$30M for 5 new patrol boats
Coastal Riverine Force Expanding Its Reach Following June 1 Merger
Posted on InsideDefense.com: June 8, 2012
The newly-established Coastal Riverine Force in the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command is seeking to expand its reach, and recently bought five new Mk VI Patrol Boats to extend its range and mission duration.
Coastal Riverine Force -- the result of a June 1 merger between the Riverine and the Maritime Expeditionary Security forces -- sought a boat that would let the force push out from shore even farther and would be the biggest of the force's continuum of craft, Capt. James Hamblet, commodore of Coastal Riverine Group 2 in Portsmouth, VA, told Inside the Navy during a June 5 interview. The Navy issued a $30.5-million contract to Safe Boats International of Bremerton, WA, on May 14 for five boats, with a $6-million option for a sixth, Naval Sea Systems Command spokesman Lt. Kurt Larson told ITN on May 29.
"If you look at what we as a force are supposed to do -- we establish and maintain local control of coastal and inland waters -- to do that you need a layered approach with these different craft," Hamblet said. "And Mk VI helps us push that out with a range of roughly 650 miles."
The SeaArc, which Hamblet said has been the workhorse of the Maritime Expeditionary Security Force, is only 34 feet in length. The new Mk VI will be 85 feet long and has the ability to surpass 40 knots, which Hamblet said was an impressive combination. The boats will be able to operate for 24 hours and have room for 10 people -- two alternating crews of five -- plus eight additional personnel if needed for a mission, Hamblet said.
"I think the Mk VI is a pretty cost-effective means of having a naval presence no matter where you choose that to be, in the littorals, anywhere in the world," he said, noting that the ship's four-foot draft will make it a helpful asset "wherever we choose to operate." He added that the boats were not replacing any other platform but rather adding to the group's capabilities -- such as protecting high-value assets as far as 50 miles out to sea, a reach the group's existing platforms don't have.
The first boat should be delivered in about February 2014, Hamblet said. The five or six boats will be split between Norfolk, VA, and San Diego, CA, he said, though the Navy is still determining where it might first deploy the boats.
By the time the patrol boats deliver, the Coastal Riverine Force should be fully integrated. A June 1 ceremony merged the capabilities and commands at a group level, Hamblet said. The first combined squadron -- which will be divided into three maritime expeditionary security companies and one riverine company -- will form in August, with two more, along with four reserve squadrons that will not have riverine companies, forming in the following months.
"Across the entire squadron, across all four companies, we're raising the combat readiness, combat effectiveness, of the force so that now all four companies will really not only have a force protection capability but will have an offensive capability as well," Hamblet said of the upcoming changes to his new unit.
The first post-merger squadron will deploy in the May 2013 timeframe, he added.
Hamblet said riverine and coastal forces had already been satisfying force protection requirements in the 5th Fleet area of operation and that the newly merged units would continue to do so. He said they would also continue to work with foreign navies, which is already being done, and that the Mk VI Patrol Boat was a good platform to use for this type of security assistance mission.
"Really, a lot of the navies in the world have craft that are very similar in size to the ones we have, so we really are the perfect force to engage with a lot of navies across the world for security assistance," he said.
The patrol boats will include two Mk 38 Mod 2 25mm machine gun systems, two stabilized small arms mounts and six crew-served weapons mounts for 50-caliber machine guns, Larson and Hamblet said. Those capabilities will enable the boats to perform maritime intercept and visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) operations, support theater security cooperation and security force assistance operations and more, Larson told ITN, calling it "the Navy's first true patrol boat introduced since the mid 1980s." -- Megan Eckstein