Fast Boats for Littoral Combat


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D-Day history reminds us that fast motor torpedo boats were the best defense for our invasion fleet. The article reviews extremely fast ocean racing craft now available that could counter Chinese and other inshore threats

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Fast Boats for Littoral Combat

  1. 1. For Littoral Combat, Think About Cheap Civilian Speedboats At Many Times The Speed Of Military “Fast” Craft By William A. Price, Attorney at Law, “If you want an extremely fast speed boat, here’s a fact that will either thrill or terrify you, depending on your perspective: If you have the money—as in a little more than $1 million—you can buy one that breaks 200-mph. They do exist. If you have a little less money, say in the $750,000 range, you can buy a 160- to 180-mph pleasure boat, not quite a member of the 200-mph club but still plenty fast in anyone’s book. And there are all kinds not- exactly-slow, 150-mph boats available in the $300,000 to $750,000 range.” -- Matt Trulio,, 6 September 2012 Fast Attack Craft And The NormandyInvasion The recent 70th anniversary of D-Day should remind us that the biggest danger the invasion fleet faced was not German aircraft (few in number), or tanks. It was high speed “E-Boats”, some of which were based at Le Havre, only 150 km (93 miles, or 80 knots) away. On April 28, 1944, nine such boats, which were capable of 34- 36 knot top speeds, attacked a landing exercise convoy and sank or damaged three Landing Ships, Tank, resulting in 198 Navy and 441 Army dead and missing. i On and before D-Day, Canadian Motor Torpedo Boats under officers like C. Anthony Law, the war artist, saw violent action outside Le Havre, taking casualties, but keeping the E-boats inside that harbor. Without the Allied patrols, the Normandy landings could have had a very different result. ii
  2. 2. LargeNumbersOf Attackers Or Defenders And NavalStrategy The advantages of large numbers of high speed attack boats are significant, in terms of speed, cost, and distribution of threats. Captain (Ret.) Wayne P. Hughes Jr. has an article in the June, 2014 Proceedings of the U.S. Naval Institute that notes the huge costand vulnerability to attack of US multipurpose ships, like guided missile destroyers and aircraft carriers. He suggests that “The precision tracking, targeting, and homing capabilities of modern projectiles have enhanced the value of small combatants becausethey can distribute offensive power more widely.” He uses “salvo equations” to calculate that “if you have three times as many ships as I do, then for parity in fractional losses each of my ships must have three times the offensive power, three times the defensive power, and three times the staying power of your ships. Operationally speaking, if you put one of my ships out of action, I simultaneously lose its offensive power, its defensive power, and also its staying power value, since my crippled ship is no longer a threat to draw your fire. Thus, the number of ships in your battle force is the single most important combat property you can have.”iii
  3. 3. The Littoral CombatShip:Expensive, Slow, And Not As NumerousAs WhatIt Is Supposed To Replace The US Navy’s primary responseto the threat of swarms of fast attack boats has been the Littoral Combat Ship. The $400-500 million each projected costof these has turned out to be comparable to high end naval frigates. Only 20 are on order, with more orders unlikely. The class was intended to replace 56 vessels: 30 FFG-7 Oliver Hazard Perry Class external link frigates, 14 MCM Avenger Class external link mine countermeasures vessels, and 12 MHC-51 Osprey Class external link coastal mine hunters. iv Water jets may push LCS speeds to over 40 knots.v Commercially Available Speedboats Such speeds are, as the Boats.comquote that introduces this article indicates, less than a quarter of those routinely available in civilian speedboats.Two significant sources have produced the evolution of 150-200 knot or better speeds in boats that can cover significant ocean distances – the offshore power boat Formula One and other racing circuits,vi and the international drug trade. Matt Truilo explained in his Boats.comarticle the cost/speed equation for racing boats as follows: “Forexample, a quad-overhead-cam, turbocharged Mercury Racing 1350 engine— that means 1,350 hp and 1,350 foot-pounds of torque—with its standard M8 drive, retails for more than $200,000. All of the world’s fastest pleasure boats have twin engines, so in a power alone you’re looking at $400,000. In case you’re having trouble doing the math, that’s more than half the price of a $750,000 pleasure boat. And, how do you make a $750,000 pleasure boat into a $1- to $1.5-million pleasure boat? Simple. Swap out those twin piston engines for a pair of T-53
  4. 4. turbine engines rated at 3,000 hp each. As it happens, that’s also quickest way to ensure your boat gets in the 200-mph club.” vii This is the first 50-foot Mystic cat to be powered with Mercury Racing 1350 engines. Photo by Jay Nichols. Fast Smuggling Boats Speedboats have been used for smuggling since the Prohibition era, with more recent versions a constant in the Caribbean drug trade. They are very hard to detect with radar unless running across extremely calm seas. viii The English Channel, another traditional smuggling venue, saw a recent capture of an “eRumor” inflatable with eight 250 hp. Engines, capable of more than 60 knots, faster than UK patrol craft.
  5. 5. According to the photo source, “This thing belts across the English channel 3 times per week and was just a blur on the radar of the British Coast Guard.”ix The Coast Guard Response: Cutters, Fast Boats, And Helicopters The US CoastGuard has deployed its own fast rigid-hulled inflatable boats (RHIB) against the drug runners, along with helicopters based on slower CoastGuard cutters.x The Sentinel class of cutters, which are now in service or under construction, is designed with a launch ramp for RHIB interceptors.xi Willard Marine, one of the CoastGuard’s suppliers, offers an RHIB with over 60 knots high speed.xii The H-65 “Dolphin”, the U.S. CoastGuard’s primary in-service helicopter, has a top speed of 175 knots, and a range of 290 nautical miles.xiii
  6. 6. Sufficiently fast hostile speedboats might therefore be able to outrun patrol helicopters, even if they could be detected on radar. Routinely available civilian models are, as we have seen, capable of double or triple the speed of CoastGuard RHIB’s, and four times that of the US Navy’s Littoral Combatships. The M-80 and other “high speed”Navy patrol craft now being tested may get up to 60 knots, but this is still very slow compared to commercial racing models.xiv The primary weapon of today’s naval fast attack boats is a guided missile, not a torpedo. The 83 Houbei class (Type 022) boats now in Chinese navy service carry a C-803 missile with a 300 km (162 nautical miles, or knots) range.xv If a speedboatarmed with equivalent missiles can get targeting information sufficient to put the missile’s homing systems within range of a target, it can “fire and forget”, and probably escaperetaliation by stealth or by high speed. Helicopters from a Littoral CombatShip or other units of the fleet, P-3 Orion and other patrol aircraft, carrier air assets, satellites, and many other sensor sources could provide such targeting information, in addition to whatever sensors the very small boats would carry. If different gun and missile packages were wanted for particular combat areas, different types of speedboats could be built, as was done with motor torpedo and gunboats in the second World War.xvi At $1 million per boat, plus $1 million more to cover the costof the missile launch tube or other weapons installation and a military radar and other sensors suite, you could buy a lot of 200 mph (180 knot) speedboats forthe $500 million costof a littoral combat ship. The 20 LCS still on order,xvii or the Joint High Speed vessel now being tested for special operations use,xviii could serve as a launch base and tender/repair ship for such US flag speedboats, just like the Sentinel class and other CoastGuard cutters do for their RHIB’s.
  7. 7. At the cost of only two or three littoral combat ships, or a similar number of new frigates, the Navy could add 500 new $2 million speedboats with a missile launcher or two to the fleet, and spend the third $500 million equipping whatever littoral combat ships get built to hoist these fast attack craft on and offboard, store extra missiles, and keep their 200 knot speedboatsquadrons in good repair. i ., visited June 6, 2014. ii ., visited June 6, 2014. iii Hughes, W. “Single-Purpose Warships for the Littorals”, Proceedings Magazine June 2014 Vol. 140/6/1,336, see warships-littorals, visited June 6, 2014. iv, visited June 6, 2014. v, visited June 6, 2014. vi, visited June 6, 2014.
  8. 8. vii outerlimits/, visited June 6, 2014. viii, visited June 6, 2014. ix, visited June 6, 2014. x Ibid. xi, visited June 6, 2014. xii, visited June 6, 2014. xiii, visited June 6, 2014. xiv, visited June 6, 2014. xv,, visited June 6, 2014. xvi C.A. Law, “White Plumes Astern”, Nimbus Publishing Co. 1986, ISBN-10:0921054270 xvii For the large rear deck available for possible speedboat storage as well as helicopter operations on Austal type LCS, see 293_USS_Independence_(LCS_2)_arrives_at_Mole_Pier_at_Naval_Air_Station_Key_West.jpg, visited June 6, 2014. xviii, visited June 6, 2014.