An Influence Squadron in the Making?

Commander Henry Hendrix’s Proceedings article “Buy Fords, Not Ferraris” has entered the canon of innovative naval concepts and has received extensive attention at Information Dissemination and elsewhere. One idea from his article: influence squadrons, or a group of ships centered around an amphibious flagship and emphasizing smaller, networked platforms to conduct presence operations, theater security cooperation, and irregular warfare.

Over at ID, Commander Chris Rawley just wrote about testing distributed maritime operations using UAVs which will become unemployed as operations in Afghanistan wind down. Though he focuses on the aviation side of the house, he does mention surface vessels:

Some of the goals of these [distributed operations] battle exercises would be to…


  • Develop ways to employ smaller ships as forward arming, refueling, and communications relays for these aircraft.
  • Employ the above concepts with various deployed nodes of special operations forces, Marine, and NECC elements, in an effort to understand the capabilities and limitations each of these units brings to the distributed littoral fight.

Undersecretary Bob Work spoke at a CATO Institute event yesterday (h/t CDR Salamander) regarding the future of the Navy’s surface fleet. While LCS dominated the discourse as usual, I found two of his slides very interesting and no one seems to be talking about them:




















To me, this looks like an “influence squadron” in the making. Take an LPD-17, a Burke-class DDG, two LCSs, and embark 4 Mk VI PBs in the well deck, combined with manned and unmanned aircraft from all ships and you’ll get a credible influence squadron. I could see a group of such ships and aircraft operating in the waters near Indonesia, other Pacific Islands, or the Straits of Malacca. This would be ideal for presence operations, HA/DR, capacity building for low-capability partners, theater security cooperation or – with the support of additional combatants – enforcing a blockade.  And to CDR Rawley’s point, can these vessels support a small UAV? Now seems the time to put such a group together and see what it can do – and it seems like the Navy’s senior leaders are thinking the same.

I had never heard of the Mark VI program until watching Secretary Work’s presentation, but I am very interested to know more. I’ve seen amphibs embark Riverine Command Boats and am curious how this program is related, if at all. Google results were nil after a few searches – can anyone with the gouge on this craft post to comments?

Finally, what is remarkable about this is that in only three years after CDR Hedrix’s article went to press, the Navy seems like it is seriously considering the implications of this radically different kind of deployment scheme. Though it may not seem fast to some, I think that compared to other historical shifts, the exploration of influence squadrons has occurred rather quickly.

The opinions and views expressed in this post are those of the author alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Navy, or any other agency.

29 thoughts on “An Influence Squadron in the Making?”

  1. Scott – If you read some of my earlier posts about distributed operations, I discuss the use of small craft like these extensively. I see craft such as the MK VI concepts as nodes that are able to provide targeting for the network’s distributed fires, be they from drones, manned air, or OTH missiles.

    1. Chris as much as the navy needs a new small combatant to do what you describe, I don’t see the Mk VI being for that mission. This is a Super Swift meant to extend force protection envelope further offshore and to provide a platform for VBSS offshore.

      Chuck and other Warboaters have been kicking around the weapons fit. Seems like there are multiple guns in the drawings more so then mentioned in prerels? It will be interesting to see how many show up after CDR?

  2. Interesting if you think about the last two posts together. Development of Influence Squadrons and the challenges in the South China Sea.

    I wrote about it a couple years ago at USNI Blog and I think that the idea that there’s a need to “wait” until the right technology/ships classes are ready, misses the larger point of naval diplomacy.

  3. I agree! Very interesting information on the Mark VI PB. I especially like the idea of using them as a sort of JTAC to call for fire from OTH or over head capabilities. I wonder if this type of capability is making it into the SeaAir Battle concept and how difficult it would be comms wise to have a Navy vessel call for fire from Air Force aircraft?

    On another note, we continue to see the total number of ships shrink (or fluctuate). I think it will be very difficult for the Amphib Navy to continue to support ARG/MEU deployments and the other HA/TSC activities required by the COCOMs. From my experience on Amphibs a couple years ago a lot of these crews and ships are beat up from high optempo.

  4. Hmm – this influence squadron looks suspiciously like what we already have off Somalia with EUNAVFOR. A LPH or LSD with some CB90’s, maybe a destroyer and a couple of frigates.

    It is typical of the insularity of some US thinking, to claim something as new that the rest of the world has been doing for some time. In particular in an age where there’s less money, the US forces should be looking aggressively at established procedures of countries like the UK, France etc which have similar ambitions but historically have not had the lavish budgets of the US. For instance, the RN has found that actually AOR’s make pretty good anti-piracy motherships – great endurance, room for Marines, decent helicopter facilities and room for some boats. To the USN, too many problems have a solution that looks like a multi-$bn LHA – which is why they are being so over-worked. There needs to be some more creative thinking, and less resistance to “not invented here”.

    Take that MkVI PB – to my eyes it just looks like a gold-plated reinventing of the CB90. How many CB90’s could be bought for the same price?

    1. CB90 is a 16m craft designed as a hybrid landing craft/patrol boat. Dockstavarvet has a pure patrol boat variant using the CB90 hull called the IC 16 M.

      Mk IV PB is a 25m craft intended to be a patrol boat. It presumably has significantly larger payload, range, better seakeeping, endurance, and so on.

      The choice depends on the CONOPS and requirements.

      1. Right on Smitty, the Projected Operational Environment must be CORRECTLY defined in order to pick the right boat type.

        Does the USN only want a PB or is there any assault or attack rqmts? The above is distinctly in the former category IMHO.

    2. CB90 is not capable of doing multi-day patrols. I would think the MK VI, like some of its Vietnam-era predecessors, would be viable for 2-5 day missions, depending on crew size, sea state, resupply, etc. This sort of sustainability is key for these independent operations.

    3. ESid assuming thtat the FP-C rqmts became Mk VI its looks like the flat water CB-90/RCB was not used as a baseline? IF the USN is serious about operating offshore, they NEED a new boat which of course SHOULD be based on any of many existing designs. The above dwg strikes me as a kicked up SafeBoats design? Speculating though~

      1. I meant to add that the hull form looks like something from Swiftships which of course has a long history of building PBs for USN and other countries. See also their current FPB for Iraq Navy it believe its 35 meter?

  5. IF the US Navy insists on putting warboats in wet wells than it may never get a new ship type to support Influence Squadrons IMHO. I sure don’t believe their ever will be, nor should be enough, amphibs to support Green Water Ops in a distributed battlespace. Too many SCN dollars for a warfare area the USN is “fuzzy” about?

    That I say from the experience of having performed L&R on many different types of boats from RHIBs to SLWT using davits and cranes.

    We must break out of the WW2 anachronisms!

  6. Backgroun the Mk V1 Patrol Boat is most likely based on the Force Protection – Coastal which was described in an RFI about a year ago.
    The boat specs make it look to be a PATROL type with larger capacity for VBSS and some better weapons meant to operate in higher sea states. It is NOT an attack craft.

    The USN operated similar craft in the Vietnam war mainly in Operation Market Time. There were no amphibs supporting those warboats.

    Question: Does the USN really need an ARG type task group to conduct lower phase ops as mentioned above?

    1. Lee,

      If not inside a well deck, what are some of the other options for servicing and forward maintenacne of vessels the size of MK VI in all weather environments? What kind of ship would be better? Would it be smarter to use a crane and lift these vessels out of water for forward repairs? How many could be supported? I’m trying to get a sense of what cost effective alternatives might look like or be.

  7. Yes there many possible platforms. Historically L&R can be done to main deck easily with cranes and davits. Boats on deck can be more easily serviced than those lined up in a wet well where enough under-deck height for an overhead rail systme is needed. Kind of like parking your trucks in a small garage nose to tail?

    Since WW2 many types of boats were carried on APA/LPA, APD, LSD and now LPD type ships. In modern era, warboats have been lifted by crane onto deck of sealift ships, floated on semi-submersibles, and by davits onto amphib support ships (foreign navies). RSN Endurance, French Mistals and Euro-designed LHD most all have cranes and davits.

    Both the LASH and SEABEE type ships in MARAD RRF have huge payload capacity for largest of boats in DOD inventory.

    Many offshore construction vessels OCVs have large deck areas for boats as well as big crane and small helo decks. I have identified at least a hundred as possible motherships over the last five years.

    Many more OSV have smaller boat lift and support capabilities which I call “mini-motherships”

    Correction: the FP-C RFI was dated 2009. It shouwed up in N851 ppt about a year ago

  8. Seems Kurt’s mention of Riverine Command is apposite, it appears the Mk VI is a new toy that NECC is procuring for the shiny new CORIVFOR. So either the plan is to use an LPD as a truck for a CORIVRON company, or someone in the Marines has seen CB90’s being used and fancies something similar, but Mk VI is the nearest thing they can get that doesn’t fail the “not invented here” test. I hope it’s the former, but USMC procurement is so utterly screwed that you know that even gold-plating isn’t good enough for them, they want platinum-plating.

    @leesea – I wasn’t implying it was directly descended from the CB90 – or indeed the CB90 family in general, it just appeared at first sight that this was another example of the US buying something gold-plated whilst ignoring perfectly serviceable options from elsewhere in the world. Sometimes buying the 80% option for 40% of the cost just makes sense, it’s not like we’re talking about knocking down ICBMs, real rocket-science stuff. It seems that most nations get on just fine with CB90’s – so why does the US have a much more demanding requirement? Maybe it’s justified, I just ask the question.

  9. I would say it a little differently. Since the Navy decided is was a wonderfull idea to merge brownwater and greenwater ops into one command the NECC’s CRF (a ogranizational model which has been LESS than successful in the Navy’s past~),
    and since the new riverines knew the RCB was not a good offshore boat, the Navy has to buy a different boat.
    As is usual with boats for NECC, NAVSEA CCD decided to buy a design off the GSA boat schedule. I hear that SafeBoats is a lead contender.

    Too bad something larger from say Swiftships was not in the buy range?

    P.S. the Marines have said they don’t want the small craft mission any more. This is a Navy CCD purchase

  10. On a side note, looks like the Royal British Navy is also exploring new distributed operations with its “Black Swan” sloop concept:

    “…a manned ship that will act as the core for a group of manned and unmanned platforms which, as an integrated system, will provide the units of power required by those surface assets tasked with the protection of Sea Lines of Communication and sea control.”

  11. Thanks to all for the great comments. Chris Cavas over at Navy Times just answered many of my questions regarding the Mk VI itself:

    @leesea: you’re right on the buy coming out of NECC. And according to Navy Times, the first boats should be operational in 2014.

    Finally, to Commander Rawley and others interested in distributed maritime operations, the following quote was of special interest:

    “The main cabin is reconfigurable to accommodate remotely operated vehicles, a medical triage area, or provide more shock-mitigated seating.”

    I’m interested to see where this goes…

  12. I would label the Mk VI as “Super Swift” boat. You know it has weapons fore/aft, better accomodations, and looks like the Navy wants it to be versatile. (Ever see the pix of a Swift with its aft deck filled with ARVNs?)

    I question no small boat capability though. An 85 ft boat specifically intended to extend VBSS range should have a small RHIB maybe 5 or 7 meter?

    I sort of wonder what else was bid in? Like the Swiftships PB 93 ft, or USMI Mk V PBC 90 ft. There are a couple of other similar boats in US boatbuilders’ porfolios.

  13. I would also wonder if there is room for a Scan Eagle on Mk VI, think not due to limited deck area?

  14. let’s take this discussion on a different path? Given your task group composition what logistics support will be needed? I mean there has to be a CLF ship included. Will a T-AKE be sufficient to fuel an LPD17, DDG, and 2xLCS? Not to mention provide provisions. Will LPD have to have spaces dedicated to PB M&R? Are you presuming that LPD has sufficient ammo stores and fuel tankage?

  15. VERY little is being discussed, concerning towed LTA and Inflatable Kite type aerial sensor nodes as providing a “perimeter” OTH sensor “reach”. … I am not just flapping my lips, here. … Considering the PRC/PLAN’s commitment to hypersonic swarms, persistent EXTENDED sensor reach is an absolute survivability requirement. … And just an unrelated though that has been REALLY gnawing at my tactical sensibilities … WHY, oh, why do “Allied” naval forces PERSIST in bunching up surface vessels into tight-area formations ? … Considering that one tactical nuke could wipe out a handful of capital ships in one lucky shot, I would stringently recommend that ALL surface assets be scattered as widely as is functionally practical and that our posture should be something more like “THE DAY BEFORE PEARL” *as-if* we KNEW it was coming (and it *IS* coming).

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