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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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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

leesea July 12, 2011 at 1:16 pm

First off, CMC said he did NOT want the Marines performing riverine ops.
Next the US Navy has been conducting Brown Water Navy missions since oh about the Revolutionary War and should continue doing same. While the other parts of the Navy may have more sway, that is NOT what operational commanders say they need right now.
Third the Marines have a mission and are fighting to keep it. Why would they want to take on a mission another service is already set up to do?

The Marines can only go where their amphibs do and that is not in enough dispersed locations as the Riverines can do. Simply put the Marines are over-reaching in an attempt to justify their size and cost. They have a good mission set now and that's enough.

Your stats about Iraq are wrong since the riverines only deployed to two AOs there and did not go to AFG. I am sure the sailors who got shot at in Iraq did not think it was a joke. And are going to other AOs now. With some more research you might find out more accurate details about what River Group One does.

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chaos0xomega July 12, 2011 at 5:50 pm

I don't care what the Commandant said, its not his Marine Corps. He gets to oversee how its trained and equipped, but at the end of the day if Congress tells him to equip a riverine force, thats what he has to do. Besides that, the Marines operated Riverines for a very long time. Rivron 1 was in fact trained by Marines at Camp Lejeune in order to relieve the Marines that were running the Riverine show in Iraq. Besides that, considering how often riverine ops end up being a joint army-navy venture, it might as well be run entirely by the Marines, considering that its the kind of thing that they are in large part already trained for (ignore the fact that they eliminated the Riverine related MOS's from the force).

And yes, the Navy has been conducting brown water Navy missions for a long time, but it has never taken the role very seriously. During the American Civil War, brown water ops were handled by both the Continental Army and the Navy, with the Army doing some of the heavier work (Benedict Arnold on Lake Champlain). River War in the Everglades against the Seminoles was a join Navy-Army Op, because the Navy couldn't commit enough resources due to its small size at the time. During the American Civil War, the Army built and operated the river boats used to blockade the river ports as part of the Anaconda Plan, and this was the case until some point in 1862/1863 when the mission was finally fully transferred to the Navy, and the term brown water navy was born (a derogatory term used by the 'real Navy'). Despite the great success of the Mobile Riverine Force/Mobile Afloat Force (actually a joint Army-Navy venture, because the Navy didn't initially see much merit in it) during 'Nam, they still disbanded the entire thing following the war. And let us not forget the contributions the Coast Guard has made to the same field over the many years.

Besides that, it is clear that the Navy is not serious about meeting the needs of operational commanders. You acknowledge that commanders say they need brown water support, the Navy gives them 12 boats and a few hundred sailors at a time to patrol 3700 miles of river. The Mobile Riverine Force had over 700 boats and 38,000 men to patrol 4000 miles of river in the Mekong Delta during 'nam. Do the math.

Back to the Marines fighting to keep their mission, they wouldn't have to fight to keep it if they made themselves indispensable, rather than trying to keep themselves relevant while performing parallel duties to the army. The Army has proven itself capable of conducting amphibious operations in an opposed environment in the past, in fact it has conducted the largest amphibious operations in this countries history. Likewise it maintains its own highly capable expeditionary units, and has shown itself capable of conducting expeditionary operations to the same degree as the Marine Corps. There is no real reason why the Marines should continue to exist as they do now. They bring nothing to the table that one of the other three services can't already perform as well or better. If they take BACK the riverine mission from the Navy (I suggest you study up on the USMC's riverine ops in latin america starting around 1989) and model themselves after the MRF, they could become a very potent force that will continue to be relevant in todays world, not just for small insurgencies but full scale wars. Furthermore, they could keep their expeditionary mindset and posture, and retain much of their amphibious assault capability while performing a unique mission at a scale not covered by another service already. The Marines might need to shed some of their heavier equipment, but I'm sure the army would appreciate an extra 500-600 abrams and some of the heavier armored vehicles. The marines could keep their amphibious armored vehicles which are useful for transporting larger units of infantry in the riverine environment. Artillery could be utilized on floating barges ala MRF, and air support is always necessary for logistical and kinetic purposes, and even the continued almost exclusive use of amphibs by the corps could be justified, since last I checked the riverines we use today are well-deck capable, and the air support needs to come from somewhere, right? There are very few nations with navigable inland waterways, in fact such waterways are abundant in many of the 'hot zones' that have been identified by the DoD/Pentagon. It would be better to fully develop the capability now rather than half ass it and have to adapt in the middle of a hot shooting war.

As for deployment to Afghanistan, the Rivrons didn't go, but IIRC the Special Boat Teams (Rivrons cousin for all intents and purposes). I don't need to do some more research, because I've done enough to write a thesis dissertation on the subject at this point. If the Navy decided to open up Riverines as a warfare community tomorrow, I'd have my OCS application submitted five minutes ago.

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leesea March 2, 2012 at 4:59 am

Marine Small Craft Company history only goes back to Cold War. Navy & Marine team of course goes back a lot further~ I was not referrin to need for Marine Corps but rather to their mission set i.e the missions they state they need to do which is revised regularly. Look it up.

There were THREE task forces of naval units in Vietnam, you seemed locked onto what MRF did? Little myopic? The River Patrol Force TF116, Operation Gamewarden, that I was IN did patrols similar to what the new riverines were doing in IRQ and now Columbia. Similarly TF115, Operation Market Time, conducted coastal ops. You do know there is difference between patrol, assault and the newer op VBSS?

Riverines were lifted to Vietnam in LSD but never operated from wet wells in-country. You do know that wet wells as NOT needed to launch and recover boats? I had 24 boats on an LPA with cranes and davits.
Not many rivers to run in AFG?

The NECC force structure is changing with total numbers going up to what is needed to support COCOM rqmts, that you should know is the way it works.

Did your paper pass peer review much less gramar check?

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chaos0xomega July 12, 2011 at 1:30 pm

IMHO, the Marines should have become America's brown water navy. The Navy could then focus on the mission it actually cares about, being blue water and the littoral zone, whereas the Marines could do a damn fine job in the brown/green water area. That would also solve a lot o our issues of the Marines being a second army, while allowing them to continue/evolve their amphibious/ship to shore mission concept.

3 to 4 Rivrons is not enough. Thats what, 36 to 48 boats, only 12 of which are deployed at a time?In 'nam we had some 3-4k boats in the mobile riverine force. Yeah Iraq/Afghanistan don't have quite so complex and extensive a network of rivers, but 12 boats to patrol 4000km of waterways just isn't going to cut it, really, thats just a bad joke.

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blight July 12, 2011 at 2:53 pm

Even the Marines seem to be experiencing incremental mission creep from the days of repelling boarders with disciplined musket/rifle fire, I question if they really want that mission. Even if it does give them more options, such as opening beachheads through estuaries rather than clear sandy beaches, or interesting strategic options such as using riverine units to assist with holding beach-heads or fighting delaying actions for amphibious withdrawal/insertion.

Then again, the responsibility has historically been the Navy's to operate ships, big and small. However, they may simply deprioritize riverrine units, just as they have ASW and MCM.

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radj July 12, 2011 at 8:17 pm

Woefully unimpressed. by the tech and firepower…

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chaos0xomega July 12, 2011 at 10:29 pm

It doesn't have to be gold plated supertech to be a highly effective weapon of war. A boat is a boat, you don't need to fit a turbojet engine, ejection seats, trimaran hull, AESA radar, and a flight deck to make it effective at what it does… but I do agree with you on the firepower bit, it seems a bit light on firepower, especially compared to PBR's, which usually fitted twin .50s in the front, a single rear .50, and side mounted m60s w/ mk19 grenade launchers.

I've also seen pics of PBR's mounting 20mm autocannons, rocket launchers, and flamethrowers. Here is a good history of the MRF with some tricked out boats:
http://www.warboats.org/StonerBWN/The%20Brown%20W

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Rick west October 19, 2011 at 9:55 am

What are u talking about fire power are boats are capable of carrying a twin 50, single 50, a mk44 mini gun, 240 and a mk19 on are riverine assault boat. Please guys us riverines take pride in what we do.

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blight July 12, 2011 at 10:47 pm

The "tech" is what caused the LCS to be saddled with too much and correspondingly have little firepower for its size and cost.

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jamesb July 12, 2011 at 11:50 pm

A couple on this…..

Didn't the SARMY do this job in Viet Nam?

Is this piece about a unit looking for a mission?

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jamesb July 12, 2011 at 11:51 pm

Darn….The US Army do the job in Viet Nam……

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joe July 13, 2011 at 3:05 am

Riverine and inshore coastal work…..hmm….
Somali pirate suppression, maybe?

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Alex July 13, 2011 at 7:52 am

Actualy Coast Guard units under the navy did alot of the riverine patrols in Viet Nam, but for a small conflict having a Marine riverine unit is a good idea. http://www.uscg.mil/history/uscghist/USCGVietnamC

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Alex July 13, 2011 at 9:11 am

turns out the USCG helped interservice comunications in war zones as well, in a very painful way. (ouch) http://www.aug.edu/~libwrw/ptwelcome/PointWelcome

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leesea March 2, 2012 at 4:41 am

wrong, the USCG did coastal patrols and where NOT in TG116 Gamewarden ops.

There was a Marine Small Craft Company until CMC USMC decided to disband it.

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chaos0xomega July 13, 2011 at 2:03 pm

Hmm, I made a superlong response to leesea's post that covered basically all angles, but it says a moderator has to approve it in order for it to appear, anyone know whats up with that?

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blight July 13, 2011 at 2:10 pm

There's a reason I Control+C all my posts before submitting comments. Sometimes it has to do with the number of posts you've been posting per day?

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CClark July 13, 2011 at 3:04 pm

Back in 1994-97 when I was stationed at Camp Lejeune, the Marines have Riverine patrol units / boats. Is this still a viable unit or did the mission go to the navy completely?

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chaos0xomega July 13, 2011 at 4:34 pm

Marines abandoned it and gave it to the Navy. In fact, Rivron 1 was trained by the USMC at Camp Lejeune.

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leesea March 2, 2012 at 5:02 am

The Marine Small Craft Company was disbanded and mission given to USN Riverine Group. There is still a Joint Special Missions Training Center at Lejeune run by the US Coast Guard. There is another USN small boat school in LA

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Hminus July 13, 2011 at 3:37 pm

I thought a MK-19 might be a nice addition for suppressive fire. I would fit on that M2 mount and has about the same effective range. But…I don't know if it can kill someone without touching them like he said that .50 cal can do. I would love to get my hands on some of that ammo. I guess it scares them to death.

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CClark July 13, 2011 at 4:09 pm

Oh and by the way, all the Army/Air Force needs to have happen to allow them to patrol the boarder / Rio Grande is have Congress suspend the Posse Comitatus Act signed in 1878.
The Navy and Marines are not prohibited by this act, but by a DoD Directive.
Bottom line, Congress can have the Military patrol the boarder if they want it to.

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Rajarata July 13, 2011 at 7:11 pm

Awesome machine !

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RCDC March 1, 2012 at 3:34 pm

It doesn't seems to have a lot of shield around the boat to protect the operator. We need to develop something to protect the operator and the one who is protecting with alot of firepower and speed on it. Then mass produce it at a 1000 unit for each States. To protect its water shore boundaries against rogue missile boats and ships attacker. We receive a lot of threat from Iran, N Korea, Russia and China. I think we need these numbers for defense.

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