Masters of amphibious assault | Daily News
Sri Lanka Navy Marines::

Masters of amphibious assault

As an island nation, maritime security is of paramount importance to Sri Lanka. The Sri Lanka Navy continues its task to be the first line of defence, operating an assortment of vessels. In enhancing its amphibious combat capabilities, the Navy takes pride in their Marine Battalion which has been in existence since 2017. The history of the naval infantryman dates back to the early 1980s.

The Navy Patrolman Branch was originally entrusted with the task of guarding the piers and other launching platforms of the naval fleet. As the conflict escalated, the naval infantry did commendable service at Karainagar, rendering support in Operation Balavegaya (1991), Pooneryn (1993), Mullaithivu (1996) and Operation Jayasikuru in 1997. The naval infantrymen expanded into a formidable fighting force and fought shoulder to shoulder with the Army on the ground. This was the turning point in their combat capability which would lay the foundation for the Marine Forces later on.

Two of the pioneers who made the Marine Battalion a reality were Admiral Ravindra Wijegunaratne (former Navy Commander) and Admiral Piyal De Silva (who was then Director General Operations and subsequently promoted to Navy Commander). As the threat of terrorism increased during a certain period of the conflict the need for a formidable naval infantry unit was envisaged by the late Commander Shanthi Bahar, along with a few likeminded officers and sailors in the formative years.

Since their formation, the Marines of the Sri Lanka Navy continue to consolidate their presence within the overall defence infrastructure of this island nation. In the global naval arena the Royal Marines of UK were founded in October 1664 whilst the Marine Corps (USMC) of America was established in 1798. The Indian Marine Force (MARCOS) came into being in February 1987.

When I visited the training school of the Sri Lanka Navy Marines located at Sampur, in Trincomalee, it was a hot and humid landscape. Fighting at sea and engaging a vessel is one dimension of naval warfare. But an amphibious beach landing under direct enemy fire is a totally different theatre of combat. The tough Marines have to hold the beaches until replenishment troops arrive. Every Marine must be fit and focused on the task at hand. The Marine Battalion functions under the Director General Operations – at Navy Headquarters and the Commandant Naval Infantry. The Marines are trained and engage in all kinds of amphibious assault. Officers of the Executive and Patrolman Branches can volunteer to join the Marines as core combatants, after completion of their Sub-Lieutenant technical course. Officers from other branches can also take up this challenge.

Sailors who want to join the Marines must complete their basic naval training and then volunteer for this elite force. Prospective candidates face a tough selection process that includes swimming and physical endurance. Once enlisted for training, the naval personnel have to undergo seven months of training divided into initial, intermediate and final phase.

New recruits begin their training camp at 5.30 am daily. Physical training is carried out up to 7.30 am. The aspiring Marines then have breakfast. Thereafter the men attend classes or sessions of field training. Training is done to simulate real-life situations. Beach landings are often wet and tiring moments, as sailors have to jump from a landing craft carrying their weapons and backpacks. The craft can include Fast Gun Boats and large landing craft that have a specialized ramp ideally suited to insert troops on the beach.

When salt water gets into your boots you have to remain in them for many hours, another aspect of real-life combat situations. Lunch is served at 1.00 pm and classes begin again at 2.00 pm and the training ends by 4.00 pm. During their training, the sailors have a high protein diet. During their recreation time the men engage in sports that further enhances team work.

Marines are taught to operate in ‘firemen’ teams – a small group of four. This fighting formation progresses to a squad, platoon and finally an entire battalion of almost 600 robust Marines. The Marines motto is ‘Vigour, Valour, and Victory’. Physical endurance is a key element in the training process. Marine trainees only get five to six hours of sleep initially. In this manner they are strained to breaking point. It is then that these naval personnel discover their own weakness and strength, mentally and physically.

As they adapt to their rigorous training they begin to focus and be mission ready in every type of terrain and dangerous simulations. For the trainees jumping from landing craft is a new experience. Cross training is done with the Navy Special Boat Squadron (SBS) to enrich their fighting capacity. The SBS specializes in clandestine inductions into enemy territory. They move in first, prior to a beach landing and gather vital information and when required the Marines come in for the aggressive sea-borne assault.

The Marines can individually qualify in specialized combat skills and advance as snipers, sky divers, combat riders, BSW (Battalion Support Weapons) and EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) technicians. Officers and sailors are duly trained on how to deal with poisonous snakes – which is taught by the Army Commando Regiment. The Marine recruits are exposed to tropical snakes, which they will encounter when operating in jungles bordering beaches.

After a few weeks into their training Marines are taught martial arts, unarmed combat and Krav Maga – the fighting art of the Israel Special Forces. The naval infantrymen also learn the skill of VBSS (Vessel Boarding and Search at Sea). In this naval duty sailors can board a moving vessel at sea, when their naval vessel pulls alongside the suspect vessel. The Sri Lanka Navy Marines also learn to fire the M-16 assault rifle, the Uzi gun, Light Machine Gun (LMG) and grenade launchers.

The men learn the art of MOUT (Military Operations in Urban Terrain). This prepares them to encounter possible threats in the city case scenario. On completion of the training they proudly take part in a passing out parade donning their blue camaflouged uniforms.

In the past some Marines were able to take part in the RIMPAC – amphibious exercise where 22 nations united for an extensive training. At present, training is being conducted on mechanized convoy tactics. As most of the Marines are seamen, handling boats comes naturally to them. The Navy has a Hovercraft that can rapidly facilitate amphibious landings, as the craft moves on an air cushion with the capacity to carry 35 armed men. In addition to combat engagement the Marines have taken part in flood rescue missions. Future plans include enhancing knowledge of inland water operations.

The ancient Chinese General Sun Tzu said, “Treat your men like your own sons and they will follow you into the deepest valley.” This is visible in the team spirit and camaraderie of the Sri Lankan Marines. The training school at Sampur, Trincomalee, transforms aspiring sailors into fearless Marines. The Marines of the Sri Lanka Navy are primed and ready to safeguard our island nation.


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