This article is organised as follows:
- Part 01: Background to the Naval Special Warfare Group (NSWG).
- Part 02: Organisation and Training of the NSWG.
- Part 03: Miscellaneous.
PART ONE: BACKGROUND
This article provides an overview of the Naval Special Warfare Group (NSWG), a unit of the Philippines Navy within the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
The unit is one of several units that form part of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Special Operations Command (AFPSOCOM), and is sometimes known the Special Warfare Group (SWAG).
Together with the Force Reconnaissance Battalion (aka MARSOG) forms the Philippine Navy’s Special Operations Forces (SOF). Although both units are under the Philippine Navy, they do not belong to a single, unified command. Whereas the Naval Special Warfare Group is under the Philippine Fleet, the Force Reconnaissance Battalion is under the Philippine Marine Corps (Lastimado & Rojas, 2004).
The NSWG specialises in sea, air and land (SEAL) operations, much like their US brethren.
Part One of this article looks at women and the NSWG, then discusses the difference between tier 1 and tier 2 forces and highlights the methods of entry. It then outlines the roles and tasks of the NSWG before finally providing a brief history on its origins. Part Two looks at the organisation of the NSWG, as well as briefly outlines the training. Finally, Part Five provides some useful links and identifies other articles the reader may find useful.
The aim of this article is to provide an overview of the Naval Special Warfare Group.
1.2 Women and the NSWG
Under Philippine law women can apply to NSWG, but as of September 2019 none have.
1.3 Tier 1 and Tier 2 Special Forces
The NSWG is sometimes referred to as ‘Tier 1’ SF units because they are the units usually tasked with direct action. Other special operations forces are referred to as ‘Tier 2’ units as they, usually, fulfil a supporting role for the Tier 1 units.
1.4 Method of Entry
Civilians cannot join the NSWG directly, one must join the AFP first and then apply.
1.5 Roles and Tasks
The primary role of the Naval Special Warfare Group is unconventional warfare and special operations, which includes a number of specialist tasks, for example (Lastimado & Rojas, 2004; Nepomuceno, 2018):
- Direct action (DA);
- Special reconnaissance (SR);
- Close quarters combat;
- Counter-guerrilla operations;
- Counter-insurgency (COIN) operations;
- Demolitions raids;
- Target assault;
- Maritime sniper operations;
- Gas and oil platform recovery;
- Underwater operations; and
- Maritime area and riverine operations in support of overall naval operations.
1.6 Brief History
On 05 November 1956 the Underwater Operations Team (UOT) was established, based on the US Navy’s Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT’s) (Nepomuceno, 2018) and the Italian Decima Flottiglia MAS.
“Interestingly, history is a little vague as to what the unit was created for.” (Murphy, 2017).
The role of the UOT was to conduct underwater operations in waterways, beach areas, and harbours in support of Philippine naval operations, which included:
- Underwater explosive disposal;
- Mine countermeasures;
- Salvage; and
- Search and rescue.
“The [UOT] team was composed of one officer and six enlisted personnel. The pioneer members of the team were called “frogmen” as they can operate in both land and water.” (Nepomuceno, 2018).
“Thus the first six UOT members were drawn from the Philippine Marine Corps.” (Murphy, 2017).
In 1959, the UOT was expanded and re-designated as the Underwater Operations Unit (UOU).
Over the years, the unit has expanded its scope and core competencies, being renamed on several occasions (in chronological order):
- Underwater Operations Team (UOT) (05 November 1956).
- Underwater Operations Unit (UOU) (1959).
- Underwater Operations Group (UOG).
- Naval Special Warfare Group (SWAG).
- Naval Special Operations Group (NAVSOG or NSWG) (30 May 2005).
- Renamed from SWAG to NAVSOG to enhance naval capabilities in countering maritime terrorism. (Till & Chan, 2014).
The Philippines counterpart of the US CT unit, United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU), is the Philippine Naval Special Reaction Group (SRG), which reportedly operates under the direction of Philippine Naval Intelligence.
Notable engagements/campaigns include:
- Communist Insurgencies.
- Islamic Insurgencies.
- Battle of Zamboanga.
- Anti-guerrilla operations against New People’s Army (NPA), Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), MILF, ISIL, and Abu Sayyaf Group.
- Operation Enduring Freedom – Philippines.
- 2017 Marawi Siege.
- Operations in Lake Lanao.
- Joint Operation Haribon (1-4 were all joint operations with the Light Reaction Regiment).
PART TWO: ORGANISATION & TRAINING OF THE NSWG
This part of the article outlines the organisation of the NSWG, including its commander and the various units and sub-units within it.
2.1 Commander NSWG
The NSWG is led by a [RANK], based at the headquarters (HQ) at Naval Base Cavite, Sangley Point, Cavite City (Nepomuceno, 2018).
In 2012, the post holder was titled “Commander, Naval Special Operations Group”. (Philippine Navy, 2012, p.i).
2.2 Units of the NSWG
In 2004, Lastimado & Rojas (2004, p.25) state the NSWG had approximately 400 personnel and was organised as follows:
- HQ Support Unit.
- Eight company-sized Naval Special Warfare Units (NSWU).
- Previously known as “Naval Special Operations Unit” (NAVSOU) (Philippine Navy, 2012, p.3).
- Naval Special Warfare Training unit.
- In 2012, known as the Naval Special Operations School and led by a Lieutenant (Philippine Navy, 2012).
In 2013, it was reported that the NSWG still had approximately 400 personnel, in a Philippine Navy that had around 20,000 personnel (Fonbuena, 2013).
In 2015, it was reported (by a now defunct website) that the NSWG was organised as follows (NAVSOG, 2015):
- SEAL Unit.
- Dive Unit.
- Explosive and Ordnance Disposal Unit.
- Special Boat Unit.
- Combat Service Support Unit.
- Naval Special Operations Squadron.
The NSWU are:
- NSWU-8: This unit is attached to the AFP Joint Special Operations Group (Nepomuceno, 2018).
In 2012, a NAVSOU was led by a Lieutenant Commander (OF-3) (Philippine Navy, 2012).
The NSWU are located across the Philippines, and each NSWU consists of three to six operating teams, each capable of operating either as an integral team or as detached elements. Each team is composed of one officer and seven enlisted personnel.
2.3 NSWG Initial Qualification Course
“All personnel are tactically trained to act as divers, parachutists, demolitionists, and in the execution of special warfare operation[s] from the sea, air and land. Personnel are evaluated based on these skills, and must pass a qualification exam in order to become members of the Naval Special Warfare Group.” (Lastimado & Rojas, 2004, p.29).
Candidates for NSWG, both officer and enlisted personnel, must attend and pass the 6-month Basic Naval Special Operations Course (BNSOC), which is based on the US Navy SEAL course (Manalo, 2004; Sof, 2018).
Candidates reputedly have to swim 3 kilometres (km) and 10 km every day and, also on one occasion, have to swim from Roxas Boulevard in Manila to the Naval Station Sangley Point, without any rest – a distance of 14.6 nautical miles.
Candidates also have to face ‘Hell Week’, similar to their US brethren, having to perform demanding and gruelling physical events with only a few hours of sleep over the week.
Pass rates for the course are not high, with one course reputedly having only 21 out of the original 79 graduating.
“The start of training was held during a Joint Convening Ceremony of Basic Underwater Demolitions/SEAL Course Class 80 and Scuba Diving Course Class 19-02. The event was graced by Navy chief Vice Admiral Robert A Empedrad. “Sixty two sailors will be join the training. Their toughness and endurance will be tested during SEAL training,” the Philippine Fleet said.” (Santos, 2019).
PART THREE: MISCELLANEOUS
3.0 Useful Publications
- Lastimado, A.R. & Rojas, A.G. (2004) The Armed Force of the Philippines and Special Operations. Master’s Thesis. Naval Postgraduate School. Available from World Wide Web: https://apps.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a429856.pdf. [Accessed: 21 August, 2019].
- Headquarters Philippine Army Letter Directive dated February 24, 2004, Subject: Rightsizing of SOCOM.
- PAM 3-071: Philippine Special Forces Operations Manual.
3.1 Useful Links
- NAVSOG (Philippine Navy SEALs): https://www.facebook.com/NAVSOGPhilippine-Navy-Seals-247209228696315/.
Fonbuena, C. (2013) ‘The First to Respond, the Last to Leave’. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.rappler.com/nation/40831-navy-elite-zamboanga-city-crisis. [Accessed: 05 September, 2019].
Lastimado, A.R. & Rojas, A.G. (2004) The Armed Force of the Philippines and Special Operations. Master’s Thesis. Naval Postgraduate School. Available from World Wide Web: https://apps.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a429856.pdf. [Accessed: 21 August, 2019].
Manalo, E.P. (2004) The Philippine Response to Terrorism: The Abu Sayyaf Group. Monterey, California: Naval Postgraduate School.
Murphy, J. (2017) NAVOSG: The Past, Present, and Future of the Philippine Navy SEALs. Available from World Wide Web: https://thenewsrep.com/81456/navsog-the-past-present-and-future-of-the-philippine-navy-seals/. [Accessed: 05 September, 2019].
NAVSOG (Philippine Naval Special Operations Group). (2015) Organization. Available from World Wide Web: http://navsog.navy.mil.ph/organization.htm. [Accessed: 11 May, 2015] [DEFUNCT].
Nepomuceno, P. (2018) AFP Chief Vows more support for Elite Naval Group. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.pna.gov.ph/articles/1053134. [Accessed: 05 September, 2019].
Philippine Navy. (2012) Report on UDMC Pneumatic Valve and Rod (PVAR) 5.56mm Assault Rifle. Available from World Wide Web: https://static1.squarespace.com/static/55f5244ce4b000445e4e263c/t/56093061e4b090d1a007b9f9/1443442785678/NAVSOG-Test-Evaluation-Report.pdf. [Accessed: 05 September, 2019].
Santos, G. (2019) NAVSOG Starts SEAL Training. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.mintfo.com/news/navsog-starts-seal-training/11623/. [Accessed: 05 September, 2019].
Sof, E. (2018) Naval Special Operations Group (NAVSOG). Available from World Wide Web: https://special-ops.org/43912/naval-special-operations-group-navsog/. [Accessed: 05 September, 2019].
Till, G. & Chan, J. (Eds) (2014) Naval Modernisation in South-East Asia: Nature, Causes and Consequences. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.