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Prime Rib
By Michael Burnett

Small craft are a hallmark of maritime special operations. From inflatables to leading edge go-fast hull design, boat manufacturers are designing boats that get SOF where they need to go for mission success.


When the going gets tough, the tough get seaborne. So it goes with U.S. Naval Special Warfare (NSW) Command, headquartered in San Diego, which deploys small units of highly trained sailors to carry out operations that are above and beyond the capabilities of conventional naval forces.

In the line of duty, those special forces require maritime transportation, which generally comes in the form of the U.S. Navy’s Mark (MK) V Special Operations Craft (SOC), specialized patrol boats, and rigid inflatable boats(RIBs).
The RIBs in particular are used in a progressively wider variety of missions, as they have proven themselves to be more robust and versatile than originally envisioned. The NSW RIB is 11 meters, or 36 feet, in length. According to NSW, the RIBs are generally used for infiltration, extraction, nighttime surveillance, and resupplying special operations forces. The NSW 11-meter RIB carries crews of three or eight combat personnel.
The 11-meter RIB has proven very valuable to Navy special forces, but the end-of-service life for the NSW RIB fleet is scheduled for 2012. USSOCOM anticipates replacing the current NSW RIB beginning in fiscal 2008 through a full and open competition.

Exclusive Contract

The exclusive manufacturer of the NSW 11-meter RIB is United States Marine Inc. (USMI), based in Gulfport, Miss. The company was once headquartered in New Orleans, but moved to Gulfport after Hurricane Katrina. On August 28, President Bush visited USMI as part of his tour of the gulf region impacted by Katrina on its first anniversary. Bush toured the USMI facilities and praised the work of its 134 employees.
“For special operations, there is one RIB, and it’s ours,” USMI President and CEO Barry Dreyfus told SOTECH.
The 11-meter RIB was designed completely at USMI’s original location in New Orleans. The design was submitted to Naval Special Warfare Command in a competition and won.
“We have been with Naval Special Warfare Command since 1998,” Dreyfus stated. “It’s air deployable. You can drop it out of a plane. It’s the only certified 11-meter RIB in the world that can be air dropped.”
The 11-meter RIB has a beam of 10 feet, 7 inches in length. It derives its power from two 470-horsepower 3126 CAT diesel engines. The drive consists of twin Kamewa WaterJets, and the RIB has a fuel capacity of 180 gallons.
The RIB can achieve speeds in excess of 40 knots in Sea State 3, and it has a round-trip endurance of more than 300 nautical miles in speeds greater than 30 knots, according to USSOCOM.
Despite these impressive statistics, Dreyfus insists the NSW RIB would never accomplish anything without the skilled sailors of NSW.
“We are very pleased to have these guys using our boats,” Dreyfus said of Navy special operators. “You can build a great boat, but if you don’t have good users, the boat is useless. These guys are the best users, and they make our product look fantastic. We are proud to supply the special boat teams with boats.”

Sponson

The 11-meter RIBs used by Naval Special Warfare Command require sponsons, which are auxiliary floatation tubes that join at the bow of the RIB. Those sponsons are manufactured by subcontractor Dumaree Inflatable Boats Inc., based in Friendsville, Md.
The 11-meter RIB would float just fine without the sponson, Mimi Dumaree, business manager at Dumaree Inflatable Boats, told SOTECH, but the inflatable tubes provide other benefits.
“In the case of most RIBs, the boat itself would float just fine without the inflatable or foam sponson. The foam gives it some roughwater handling characteristics. Without it, you would require a larger boat in theory,” Dumaree remarked. “You also get the fendering capability to come alongside another boat. You are not clanging metal to metal.
“The idea was to get better handling in roughwater with a small boat,” she added. “RIBs started with the idea of using a small boat, but they have gotten bigger over the years. They started out pretty small.”
Dumaree Inflatable Boats, in fact, offers three varieties of the sponson. Its standard sponson has been the original and replacement sponson for the NSW 11-meter RIB since 1997. The tubes are made of fabric that is 30-ounces per square yard neoprene/nylon. The sponson has two plies of gum sheeting to resist abrasions. One tube weighs about 138 pounds.
A modified sponson manufactured by the company is made of the same material, but provides more abrasion resistance. This sponson uses one ply of 60-ounces per square yard neoprene/nylon fabric instead of the gum sheet. The fabric is applied from the outboard bolt rope to the lifeline patches. One tube of the modified sponson weighs about 150 pounds.
In addition, the company manufactures a Kevlar sponson. The Kevlar-based neoprene-coated fabric is the same weight as the nylon-based fabric used in the other sponsons. However, it has a much greater tensile strength, providing even more resistance to punctures. The Kevlar sponson is stronger and lighter than the others but still compatible with existing field repair kits. One tube of the Kevlar sponson weighs about 137 pounds. Kevlar, of course, is made by Dupont Co.

Regular Navy

Willard Marine Inc. of Anaheim, Calif., manufactures RIBs for use throughout the U.S. Navy, but not special warfare. The company offers a variety of RIBs for various missions, explained C.J. Lozano, Willard Marine’s national sales manager.
“The mainstay in our business with the government is RIB boats,” Lozano commented. “We have been building boats for the Navy for more than 30 years. We are getting ready to celebrate our 50th year in business this January. It’s a big milestone for us.”
Willard Marine builds an 11-meter RIB called the Sea Force 11m Waterjet. The smallest boat it builds is a 4.9-meter boat, and it recently finished its largest RIB ever—a 44-foot RIB for the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department.
“Talking about the military, the main boats we build for the military are the 7-meter standard Navy RIB and the 11-meter standard Navy RIB. These boats come in both inboard diesel and outdrive configurations and also waterjet configuration. They also have the capability of being manufactured as outboards. Primarily, we build the 7-meter inboard diesel outdrive version for all of the Naval ships. They are all shipboard vessels,” Lozano told SOTECH.
The standard 11-meter Navy RIB comes in two configurations, one with a cabin and the other with an open console. These RIBs are typically deployed onboard amphibious ships. The U.S. Navy recently used the company’s 11-meter RIBs to assist with beach evacuations of American citizens from Lebanon when conflict between Israel and Hezbollah flared up over the summer.
Willard Marine has a 16-foot RIB, which is good for harbor security boat and has been sold to an undisclosed foreign government for use as a customs and border patrol boat; an 18-foot RIB, which adds a console and a steering wheel to offer more substantial harbor and coastal patrols; and a 22-foot RIB, the Sea Force 670, which offers both outboard and inboard diesel options. The 670 is very similar to the Navy 7-meter RIB.
“Those boats are really the backbone of military RIBs. They are the backbone for the destroyers and the frigates. You see them stored onboard the USS Cole and boats like that. They are used on a daily basis for force protection or anti-terrorism operations,” Lozano said.
“From there, you step up to the 11-meter. The 11-meter is a workhorse. It can accommodate up to 26 people. They have been doing a lot of operations off the amphibious ships with boarding parties and things like that. For larger ships with the need to carry larger capacities of people, those are the boats they are putting on the larger ships,” he added.
The U.S. Navy also has mounted weapons systems on the RIBs. Meanwhile, Willard Marine has won a contract to supply a long-range interceptor to the U.S. Coast Guard under the Integrated Deepwater Program. That boat will be a 35-foot aluminum RIB with a cabin.

Alternative Methods

Speaking of aluminum, USIA Underwater Equipment Sales Corp., based in St. Helens, Ore., manufactures a RIB-like boat made of aluminum instead of inflatable tubes. USIA President Kim Johns told SOTECH that his company’s design for the special action vessel (SAV) started out as a hobby but quickly became a career.
“We were looking for a way to build an inflatable boat that didn’t have expensive inflatable tubes to replace if they went bad,” Johns recalled. “So we started experimenting with taking aluminum and rolling it into tube shapes.”
The result is a SAV boat built on “torpedo technology” rather than “yacht technology,” Johns said.
“That means it rides out of the water. With all other inflatables, when they are running, their tubes never touch the water unless they bank into a turn,” he described.
The SAV’s hull is consistently submerged in about five inches of water, so its tubes are always in the water. That means the boat handles water conditions like swells and waves and high sea states better than traditional RIBs, Johns revealed. The boats ride the water “like a caterpillar,” never leaving the way other boats do when they jump through swells and pound back down into the water.
As a result, a SAV can travel about 20 percent faster than other boats on average. When another boat can go 20 knots, a SAV can go 30; a SAV can probably go 50 knots when other boats can do 40.
The first of the SAVs were manufactured and sold to Egypt through foreign military sales contracts, where the Egyptian military is fond of the aluminum hull, which requires no maintenance, Johns said. Other clients include the Wakulla County Sheriff’s Office in Florida, the special operations team in Florida’s Lee County Police Department, the special operations team in the Miami-Dade Police Department, the New Mexico State Police Special Operations Bureau, and the California Highway Patrol, as well as U.S. Army Special Forces and U.S. Air Force combat controllers. United Arab Emirates special operations forces in Abu Dubai also are evaluating the SAV boats.
“Two of the big advantages is, one, in a tactical situation when you are slamming up against another ship to offload boarding officers or tactical waterborne guys to take over a ship, you can slam up against a steel hull ship and not have to deal with the tubes puncturing or having problems or issues with the boat bouncing off the ship,” Johns remarked.
“Second, because it’s built on torpedo technology, the boat rides with only 12 or 13 inches of freeboard. So in a tactical dive situation, you don’t have to remove doors. You don’t have to set ladders. You can pretty much just crawl into the boat,” he said.
The SAV I is about 21 feet in length; the SAV II, about 25 feet; and the SAV III, 30 feet. All SAV boats come with a keel that culminates in a sharpened blade that protrudes about 3 inches under the boat.
“It can be sharpened and you can catch pretty much anything and just run over it and cut it in half,” Johns noted.

Repair Work

When regular naval forces or special naval forces need boat repairs, they often turn to Davis Boat Works Inc., located in Newport News, Va. Frank Wagner, co-owner and vice president of Davis Boat Works, told SOTECH that his company performs repairs on a variety of RIBs, as well as the MK V SOC. Davis Boat Works also works with the Navy on prototypes such as enhancements to the MK V SOC.
“The Mark V stands out in regards to speed,” Wagner noted. “It’s far past its initial service life, so it has shown longevity also. But we just fix them. I’m not familiar with the missions they go on.”
Davis Boat works has provided detailed repair services to the MK V SOC, servicing the majority of boats that make up the MK V fleet on the Atlantic coast. These repairs have included waterjet overhauls, systems installations and upgrades, emergency repairs, and hull and structural repairs, according to the company.
The full-service shipyard at Davis Boat Works offers all kinds of marine repair, including structural and electrical fittings, and has developed a reputation for its expert welding procedures. The shipyard employs more than 100 highly skilled tradesmen and administrative personnel with many years of maritime experience. The shipyard also offers 800 feet of bulkhead space and 5 acres of vessel block area, providing plenty of room to repair multiple vessels.
One distinguishing factor about the shipyard is its 250-ton Marine Travelift, which can lift a boat with minimum stress on the hull. The Travelift reduces requirements for dry-dock scheduling, permits the blocking of multiple vessels on shore simultaneously, and facilitates emergency repairs. “We do very little subcontracting. We do most of our work in-house. We have the luxury to do that because we have the ability to have lots of boats in our drydock,” Wagner added.
 
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