They are heavily armed, with two MK 38 Mod 2 25mm machine gun systems, two stabilized small arms mounts and multiple crew served weapons mounts. Each MK VI PB will also be equipped with a full range tactical C4ISR suite, and will be equipped to employ an organic (Group I) unmanned aerial vehicle such as Aerovironment’s Aqua Puma, which CRF already uses.
These boats, with a displacement of 165,000 pounds, are too large to be air transportable by C-17 aircraft. But they are ship transportable. For example, a San Antonio-class LPD can carry four of these craft in its well deck. Larger ‘gators’ can transport even greater numbers.
Safeboats will build these boats at a new facility that is separate from its Bremerton facility, as the boat is too large to be road transportable. Instead, the Mk VI will be built at a newly leased waterfront facility in the Port of Tacoma called the Large Craft Production Facility (LCPF). Safeboats says it can build up to six large craft simultaneously at the 22,000 square foot LCPF, which is a former World War II U.S. Navy shipbuilding facility. Production is expected to commence in about two months’ time.
CRF is also evaluating the use of tactical unmanned surface vessels (USV). It is currently operating three prototype USV under the Navy’s MUSCL (Modular Unmanned Surface Craft Littoral) program to evaluate tactics, techniques & procedures.
NAVSEA is also looking at replacements for existing craft. Some of these are Force Protection Boats in large, medium and small sizes. Unlike larger vessels, small boats have a short life cycle of 10 years or less depending on their utilization. “We are looking into replacements,” Gay says.
Hamblet explains that while there will be separate training organizations on either coast, there will be a single training pipeline for all CRF personnel. As part of the merger, MESF personnel – in A through C companies – will undergo an elevated level of combat training through more live fire and more complex exercise scenarios so that they will be able to conduct offensive missions as well. Each company will also get training in embarked security – where a 12-person team is sent out to an MSC ship to provide security before transitioning to a green water training block where personnel go through all of the requirements, such as harbor security, static security, HVA escort, etc. For the D company, there will be specific blocks of training on brown water riverine missions, including development of VBSS teams to support any requirements when deployed.
“We are establishing a training and evaluation unit (at San Diego) as a part of this merger that is focused on evaluating forces as they prepare to deploy,” explains Hamblet. Training of the first combined squadron will begin in August.
Hamblet sums up the new CRF nicely when he says, “We have got a cadre of very motivated, very professional sailors who are really excited about this merger. Both the MESF and riverine forces are very capable forces. With the merger, we will be even better. It will be a unit with a broader spectrum of mission it can accomplish.”