The Navy has been slow to adapt from a Cold War era 'blue water' Navy, focused on fighting set-piece prelude to WWIII engagements on the open ocean, to one where interdiction, territorial security, and special operations are also of a high priority. With this in mind, the Mark VI Patrol Boat is welcome arrival.
Exclusive picture: the first one we know of showing the actual Mark VI Patrol Boat. The craft was undergoing trials in August near Seattle when our good friend Paul Carter snapped it. To see more of Paul's great photos click here.
It has been reported that the Navy has received its first of ten contracted Mark VI Patrol Boats, with the service eyeing a fleet of 48 of the fast and deadly vessels. The delivery of the Mark VI would mark the first real patrol boat the Navy has bought since the 1980s, even though the Global War On Terror has demanded a craft just like it.
According to renowned rigid hull inflatable and riverine boat maker Safe Boat International, the Mark VI's manufacturer, this is the new craft's purpose:
The Mk VI PB is the Navy's next generation Patrol Boat and will become a part of the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command's (NECC) fleet of combatant craft. The Mk VI PBs mission, per the contract, is to provide operational commanders a capability to patrol shallow littoral areas beyond sheltered harbors and bays, and into less sheltered open water out to the Departure Sea Area (DSA) for the purpose of force protection of friendly and coalition forces and critical infrastructure.
Bridging the gap between the Navy's small fleet of larger Cyclone class patrol ships, and smaller Sea Ark patrol boats, the Mark VI is based on a smaller, 65 foot prototype craft known as the Coastal Command Patrol Boat (CCPB). The CCPB, also built by Safe Boat International, has seen service in the Persian Gulf since early 2014. The CCPB's main mission while deployed is to develop tactics, techniques and procedures related to the boats unique new capabilities, before the production Mark VI's first deployment next year.
Safe Boat International's formidable aluminum hulled creation was designed with fuel economy and easy of maintenance in mind, and is powered by two diesel engines mated to water-jet drives that allow the joystick controlled patrol boat to hit speeds over 35 knots (probably a good bit faster in actuality). She is bristling with weaponry, including a pair of remotely operated and stabilized 25mm chain guns and six crewed 50 caliber machine guns in her primary configuration.
Seeing as the Mark VI was built to be armed depending on the mission, other weapons such as mini guns, grenade launchers and smaller caliber machine guns can also be installed. Guided missiles, such as the Griffin or Spike, are planned for the Mark VI in the near future as well. Additionally, the ship is armored to sustain small arms fire, with extensive armor plating around key elements such as the vessel's engines and fuel supply.
When it comes to the Mark VI, it is mostly about what is on the inside that counts, as she will be outfitted with an unprecedented command, control, communication and computing, surveillance and intelligence (C4SI) suite, that will allow for enhanced situational awareness, survivability and multi-mission support. In other words, these new boats will be fully networked and can integrate their capabilities and sensor picture as part of a larger combined force. Utilizing an 'open architecture' concept, flat screen monitors are mounted throughout the ship, and even the seats for commandos have laptop network connections.
Inside her relatively spacious interior, these new boats have room for berthing and sustaining the ship's crew, and embarked commandos or mission specialists, for extended duration missions. The ship's berthing spaces and galley have been built using the latest in sound deadening techniques to make life on these relatively small boats more livable. The main aft cabin area can be configured for an array of missions, including operating small unmanned aircraft, hauling squads of armed frogmen (seated on state-of-the-art shock absorbing seats), or even operating as a medical facility. The ship's rear deck and stern area can be configured to launch and recover small boats, UAVs or even deploy underwater unmanned vehicles (UUVs) such as the Mk 18 Kingfisher.
The Mark VI is truly a logical mix of size, speed, firepower, adaptability and intelligence, which is way overdue for a Navy that has had real trouble rationalizing their lumbering flotillas designed for combat over great distances against the regular reality of less glamorous "brown water warfare." In some ways, the Mark VI is the real littoral combat ship, a boat truly born to fight in the shallows and take on specifically the threats that reside within that unique realm, including everything from mine hunting and clandestine operations, to dogfighting swarms of fast attack boats.
Another plus for the Mark VI is that it was designed to be transported by and deployed operationally from the 'Gator Navy's" LHD, LPD, and LSD class amphibious ships. Working as motherships via launching and recovering the Mark VI from their floodable well decks, these capital ships can now carry their own highly capable multi-role patrol boats to execute both offensive and defense operations. Thus, the Mark VI can be deployed anywhere in the world in a relatively short period of time, not just around established 'hot spots' where dock and support facilities are readily available.
I have a feeling that these new $15M vessels are going to be so effective, both in terms of capability and cost, that the current contract for ten boats will be just the beginning of the Navy's reluctant love affair with this 'lowly Patrol Boat.' Considering that the other time in recent memory that the Navy brass went after building a vessel made to fight in the littorals they ended up with a vulnerable and impotent 700 million dollar, 3,000 ton aluminum speed boat, so the Mark VI is definitely an exciting and much needed step in the right direction.
For more information check out Safe Boat International. Photos via DoD, Safe Boat International, Paul Carter
Tyler Rogoway is a defense journalist and photographer that maintains the website Foxtrot Alpha for Jalopnik.com You can reach Tyler with story ideas or direct comments regarding this or any other defense topic via the email address Tyler@Jalopnik.com