Welcome all, to this first part of a short series I wanted to bring you. While it’s no secret that I’m a weapons guy through and through, some of you might not have seen my intro to the site some time ago. Yes, I’m also a Navy guy…But don’t be fooled into thinking we Navy bred bastards can’t bring some serious fight up close and personal. Many in the small boat community look to the pirate as a sort of unofficial mascot, and we sure as hell have some cutthroat tactics for laying down the hate when the time comes. In this series, Death from the Water: Small Boats, I want to talk about our boats just a little to give you an idea of what the boats bring to the fight.
While the scenario I’ll cite here is straight up fighting, the boats are a lot more diverse than many give them credit for. They can act as search and rescue, perform casualty extractions, conduct intel gathering, supply forward forces, and can perform any number of other missions. They have organic forward looking infrared (FLIR) sensors, Furuno Radar, JTAC operators, UAV operators, and extensive communications suites. In the case of Riverines, you can also add a light infantry capability. Another often overlooked facet of the SBT’s and Riverines is that they possess a large pool of vehicles including MRAPs and can conduct ground mobility missions, route recce’s, or other humanitarian missions if tasked.
In this part, I just want to convey the feeling of a real-world combat mission as best I can in writing and in future parts I’ll go into each platform in particular. The US Navy currently has 3 different groups running armed small boats and each has their own strong and weak points. Top of the pack is the Naval Special Warfare Special Boat Teams (SBT), followed by NECC Riverine Squadrons (RIVRON), and then Mobile Security Squadrons (MSRON). Of those three, only SBT’s and RIVRON have a combat role by mission doctrine, so those are the 2 units I’ll focus on. Security is security…and not very interesting, sorry MSRON.
The scenario I’ll try to paint for you here could really be applied to both SBT-22 or RIVRON, employing either the NSW Special Operations Craft – Riverine (SOC-R) or the RIVRON Riverine Assault Boat (RAB). They are the same hull, just with some configuration changes. I can discuss the boat in more a little more detail in another part. Riverines have an organic troop which are often put inshore called Riverine Security Team (RST) while SBT’s do not have an organic troop and would bring on Rangers, SEAL’s or other units troops. The SWCC and Riverine communities are full of outstanding people, and certainly deserve some respect. Not to take anything away from the Riverines, but the SBT’s seriously put a lot of effort into their training and being masters of their craft. Having a vast pool of money certainly helps, in addition to employing SEAL’s as their officers instead of big blue Navy Surface Warfare Officers (SWO’s). My strong opinion is that fighters should lead fighters. SWO’s are fine for ships, but Riverine’s are a different breed and I don’t think their brass get it yet. In following that statement, SWCC are dedicated to their job for their career, whereas a Riverine comes out of the big Navy fleet and then later returns to the fleet.
Imagine this scenario. You are on a boat at 1am, in the dark damp cool air. You have an M240 machine gun to man on the forward section of the boat. There are three more boats in your patrol, one ahead and two behind. The mission was time sensitive tasking and you’ve been at the ready since 7pm. Your mission is to insert 16 troops into hostile land to perform a kill or capture mission against a high value target. 8 of the 16 are on your craft, crowding your weapon station and trying to sit on your spare ammunition. Assholes, don’t they know better? They never do… Your boats are moving nearly silent through the water. If things go bad for you, your craft can only go one of two ways, either further in or turn around and go back. Anyone wishing to ambush you knows this as well, being seen is detrimental to your mission and every effort has gone into avoiding it down to the position of the damned moon. Everyone is silent, just a low hum from the diesel engines and occasional swish of water on the hull. The insert area is close to the objective to permit the troops a rapid egress if needed, but also close enough that there is a very real chance that we will get into a contact while trying to insert the troops. Your insert is just around a bend ahead so you look around quickly to check the other boats positions and your fellow gunners. If it weren’t for the night vision goggles you’d be challenged to see them 10 feet away in this dark. The night vision’s green glow just barely illuminates their faces where it leaks out around the eye cups. The craft has a Mk44 7.62mm Minigun across from you, two more M240’s in the mid-section each side, and a M2HB .50 Cal on the rear. In all with 4 boats, you have 4 Miniguns, 12 to 16 M240’s, 4 M2HB .50 Cals and 4 M79 or M203 grenade launchers. Then there’s also your personal rifle and sidearm, and the weapons from any embarked troop’s. That’s a LOT of lead waiting to be pushed out on bad guys.
Coming into the insert, tensions are high. At any moment the shores could erupt in gunfire raining bullets into your craft, crew, and the troops. Could someone have seen us and called ahead? Could a spotter be hiding out here protecting the HVT? From their higher vantage, can the boat be seen against the water? The insert area is tight and debris and brush litters the shore, making it impossible to insert both sets of troops simultaneously without making noise rubbing on brush. You can point at a spot on a map all day and say go here, but until you get eyes on it you just don’t know how it’s really going to play out. This is one of those times, and you have to keep an eye out for the best area to put in on. The boats fan out to cover our boat as it creeps into the shore, and finally makes ever so soft contact with the shoreline. After a listening pause the troops are up and moving, and as each one goes past you mentally count to be sure everyone is off while you scan for threats. Silence is still the game and the troops disappear into the night behind the brush. Someone ashore breaks a branch with their pack. It sounds so loud in our silence it might as well have been a bullhorn. Everyone freezes and scan’s intently before moving again. The signal is passed from them that the ground is good for the next group and our boat glides away into the dark to be replaced by the next insert craft. Once they all get ashore, our boats continue out to our holding point to wait for the ground element to complete their mission.
Meanwhile, the ground mission was going well, right up until a baddie decided to visit the target site only to find troops. Baddie decided to die loudly and now the whole damned neighborhood is awake, confused and angry. For the ground element, the mission was going great until then, 3 detainee’s including the big prize, but now it’s time to get the hell out, screw the site exploitation. As the troops get moving out, they are spotted and now the mass of angry neighborhood watch are slowly becoming less confused and more focused. Who were these people, and did they just run off with Jamal?? Blood must be payed! Angry but still unaimed shots are ringing out now, and the troops move as fast as they can to the designated extraction site.
Back on the boat, you can hear the distant shots through the night air, and the calls for extraction on the comms. The gig is up, no point in hiding now, the boats twin Yanmar 440hp diesels are whining, and the boat is now sprinting at over 40 knots and banking through the rivers bends gracefully. All the gunners infrared lasers are coming on, little beams of light bouncing about the shores looking for targets to set on. Some of the more athletic enemy are now making contact with the troops, trading fire sporadically. This is for sure going to be a hot extract now. Your craft is going to be extracting, and taking on detainee’s. As the craft rounds the last bend, you spot the tell-tale buzzsaw’s of the friendly element and call it out to the coxswain and boat captain. The buzzsaw is a infrared chem-light tied to about 20″ of paracord, being swung in a rapid circle, and highly visible on night vision. The buzzsaw’s are marking the edges of the friendly positions, so anything outside those boundaries is clear for fires. Still doing over 40 knots, the boats scream toward them until it seems like they are going to run ashore. You see a target coming down a slight hill towards the friendlies just as the boat drops buckets, sharply redirecting the propulsion forward to stop the boat. Stopping this way dips the front of the boat and throws up a wave of water, but can take the boat from over 40 knots to a stop in one boat length.
The tracers from the other boat’s Minigun and M240’s leap out searching for the target you spotted just as your craft is sliding up to the shore. You’re now grabbing troops and practically throwing them inboard. Two Eagles (friendly), now two Crow’s (enemy), two more Eagles. The Crows are bound, so they’re getting tossed around a bit in the push to get them to the rear. Not to mistreat them, there just isn’t time to be nice and ask them to please climb aboard this hulking metal beast of a boat brimming with big scary machine guns. They’ll be safer in the back if we take any direct fires and in the narrow confines, getting them out of the way quickly is important. The other detainee is being hauled onto the other boat beside you. You have 4 Eagles and 2 Crows, missing 4 Eagles. The troops are now yelling through the roar of the Miniguns that some troops were delaying and are inbound. The other craft has 7 Eagles and 1 Crow now. This wasn’t the plan you think just as the other craft slips back out to take up a security position. You will now have 5 gunners, a boat captain, a coxswain, 9 troops and 2 detainee’s to worry about once everyone is on. It’s going to be cramped for space.
Your craft is going to hold ashore for the last frantic minute it takes for the final 5 troop to make movement. This extract feel’s like it’s taking forever despite really only taking about a minute on the banks. The remaining friendlies have strobe’s on now and are running full tilt for the craft so we can all get the fuck out, but enemy are still in pursuit despite the enormous firepower that mopped up the other idiots who decided to check out the river. Now fires are coming from a distant roof as green tracer goes overhead. Near instantly the boat’s Forward Looking Infrared operator finds and lases them, concentrating fires from all the boats. The JTAC’s had enough of it already and begins to call out to the air support to strike the building as more enemy take position there. As the last 5 get to the front you see movement on a corner and open up your M240 to suppress anyone thinking of trying to come out.
The last troops are heaving and rolling across the front trying to get aboard, and as the last mans feet step off the ground the coxswain is already running the engines RPM’s up with buckets down to back us off and get in position to leave. Your craft is cramped and you’re sure you’re stepping on someone as you spin the gun to stay on target. Sorry guy, weapons station takes priority now… The troop are cracking off shots from their M4’s now too. The boat captain fires a 40mm grenade at the position you’re taking aim on at the one moment there is some stability before the buckets are kicked to one up and one down to rapidly spin the boat for egress. As the boat spins, you drop your weapon station as your fellow boats are crossing your field of fire, and the Mini opposite you picks up fires roaring out once more. The other boats are still chattering away tearing out to the building from before since that’s the biggest threat. Now the .50 gunner is thumping away hammering out to anything left, finally happy to get in the fight. As all the boats come into formation and fires are trailing off from all but the rear boat, an Apache appears overhead and its 30mm M230 cannon opens up, its empty shells damn near land in the boats while we sprint out.
Even though out of the immediate danger, you still have to transit the rest of the river, and there is a chance the enemy could call out ahead to ambush you before you can link up with friendlies to turn over the detainee’s and disembark the troops. Before it’s all done, the boats will need to be pulled from the water and trailored back to base, and maintenance checks will be done to keep them ready to go again. Everyone assesses and repositions ammo just in case. Back on base, intel reports intercepting enemy chatter ‘They came in boats!’ and everyone finally laughs. There’s another mission already in planning from the intel gleaned during the tactical questioning, and there’s still another 4 hours of dark left tonight…