Combat Craft: Big Value in Small Packages
Military appetite for powerful and agile smaller platforms heats up.
The use of small craft by terrorist organizations and domestic terrorist cells is a worldwide threat as demonstrated by the bombing of the USNS COLE. The attack on Mumbai, India, in November of 2008, brought the danger to the forefront. Nations realized that to combat this asymmetrical small craft threat, a similar small craft defense – not replacing, but in parallel with traditional larger platforms – is required.
The world’s littoral areas have become porous entry and exit points for the criminals, smugglers, pirates, and terrorists. Every nation with a coastline, including lakes and rivers, struggles to secure these areas. Beyond this, the demand for coastal and littoral defense increases daily. As economic conditions sometimes cause large international navies to reallocate resources closer to home, smaller nations – with new vulnerabilities – find themselves rethinking their own homeland defense arrangements.
Rogue states have built and continue to build vast fleets of asymmetrical threat small high-speed craft and, of course, the scourge of piracy is on the rise. As the need for an effective defense becomes more evident, the ability to anticipate threat assets and to move quickly to design and outfit craft to neutralize those assets is at the very tip of the spear. Enter the small combat craft: it comes in many shapes and sizes, domestically built and ready for a full range of missions. And, there are numerous experienced and innovative U.S.-based firms ready to deliver.
Metal Shark Aluminum Boats
Late last year, Metal Shark Aluminum Boats was awarded a contract to replace the U.S. Coast Guard’s fleet of Response Boat – Small (RB-S) vessels. The substantial contract could eventually involve the delivery of up to 470 boats across the Coast Guard fleet, with an additional 20 boats will be available to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Still another ten are slated for purchase by the U.S. Navy. The $192 million contract is one of the largest boat buys of its kind for the Coast Guard.
RB-S comes weapons-ready, with multiple weapons racks and an integrated weapons-ready mounting system at the bow. The forward-mounted gunner’s platform provides 180-degree firing capability while a pass-through hatch leads to the cabin for easy access in any conditions.
Based on Metal Shark’s exceptional defiant platform, the 28-foot RB-S is powered by twin 225-horsepower (hp) Honda outboards for speeds exceeding 40 knots with a minimum range of 150 nautical miles.
The boat is road transportable for service between missions, and may also be transported via C130 aboard a specialized trailer. RBS also includes a full complement of communications and navigation gear, as well as shock-mitigating seats for enhanced crew comfort. The crew is further protected from foes - and the elements - by a fully-enclosed cabin enhanced with ballistic materials.
Also well known by the military, state, and law enforcement agencies for their performance, agility, responsiveness, stability, and speed is RIBCRAFT. Responding to the increase in demand for small agile and versatile vessels from US and international entities, RIBCRAFT developed lighter weight performance oriented RIBs for shipboard operations such as the RIBCRAFT 7.0, and the recently introduced RIBCRAFT 5.7. These two vessels represent a lightweight alternative delivering higher top end speeds, while still providing the highest level of safety and operational reliability. As MarineNews went to press, RIBCRAFT reported a contract to deliver several of the 5.7s to a large naval contractor who will RIBs will be used aboard large ships – no doubt to increase the capabilities and agility of a much larger naval presence.
The RIBCRAFT 5.7 is designed for shipboard operation, the 5.7 is easily deployed for rescue responses, marine interdictions, security, personnel transfers, and search and seizure operations. With an overall length less than 19', the compact size of the RIBCRAFT 5.7 allows for the vessel to meet the tightest of shipboard stowage constraints while still meeting operational requirements. Agile and responsive, this RIB delivers unmatched performance for any waterborne response. The 5.7 is available with a variety of I/O diesel engine options capable of operating on JP5 or JP8 with the choice of stern drives or water jets.
RIBCRAFT President Brian Gray told MarineNews, “Our team has put a tremendous amount of time and resources into designing and building the new 5.7 to meet the emerging shipboard requirements of twenty-first century naval vessels."
Silver Ships, Inc.
Silver Ships, Inc., of Theodore, AL, was recently awarded a contract to build six Riverine Patrol Boats (RPB) by the U.S. Navy Foreign Military Sales Agency (FMS) which includes the design, construction, delivery, reactivation and training for maintainers and operators. The RPB is 40 feet LOA and is powered by twin Yanmar diesels coupled to Hamilton water jets. The RPB draws less than 24” of water and has a cruising speed in excess of 30 knots when fully loaded with a range greater than 250 NM. Ballistic protection for crew, troops and machinery spaces are incorporated into the design and the RPB has the capability of firing multiple weapons systems including several fixed positions.
The RPB’s command and control (C4SIR) systems allow the craft to operate independently at night in an undetected mode. Until the course of action has been decided by the boat commander to control the fight, the boat has the ability to be seen by friendly forces. The electronics suite includes sophisticated navigation and communications equipment housed in a secure and environmentally protected space.
Separately, Silver Ships continues their R & D efforts of innovative armor solutions and C4SIR capabilities. The company has delivered many tactical water craft throughout the various agencies of the Department of Defense as well as the Department of Homeland Security and numerous federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.
Tampa Yacht Manufacturing LLC
Tampa Yacht Manufacturing is currently supporting governments bordering the Indian Ocean, Arabian Gulf, Gulf of Aden, Yellow Sea, and inland border lakes. Their small high-speed craft employ water-jet and surface drive propulsion, for shallow draft, high speed, and low signature applications. These fast interceptor craft now being employed are more agile and faster than their predecessors.
Responding to the rise in unmanned craft for use in reconnaissance, and direct action, Tampa Yachts is also working with several firms to offer low cost craft as unmanned Autonomous or Semi-Autonomous Surface Vessel (ASV) platforms for both ISR sensor platforms, as well as direct acting weapons platforms. According to TYM, delivering unmanned craft requires low procurement and life-cycle cost, mature, proven hulls, systems and machinery, and reliable service.
Active in the military markets, TYM has already introduced several craft, including the 44 FCI for all littoral threats, the 35 SPC (Swat Patrol Craft) for clandestine operations, the 35 RHIB Outboard powered craft for inshore and inland waterways and, a the larger diesel powered 40’ RHIB version of the craft with fully enclosed cabin and RIB Collar with mid-shore capability for extended patrol and interdiction in all-weather conditions and the shallow draft, high speed 51’ FAC (Fast Attack Craft) for over the horizon threats. Beyond this, and with the world’s MOD requirements as varied as the ocean itself, TYM is also competing to supply patrol crafts of various types to the Navy of Southeast Asia and the Middle East, as well as numerous other international regions. Significantly, all vessels are IACS Classified through RINA-MIL Military High Speed Craft Certification. Each Tempest Military Craft is custom configured with a range of propulsion, navionics, electronics, and weaponry systems to suit a variety of mission requirements.
Among TYM’s numerous entries into this demanding market, the Tempest 44-FCI, Fast Coastal Interceptor is a state-of-the-art high-speed coastal interceptor boat. First introduced in 2006, the 44-FCI is a 44 ft. (13.2 m) interceptor-class vessel with a proven design heritage that has seen historic action with US Customs and the US Coast Guard for more than two decades. As a totally redesigned world class naval vessel, the 44-FCI is fully customizable with enhancements that can include 360 degree pan and tilt infra-red night vision camera, 50-caliber machinegun mounts and threat level NIJ-III and IIIA ballistic protection.
With a minimum range of 225 nautical miles at wide open throttle and a cruising range of 340 nautical miles, the fully-outfitted 44-FCI is a very capable and effective intercepting vessel of unmatched performance in its class, the Tempest 44-FCI is powered by a pair of inboard MAN R6-800 hp electronic controlled turbo-diesel engines. Each engine is fitted with a 1.12:1 gear ratio TwinDisc MGX gears for low-speed maneuverability and Arneson ASD-11 surface drives for optimum performance. Other propulsion options are available from Cummins, Volvo, Yanmar and FPT.
Willard Marine, Inc.
Earlier this year, Willard Marine Inc. announced a by the U.S. Navy to build an undisclosed number of the company’s 7-meter aluminum hull Rigid Inflatable Boats (RIBs) for the U.S. Navy FMS. Willard’s 7 meter RIB, in various configurations, is a proven veteran of countless operations. This particular group of RIBs will be outfitted with Yamaha’s large 440HP engine, and like the Silver Ship’s Riverine model, with Hamilton Waterjets transferring the power to the water.
Constructed to be launched and retrieved from the stern ramps of larger patrol craft these boats will provide extended range and enhance the capabilities of the larger patrol boats.
Supporting U.S. Navy contracts that call for assistance in the build-up of the Iraq Navy, Willard will also be providing in-country training and support of these boats once delivered and handed over to the Iraq Navy.
Demand Drives Design: Boatbuilders & Naval Architects Deliver
Naval architect and engineer Nick Boksa of Boksa Marine Design, Inc. also weighed in on the growing trend for smaller, more versatile combat ready platforms. Boksa, who works with both end-use clients and boatyards, told MarineNews in April, “I have noticed two main trends within the industry based on client interaction. First, the obvious increasing need for multi-mission craft and secondly, that this demand is being driven by international governments, coast guards and law enforcement.” He added that this included the increasing need for multi-mission craft. “Clients desire flexible platforms in their designs, based on their intended use. Boats are no longer single task vehicles.”
Boksa’a experience in the small, multi-mission combat craft arena is deep. Partnering with Workskiff to design a 31’ Patrol Boat for West African country’s law enforcement, he helped devise a system complete with surface drives for shallow river patrol, and an armored cabin with forward machine gun mounting. Collaborating with Hann Powerboats, Inc., he assisted in the development of a high speed, 25 meter offshore patrol and defense boat fitted with ballistic protection.
The multi-mission trend, according to Boksa, is also being driven by security and defense planners, working under budgetary constraints. From the builder’s perspective, combined advancements in technology and better engineering allow them to deliver – for example – harbor patrol boats that can also act as search and rescue vessels.
Current events – here and abroad – dictate that the trend is here to stay. And, for their part, boat builders are clearly up to the task of providing innovation, in volume and in a timely manner to meet that requirement. That’s good news for the maritime business sector. It also means that the bad guys are about to meet their match. Big results do come in small packages, after all.
(taken from MarineNews June 2012 print edition)