Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Riverine procurement - Alpha Foxtrot Uniform

Coming up on three years since we invaded a nation with one of the world's major Riverine systems, two years since I asked the question, and over a year since the CNO said, "Go," our Riverine forces are still not in the fight. Sure, they are scheduled and equipped, as covered here and other places - but things have just seems too slow, and disjointed.
The first of three riverine squadrons is scheduled to deploy to Iraq sometime early in 2007.

The deployment will mark the first time since Vietnam’s swift-boat era that the Navy has patrolled inland waterways. In Iraq, until now, that mission has been performed largely by Marines, but the leathernecks are needed more urgently for ground combat.

Each squadron, when it stands up, will consist of about 220 officers, petty officers and enlisted sailors and 12 boats. Their mission will include making ports more secure and cutting the lines of communications for terrorists, pirates and drug smugglers.

For the time being, they are being trained by Marines at Camp Lejeune, N.C., because the Navy command currently doesn’t have either a suitable training center or the right kinds of boats.

In September, 60 sailors from Riverine Squadron One, preparing for deployment, completed a seven-week coxswain course, learning the basics of maneuvering small, armed boats on narrow waterways.

Five-man crews, consisting of a captain, coxswain, an aft and bow gunners with .50 caliber machines guns and two mid-ship gunners with 7.62 mm machine guns, learn to operate their craft at speeds exceeding 35 knots.

Sailors train on two types of boats. The small unit riverine craft is 38-feet long, and can carry up to 16 combat-loaded troops. The riverine assault craft is 34 feet, 11 inches in length and can carry up to 15 passengers. Both have a range of about 250 nautical miles. They can fit into a C-130 transport aircraft for rapid deployment.

This explains part of the problem. Congress is not helping - neither is the Potomac Flotilla.
Critics on Capitol Hill are worried about the speed with which all of this is happening. The House Armed Services Committee, in its report on the 2007 defense authorization bill earlier this year, said it “remains concerned with the maturity of the operational concept” of the unit “and has reservations about the rapid pace of its development.”

The committee urged the Navy to develop its operational requirements for the command more fully. It also encouraged the service to investigate options for advanced composite hulls for the specialized missions that the unit will be required to perform.

Such hulls, the committee said, could provide the Navy with the technology for critical capabilities in speed, weight, draft, stability, wake and g-force reduction. The committee recommended a $10 million increase in funding to develop and build a prototype advanced composite riverine craft.

Retired Capt. Pete Frothingham, director of warfare requirements, programs and plans, conceded the Navy could have done a better job in explaining what these units would do and why they are needed. “One of the pitfalls in standing up a command very quickly was that we didn’t get out early on and explain it as clearly as we should,” he said. “That’s now understood. We’ve been doing a lot of show-and-tell.”

As for an advanced composite riverine craft, the Navy is investigating that possibility, Frothingham said. One candidate that the service is eyeing closely is called Stiletto. It is a high-speed, carbon fiber-reinforced craft that the command is testing.

Made by M Ship Co. of San Diego, Calif., Stiletto is an 88-by-44 foot rectangular box, with one panel of windows and few protruding antennas, which makes it hard to detect. It can travel at speeds up to 55 knots with a range of 500 nautical miles. Its hull design increases stability and maneuverability in shallow waters, according to company officials.

At present, however, the Navy has made no commitment to Stiletto, Frothingham emphasized. “There are a lot of other craft out there,” he said. “We’re looking at a number of them.”

Advanced composites offer great potential, he added. “They aren’t cheap, but big screen TVs weren’t either when they first came out. Eventually, prices came down. Maybe that will happen with advanced composites, too.”

Complete insanity. Composite hulls that cannot be field repaired. Huge Stiletto type hulls that cannot go up most main rivers, much less tributaries. We do not need hyper expensive hulls made out of exotic materials that cannot be repaired by a GM3 in three house with gear the boat has with it. We do not need boats for "specialized missions." We need Riverine warfare craft.

Riverine warfare is the Navy version of clearing a city block by block. Little has changed in the last century outside of COTS equipment and other incremental changes in the tools we use. This isn't rocket science. This shouldn't take this long. This is a Navy and national disgrace. Period. Don't even try to spin this. Look at what the Army and Marines have done in the last half decade. WE need to fix this. This is OUR problem. Faster, better. We are better than this.

The peacetime, bureaucratic priorities of this are stunningly 180deg out of phase, and would be funny if they weren't so non-focused on the warfighting requirments.
Meanwhile, the Navy continues to institutionalize the command. This summer, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Mullen approved the expeditionary specialist qualification program and a new pin for graduates of the program to wear with their uniforms.

To qualify, sailors must complete a set of training including marksmanship, weapons maintenance, land navigation, field communications and expertise in setting up expeditionary camps.

The program and pin are part of an effort to establish a career path within the field of expeditionary warfare, similar to that with the submarine and naval aviation communities, and thus encourage recruitment, promotion and retention of sailors, Frothingham said.
Is this it? We have built a monster of a staff and tail in area code 757 to "support" Riverine Warfare - and this is it? This was a chance to demonstrate "Transformation." It does demonstrate a transformation; but not what we want.
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The 2006 Weblog Awards

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