Navy News has published a reportage on the CB90 testing by the Royal Marines for its number of January 2012, a very interesting article about the subject, from which it would appear that the Royal Marines and the Navy consider the future Force Protection Craft more urgent a need than the new Fast Landing Craft (to be LCU MK11) For the Landing Craft requirement, in fact, there was no indication of timeline for acquisition, unfortunately, meaning that, more than other items of the Navy programme, it will be subject to delays until funding for it can't be squeezed between other, higher-priority items. In addition, Navy News reports that a few defects in the PACSCAT prototype were identified. Unfortunately (but unsurprisingly) nothing is specified about the issues emerged. The testing remains precious anyway, as it was still largely succesful: the PACSCAT delivered all kind of cargos (Hippo BARV, a packet of 5 Vikings, a Challenger II MBT, 4 HX60 4x4 trucks) at very high speed, registering a record speed of 19 knots while carrying a Challenger II and almost 40 knots unladen. Hopefully, the Fast Landing Craft process will not be stopped by budgetary issues, and soon enough we’ll hear more about what should become the LCU MK11.
|The HIPPO BARV comes ashore from the PACSCAT during trials|
For the Force Protection Craft, the plan is to have it first arriving at Instow in 2015 with front-line assault squadrons getting their hands on it from around 2017. The requirement is for a fleet of 12, and the new boat will replace at least part of the fleet of 21 LCVP MK5 landing crafts acquired in 2001.
The Royal Marines at RM Instow in North Devon have been loaned four Swedish Combat Boat 90s, in exchange for british Offshore Raiding Crafts, that the swedish marines will be trying. The Royal Marines will use the CB90s to gain experience and learn lessons that will help shape the final specifications and requirements when the MOD looks for firms to build the Force Protection Craft, which might well be a modified CB90, since it seems that the sturdy, proven sweden boat is gaining many smiles and approvation.
The Force Protection Craft is meant to be need fast, capable to provide accurate and effective firepower to protect ships and landing craft, and must be able put a small raiding/reconnaissance party of commandos ashore well in advance of the main force – and a long way from the mother ship. Its role will likely cover Riverine combat and patrol operations, such as those carried out for years in Iraq since 2003, an experience which already shaped the Ofshore Raiding Craft. Interestingly, the US Navy RIVRON riverine squadrons, the "brown waters navy" have adopted the CB90 as their main heavy hitter, in fact.
Protecting ports and acting as patrol ships in anti-piracy operations could also be roles for the Force Protection Craft. Again, the new boat could be deployed forward to protect operating bases of the RN abroad: mainly, the bases in Oman and Barhain from which the minesweepers of Operation Kipion work in the gulf, or the bay where the "East of Suez" SSNs of the Royal Navy find refuge during their months-long operations. RFA DIligence has long been forward based there, too, to provide forward submarine support, and both of these locations are secured by boats and teams of US Navy sea-control force protection teams.
The Royal Marines want their new boat to be compatible with LCVP MK5 spaces and davits, and the CB90 has already been launched and recovered succesfully from the davits of HMS Albion.
Trials with 11 Assault Group Royal Marines (Training) will continue for the most part of the new year, though. So far the boats have had their basic handling tested, they operated with other landing and assault craft (a prerequisite for any future boat), worked out of the loading dock of HMS Bulwark, put troops ashore and carried a stretcher aboard safely, but much more remains to be trialed, inclusive of launch and recovery by davits in rough sea, weaponry and fire support roles, and operations from a RFA ship of the Bay type.
The CB90 will be tested armed with at least one remotely operated Overhead Weapon Station.
The CB90 is available with armour for operations in "hot" zones, and can seat a landing party of 18 fully equipped Royal Marines, more than meeting the basic requirement for the Force Protection Craft, which is for no less than 8.
Capable of 45 knots in calm sea, the CB90 handles excellently, and is a reliable and sturdy boat, something that the RM appreciate, along with the proven capacity to work out in open sea, comfortably even in Sea State 4. The american RIVRON squadrons have already proven that the CB90 can easily be carried on trailers for transfer by roads, and a boat on its trailer can easily be carried within a C17. Cost for a CB90 H, with armour protection, would be around 500.000 US dollars, but cost goes up depending on the kit that one wants. In a US RIVRON, the C90H acts as Riverine Command Boat, is outfitted with the latest in C4ISR equipment with have the ability to communicate with other vessels, aircraft and land based assets. It comes with a SeaFLIR III IR system and Furuno Navigation package allowing for night operations, long range tracking and integration of the navigational equipment. The weaponry of the RCB includes provisions for four individual .50 caliber mounts and a centrally located mount for a stabilized remote control weapons station (ROSAM) with a 360 degree arc of fire. The RCB also has the ability carry and deploy mines and has already been tested and certified to increase fire up to, but not limited to, Hellfire missiles and a gyro-stabilized twin-barrel 12-cm AMOS mortar turret. It costs well over 800.000 dollars.
Again, Navy News reports that the Royal Marines have found some defects along the many good points: the bow ramp is smart and works, but ideally should be enlarged, because a RM with Bergen fatigues to squeeze through. More importantly, there are no heads as the CB90 is only intended to work for 24 hours, while the Royal Marines would like their Force Protection Craft to be able to work autonomously for a longer time. Again, there is no hot water at all, nor the chance to heat rations, and the boat tends to ingest a lot of muck in sandy beaches, being, as it is, designed to deal with Baltic’s rocky beaches. Perhaps the worst find, though, is the unsatisfactory performance of the CB90 as firing base, but trials in this sense are far from over, and the RWS, which is stabilized on two axis, should remedy to the problem.
All these factors, however, will have to be considered carefully when the requirements for the Force Protection Craft are written out.
|Landing on a beach with the CB90|
The Royal Marines want their “fighty boat” of the future to be fast, work autonomously for quite a long time, handle well the open sea, and be able to get ashore to insert small beach recce parties. The LCVP MK5 can carry, at relatively good speed, some 35 soldiers or a light utility vehicle, but these capabilities are now regarded as secondary. The CB90 seats 18 Marines and takes their kit (and one of her good points is that said 18 Marines were able to all but sleep while riding out in Sea State 4, while people in a LCVP MK5 in the same sea conditions would throw up) but the RM requirement is for as few as 8, which means that some of the troops space on the CB90 in the Force Protection Craft will be likely “sacrificed” for fitting a few commodities and kit to enable longer unsupported sorties.
The CB90 has a crew of four: a Corporal acts as commander, a Marine or Lance Corporal acts as helmsman and two Marines man the weapons and the ropes.
The Force Protection Craft is a very interesting programme, and it is relieving to see it alive. I find that the new boat could find many roles, and prove useful in many ways. It will also be very interesting to see what final design comes out of the trials and studies and who will build it in the end. CB90 as it is probably won’t do, but it is likely to be a starting point, and a good bit of its design will probably be maintained, to exploit its proven and excellent speed and seakeeping.