Special Warfare Combatant-Craft Crewman

Navy Special Boat Units

••• A wall of spray is thrown as a SWCC moves at top speed around a 90 degree corner in a small, shallow waterway in Mississippi. Official Navy Photo

Special Warfare Combatant Crewmen (SWCC) are members of the elite Naval Special Warfare Command and are responsible for conducting unconventional special operations alongside and independent of the Navy SEALs and other Special Operations Units. The SWCC crewmen drive fast speedboats down narrow, winding rivers or open ocean, transporting SEALs to and from hostile situations and operating nearly every weapon with a trigger the military has to offer.

When a call comes, a boat team can form up, put a 33-foot RHIB in the back of a C-17, fly half-way around the world to a combat zone, push the boat out of the plane into the ocean and then jump in after it, wearing parachutes or fast rope, in enemy territory.

SWCC missions include unconventional warfare, direct action, combating terrorism, special reconnaissance, foreign internal defense, information warfare, security assistance, counter-drug operations, personnel recovery and hydrographic reconnaissance. SWCC numbers hover around 600 personnel–less than 1 percent of the U.S. Navy, but they offer big dividends on a small investment. The SWCC units’ proven ability to operate across the spectrum of conflict and in operations other than war in a controlled manner, and their ability to provide real-time intelligence and eyes on target offers decision makers a lot of options.

They use craft like the Mark FIVE (MK V), the RHIB (Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat) and the Special Operations Craft-Riverine (SOC-R).

As noted in Jane’s Fighting Ships–“MISSION: High speed, medium range, all weather insertion/ extraction of Special Operations Forces, maritime interdiction operations, tactical swimmer operations, intelligence collection, operation deception, coastal patrol, and more.”

“Once, we were in 15- to 20-foot swells, recalled Quartermaster 1st Class (SWCC, PJ) Christopher Moore, from SBT-12.

“Our boat, a 24-ft. RHIB, could barely make it up the swells before the engine would sound like it was going to die. Then we would get to the top and become a 24-ft. surfboard coming down the other side. We couldn’t even keep in visual contact with our other craft.

Today's Special Boat Commands and Training

Three SWCC communities exist. The West Coast SWCC units are based in Coronado (SBT-12) and operate RHIBs and MK Vs. The same inventory is located at the East Coast SWCC (SBT-20) in Little Creek, Va. And down south, in Stennis, Miss., SBT-22 operates the SOC-R craft.

But to get to one of these units, you must attend SWCC basic school: a physically grueling indoctrination into the ways of Naval Special Warfare, portions of which are combined with SEAL pre-training. After this phase, a 22 week course - Crewman Qualification Training (CQT) course is taken. After CQT, a Sailor earns the SWCC pin: a unique insignia that is worn with your regular Navy uniform and that identifies these professional's important place in Naval Special Warfare.

SWCC school is extremely tough. Similar to Navy SEAL training (BUD/S), you will never be challenged like this in your life. It is very demanding physically and mentally, and it is designed to get rid of weak individuals who are not focused and driven.

In fact about 1/3 of those who start make it to the finish line and graduate.

After SWCC school, graduating students arrive at a Special Boat Team where they begin an 18-month pre-deployment training cycle starting with Professional Development (PRODEV), Core Training and Squadron Interoperability Training (SIT).

You have to be intelligent, good-hearted and physically and mentally tough as it takes a unique person to do our job. Being one who can adapt to new surroundings quickly and efficiently is also a requirement.

Heavy weapons knowledge is also a tool of the trade. A mounted .50 caliber MSHB machine gun with PEQ TWO lasers forward on both RHIBs and a .50 caliber machine gun aft, and sometimes a MK-19 Mod 3 40 mm Grenade Machine guns are some of the many armament options SWCCs have on the boats.

Indeed. SWCC personnel embrace a philosophy of dominance through superior firepower. During a typical SEAL extraction, the SWCC boats and crew from three other Special Operations Craft, rush into an extraction point at up to 30 knots in a hailstorm of protective fire from a trio of M-60 machine guns aft, and a thundering .50 caliber machine gun at the bow.

Spent rounds bounce off the metal deck, tracers pierce the darkness, dense foliage is shredded with a barrage of cover fire, ears ring, and the thumping .50 caliber drumbeat massages insides, as dominating, incessant firepower is laid toward the enemy. SEALs board the craft, a speedy exit is made and the fire continues until they are out of sight. An extraction of this sort is measured not in minutes but in seconds.

While these combatant crewmen specialize in scaring the enemy with dominating, ear-crushing, non-stop firepower, they also have the ability to be invisible, entering enemy territory undetected.

Wearing night vision devices, and the MK Vs had a nifty toy called Maritime Forward Looking Infrared or MARFLIR, a thermal imaging device which lets wearers see up to two miles out on the horizon, day or night. This capability, along with the incredible acceleration, stop-on-a-dime handling and maneuverability give them the advantage on the water.