Naval Special Warfare Operating Jet Skis
Ever wondered how the Navy would pluck wounded special forces operators from an enemy beach, fast? Getting off an exposed beach in one piece, under incoming fire, is surely one of the most dangerous operations imaginable. It requires speed and great confidence in the personnel and machines involved. Surprisingly perhaps, commercial off-the-shelf water scooters, similar to the personal watercraft used by water sports enthusiasts the world over, are a popular solution among special forces.
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Naval Special Warfare Command’s love of the humble Jet Ski, and they call them that even in official documents, has gone under the radar for many years. But they are now cropping up more and more often in the public domain. The Navy released photos of Jet Skis being used by Special Operations Forces in Greece in 2017, and with Thai forces during Exercise Tempest Wind 2019 in June. Most recently U.S. Special Operations Command issued a request for three Jet Skis to replace ones worn out during training. These will be used by the Naval Special Warfare Basic Training Command in San Diego, California to prepare future Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewmen (SWCC) who will operate small boats for the US Navy SEALs.
Jet Skis have the advantages of being quick and agile, and can operate in extremely shallow water including through the surf zone to a beach. Their main task is to extract special forces, and they can be used to pick up casualties, downed pilots or prisoners, or be used in counter-terrorism missions. To get where the action is they can be carried by larger boats or, for long range covert missions, in the hangar of the secretive SEAL Insertion, Observation and Neutralization (SEALION). These high speed stealth boats are semi-submersible meaning that they partially sink in order to reduce their radar signatures even further.
The US Navy is not alone in appreciating the merits of water scooters and several NATO special forces units also have them in their inventories. The Navy’s preferred model is the Yamaha FX Cruiser SHO, although other countries use a wide array of competing makes and designs. In Navy service the two or three-seat jet skis are highly modified and fitted with inflatable anti-roll collars and rescue sleds so that equipment or special forces can be towed behind. Naturally the crew can be armed, and machine guns can be fitted to help suppress enemy positions.
In the Persian Gulf the Iranian IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) use water scooters armed with rocket propelled grenades for reconnaissance and nuisance attacks on commercial shipping.
Special Forces are always experimenting with new ideas and technologies so new adaptions of the Jet Ski have been developed at Sofwerx, a Florida based innovation center which provides rapid prototyping of potential solutions for US Special Operations Command. Earlier this year they tested a submersible personal watercraft which can operate like a regular Jet Ski on the surface, but can also hide beneath the waves. This could allow it to be launched and recovered from a submarine, a capability which currently no Navy has.