Fast Boats


running up that hill
Jan 3, 2007
in Wonderland, with my Alice

Speed is one of the most useful features in all military operations, on sea as well as on land. Elite units often must move troops and gear over water, either to counter seaborne threats or to land personnel onshore for operations. Getting there fast, wherever ‘there’ happens to be, makes a big difference to operational success.

But getting there in one piece is also necessary. And ensuring both soldiers and their equipment arrive in condition to complete the mission is also vital. So building fast boats for military customers is a highly demanding business. Speed must be combined with design, construction material and training to support the warfighter. Boats and their crews must be prepared for the worst conditions, from weather and the enemy, under which they may have to operate.

The variety of missions also poses challenges for boat manufacturers. Fast boats are used to deploy troops over short or very long distances and in deep or shallow sea water or rivers. They are used to patrol oceans, coastlines and ports. They may have to be heavily armed for offensive or defensive purposes. No one size can fit all these needs, nor can a single hull type, design or configuration meet all requirements.
It is not only U.S. services that are pressing manufacturers to meet all these tough requirements. Indeed, Willard Marine is seeing more interest in fast boats from foreign militaries, according to C.Z. Lozano, director of government products. “The U.S. may be falling a bit behind the curve,” Lozano said. “We are seeing a lot of interest in interceptor hulls from coast guards and navies in the Middle East and Far East.”
To meet this new demand, Willard has partnered with Team Scarab, which has a 30-year heritage of building world-champion offshore race boats. “They have the rights to the Scarab hull line and have built thousands of fast boats for recreational uses.” Lozano explained. “We adapt that for military uses.”

Willard itself has plenty of experience on the naval side. It has been building boats for the U.S. Navy for 35 years, including utility boats, cabin, patrol and interceptor boats. These range all the way from its 5-meter (16.4-foot) Sea Force 490, a fiberglass rigid inflatable boat (RIB) powered by a single outboard engine, to 17-meter (55.8-foot) fire and patrol boats. Willard is the leading manufacturer of 7- and 11-meter (23-foot and 36-foot) RIBs for the Navy.

Lozano said the definition of a fast boat is itself a little murky. “Once you get around 45 knots that might be considered a fast boat. It is easier to go fast now with the new engines. The trick is to do it safely. It is one thing to go 60 knots in a 43-foot boat and another to do 50 knots in an 11-meter [36-foot] boat.”
Sudden events and accidents can happen very quickly at high speeds. “You have to be careful that the hull can handle it. And the operator must know how to handle it, so training is an issue,” Lozano warned. “When you go faster, the impact is bigger, and there can be more injuries.”

So Scarab is the basis for Willard’s entry into the truly fast boat segment. “Once you get up to 50 knots, you need the right hull,” Lozano emphasized. The company is bidding on several contracts now for fast boats in the 43- to 52-foot range.

Willard does not make riverine boats. Lozano said the U.S. Navy Expeditionary Combat Command took over responsibility for operating riverine craft from the Marines in Iraq. And the company has been asked by U.S. Special Operations Command not to discuss the Combatant Craft Medium (CCM) program to replace RIBs.

So Willard is emphasizing its new fast boat line and, above all, how these can be operated safely. “If you wanted a 7-meter to do 60 knots, we could do it,” Lozano said. “But you need to know how it is going to be operated and who is going to operate it. That is one dilemma we run into. You need to understand operations in difficult sea conditions, which can be very detrimental.” Beyond the choice of Scarab hulls, Lozano prefers to keep specific technologies for dealing with the challenges of fast military boats confidential for the moment, explaining: “We are in the middle of a bid competition.”

U.S. Marine Inc. is under contract with USSOCOM to build the Special Operations Command Riverine (SOCR) boat. This is a 33-foot aluminum boat designed especially for short-range insertions in riverine warfare. “We are up to 36 and we hope to build a lot more,” said USMI CEO Barry Dreyfuss.
SOCR is an air-transportable boat that can be dropped by C-130s. It is an armored boat and replaced Vietnam-era boats such as the 31-foot River Patrol Boat and 36-foot Mini-Armored Troop Carrier. SOCR has a four-man crew and can carry eight special operations troops.

The company has also completed a contract with the Naval Special Warfare (NSW) Command for 72 RIBs, the 11-meter NSWRIB. These boats are stationed with NSW units on the East and West Coasts of the United States. The NSWRIB hull is made of glass-reinforced plastic and the boat is very tough. It has operated in light-loaded conditions in Sea State 6 and winds of up to 45 knots. Its range is over 200 nautical miles. These boats deliver Navy Sea, Air and Land (SEAL) teams into battle, so the NSWRIB must be carried on airplanes and parachuted out of the aircraft, Dreyfuss noted.

USMI designed the Mark V (MKV), a 90-foot special operations craft. The MKV is aluminum and has a modular seating design to minimize injuries. It can carry 16 fully equipped SEALs on missions of up to 500 miles from base and has room for four Combat Rubber Raiding Craft.

The MKV can also pack plenty of defensive power. It has five gun mounts for small-caliber weapons and a station that can, if necessary, mount a portable Stinger system. Its V-hull allows it to handle well in rough water and to reach speeds “upwards of 50 knots,” Dreyfuss said. The SOCR and NSWRIB craft exceed 40 knots. All USMI boats have been built for special operations units.
Dreyfuss said USMI won these three contracts partly because it was the lowest bidder for each. It has submitted bids for the next-generation CCM. “They have set very high requirements for that,” he said. “The speed will have to be upwards of 50 knots. The challenge is to get that speed and to do it safely and to meet a whole lot of other requirements.”
Racing boats, Dreyfuss noted, must carry only a driver, a throttleman, a navigator and fuel. “But military boats must be able to carry lots of people, bullets and other equipment, and it all must arrive in shape so that the people can carry out their missions. The danger is that if you go really fast you beat the crap out of the soldiers and gear and they can’t do their mission. So when you make military boats you have lots of requirements beside speed.”
Apart from low bidding, Dreyfuss credits USMI’s past success to listening to the customers, and he takes that duty very seriously. “When the military gives you feedback, it is about saving lives. It is not like building pleasure boats where if you do it wrong you may not make the next island. If you do not build military boats right, people will die.” Dreyfuss expects a decision on CCM, for an inventory of 30 boats, in about six months.
Brunswick offers small high-speed patrol boats for offshore or riverine operations. Three distinct product lines, with hundreds of mission-specific accessories, ensure that agencies can choose from any number of combinations, noted National Sales Director Jeremy Davis. These three lines—Fiberglass Boston Whaler boats, Impact RIBs and aluminum Sentry boats—come in sizes ranging from 15 to 40 feet. All of the Boston Whaler and Impact RIBs 25 feet and larger can do more than 40 knots with proper propulsion. For example, the 37-foot Justice boat averages 48 knots with triple 300-horsepower engines, while the 10-meter [32.8-foot] Impact RIB with two such engines averages 55 knots.

Brunswick specializes in creating custom solutions for unique missions if an off-the-shelf option will not work. “We know everybody’s situation is different, so we work with navies and coast guards around the world to configure boats that apply to unique circumstances,” Davis said. “We have a dedicated team of engineers to do this type of work, because when we install weapons on boats, there are all sorts of hull reinforcements that need to be engineered into the boat to handle the recoil and overall stress.”
One large order of boats Brunswick delivered had a requirement that the boats fit inside a C-130 for transport. “To meet this requirement, we had to engineer a folding T-top and windscreen that would [lie] flat so the boats could be easily stored,” Davis said. For another order, Brunswick developed a bow-boarding net for troops to get on and off the boats very quickly after pulling onto a beach. “In general, if an agency comes to us with a need, we can come up with a solution,” he said.
Brunswick supplies complete boat, engine and trailer packages to all branches of the U.S. military and all over the world to newly developed coast guards and navies. Its boats can be purchased off the GSA schedule, making procurement easy. The company fully warranties its boats and handles customer service support in-house.
With the help of dealers and suppliers in different locations, Brunswick is confident it can provide excellent services to military customers, regardless of location. “Many newly developed military agencies seek our assistance with basic boat operation, systems training and engine and fiberglass maintenance,” Davis said. “We have a dedicated team member available to go where needed for training, service or a little of both.”
Brunswick’s most unique line is its Boston Whaler fiberglass series, used for government operations for over 50 years. “The fact that they are unsinkable makes them a perfect choice for combat or other types of special operations,” Davis stressed. The company has a manufacturing facility dedicated to building Whalers specifically for patrol and combat. The facility adds gun mounts, hull reinforcements and ammo storage as needed.
And these boats are tough. In one test, the Navy subjected a Boston Whaler hull to thousands of rounds of gunfire, and it was towed away with no problems, except for the bullet holes. In South America, one Boston Whaler was hit with a grenade during combat but was never in danger of sinking. “I think this really gives people peace of mind in tense situations, to know that they are in the safest boat you can buy,” Davis said. But for agencies that do not need fiberglass hulls, Brunswick offers its RIBs and aluminum boats.
Brunswick now has a patent pending on a multi-mission configurable system for its Impact RIBs. The new system would allow the military to reconfigure a boat in 30 minutes. “For example, a patrol boat could turn into a military craft with gun mounts,” Davis explained.

He is seeing more interest in boats for chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive detection and response. “Our boats can be outfitted with equipment that can detect these types of threats, and we believe that there will be a good deal of focus on this area going forward.” Brunswick recently delivered a boat to a federal agency responsible for patrolling the U.S. border for terrorist threats, including radiological and nuclear threats. “Our focus is to continue to offer ways for agencies to detect and respond to hazardous materials on waterways or in ports.”
The speed is one thing isolating the human cargo from the deceleration when you hit a wave at 50 knots is another challenge. The same goes for when you hit a mine and the boat rises instantly into the air and your internal organs are torn from their suspension. I look forward to see the designs.
Great post thanks