The U.S. Navy’s Riverines Are Up-Gunned, High Tech and Ready to Lean Into Great Power Competition

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July 16, 2019 | Originally published by Date Line: July 16 on

JOINT EXPEDITIONARY BASE LITTLE CREEK, Va. — The Mark VI patrol boat bristles with heavy automatic weapons, and that’s the way its crews like it.

“I tell the crews that you want to look like a porcupine,” said U.S. Navy Senior Chief Derrick Cox, who trains the sailors that man the Mark VI as part of Coastal Riverine Squadron 2’s training evaluation unit. “You don’t want to kick a porcupine because you know there will be consequences.”

The Mark VI is a replacement for the Riverine Command Boat, which gained notoriety 3 years ago when two of them, along with their crews, were captured by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard when they strayed into Iranian waters near Farsi Island in the Arabian Gulf.

“This has double, maybe even triple, the firepower of the RCB,” Cox said.

The RCBs had four mounts that could support a number of heavy weapons to defend the boat. The Mark VI is in another league all together. The boat shown to Defense News this month packed two stabilized, remote-operated, optically guided MK 50, .50-caliber Gun Weapon Systems; two MK 38 Mod 2 (25-mm) Gun Weapon Systems (also remotely operated with an advanced optics system); and two crew-served .50-caliber machine guns.

“We’ve demonstrated that we can sustain a firefight for 45 minutes in the Mark VI,” Cox said.

The Mark VI was just coming online in January 2016 when the incident at Farsi Island went down — the last of the 12 were delivered by the end of 2018. And though ultimately none of the 10 captured sailors were hurt — they were released, along with their RCBs, after the personal intervention of then-Secretary of State John Kerry — the incident was deeply embarrassing for the Navy and infuriating for senior leadership. It prompted the Service to refocus the Riverine”s mission and change the mindset.