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Here's how Navy SEALs take down a hostile ship

Command of the seas sometimes means taking control of a non-complaint ship by forceful means, and, as they've demonstrated a number of times in recent years while dealing with pirates off the coast of Somalia, U.S. Navy SEALs possess a specific set of skills required to get the job done. This mission is known as "vessel boarding search and seizure" or "VBSS."


Here's how VBSS missions generally go down:

(Photo: U.S. Navy)

Mission planning begins between all the players in the intelligence center aboard the strike group's aircraft carrier. Elements beyond the SEALs are members of the ship's crew who need to know where to position their vessels and aviators from the air wing. HH-60 pilots will carry the SEALs to the target ship, and Super Hornet pilots will fly high cover in case things get sporty and more firepower is required.

Super Hornet launches off of Cat 4. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

The Super Hornets launch first, armed with precision guided bombs and a nose cannon. They'll establish a combat air patrol station high overhead in order not to tip off the bad guys.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Daniel M. Young)

HH-60s -- the special ops configured variant of the Seahawk -- launch with the SEAL team aboard.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Daniel M. Young/Released)

Generally a pair of HH-60s is enough for the average VBSS. The helos transit a very low altitude and approach the target ship from off of the stern.

(Photo: U.S. Navy)

At the last second, the HH-60s pop over the target ship's fantail . . .

(Photo: U.S. Navy)

. . . and deliver the SEALs by fast rope.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Corwin Colbert)

On deck, the SEALs make best speed for the superstructure.

(Photo: U.S. Navy)

Out of the open area, the team consolidates for the assault on the control points, usually the bridge of the ship.

(U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Cpl Kelsey J. Green)

The trick is maintain the element of surprise and to get to the bridge undetected. If that happens, neutralizing the bad guys is an easier proposition. If it doesn't happen then the SEALs are ready to deal, armed with M-4s, 9mm pistols, concussion grenades, and knives.

(Photo: U.S. Navy)

Once maintaining the element of surprise is no longer a factor, the H-60s can close in . . .

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Daniel M. Young/Released)

. . . and provide cover in the event the SEALs missed something that was hiding on the way to the bridge.

(U.S. Navy photo by Photographers Mate 1st Class Tim Turner)

After any threat is neutralized, the SEALs can inspect the ship to see if there's any contraband aboard.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Corwin Colbert)

With tasking complete, the SEAL team gathers on the bridge for a quick "hot wash up" of the mission and to call for pickup back to the carrier.

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