Now in its 11th year of existence, the SA Navy’s Maritime Reaction Squadron (MRS) has proven its worth as a valuable asset at sea and on land and is testimony to the farsightedness of two top former SAN officers.
One is former SA Navy Chief now retired vice admiral Johannes Mudimu who took on the advice of his then Chief Director: Maritime Strategy, now retired rear admiral Bernhard Teuteberg, in the mid-90s to establish a MRS. The main aims of the specialist unit in the maritime service were set out as deploying to various peacekeeping and peace support roles continentally, assisting in boarding operations at sea and assisting in disaster relief and humanitarian operations.
Assisting in boarding operations is a current deployment, with MRS elements aboard SAS Drakensberg (A301) in the Mozambique Channel. This is part of the ongoing Southern African Development Community (SADC) bilateral that sees regular patrols in the busy east African sea lane. This time around, the South African MRS elements have “company” in the form of marines and fast patrol craft from the Mozambican defence force (Forças Armadas de Defesa de Moçambique – FADM) to assist with both anti- and counter-piracy taskings as well as general anti-crime at sea taskings.
Training for MRS members is ongoing with a number of field training exercise scenarios recently conducted at Touws River shooting range in the Western Cape. The objective was to maintain the benign level of capability (BLOC) of MRS reaction force division members (RFD) in landward operations.
Exercises included base security drills; preventing terrorist infiltration of a base during which everyone, even the chefs, was armed and on high alert; section attacks with live ammunition as well as helicopter operations and fast roping.
A secondary aim of the field training exercise was testing the fleet’s ability to support the deployment of the three MRS platoons. This saw functions such as logistics, equipment and communications tested to determine levels of self-sustainability of the deployed company.
All told 140 MRS personnel took part in the field exercise which, according to the Navy website, was “conducted according to the guidelines of the Operational Sea Training Team and the results will be reviewed by the Auditor General of South Africa”.
The MRS grew from the involvement of Navy personnel in peacekeeping operations, provision of VIP protection, observer missions and using boats for patrol work on Lake Tanganyika as far back as 2005. All these taskings – and others – were then grouped in the MRS as a specialist SA Navy unit with expertise in riverine and littoral operations.
As far as can be ascertained the MRS is still made up of an operational boat division (OBD) with 10 Namacurra-class harbour patrol boats and six Lima-class utility landing craft; the RFD, a naval infantry company with command and support elements and an operational diving division (ODD) consisting of four 17 strong operational dive teams.