The Royal Marine Commandos are changing.
The Royal Navy is getting two new aircraft carriers, and thus an expanded need for an organic force capable of Maritime interdiction operations (MIO), Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure (VBSS), and personnel recovery (PR).
To assume this task, 42 Commando has reorganized as a Maritime Operations Commando (MOC). With around 400 men, its tasks will expand beyond normal fleet protection and transcend into the specialized realm of maritime counter-terrorism (MCT).
MCT has been hitherto an SBS and, to a lesser extent, an SAS boat troop niche.
The Royal Marines are an amphibious light infantry force. Organised in the 3 Commando Brigade, they are famous for their difficult selection process and arctic and mountain warfare capabilities. Royal Marines were pivotal in the recapture of the Falklands and saw extensive service in Afghanistan.
The SBS used to belong to the Royal Marines. And for many years only Marines could undertake its severe selection course and serve within its ranks. In 2001, however, that changed in a reorganisation of UK SOF. Since then, the SAS and SBS share a selection process, and recruits come from all branches of the military.
The recent terrorist attacks in Manchester and London have highlighted the need for specialized forces capable of undertaking counter-terrorism missions, whether on land or sea.
And 42 Commando’s new role seems to be a response to that threat. In a leaked memo, the Commandant of the Royal Marines said that the new unit “will focus on maritime interdiction and boarding operations [and] will also provide our core contribution to UK domestic operations in response to a terrorist event.”
But the shift of 42 Commando to an MCT role is bound to overlap with the UK SOF. This raises the question of which unit would undertake an actual hostage rescue. Would the SBS be flown in and take care business as usual? Or would 42 Commando Marines be allowed to prove their worth in their new role?
On a sidenote, it’s interesting to see the connection between this development and the evolution of the U.S. SOF. Whereas before 9/11 hostage rescue was JSOC’s safely guarded capability, the exponential demands of the GWOT have seen Rangers and SF undertake operations that would normally be done by Delta Force or Seal Team Six. As Jack Murphy has repeatedly pointed out, the politicians’ insatiable lust for SOF units, with their low-cost, high-reward attributes, has forced everyone to step up their game and assume capabilities and missions previously arcane.