Defense Media Network

Small Craft for Patrol, Riverine, and Special Operations Tasks Come to the Fore in Littoral Warfare

Shallow waters, special craft

U.S. Riverine and Special Operations Forces

The U.S. Navy’s Coastal Riverine Force (CORIVFOR) operates six or so Riverine Command Boats (RCB) to a modified CB-90 design; 18 39-foot Riverine Patrol Boats (RPBs) – both built by SBI; and 12 33-foot Riverine Assault Boats (RAB) built by USMI. These flat-bottomed, shallow-draft, brown water craft have a limited open sea capability. In addition, there are 160-odd Maritime Expeditionary Security Forces (MESF) craft – about 120 34-foot Sea Arks and more than 40 25-foot SAFE Boats patrol boats for the green waters.

RIVRON 2 patrol Arabian Gulf

U.S. sailors assigned to Riverine Squadron (RIVRON) 2 conduct patrol operations in the Arabian Gulf aboard a Riverine Command Boat (RCB), Oct. 26, 2012. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jamar Perry

A new class of patrol craft, the 85-foot Mk. VI patrol boat is slated to join CORIVFOR in early 2014. Five hulls plus one option are on order from SAFE Boats, although 48 Mk. VIs are ultimately envisaged.

Crucially, the Mk. VI brings new capabilities into play. With two embarked crews and an endurance of 24 hours, it offers greater persistence in heavier sea states without returning to base, unlike legacy platforms.

Ongoing riverine procurements include two more 49-foot RCBs for delivery in FY 14 and a 65-foot Coastal Command Boat (CCB) – most likely from SAFE Boats – for delivery in FY 13.


Naval Special Warfare Platforms

A variety of specialized “surface mobility” platforms are used by Naval Special Warfare Command (NAVSPECWARCOM), including three USMI-built craft – 11-meter RHIBs with radar and forward looking infrared (FLIR); 33-foot Special Operations Craft Riverine (SOCR), which are the same craft as the Navy’s RAB (but fitted with radar and FLIR); and 82-foot Mk. V patrol boats now leaving service as well as a number of SEALION Mk. 1/Mk. 2 semi-submersible craft built by OIW. Others include Boston Whalers, small combat raiding craft, and Silver Ships-built RHIBs known as NSW short-range and NSW long-range support craft.

Of these, RHIBs are the most numerous. “Rigid-hull inflatable boats are still the mainstay of our deployed surface mobility, and their versatility, reliability, and air delivery capability will keep them in the mix for many more years,” said Rear Adm. Sean A. Pybus, NAVSPECWARCOM commander, at WEST 2012.

NSW RHIBs and SOCRs are being upgraded. RHIBs are getting an aft lifting body to increase speeds, an Integrated Bridge System (IBS), and a Mobile Distributed Common Architecture (MDCA), while SOCRs are being fitted with better, lighter armored panels.

In the meantime, 16 (or 24) High Speed Assault Craft (HSAC) – acquired from an existing program, according to Pybus – will provide a critical “bridge” capability until CCM development and testing is completed.

Replacements are required for the legacy Mk. V craft, now being retired. U.S. Special Operations Command’s (SOCOM) maritime “surface mobility” roadmap envisions several types of craft and capabilities, aiming for greater commonality with the regular Navy. “Eventually, we want a family of surface craft for a full range of threats and capabilities,” Pybus said.

A 2012 Special Operations Forces Industry Conference brief by Capt. Tim Kelly of SOCOM’s Program Executive Office Maritime offers a glimpse of this “roadmap.”

Combatant Craft Medium (CCM) Mk. 1 are required in the near term, while Combatant Craft Assault (CCA), the improved SOCR-Next, new Security Forces Assistance (SFA) Craft, and a next-generation forward looking infrared (CCFLIR) are required in the medium term. Sustainment efforts will keep the legacy SEALION and NSW RHIBs in service until 2024. Plans also call for a Combatant Craft Heavy (CCH) to complement the CCM, but time lines are not clear.

Medium CCM Mk. 1: The 60-foot CCM Mk. 1 will partially replace the 11-meter RHIBs and Mk Vs. Their primary mission is SEAL insertion/extraction in a medium threat environment. Some 30 craft are required. “CCM Mk. 1 is envisioned as an essential step in providing a modern, clandestine, agile, adaptive, and operationally capable marine craft as a force multiplier within the SOF structure,” explained Kelly.

OIW and USMI are both building competitive prototypes, with delivery slated for Q3 FY 13. Other key program milestones are research, development, test, and evaluation (RDT&E) until FY 14, procurement from FY 14 through FY 18, and full operational capability by FY 20. But, with a two-year program delay, it is not clear if these milestones will be met.

In the meantime, 16 (or 24) High Speed Assault Craft (HSAC) – acquired from an existing program, according to Pybus – will provide a critical “bridge” capability until CCM development and testing is completed.

CCA: The 41-foot CCA is to be a stealthy, open-ocean craft to perform medium-and/or high-threat Maritime Interdiction Operations (MIO) as well as SEAL insertion/extraction. According to the U.S. Navy, 24 are required and will be procured from a sole source on grounds of “expediency.” “CCA uses state-of-the-art technology for performance, stealth, and crew situational awareness,” said Kelly.

SAFE Boats MK VI patrol boat

SAFE Boats imagery of the Mk. VI patrol boat. SAFE Boats image

SOCR-Next: SOCOM intends to recompete the next SOCR contract upon completion of the current contract with USMI in FY 14. Requests for proposals are due by Q2 FY 14, followed by contract award in Q2 FY 15. The requirement is for 24 craft. The next SOCR will build upon the existing SOCR.

SFA Craft: Twelve SFA Light and five SFA Patrol Coastal training craft are being procured to supplement a number of 25-foot Defender SFA Combat Craft Small (SFA-CCS) and others currently in use by the Naval Small Craft Instruction and Technical Training School (NAVSCIATTS) at the Stennis Space Center, Miss. These craft are used by NSW for training small boat operators from partner nations.

Mk. VI: Another platform being looked at is the Mk. VI patrol boat. Capt. Travis Schweizer, who heads N951 Naval Special Warfare Branch, at the 17th NDIA Expeditionary Warfare Conference in September 2012 described the Mk. VI as one of the “major efforts” for his office.


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