In the past few days, images have surfaced on social media showing the U.S. Navy’s latest stealth watercraft being loaded onto a vessel in Naha, Japan sometime last week. The Combatant Craft Medium Mark 1, or CCM Mk1, entered into service with the U.S. Navy Special Warfare Combatant Crewmen (SWCC) Special Boat Teams as recently as late 2015. The boat was designed specifically to limit detection and offer reconfigurable loadouts to the special operations community for different types of mission sets.

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According to previous statements issued by U.S. Special Operations Command, the CCM Mk1 was designed specifically “to provide small-caliber gunfire support, infiltrate and exfiltrate Special Operation Forces, conduct VBSS (Visit, board, search, and seizure), special reconnaissance, coastal patrol and interdiction, counter-terrorism operations, and FID (Foreign Internal Defense).”

That laundry list of capabilities comes, in large part, thanks to the ability to swap out equipment intended for specific operations, though in the images that hit Twitter, it’s difficult to assess if any specialized configuration is in play. It’s worth noting that despite the long list of things this boat is capable of, it’s primary role remains the insertion and extraction of Special Operations troops, most notably, Navy SEALs. In these images, the boats are being loaded onto the U.S. Army vessel Harpers Ferry (LCU 2022).

  The CCM Mk1’s double aluminium hull helps make it less susceptible to small arms fire than a traditional watercraft (level IV ballistic protection rating), with an enclosed front cabin that harbors a shock-absorbent design intended to protect its occupants from nearby explosions. The weapons systems employed on each boat can be swapped out depending on requirement, and include a remote-controlled .50 caliber machine gun on the bow, as well as mounting points for another .50 caliber gun on the rear, M240 belt-fed machine guns chambered in 7.62, or Mk19 40mm grenade launchers.

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With a top speed of 50 knots, room for 19 Navy SEALs and equipment, and a range of 400 nautical miles, the 60-foot vessel may be referred to as a “boat,” but it’s no dingy. This low-observable, bullet-resistant vessel wasn’t just designed to sneak, it was also built to fight its way out of a bad situation if need be.

With both diplomatic and military tensions on the rise between the United States and China and China’s aggressive expansion throughout the South China Sea, it comes as little surprise that some of the Navy’s newest special warfare toys have come out to play. In a wartime environment, these vessels would rely on their low visibility to both radar and IR detection to conduct covert surveillance on enemy activities and, of course, get specialized warfighters into and out of enemy territory. During periods of high tensions such as this, crews are likely training for potential combat operations in the region as one of many ways the U.S. military is looking to counter China’s claims of sovereignty over what the global community deems to be international waters.

China’s claims over the South China Sea overlap international waters and the economic exclusion zones of multiple nations. (WikiMedia Commons)

It stands to reason that these boats could already be seeing use in reconnaissance operations throughout the region, as multiple nations keep tabs on one another’s movements throughout the contested waterways of the Pacific. Reports of Chinese and Russian vessels keeping an eye on American and allied training exercises are rampant throughout the region, and it seems likely that American eavesdropping is just as common on other military activities as well.