Return of the Gators? US Navy Stands Up New Coastal Warfare Squadron
EagleSpeak Blog, run by a former Captain, USNR (ret.), notes the recent “stand-up” of Naval Coastal Warfare Squadron Five (NCWRON-5) near San Diego recently. Once at full strength, 325 sailors will go to war in a fleet of speedy 34-foot, SeaARK Marine aluminum-hull boats (likely Dauntless Class) equipped with .50-caliber and 7.62mm machine guns and 40mm grenade launchers. The boats cost $500,000 each, and can be loaded quickly aboard Air Force C-17 transport jets for quick transport to trouble spots. SeaARK boats of these types are also in use by civilian agencies like the NYC Police and National Park Police.
Is this part of a trend? It most certainly is…
The San Diego Union-Tribune notes that Navy officials quietly started organizing the squadron in September 2004 around the lightly-used Naval Outlying Landing Field in Imperial Beach, near the Tijuana River. This was about the same time that US Maritime Force Protection Command (MARFPCOM) was stood up, with the mission of the consolidating the expeditionary units the Navy deploys overseas to protect ships, aircraft and bases from terrorist attack.
In April 2005, MARFPCOM’s sailors, patrol boats, underwater explosive ordnance disposal groups; Mobile Diving and Salvage Units (MDSU); Naval Expeditionary Logistics Support Force (NAVELSF); and Naval Construction Forces Command (NCFC, aka the “Seabees”) were all reorganized under a new Echelon III type command: the Naval Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC) which oversees NCWRON-5 as part of its reach.
As NECC Commander Rear Adm. Donald Bullard told the San Diego Union-Tribune, “We’ve had to expand to this battle space, because that’s where the terrorists are… We need to interdict. We need to go find, fix and kill.”
Given that mission, which will certainly involve relatively close-quarters firefights, protection such as gun shields does appear to be rather sparse. Likewise, such ships will need the kind of high-accuracy firepower overmatch that could easily sink a hostile craft like the bomb-laden suicide attackers of the USS Cole.
Other countries with similar missions and problems are taking somewhat different approaches the to firepower/protection aspect going forward. Singapore is beginning to use Spartan Unmanned Surface vessels, which will soon be armed with stabilized remote weapon mounts that may even sport Hellfire or Javelin anti-armor missiles. Israel uses larger patrol craft like its 25-meter Super Dvoras, armed with the versaile Typhoon stabilized naval remote-control weapons system for accurate firepower overmatch. Typhoon comes in different sizes, and can be fitted with machine guns, autocannon (most common), and even anti-armor or air defense missiles.
UPDATE: The US Navy is buying Typhoon RWS systems; but did not say where they would be deployed.
The San Diego Union-Tribune report also notes that Chief Petty Officer Napoleon Bryant handpicked each of the sailors, “looking for those with the physical and mental toughness to stand up to long patrols in small boats on rough seas.” Future squadrons under NECC may benefit from the advent of fast M-Hull ships, which address that physical problem directly by significantly reducing the pounding small boat crews receive. The MS40 patrol craft is based on the same technologies used in the SEALs’ 88-foot Stiletto stealth ship.
Moving to the big picture, Naval Coastal Warfare Squadron Five will be part of the US Navy’s renewed attention to creating a “brown water,” or riverine force. Specifically, outgoing Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Vern Clark has ordered the creation of:
- An active component riverine warfare force by 2006, and two reserve component riverine units by 2007.
- A Navy Expeditionary Combat Battalion by 2007.
- A provisional civil affairs battalion attached to Seabees in 2006, and a reserve civil affairs battalion by 2007.
- An active/reserve integrated structure for two Helo Combat Support Special Squadrons, HCS 4 (Red Wolves) and HCS 5 (Firehawks).
- A unit that will be able to “data-mine” information culled from the Coast Guard’s National Maritime Intelligence Center, which tracks information on global ship traffic.
- A team to exploit intelligence gathered from maritime interdictions.
- A community of Foreign Area Officers who are experts in specific regions of the world, similar to Army and Marine Corps FAOs.
Perhaps the best-known instance in modern times was the Vietnam War’s “Swift Boats” and “gator navy,” though the modern brown-water forces are not simply a copy. Some aspects of this envisioned force are decidedly 21st century, while others have been done before. Still other past practices haven’t yet made their way into the new brown-water forces.
For instance, sites like River Vets remind us that even the Swift Boats were just one component of the Navy’s total riverine force, which included up-gunned and up-armored “Monitors” and even LSTs (Landing Ship, Tank) from World War 2 and Korea. As the USS Sohnomish County [LST 1126] site explains, many were recommissioned and used extensively in the Vietnam War, delivering men and equipment up-river, patrolling, and acting as “Mother ships” for Swift boats, small patrol boats, helicopters and their troops:
“These Mother Ship LSTs provided a nesting area for the small crafts to replenish their ammunition, take on fuel, and needed supplies, make repairs, and perform maintenance while alongside the LST.”
Reader Lee Wahler, who was aboard a couple, writes:
“They were designated AGP – Patrol Craft Tenders outfitted specifically for PBR and other boat support as well as a helo deck for the Seawolves. There were also ARLs, which were more repair ships.”
LSTs continue to serve in this role in modern times. Singapore is sending a Singaporean LST [RSS Endeavour] to patrol Iraq’s coast, where a number of NECC’s sailors are already stationed. As the MINDEF release notes, “During its deployment, RSS Endeavour will provide logistics support for coalition vessels and helicopters, conduct patrols and boarding operations, and protect the waters around key oil terminals.”
- US Navy – Navy Expeditionary Combat Command News
- DID – Supporting the Gators – 21st Century AGPs. Not LSTs, but the idea appears to be similar.
- Navy NewsStand (Oct 7/07) – NECC Establishes Navy Expeditionary Intelligence Command. This is the Navy’s first tactical intelligence command, and will be used to support their expeditionary units. The stand-up ceremony at NAB Little Creek was Oct 4/07.
- National Defense Magazine (April 2007) – Riverines Eyeing Future Missions Around the Globe
- National Defense Magazine (April 2007) – Brown-Water Navy begins hunt for new riverine combat craft
- National Defense Magazine (April 2007) – Riverines rehearse for first mission in Iraq
- National Defense Magazine (April 2007) – New Course to Train Sailors in Ground Combat Skills
- US Navy Newsstand (March 8/07) – Navy’s First Riverine Squadron Deploys. Riverine Squadron (RIVRON) 1, based at Naval Amphibious Base (NAB) Little Creek, deployed “to the Middle East” on March 8 after a year of intense training with Marine forces. They will work with Marines from the II Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) to conduct maritime security operations (MSO) along rivers and other inland waterways in Iraq. The deployment marks the first for a riverine squadron since the Vietnam War. See also RIVRON-1 photo page.
- US Navy Newsstand (Jan 13/07) – NECC Looks Back on its First Year
- DID (Oct 24/06) – Learn to Board with LINXX in Little Creek! They’re teaching “non-compliant boarding visit, board, search and seizure.” Which is important if you want to divest SEALs of that task.
- DID (Oct 23/06) – US Navy Spends Another $12.7M for ASW Module USVs. This article looks at a number of USV designs currently on the market. Unmanned Surface Vessels will play a role alongside manned boats for brown-water patrol and force protection.