Coastal Riverine Force Busier Than Ever
By NICK ADDE, Seapower Special Correspondent
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Because of budgetary shifts and intensified mission requirements, the Navy’s Coastal Riverine Force is busier than ever. A scion of the same command that oversaw the legendary PT boats of World War II, the force’s seven units — three active duty and four Reserve — are responsible for a host of missions.
Operating primarily, but not exclusively, close to port, riverine units escort high-value units, provide force protection, maritime interdiction, aircraft protection and port security. Two of the units are forward-deployed to Guam and Bahrain, using the new Mark VI patrol boats.
“They’re proving their worth as we learn how to use them overseas,” Cmdr. Raul Gandara of Navy Expeditionary Combat Command, said during an April 4 presentation at the Sea-Air-Space Exposition. “We’re doing quite a bit now with fleet integration — operating the craft itself and getting into the link.”
The Mark VI boats are transporting Marines and special-warfare operators in and out of tight spots, Gandara said. They also support mine-warfare, explosive-ordnance disposal and mine-neutralization missions, he said. When called upon, they can embark upon missions from forward-operating or afloat-staging bases around the world.
“[With] rotational deployments to Guam, CENTCOM [U.S. Central Command] and EUCOM [U.S. European Command] maritime protection, they’re pretty busy folks,” Gandara said.
Gandara also cited the need to replace the aging FP-Large (34-foot) and FP-small (25-foot) patrol boats. As it stands, the force has had to extend the projected 12-year service life of the 34-foot boats by six years, and pull the 25-foot boats out of inactive status.
The riverine force is asking industry to come forward with plans for a replacement boat, with very specific profiles. The new boats would need to be about 40 feet long and capable of being airlifted.
“They also need to be small enough to travel on all those weird, small back roads and on tiny streets overseas,” Gandara said.
The new boats also would have to be capable of operating in 3- to 5-foot wave heights at full-load condition, have a range of about 200 nautical miles, and top speed of 35 knots.
“People ask us, ‘Why not faster?’ The enemy comes to us. We don’t need to chase them down,” Gandara said.
“We’ll continue to have a five-person crew and 360-degree weapons coverage. We want to add ballistics protection, which the 34-foot [boat] doesn’t have. That adds weight. It gets hard for shipbuilders. We’re anxious to see what they come up with, as far as design,” Gandara said.
He expects prospective shipbuilders to begin sharing their ideas sometime in April.