A member of the German Kampfschwimmers approaches the shore with his HK P8 pistol. Combat swimmers are trained to engage targets as soon as they break the water’s surface.

Combat swimmers traditionally have had a unique combination of missions at sea or in littoral waters. In recent times, counterterrorist operations have assumed greater importance among these diverse missions, to the extent that some combat swimmer units have a detail that specializes in MAT (Maritime Anti-Terrorism). Many national counterterrorist units also have a sub-unit whose members have been trained as combat swimmers.

Among the more “traditional” counterterrorist missions for combat swimmer units are combat boarding of ships, anti-piracy operations afloat and at pirate bases, assaults on oil rigs, infiltration and assault on targets near the water, rescue of passengers aboard hijacked ships, intelligence gathering afloat or along the shore, exfiltration by sea of rescued hostages, sniper operations from ship-launched helicopters or from ship decks, clandestine destruction of ships carrying WMDs or high-value terrorist targets, and similar operations.

Combat swimmers and their specialized skills can be put to creative use far from the sea, as well. When I was in St. Petersburg some years ago, former Spetsnaz contacts was trying to arrange for me to visit the naval base there so I could see some of the underwater weapons used by the Delfin (Russian naval combat swimmers), and their specialized underwater martial-arts training. That couldn’t be arranged, but I did hear an interesting story about creative use of combat swimmers: One of the two Russian counterterrorist units, FSB Vympel, had previously had the mission of countering nuclear theft and proliferation. Based on intelligence about a possible sale of nuclear materials, the unit planned to raid a large country estate where the deal was to go down. To cover escape routes, members of Vympel, trained as combat swimmers, infiltrated onto the estate at night and lay submerged for hours in a large pond, only surfacing with their AKSUs when the rest of the unit hit the estate.

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A member of the German Kampfschwimmers approaches the shore with his HK P8 pistol.…