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Tip of the Spear: USN Riverines

by John Reed on July 12, 2011

Happy Tuesday. Check out the latest in Military.com’s Tip of the Spear series. This time we join Detachment 2 of the U.S. Navy’s Riverine Squadron 3 for a tour of their boats and training runs in the waterways around Fort Knox, Kentucky. While their armored Riverine Patrol Boats, equipped with everything from multiple M240 Squad Automatic Weapons to the GAU-17 mini-gun and an M2 .50 cal heavy machine gun are badass, the riverines face questions about their future now that the U.S. is pulling out of Iraq.

From our homesite:

According to the Riverines’ overall commander, the near constant deployments to Iraq were great for establishing the “brown water” force within the Navy’s increasingly diverse portfolio, but the downside was few commanders outside the Iraq mission understood what the unique force could bring to the fight.

“For the last five years, the Riverines were fully invested in what was going on in Iraq,” said Capt. Chris Halton, commodore of the Norfolk-based Riverine Group 1. “That left very little capacity to do other missions in other [operations areas].”

“We are still building awareness and understanding of what the capabilities of the Riverines are in other AORs,” he added.

That’s why Riverine commanders are tacking in the direction of “theater security operations,” where crews and their boats would help patrol vulnerable inland waterways and train foreign forces to secure their own brown-water environments.Officials say the mission in Iraq showed the crews can operate in small units dispersed over a wide area and even work as individual training teams without their boats. Several Riverine Sailors have been dispatched to the southern Pacific to work with partner nations there, and a detachment is set to deploy to Aruba to work with the Dutch Royal Marines.

“We’ve been educating people since last fall on what is it we can do, how quickly we can respond and what are the mission sets we are best used for,” Halton said, adding that he’s working to build in more missions to Africa and South America in the next two years.

The Navy is also set to expand the Riverine force by establishing the new Composite Riverine Squadron 4 to work in what Halton calls the “brown-to-green water” areas close to shore. The units will use the Riverine Command Boat and a new Force Protection Coastal craft that’s bigger than an RCB, but still can go 40 knots and carry a crew of four Sailors and an eight-man boarding party.

There’s no doubt that we’ll need a riverine force in the future. With the small size and low operating cost of the riverine community, it makes sense to keep at least a small cadre of riverines in existence to ensure that this capability can be quickly ramped up when such need arises.

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