Military Wiki
Special Boarding Unit
File:SBU Pin Badge.jpg
Official pin badge of the SBU
Active March 27, 2001
Country Japan Japan
Branch Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Forces
Type Special Forces
Role Domestic and International Counter-Terrorism, Direct Action, Unconventional Warfare
Size 70 soldiers[1]
Garrison/HQ Etajima, Hiroshima
Nickname(s) SBU
TKI (In Japanese)
Engagements Battle of Amami-Ōshima (Did not intervene)
Anti-piracy operations in Somalia[2]
Colonel Toshiro Hoshina
Colonel Toru Yamaguchi
SBU Pin Badge

The Special Boarding Unit (特別警備隊 Tokubetsukeibitai?) is a special forces unit established by the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Forces on March 27, 2001 in response to a previous spy ship incursion that occurred on the Noto Peninsula in 1999.[3][4] The unit was created to perform similar roles to those undertaken by American Navy SEALs and the British SBS.[1] Its structure is based on the SBS.[5] They are based in Etajima, Hiroshima.[6]

Their field involves maritime anti-terrorist duties, including operations where arms are known to be involved.[7] However, their duties and responsibilities overlap with those of the Special Security Team, the Japan Coast Guard's counter-terrorist unit.[8] Since the SBU is a special forces unit, any kind of matters regarding acquisition of information on personnel, training and weapons are forbidden since they are highly classified.[9] Its operators are seen publicly with balaclavas on to protect their identities.[6]


After a failed Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Forces mission to stop North Korean spy ships that were in the territorial waters of the Noto Peninsula,[1][10] the SBU was established[7] with its headquarters based in Etajima, Hiroshima.[11] The unit had conducted some covert training in Etajima without any public knowledge after its creation, including exercises on boarding tactics to enter ships.[12] Training was completed in 2000, a year after the SBU was created.[13] A reported ship that illegally entered Amami Ōshima was seen nearby, which led to the mobilization of the SBU.[13] The ship, however, was said to have been scuttled while the unit waited for orders from the Japanese Defense Agency.[13] The unit had made its existence known to the public during a training exercise, which involved the deployment of Howa Type 89-armed SBU operators via RHIBs and SH-60J helicopters.[14][15]

When the unit was created, it had requested training with the US Navy SEALs, but had not been able to do so due to schedule problems.[13] To resolve this, the SBU had requested training assistance from the SBS to help in founding the unit.[5][6][13] However, they have lately been also trained by the Navy SEALs.[16]

Due to the nature of their duties and responsibilities, an amendment had been passed to raise their salaries.[17]

It was announced recently by Yasukazu Hamada that the SBU will be possibly deployed for its first mission to Somalia to engage in anti-Somali piracy operations.[10] SBU operators had left Japan on March 14, 2009 deployed on board the Murasame-class destroyer JDS DD-106 Samidare and the Takanami-class destroyer JDS DD-113 Sazanami.[2]

Prior to the SBU's overseas deployment to Somalia, the unit had practiced alongside Japan Coast Guard units in simulating a raid on a pirate vessel played by JCG officers without any warning shots fired by SBU operators off the coast of Kure, Hiroshima with a total of 250 people participating, 60 from the JCG.[18][19]

It was suggested that the SBU could have participated in military operations in Iraq alongside the US military's naval special forces in case of a hostage rescue mission involving Japanese nationals.[6]


Controversy had interrupted from the SBU involved when a Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Forces cadet had died during a supposed training exercise prior to admission to the unit,[1] which had consisted of 15 levels of unarmed combat training.[7][20] The JMSDF has refused to provide more details on the incident, calling them classified material.[1] However, a special committee was established to determine whether the cadet's death was either under murder or an accident.[21] Investigators of the Criminal Investigation Command had assessed the incident.[22]

Reports on the incident have classified the events as a case of bullying by senior JMSDF sailors against junior sailors.[23] But the committee had suggested that the deceased cadet was killed accidentally after receiving a right hook punch by his 14th opponent during the exercise,[24] specifically to the chin.[22] A JMSDF official has told reporters that even though similar exercises are done by other elite forces, the incident itself can be considered as a severe case of bullying.[24] A statement from the JMSDF Staff Office had suggested that the cadet had died in an accident in the course of the exercise.[22] The trainer was fined ¥500,000 for his negligence.[25]

A report released to the public by the JMSDF concluded that the "dangerous drill was conducted under trainers who were ‘‘not skilled enough to guide sailors’’ and ‘‘failed to take precautionary measures to ensure safety.’"[25] 21 officers were punished as a result of the incident.[25]

Foreign relations

The SBU has been involved in matters involving Asia-Pacific Defense, with representatives sent to the Asia Pacific Defense Forum Summer 2002[26] and the Asia Pacific Defense Forum 2004.[27]


As of 2012, the SBU has four platoons with one main headquarters.[28]

Weapons and equipment

It is known that the SBU uses the HK MP5A5 and the HK MP5SD6 as their primary submachine guns.[13] Their service rifles is the Howa Type 89,[5][6][14] while their sidearm is the Sig Sauer P226R.[5][6] Sniper rifles were purchased for the SBU under the 2004 defense budget under the JMSDF, but the model has not been revealed to the public.[29] The sniper rifle used is the M24 Sniper Weapon System.[30]

The SBU has access to the use of RHIBs in maritime operations[14] while SH-60J helicopters are used for aerial insertions during shipboarding missions.[15]


SBU candidates are schooled at the Naval Academy Edashima for around 36 weeks including the Special Security Program, which is taken for a year and 3 months before one is recruited to the unit.[7] The basic education is done at the school while the rest is done with the unit prior to recruitment.[7]

The SBU does exchange training with the ROKN SEALs.[31][32]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Kakumi Kobayashi & Masato Kurosaki (2008-10-24). "Secrecy hampers SDF death probe". Kyodo News & The Japan Times. Archived from the original on 2012-06-30. Retrieved 2009-02-07. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 "2ND LD: Japan orders MSDF dispatch for antipiracy mission off Somalia". iStockAnalyst. 2009-03-13. Archived from the original on 2012-07-19. Retrieved 2012-07-19. 
  3. "Special Operations Units and Intelligence Organizations in Japan". 2004-04-19. Retrieved 2009-10-06. 
  4. James Brooke (2001-12-25). "Japan Says a Mystery Boat Fired Rockets at Its Ships". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-10-06. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 "The new Tokyo Marui AEG: MP5 Japanese Police/Military Version". Renegade Recon. 2004-05-13. Archived from the original on 2012-01-07. Retrieved 2009-02-07. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 "海上自衛隊 特殊部隊 解説" (in Japanese). Archived from the original on 2012-11-28. Retrieved 2012-11-28. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 "「海上自衛隊特別警備隊関係の課程学生の死亡事案について」" (in Japanese). Japanese Ministry of Defense. Retrieved 2010-04-22. 
  8. Nao Shimoyachi (2004-03-30). "GSDF inaugurates undercover antiterrorist squad". The Japan Times. Archived from the original on 2012-07-14. Retrieved 2009-02-07. 
  9. "「答申書 『大湊における寒冷地実習に関する特別警備隊一般命令』の一部開示決定に関する件」" (in Japanese). Retrieved 2009-02-07. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 "Special MSDF unit eyed to fight piracy". Technology Marketing Corporation. 2009-01-21. Retrieved 2009-02-07. 
  11. "DoS East Asia and Pacific Region, Japan, Exchange Training, FY 01". State Department. Retrieved 2009-02-07. 
  12. "装備も訓練も霧の中" (in Japanese). Retrieved 2009-02-07. 
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 13.5 "日本国の精鋭部隊&特殊部隊" (in Japanese). Archived from the original on 2006-06-28. Retrieved 2009-10-06. 
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 "特警隊広報展示高速ボートで不審船へ黒ずくめ武装隊員 素早く乗船、無力化" (in Japanese). Retrieved 2009-02-07. 
  15. 15.0 15.1 "どう取り組む 海賊対策<中>排除できない「交戦」 制約多い特警隊の派遣" (in Japanese). Retrieved 2009-02-07. 
  16. "日本の特殊部隊" (in Japanese). Archived from the original on 2012-11-16. 
  17. "「防衛庁設置法等の一部を改正する法律」" (in Japanese). Archived from the original on 2012-01-07. Retrieved 2009-02-07. 
  18. "3RD LD: MSDF, Coast Guard conduct joint antipiracy exercise off Hiroshima+". Kyodo News. Archived from the original on 2011-06-13. Retrieved 2009-10-06. 
  19. "Dispatch of MSDF Vessels to Water off the Coast of Somalia". Japanese Ministry of Defense. Retrieved 2009-10-07. 
  20. Julian Ryall (2008-10-23). "Japanese soldier killed by colleagues in 'farewell ritual'". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2009-02-07. 
  21. "海自特殊部隊員が15人と格闘訓練し死亡、暴行の疑いも" (in Japanese). 2008-10-14. Archived from the original on 2012-07-17. Retrieved 2009-03-17. 
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 "MSDF petty officer died after 'training fight' against 15 people". The Japan Times. 2008-10-14. Archived from the original on 2012-09-26. Retrieved 2009-03-17. 
  23. "FOCUS: Secrecy of MSDF elite unit hampers fatal bullying probe". 2008-10-08. Retrieved 2013-04-27. 
  24. 24.0 24.1 "LEAD: Fatal group combat rite unnecessary in defense service: report+". Kyodo News. Archived from the original on 2011-06-13. Retrieved 2009-03-17. 
  25. 25.0 25.1 25.2 "State to contest damages case over MSDF sailor's combat drill death". Breitbart. Archived from the original on 2010-04-23. Retrieved 2010-04-22. 
  26. "Special Operations Forces Roles in Operations other than War". Archived from the original on 2012-01-07. Retrieved 2009-02-07. 
  27. Maj. Jeremy L. Simmons. "PASOC: Confronting Terrorism and its Links to Transnational Threats". Archived from the original on 2012-01-07. Retrieved 2009-02-07. 
  28. "特別警備隊の編制に関する訓令" (in Japanese). Japanese Ministry of Defense. Retrieved 2012-02-20. 
  29. "特別レポート(1) 契約本部16年度契約実績を読む" (in Japanese). Archived from the original on 2011-06-07. Retrieved 2009-03-17. 
  30. "日本的精銳部隊揭秘(有圖有真相)" (in Chinese). Retrieved 2012-11-28. 
  31. Special Weapons, February 2010 issue. Page 68.
  32. The Special Weapons, February 2010 erroneously refers to the SBU as the Naval Special Ops Unit.

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