If you have a nearby river or lake, or just a really big back yard pond, that you're worried terrorists or smugglers might infiltrate, or are just looking to turn heads at your local marina, you may want to place a bid on the auction for this ex-U.S. Navy Riverine Assault Boat, or RAB. United States Marine, Inc. built these in the late 2000s for the Navy specifically to equip new units tasked with patrolling inland waterways in Iraq, which led to something of a brown water renaissance within the service. Before then, this kind of inshore watercraft capability was largely limited to Naval Special Warfare units.
United States Marine, Inc., or USMI, built the particular RAB that is up for auction back in 2008. The 33-foot long boat is presently at the Naval Support Fleet Logistics Center in Williamsburg, Virginia, according to the General Services Administration (GSA), which is facilitating the sale. At the time of writing, someone had bid $4,500 for the watercraft, an offer that did not meet the unspecified reserve price.
While we don't know what the reserve price may be, it is likely to be drastically less than the unit cost the Navy paid for these originally, which official budget documents say was just over $1.4 million 2010. However, that price tag may have also included a variety of military-specific equipment that is not included in the auction of the boat. GSA only mentions the Furuno navigation radar, compass, and navigation lights among the aluminum-hulled craft's features.
"DISCREPANCIES (INCLUDE BUT MAY NOT BE LIMITED TO): PORT ENGINE MISSING PARTS; PORT DRIVESHAFT DISCONNECTED FROM WATERJET; STARBOARD ENGINE MISSING AIR FILTER; HULL HAS DENTS, SCRATCHES AND MISSING PAINT IN SOME AREAS," one document attached to the auction listing warns in all-caps.
Each RAB has two Yanmar 6LY2A-STP diesel engines, each rated at 440 horsepower. These power a pair of Hamilton HJ292 Waterjets. The boats have a very shallow draft of just two feet and a top speed of over 40 knots, or more than 46 miles per hour, according to USMI, which still offers them on its website. The Navy says that the typical cruising speed was 30 knots and that the boats had a range of around 250 nautical miles with at their full combat weight of around 20,500 pounds.
The standard configuration for the Navy included five weapons stations, two on either side of the bow, two on either side amidships, and one at the stern. The mounts in each of these positions could accommodate a variety of weapons, including .50 caliber M2 machine guns, 7.62mm Miniguns, and 7.62mm M240 machine guns.
The boats also had armored shields that can be placed along their sides to offer additional protection, which appear to be missing from the example that is up for auction now. A single individual was in charge of sailing the craft from a standing position in the center, giving the RABs a total crew complement of six.
This made them formidable craft for patrolling inland waterways, which was the Navy's original mission for them. In 2006, the Navy stood up Riverine Group 1 (RIVGRU 1) and its subordinate Riverine Squadron 1 (RIVRON 1) under the control of the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command. RIVRON 1 immediately went to Iraq to help provide security along that country's rivers and canals and to interdict terrorists and criminal elements, such as smugglers.
"You have to have guys out here on the water," U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Nickolas W. Tilliman, a gunners mate with the squadron’s Detachment 3, said in an official interview in 2007. "You have Marines and soldiers on the roads, but if you got nobody in the water, there is no hope of stopping the flow of weapons or illegal activity."
Patrolling along Iraq's coasts, including around its offshore oil infrastructure, and further inland had been a major component of U.S.-led operations in the country following the invasion in March 2003. In the opening phases of Operation Iraqi Freedom, SEAL Teams and Special Boat Teams from Naval Special Warfare Command used their own specialized watercraft to seize control of offshore oil terminals.
The Navy had built up a significant riverine capability during the Vietnam War, with a wide array of heavily armed and armored watercraft, including the iconic Patrol Boat Riverine, or PBR. After that conflict came to an end, the service steadily cut back on those capabilities. By the time the war in Iraq kicked off, the vast majority of this type of capability was located within Navy special operations boat units.
RIVGRU 1's job was to provide additional and conventional capacity to perform these kinds of maritime security tasks, which also included visit, board, search, and seizure (VBSS) missions to inspect other vessels. The RABs themselves are variants of the Special Operations Craft-Riverine (SOC-R), which USMI was already building for Naval Special Warfare elements. The SOC-R has a hull with horizontal ribbing on the side, while the RAB's hull is flat, but the boats are functionally identical. Given the date of production on the RAB that's now up for auction, it may well have served in Iraq.
The Navy's new riverine group eventually expanded to include three squadrons. By 2010, these units were equipped with RABs, as well as the smaller Riverine Patrol Boat (RPB), a type of rigid hull inflatable boat, and the larger Riverine Command Boat (RCB), a variant of the Swedish Combat Boat 90 design.
The video below shows RABs and RPBs working together during an exercise.
As time went on, the RABs gained additional equipment to help them conduct their missions, including sensor turrets with electro-optical and infrared cameras to give them greater ability to operate at night when terrorists and militants would be most active. The boats also eventually sported smoke grenade launchers at the rear to conceal them during intense firefights, while inserting or extracting personnel from the shore, or to cover a tactical withdrawal. Some even had electronic warfare jammers to defeat improvised explosive devices along the shoreline.
In 2012, a year after the U.S. military officially completed its withdrawal from Iraq, the Navy shuttered RIVGRU 1 and combined its personnel and assets with maritime security units, which had been tasked with providing port security in the United States and at forward-deployed locations, creating new Coastal Riverine units in the process. These new units continued to operate RABs, as well as the other riverine craft, using them to perform various inshore security missions around the world. In 2016, Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps infamously detained the crews of two RCBs from Coastal Riverine Squadron 3 in the Persian Gulf.
It's not clear whether this particular auction reflects a larger plan on the Navy's part to divest any remaining RABs. In recent years, coastal riverine units have begun to receive newer, more capable boats. The most notable of these is the Mk VI patrol boat, which you can read about in more detail here. The Navy is also looking to adopt a replacement, dubbed PB-X, for the 25- and 34-foot security boats found in these units. The SOC-Rs remain in service with Naval special operations elements.
Whatever happens to the RABs, the Navy's riverine units are definitely here to stay. For years now, the service has also been exploring how it might use these boats in distributed warfare scenarios, with larger ships and sea bases acting as central operational nodes. The U.S. special operations community has already pioneered similar concepts of operation that could be applicable to regular Navy units.
If you're interested in trying to buy your own riverine patrol boat to guard waters a bit closer to home, don't wait too long. The auction for this particular RAB closes on Oct. 10, 2019.
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