The 4-Man SAS Patrol
The SAS commonly deploy as 4-man patrols. Such a small number has proved its worth during the SAS's experience in jungle combat in Malaysia. It was found that, for many operations, smaller patrols worked best. 4 is small enough to avoid detection and still carry enough stores to get the job done. A 4-man patrol is the smallest tenable unit possible since it allows for a wounded member to be carried out by 2 others whilst being covered by a third.
SAS training instills a set of patrol skills including :
- setting ambushes
- anti-ambush drills
- contact drills
- emergency rendezvous skills
If coming from an infantry unit, most SAS soldiers will already have a grounding in the basics of patrolling. These skills are built upon and honed during the jungle phase of SAS selection, where 4-man patrols are taught and perfected.
Each member of the patrol is assigned an arc of fire to cover, thus providing all-round protection for the patrol as a whole. The last man, or 'tailend charlie', is typically armed with a belt-fed machine gun such as a mini as he must be able to put down a lot of covering fire if the patrol is bumped from the rear.
Having only 4 men in the patrol does, however, require a balance of specializations be present throughout the unit.
Each SAS trooper has a primary skill that they have specialized in. In addition to this, most will also have a secondary level of expertise in at least one area as well as having a basic grounding in all skills.
Secure communications are absolutely vital for an SAS patrol operating far from HQ. An SAS signaler becomes highly proficient in the use of the various portable radio systems such as High Frequency (HF) Radio and Satellite Communications (SATCOM). Signalers learn procedures for burst transmissions and become fluent in morse code. SAS signalers will usually patrol and sleep close to the patrol commander so situation reports (sitreps) and other communication with HQ can be easily facilitated. In some cases, an SAS patrol may take a signaler from 264(SAS) Signals Squadron along on a mission. As the signals skill is so important, every member of an SAS patrol will have a working knowledge of the equipment and procedures. When comprising the team, the patrol leader will tend to avoid placing the signaler in the more vulnerable point (lead) or tailend charlie (rear) positions.
SAS medics undergo intensive medical training, beginning with a course at Hereford, followed by a stint in real life hospital. The medic is a crucial element of any military unit and especially so for an SAS patrol. In most cases the medic will be the only source of aid in the event of injury. SAS medics need to be able to deal with everything from infections to major gunshot trauma. They can also help with hearts and minds operations by establishing trust with local populations through medical assistance. Like signalers, the patrol's medic will usually be situated in the middle of the patrol.
Language skills are crucial when dealing with natives whilst engaging in hearts and minds operations or when liaising with foreign troops. SAS soldiers are mostly taught languages at the Army School Of Languages in Beaconsfield and usually followed up by a visit to the respective country to practice using their skills in the real world.
- Forward Air Control (FAC)
An increasingly important skill is that of Forward Air Control. SAS FACs undergo extensive training in the complex art of calling in aircraft to attack ground targets. Their job is made a little easier by modern technology such as laser target designators and IR strobe beacons, however they must, if needed, be able to verbally 'walk' an aircraft onto the target. This requires an expertise in map reading, an ability to clearly and concisely convey complex information; all whilst under tremendous pressure.
As many SAS missions end with stuff getting blown up (to use the technical term), a patrol will most likely need to contain a demolitions, or 'dems' expert. An extensive demolitions course is undertook which covers the various types of explosives, how to identify the points in a structure where best to place charges, and how to choose the types of target to hit in order to achieve the desired mission goals.