Special Boarding Unit

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Special Boarding Unit
Official pin badge of the SBU
ActiveMarch 27, 2001 - present
Country Japan
Branch Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force
TypeSpecial forces
RoleSpecial operations
Direct Action
Unconventional Warfare
Counter-Piracy operations
Domestic and International Counter-Terrorism, VBSS
Garrison/HQEtajima, Hiroshima
TOKKEITAI (In Japanese)
EngagementsBattle of Amami-Ōshima (Did not intervene)
Counter-piracy operations in Somalia[2]
Captain Yanagi Nobuo
Captain Toru Yamaguchi
Green SBU Patch
Blue SBU Patch
Special Boarding Unit green patch.jpg
Special Boarding Unit Blue patch.jpg
SBU operators in an insertion exercise in RIMPAC 2018.

The Special Boarding Unit (特別警備隊, Tokubetsukeibitai) is a special forces unit established by the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force on March 27, 2001 in response to a previous spy ship incursion that occurred on the Noto Peninsula in 1999.[3][4] The unit was created to perform similar roles to those undertaken by American Navy SEALs and the British SBS.[1] Its structure is based on that of the SBS.[5] They are based in Etajima, Hiroshima.[6]

Their roles involve maritime anti-terrorist duties, including operations where arms are known to be involved.[7] However, their duties and responsibilities overlap with those of the Special Security Team, the Japan Coast Guard's counter-terrorist unit.[8]

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.[9] Its operators are seen publicly wearing balaclavas to protect their identities.[6]


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,[1][10] the SBU was established[7] with its headquarters in Etajima, Hiroshima.[11] The unit had conducted some covert training in Etajima without any public knowledge after its creation, including exercises on boarding tactics to enter ships.[12] Training was completed in 2000, a year after the SBU was created.[13] A reported ship that illegally entered Amami Ōshima was seen nearby, which led to the mobilization of the SBU.[13] The ship, however, was said to have been scuttled while the unit waited for orders from the Japanese Defense Agency.[13] 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.[14][15]

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.[13] To resolve this, the SBU had requested training assistance from the SBS to help in founding the unit.[5][13][6] However, it trained later with the SEALs.[16]

Due to the nature of their duties and responsibilities, an amendment had been passed to raise their salaries.[17]

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.[10] 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.[2]

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.[18]

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.[6]

The SBU was deployed in 2016 at the 42nd G7 summit, providing security alongside the Special Assault Team.[19]


Controversy had developed from the SBU when a Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Forces cadet had died during a supposed training exercise prior to admission to the unit,[1] which had consisted of 15 levels of unarmed combat training.[7][20] The JMSDF has refused to provide more details on the incident, calling them classified material.[1] However, a special committee was established to determine whether the cadet's death was either under murder or an accident.[21] Investigators of the Criminal Investigation Command had assessed the incident.[22]

Reports on the incident have classified the events as a case of bullying by senior JMSDF sailors against junior sailors.[23] 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.[22]

Foreign relations[edit]

The SBU has been involved in matters involving Asia-Pacific defense, with representatives sent to the Asia Pacific Defense Forum Summer 2002[24] and the Asia Pacific Defense Forum 2004.[25]


As of 2014, the SBU has ten platoons with one main headquarters.[26]

Weapons and equipment[edit]

It is known that the SBU uses the HK MP5A5 and the HK MP5SD6 as their primary submachine guns.[13] Their service rifle is the Howa Type 89,[5][14][6] and the Heckler & Koch HK416[27] while their sidearm is the SIG Sauer P226R.[6][5]

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.[28] Although it's known that they use the Heckler & Koch MSG-90.[27]

The SBU has use of RHIBs for maritime operations[14] while SH-60J helicopters are used for aerial insertions during shipboarding missions.[15]


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.[7] Basic education is done at the school while the rest is done with the unit prior to recruitment.[7]


  1. ^ a b c d e Kakumi Kobayashi & Masato Kurosaki (2008-10-24). "Secrecy hampers SDF death probe". Kyodo News & The Japan Times. Retrieved 2009-02-07.
  2. ^ a b "2ND LD: Japan orders MSDF dispatch for antipiracy mission off Somalia". iStockAnalyst. 2009-03-13. Archived from the original on 2012-07-20. Retrieved 2012-07-19.
  3. ^ "Special Operations Units and Intelligence Organizations in Japan". 2004-04-19. Retrieved 2009-10-06.
  4. ^ James Brooke (2001-12-25). "Japan Says a Mystery Boat Fired Rockets at Its Ships". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-10-06.
  5. ^ a b c d "The new Tokyo Marui AEG: MP5 Japanese Police/Military Version". Renegade Recon. 2004-05-13. Archived from the original on 2004-06-03. Retrieved 2009-02-07.
  6. ^ a b c d e f 海上自衛隊 特殊部隊 解説 (in Japanese). Archived from the original on 2012-11-29. Retrieved 2012-11-28.
  7. ^ a b c d e 「海上自衛隊特別警備隊関係の課程学生の死亡事案について」 (in Japanese). Japanese Ministry of Defense. Retrieved 2010-04-22.
  8. ^ Nao Shimoyachi (2004-03-30). "GSDF inaugurates undercover antiterrorist squad". The Japan Times. Retrieved 2009-02-07.
  9. ^ 「答申書 『大湊における寒冷地実習に関する特別警備隊一般命令』の一部開示決定に関する件」 (PDF) (in Japanese). Retrieved 2009-02-07.
  10. ^ a b "Special MSDF unit eyed to fight piracy". Technology Marketing Corporation. 2009-01-21. Retrieved 2009-02-07.
  11. ^ "DoS East Asia and Pacific Region, Japan, Exchange Training, FY 01" (PDF). State Department. Retrieved 2009-02-07.
  12. ^ 装備も訓練も霧の中 (in Japanese). Retrieved 2009-02-07.
  13. ^ a b c d e f 日本国の精鋭部隊&特殊部隊 (in Japanese). Archived from the original on 2006-06-28. Retrieved 2009-10-06.
  14. ^ a b c 特警隊広報展示高速ボートで不審船へ黒ずくめ武装隊員 素早く乗船、無力化 (in Japanese). Archived from the original on 2009-03-04. Retrieved 2009-02-07.
  15. ^ a b どう取り組む 海賊対策<中>排除できない「交戦」 制約多い特警隊の派遣 (in Japanese). Archived from the original on 2012-02-20. Retrieved 2009-02-07.
  16. ^ 日本の特殊部隊 (in Japanese). Archived from the original on 2012-11-17.
  17. ^ 「防衛庁設置法等の一部を改正する法律」 (in Japanese). Archived from the original on 2007-10-10. Retrieved 2009-02-07.
  18. ^ "Dispatch of MSDF Vessels to Water off the Coast of Somalia". Japanese Ministry of Defense. Retrieved 2009-10-07.
  19. ^ http://biz-journal.jp/2016/06/post_15327_2.html
  20. ^ Julian Ryall (2008-10-23). "Japanese soldier killed by colleagues in 'farewell ritual'". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2009-02-07.
  21. ^ 海自特殊部隊員が15人と格闘訓練し死亡、暴行の疑いも (in Japanese). 2008-10-14. Retrieved 2009-03-17.
  22. ^ a b "MSDF petty officer died after 'training fight' against 15 people". The Japan Times. 2008-10-14. Archived from the original on 2012-09-26. Retrieved 2009-03-17.
  23. ^ "FOCUS: Secrecy of MSDF elite unit hampers fatal bullying probe". 2008-10-08. Retrieved 2013-04-27.
  24. ^ "Special Operations Forces Roles in Operations other than War". Archived from the original on 2004-11-03. Retrieved 2009-02-07.
  25. ^ Maj. Jeremy L. Simmons. "PASOC: Confronting Terrorism and its Links to Transnational Threats". Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2009-02-07.
  26. ^ 特別警備隊の編制に関する訓令 (PDF) (in Japanese). Japanese Ministry of Defense. Retrieved 2012-02-20.
  27. ^ a b https://jieitaisaiyou.com/%E6%B5%B7%E4%B8%8A%E8%87%AA%E8%A1%9B%E9%9A%8A-%E7%89%B9%E5%88%A5%E8%AD%A6%E5%82%99%E9%9A%8A/
  28. ^ 特別レポート(1) 契約本部16年度契約実績を読む (in Japanese). Archived from the original on 2011-06-07. Retrieved 2009-03-17.