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The SAS vs The SBS

When considering the SAS and SBS, the question naturally springs to mind : which one is the better unit? A juvenile concern perhaps, but that hasn't stopped ex-members of both units slagging their opposite numbers off in a series of books. In ex-SAS operator, Ken Conner's Ghost Force, the author decries the SBS as an under-funded, unprofessional unit. In two books by ex-SBS men, First into Action by Duncan Falconer and Black Water by Don Camsel, the Special Air Service are portrayed as arrogant, gung-ho cowboys who's attitude leads to several operations in Northern Ireland going awry. This antagonism stems from tight defense budgets and the constant jockeying for a piece of the action - both in terms of funding and operations. Both units also have considerable pride in their own abilities and there's a natural resentment of the other 'special' forces.

Commonly stated pro-SAS arguments include:
  • The Special Air Service are an army force and therefore have better experience on dry land. Some would point to the SBS landrover patrol's apparent difficulties in the Iraqi desert during Gulf War 2.
  • SAS draw from a wider cross-section of the armed forces meaning their troops include paratroopers, tank drivers, engineers etc. This diversity of skills make the SAS suitable for a wider range of tasks.
  • The SAS is a larger and better funded organisation
Whilst the pro-SBS camp argue:
  • With the SBS (until recently) drawing its ranks from the Royal Marines, it is suggested that an SBS operator has a greater level of experience of soldiering than many of their SAS counterparts.
  • The demands of working in the water demands a higher level of fitness and mental toughness than the SAS.
  • The lower public profile of the SBS allows for more covert operations and it is said that the MOD have problems with the more maverick elements within the SAS.

Such arguments are becoming more and more academic as the two units are becoming less and less distinguishable. They are now part of the same organisation (UKSF) and are often sent on joint missions together. The main difference between them remains in their separate specialties in the counter terrorism role. Some speculate that an eventual merger of the SAS & SBS is inevitable.

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 RECOMMENDED READING
First Into Action
Duncan Falconer

A rare autobiographical account of life in the SBS and 'The Det'. One of the best Special Forces memoirs you can read.

more info: First Into Action
(amazon.co.uk)
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