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.

Death from the Water

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.

Death from the Water

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.