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Remaking the Gator Navy

April 8, 2009

Surely modern amphibious warfare in the US Navy is in drastic need of a major overhaul as specialized landing ships increase in size, cost, and complications, while decreasing in numbers. One idea might be to discard the larger specialized vessels altogether, depending instead on smaller landing craft. In other words “do away with the Middleman”! The idea would be to deploy “Strykers at Sea”, or a nautical version of an infantry fighting vehicle for marine troops. Such craft should maintain their small size for cost, but also be capable of traversing the ocean or a large body of water if necessary. Now, the Stiletto is such a vessel which may be ideal for this role. Though not much of a long-distance traveler (reportedly it is a very rough ride), it is small enough for transport by a commercial or naval sealift ship to a warzone, where they could join Marines and their equipment. stiletto3

For each of these “naval IFVs” at least a squad of Marines should be loaded, and ideally an amphibious LAV which could be driven off near to shore, floating under its own power. Inflatable boats could also ferry the troops in absence of a port facility. Defensive rockets and light machine guns could be carried to protect the Marines on their journey to shore.

Earlier we advocated the use of new High Speed Vessels such as the Australian-built ferries leased for military service, as fast troop transports. We are not alone in this proposal as Global Security reveals:

HMAS Jervis Bay is utilized to transport troops and their vehicles as part of Australia’s amphibious lift capability. HMAS Jervis Bay is one of a series of high speed ships built by Hobart shipbuilder International Catamarans Australia (INCAT) and is the first vessel of her type to be operated by any navy worldwide. In her role as a fast sea-lift ship, Jervis Bay can transport up to 500 fully equipped troops, together with their vehicles and equipment, to ranges of up to 1000 nautical miles at speeds of more than 40 knots. The boat’s maximum range is approximately 1,500 nautical miles, at speeds of more than 40 knots, and the four diesel engines –7,080 kilowatts each — can drive the catamaran up to speeds of 45 knots. In contrast, the fastest US Navy amphibious ship can reach only 24 knots.

While the threat of cruise missiles, stealthy subs, and missiles attack craft are pushing the larger amphibious ships further from the shore, the HSV would be able to traverse such waters with less fear. Thanks to its high speed, like Stiletto, she would skim quickly into a landing area, discharge her troops and cargo, then speed back into safer waters.


So combining this idea into a workable expeditionary group, you could have something like the “Influence Squadrons” mentioned by Eagle1 at the USNI blog (Galrahn also posts on this, originally from a Proceedings article by Commander Henry J. Hendrix):

The next step on the Navy’s path to a new future should be the creation of “Influence Squadrons” composed of an amphibious mother ship (an LPD-17 or a cheaper commercial ship with similar capabilities), a destroyer to provide air, surface, and subsurface defensive capabilities, a Littoral Combat Ship to extend a squadron’s reach into the green-water environment and provide some mine warfare capabilities, a Joint High Speed Vessel to increase lift, a Coastal Patrol ship to operate close in, and an M80 Stiletto to provide speed and versatility.

A good idea, only with the Stiletto and JHSV you would have little need for a bulky, vulnerable, and very costly LPD. You might lose some capability, but please remind me again how many large-scale beach landing the Marines have participated in during wartime lately? But the Brown Water navy has been quite busy. Exchange the Big Ship for a converted commerical mothership, or even an older amphib for extending the range of the smaller craft.

Also, you should replace the large and costly LCS for a smaller corvette of equal firepower. One of my readers mentions Visby and we concur. The DDG is unnecessary in a littoral environment littered with asymmetric and missile threats. With only seconds to react to a supersonic projectile, the point defenses of the small ships are all the more crucial. Besides, the Big Ship itself would needs be escorted by the smaller ships, becoming a drag on its firepower rather than an asset.

26 Comments leave one →
  1. Mike Burleson permalink
    April 11, 2009 8:57 am

    The MRAP program was put together in a couple years and though not a perfect vehicles was there when we needed it. It is being massed produced in many thousands while if this were a new tank program, we might have the first vehicles for testing around 2020, if we really pushed it.

    We have posted on the CB90 and it is a great concept. Think a squadron of these real littoral ships would be more use than a fleet of battleships like the Bainbridge right now. Get the Big Ships out of the way and let the little ships fight the pirates on their own terms.

  2. strikehold permalink
    April 11, 2009 3:13 am

    Ah – I see some other wise soul has already mentioned the outstanding Swedish/Norwegian “Combat Boat 90H”. That’s the first solution that sprang to my mind too when I read this piece. Why spend billions of US taxpayer money – and several years (if not decades) trying to design the perfect, all-in-one vessel (sounds as equally doomed to failure as the MRAP programme)?

    The CB90H is designed to operate as a fast attack boat, patrol boat and special operations support vessel. Heavy machine guns are mounted in fixed installations, or stabilized and remotely controlled from a monitor in the wheelhouse. The boat can also carry mines or Hellfire missiles, and a gyro-stabilized twin-barrel 12-cm mortar. The boats have a loading capacity of 21 armed soldiers or up to 4.5 tons of cargo. The boat uses two waterjet propulsion units, each powered by a 460 kW diesel engine, developing continuous speeds exceeding 40 knots and very high maneuverability. And it also comes with a good history of proven service and excellent performance; serving so far with the Swedish, Norwegian, Malaysian, Greek and Mexican navies. Plus, the Germans and Brazilians are planning to add it to their inventories as well.

    How many more Bainbridge type stand-offs does the USN want before they wake up and smell the brown water?

  3. April 10, 2009 5:13 pm


    I provide engineering support to the Umoe of the Norwegian Oksoy and Skjold class vessels..and the carbon-fiber demo LCAC lift fans..and the Finnish Frontier Guard ACV lift fans..the replacement LCAC…and so on. Their composite experts are on the task.. ;-) Young fella named John Gifford is on our team too..he knows a little about designing and building hovercraft.

  4. leesea permalink
    April 10, 2009 12:51 pm

    bill Atlas Hovercraft got there first design about 80% complete before running out of money. I have many photos of the AH-100 but now its up for sale by broker.


  5. April 10, 2009 8:49 am

    Yes, the existing LCACs do have a lot of (often major) corrosion issues with their all-aluminum construction and other details like that. Those are the single biggest issues being dealt with in the replacement design. Composite lift fans are already being evaluated in an existing boat and an ‘all composite’ solution is in the works.

  6. Distiller permalink
    April 10, 2009 1:46 am

    Nothing is wrong with the LCAC per se. If something has to be changed it is the composition of the stuff the Marines take across the beach in that first wave – they are too heavy, and all that heavy stuff takes too long to unload. Of course a new LCAC would be good, and there should be a gunship version. But the crazy Marines want to double the size for the LCAC(X), resulting in even lower throughput and reduced survivablity and flexibility.

    The EFV has fascinating technology but is based on a crazy set of operational assumptions. An amphibious cavalry tank family with the same technology would be the way to go.

  7. leesea permalink
    April 9, 2009 5:25 pm

    The function which the assualt craft were designed to perform is lighterage. The LCAC carry very few troops essentially only the vehicle drivers. Most troops fly over the beach.

    heretic, the M80 has a complex hullform which requires special cradle. T-AKEs, besides having better missions to peform, have no place to land one on deck within reach of a sufficient boom. Now if you were to try doing that with an amphib, their B&A crane might do the job?

    The concept of putting a weapons carrier on the LCAC has often been mentioned but I have never seen it done?

    Now if you want good little gunboats, go look up the NEMO mortar boats

  8. Heretic permalink
    April 9, 2009 3:39 pm

    re: B.Smitty

    All of which is true, but also partially missing the point. The LCACs do one job, and one job only … ferry from ship-to-shore-to-ship. They are essentially cargo transport, albeit cargo of a particularly lethal flavor (leathernecks and their machines).

    The M80 sort of vehicle does more than just haul cargo. So while it’s perfectly right and proper to assert that M80s should not replace LCACs for the “get to the beach!” mission, that doesn’t mean they can’t be a helpful adjunct to that task when working in concert with LCACs. AND … the M80 boats continue to be “useful” even when they’re not playing transport for IFVs, meaning that they can “do” more than just the one job where they’d be in competition with LCACs.

    So rather than thinking in terms of replacing LCACs, think more in terms of supplementing/assisting LCACs and see what sorts of thoughts tumble out. Because unlike and LCAC, an M80 doesn’t need to be transported to theater in a well deck … it could be carried on the a crane of another ship (T-AKE anyone?). So the trick is to think in terms of LCAC+M80 … not LCAC or M80.

  9. leesea permalink
    April 9, 2009 12:03 pm

    When I said the RCB was being tested, I meant it. The first hull has been in Little Creek for some time now.
    As far a larger troop transport goes, NECC is looking at a new design to replace the SURC aka RPB.
    Ahh but what happened to the LCH(X) aka LCU(X) in the Navy budget? Dropped in favor of building newer LCACs -dahh!

    I was NOT advocating for LCAC as gunboats, just replying to earlier post.

    here are my problems with the current old LCAC design:
    – it was built using aircraft construction techniques, modern hovercraft use marine materials and powerplants. I have been on one made 90% of composites
    – it is a maintainence hog requiring regular fresh water washdowns. The craftmasters I talked to loath the M&R required to keep one running
    – it has far too many unique components not boat like in any regards
    – its control system is basically fore & aft (ignoring the partially effective puffer ports). That limits how cargo can be loaded and discharged, no lo/lo for sure
    – it is basically an unarmored vessel which is intended for forcible entry operations – dahh?

    The bigger problem is throughput. The size of the expensive wet weel dock limits the size of the hovercraft inside which limits the throughput of an amphibious assault. IF the hovercraft were put on a flo/flo their size could be increased exponentially

  10. B.Smitty permalink
    April 9, 2009 8:29 am


    Perhaps so, but compared to an M80, LCACs are in service, and can deliver 70 tons over-the-beach, not “somewhat near the beach” like the M80. They also don’t have issues with shallow reefs and beach grades like other displacement landing craft.

    We certainly could use a new ACV design, but replacing LCACs with M80s in amphibious groups is a gigantic step in the wrong direction.

  11. April 9, 2009 8:08 am

    “LCACsare too big, too noisy (PACVs did not work in ‘NAM), too expensive AND a 40 year old obsolescent design which needs to be retired – period. There are many modern hovercraft which could do a much better job of amphib assualt.”

    I find some interesting assertions buried in that statement. First, how is the LCAC design ‘obsolescent’, in your opinion? The existing boats are tired, yes, and some craft systems are ‘obsolescent’, agreed, but a replacement design is underway and no radical design changes are contemplated nor required. The LCAC was state of the art ‘then’ and still defines it now. And being in the hovercraft ‘business’ myself for the last 25 years..what/where are the “many other modern hovercraft” of which you speak?

  12. Mike Burleson permalink
    April 9, 2009 7:39 am

    Lee, I understand that about Global Security’s info, but the concept is a fresh one.

  13. Heretic permalink
    April 8, 2009 11:18 pm

    re: leesea

    You’re right about the CB90 series in many respects. It’s a 20 ton boat with a crew of 3, room for 21 marines and all their gear, a shallow draft of 0.8 meters (same as the M80), and a test article was apparently being built by Safeboat in Washington for the NECC in 2007, as you cite, for under $3 million USD. Range: 240 nm. There’s even variants with amenities (like air conditioning for tropical deployments) in the international deployment model, which features extra armor and NBC protection.

    In a lot of respects, this is very much the sort of asset you want to go hunting maritime criminals with (pirates, smugglers, et al.). It certainly allows you to carry enough sailors/marines to do boarding actions for search and seizure. So yeah, it looks like a very solid “bit of kit” for Littoral Actions (of the policing variety) … so it should come as no surprise that it’s a Swedish design. Mexico is even building them under license, apparently.

    The thing that you can’t do with it though, is embark something heavier than infantry on board. You couldn’t load an IFV into one of these boats (for instance), nor could you launch a RIB from (inside) it while underway like an M80 can. Now, to be fair, that’s not exactly what CB90s are designed for, so that isn’t a strike against them … rather I’m just acknowledging that different choices resulted in remarkably different capabilities and mission profiles if you’re going to be making comparisons.

  14. leesea permalink
    April 8, 2009 7:33 pm

    LCACsare too big, too noisy (PACVs did not work in ‘NAM), too expensive AND a 40 year old obsolescent design which needs to be retired – period. There are many modern hovercraft which could do a much better job of amphib assualt.

    You want something faster than a CB90 aka RCB than go for a USN MkV SOC or its next gen version Mk V PBC. My point is there are already fast troop transports in the Navy inventory.

  15. leesea permalink
    April 8, 2009 12:08 pm

    Mike your and Galrahn’s fascination with the plastic eggshell Stiletto can only be chalked up to those who have not fought boats? The Stiletto is a demonstration craft in search of a mission. Why because it was designed as an unarmed unarmored SEAL delivery boat and the SWCCs who drove it said NO WAY! Take if from the USN professionals if not me. SOCOM is now off soliciting something else.

    The already tried and being tested by NECC boat to use is the CB9o aka Riverine Command Boat. Don’t tell the name fool you. Several hundred copies of the CB90 are being used successfully around the world for littoral ops. And yes, one has even been landed in a USN LSD. That is something the Stiletto can do because of its complex hullform.

    Motherships can come in many forms. The USN is using the expedient path of least cost by using LPDs and LSDs for APS and GFS missions. A converted older amphib is a good idea. Unfortunately NO current amphib can mate directly to a JHSV. They need an RRDF which is NOT carried on amphibs only of prepo ships – a big dahh for the USN!

    So do us all a favor and DUMP the M80 dreamboat stories, get some real boats posted.

    IRT the HSVs, they already are good tactical sealift ships as in WestPac Express, but in streching their duties to fast troop transport, let’s not be naive. They are not armed nor ready to assault any beach nor go into dangerous waters. Possibly with mods but not as yet.

    P.S. as usual Global Security’s website info is out of date. Ship mentioned is not in naval service

  16. Heretic permalink
    April 8, 2009 10:27 am

    Okay, now I *know* I’m a Bad Influence on you Mike. ;)

    And while I agree with the reporting that it would be wise to do further development of the M80 … to smooth the ride at high(er) speeds, add crew amenities you’d want on longer deployments such as sanitation, fresh water and berthing (if possible), and maybe the room to load up a USMC “gator” IFV for a quick run from ship-to-shore should you want to do that, mount some ma-dueces and grenade launchers on it for knife fighting … none of those things seem to be showstoppers in terms of being excessively high risk development projects. The only “do not cross this line” point I can think of for evolving the M80 is to keep it within the square footage footprint of the LCAC, just in case the USN ever feels like using slot on a well deck to carry an evolved M81 Garrote. ;)

  17. B.Smitty permalink
    April 8, 2009 9:00 am

    Mike, why bother with M80s when LCACs are the same size, can carry a LOT more, and can be driven ON to the beach?

  18. Distiller permalink
    April 8, 2009 8:07 am

    The old question of short-range-high-speed-dash vs long-range-moderate speed.

    Are you sure you’re not describing LCS here? A fast direct attack landing craft (not thinking about the problem of beaching for now) for over-ocean distances would still have a couple of thousand tons – LCS size. And if you go real small, Stiletto small, you need a fleet of Flo/Flos with escorts, which in the end won’t be cheaper. But why do you want to float when you can fly? Better use a C-17. (Or a WIG, which is so expensive and specialized it would never be built). That is an aspect that is hardly ever debated when it comes to amphib forcible entry – the combination with air mobile assault.

    And influence squadrons won’t happen. Too complex, too many ships, not flexible enough, too expensive. What will come is LCS in all flavours for everything in the fleet safe CVN escort. That is pretty clear now. No motherships. They don’t even want to build more Makin Islands or SAntonios. (Even though that Marine ego trip called LHA-6 made it through the thorny hedges of bureaucracy). And if I say LCS for everthing, it being its own mothership, it includes Naval Fire Support (with missile containers on the flight deck), and it includes the escort mission of a Perry (with another container astern).

    About the “Gator Navy”, I feel next year will come some severe lopping of big ego Marine Corps and a re-alignement towards more “joint” with the Army. It’s overdue!


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