The South African Special Forces Brigade specialises in the African environment and has two areas of main effort, one dealing with airborne and land operations, the other with waterborne work, concentrating on coastal areas, estuaries and riverine environments.
Sergeant Max Mbewu is member of 4 Special Forces Regiment, which is based in Langebaan in Saldanha Bay on the Cape West Coast. Sergeant Mbewu is a trained Special Forces diver as well as a Special Forces Operator and when defenceWeb asked what could be learned on the three-month divers’ course, he said, “You learn to be cold!”
In the past, Special Forces did not exhibit at shows like Africa Aerospace and Defence held last week at Air Force Base Waterkloof, but now the secrecy has been somewhat relaxed. In this instance, the Special Forces exhibit included five boats, two Hornet Rapid Deployment Reconnaissance Vehicles (RDRVs) sniper rifles and other items. Sensitive equipment like special sniper telescopes, for instance, was removed.
The Special Forces use boats maximised for their operations. Sergeant Mbewu described the boats from the smallest one at the exhibition to the largest: “The kayak is for stealth, infiltrations behind enemy lines, manned by two men; the next one up is the inflatable, like a normal ‘rubber duck’, we normally use that one for small teams. Then we come to the Barracuda Mark I, that’s a rigid hull. That one we use for beach assaults, we can do beach landings because it’s got outboard motors because we can lift them up and they beach land it. It can also serve as a normal troop carrier.”
“There’s a similar boat that looks exactly like it but is a bit bigger, the Barracuda Mark II. We use it for the same purpose as the Mark I but we don’t beach land it because the outboard motors are electronically operated.”
Pointing to an inflatable Zodiac-type, Sergeant Mbewu introduced the next category of boats: “This is the Hurricane, it’s a ‘RIB’, Rigid Inflatable Boat, and it takes eight packs and eight troops on board. Also it can do beach assaults and long range infiltration of troops. It’s a bit bigger, it’s got 200 horsepower Yamaha motors. ”
As Special Forces often have to operate autonomously in the field, the ability to carry equipment and weapons is extremely important.
“This is the biggest operation boat that we have currently in the Regiment, the Wahoo; it can take 12 troops on board. The Wahoo is the name of a fish; we name most of our boats after fish. It’s got a maximum operational range of 600 nautical miles. We also launch the smaller craft using this one as a platform.” (The Wahoo is a game fish found in sub-tropical waters around the world, including South Africa’s eastern coast.)
The Special Forces Brigade is currently the only special operations force in the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) and is not part of the Army, Navy, Air Force or Medical Health Services. The Brigade comes directly under the command of Chief of Joint Operations (CJ OPS) and is made up of SF Headquarters in Pretoria, SF School at Murrayhill and SF Support Unit at Wallmansthal, both to the north of Pretoria, as well as the two operational regiments, 4 SF Regiment at Langebaan and 5 SF Regiment at Phalaborwa in Limpopo Province.