazanami.
Prior to the SBU's overseas deployment to Somalia, the unit had practiced alongside Japan Coast Guard units in simulating a raid on a pirate vessel played by JCG officers without any warning shots fired by SBU operators off the coast of Kure, Hiroshima with a total of 250 people participating, 60 from the JCG.
It was suggested that the SBU could have participated in military operations in Iraq alongside the US military's naval special forces in case of a hostage rescue mission involving Japanese nationals.
Controversy had interrupted from the SBU involved when a Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Forces cadet had died during a supposed training exercise prior to admission to the unit, which had consisted of 15 levels of unarmed combat training. The JMSDF has refused to provide more details on the incident, calling them classified material. However, a special committee was established to determine whether the cadet's death was either under murder or an accident. Investigators of the Criminal Investigation Command had assessed the incident.
Reports on the incident have classified the events as a case of bullying by senior JMSDF sailors against junior sailors. But the committee had suggested that the deceased cadet was killed accidentally after receiving a right hook punch by his 14th opponent during the exercise, specifically to the chin. A JMSDF official has told reporters that even though similar exercises are done by other elite forces, the incident itself can be considered as a severe case of bullying. A statement from the JMSDF Staff Office had suggested that the cadet had died in an accident in the course of the exercise. The trainer was fined ¥500,000 for his negligence.
A report released to the public by the JMSDF concluded that the "dangerous drill was conducted under trainers who were ‘‘not skilled enough to guide sailors’’ and ‘‘failed to take precautionary measures to ensure safety.’" 21 officers were punished as a result of the incident.
As of 2014, the SBU has ten platoons with one main headquarters.
Weapons and equipment
It is known that the SBU uses the HK MP5A5 and the HK MP5SD6 as their primary submachine guns. Their service rifle is the Howa Type 89, while their sidearm is the SIG Sauer P226R. Sniper rifles were purchased for the SBU under the 2004 defense budget under the JMSDF, but the type chosen has not been revealed to the public. The sniper rifle used is the M24 Sniper Weapon System.
SBU candidates are schooled at the Naval Academy Etajima for around 36 weeks including the Special Security Program, which is taken for a year and 3 months before one is recruited to the unit. Basic education is done at the school while the rest is done with the unit prior to recruitment.
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