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The Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) is the navy of The Bahamasmarker. Since The Bahamas does not have an army or an air force, its navy composes the entirety of its armed forces. Under The Defence Act, the Royal Bahamas Defence Force has been mandated to defend The Bahamasmarker, protect its territorial integrity, patrol its waters, provide assistance and relied in times of disaster, maintain order in conjunction with the law enforcement agencies of The Bahamas, and carry out any such duties as determined by the National Security Council. The Defence Force is also a member of Caricom's Regional Security Task Force. The task force has seen action in the United Nations mandate in Haitimarker 1994.

The Force

The RBDF is strictly a naval force, and therefore differs from the rest of its Caribbeanmarker counterparts. With about 1,000 members, it is the largest of the Commonwealth Caribbean navies. Several changes in equipment can be seen. In the beginning, the British uniform was used. Now U.S. woodland camouflage is used as opposed to the U.S. Army's universal camouflage worn by The Royal Bahamas Police Force Drug Enforcement Unit.

The first weapons used were the Sterling submachine gun and the L1A1 SLR. Now the American M4 rifle and the Heckler and Koch UMP submachine gun is employed for duty.

Unlike other British Commonwealth Land Forces, there are no regular infantry brigades. Instead, there are special forces. These are the Special Operations Unit (which is the sea going section associated with all ships and small craft), and the Commando Squadron, which acts as an Amphibious Infantry unit and also performs security measures. This is a sizeable force of at least 500 Special Marine Commandos. Training is conducted with the U.S. Navy Seals in special naval warfare and also with the British Royal Marines. A common training practice is to have a marine recruit conduct a two mile swim with a forty pound ruck sack.

The M101 105 mm Howitzer towed artillery is also employed in service.


There are two career tracks in the RBDF: Marine (rating) & Officer. The enlisted personnel ranks range from Marine to Force Chief Petty Officer. The Officer ranks range from Midshipman to Commodore. The force is organized and trained along the lines of the British Royal Navy and many of the officers attend British service academies.

The main ships in the force are Two Bahamas Class OPV's, and three smaller Protector Class OPV's. Most of the missions consist of anti-poaching patrols, anti-drug immigration enforcement, Search and Rescue, or general National Defence missions.

The Headquarters of the Defence Force are at RBDF Base Coral Harbour, on New Providence Island. The commander is Commodore Clifford 'Butch' Scavella. Additional bases are located in Matthew Town, Inaguamarker and Freeport, Grand Bahamamarker.

The RBDF uses the British Royal Navy style of rank insignia, and all ships carry the title HMBS (Her Majesty’s Bahamian Ship).

Because of the lack of ships, most RBDF members do not spend time at sea, and are used for other military or non-military roles.

Peacekeeping missions have been conducted with the participation of RBDF members in El Salvador and Haiti.

Air Wing

The RBDF operates three aircraft; a King Air 500, Cessna 208B and the Partenavia P.68 Observer. The aircraft are used chiefly for reconnaissance and maritime patrol. They also provide surveillance of large areas and aid in the strategic deployment of surface crafts.


Call for an overhaul of the RBDF

During a radio interview on the Bahamas radio station Love 97 'Issues of the Day' show on 5 December 2006, the RBDF commander stated that there were only two patrol boats operational and there is only one plane in service, but no pilot trained to fly the aircraft. He also stated that up to 25% of the ranks of the Defence Force are 'bad apples' and need to be weeded out.

The commander also stated that there are many programs being studied set to improve the Defence Force's capacity to provide security for Bahamian territorial waters. The future revitalization of the RBDF will include the provision of additional aircraft, increased manpower & salaries, base facilities and command outposts.

In the early summer of 2008, these overhauls had begun. The RBDF has also reduced numbers by a third in order to remove undesirable personnel from the military ranks. Service vehicles and patrol boats are in more regular use and both illegal immigrant seizures and illegal drug seizures have increased proportionately to the revamped force finally being used. One of the major seizures was undertaken by boat P-48. Roughly 692 kilogram sized bales of marijuana were taken off a "go-fast" boat (a light offshore racing boat) with a local street value of roughly 750,000 USD and a Miami street value at well over 1.3 million USD.


By an Act of Parliament, the RBDF became an official entity on 31 March 1980, falling under the Ministry of National Security. The Queen of The Bahamas, Elizabeth II, is Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Force with her ceremonial role exercised by the Bahamas' Governor General. The Defence Force also has adopted its own system of medals and awards.

The only combat action the RBDF has ever been involved with has been against Cubamarker.

On 10 May 1980, the HMBS Flamingo attempted to arrest two Cuban fishing vessels, the Ferrocem 165 and the Ferrocem 54, for poaching in Bahamian waters.

In retaliation, two Cuban MiG-21s invaded Bahamas airspace and fired on the patrol boat. The Cubans sank the ship with their 23 mm cannons, and fired upon Marines in distress in the water. Fenrick Sturrup, Austin Smith, David Tucker and Edward Williams, all Bahamian Defence Force Marines, were killed in the attack. Fifteen crewmen and the Commander made it safely to Duncan Town, on Ragged Island, after being picked up by the very fishing vessels they had boarded.

The poachers were convicted in July 1980, and Cuba eventually admitted responsibility, paying the Bahamas $10 million in compensation for the incident.


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