MANAMA, Bahrain — The US Navy's latest patrol boat, the Mark VI, has made its operational debut in the Arabian Gulf this month.

The patrol boat was designed and built by American boat manufacturer Safe Boats International to serve as the next-generation patrol boats for the US Navy. Mark VI arrived at the 5th Fleet base of operations in Bahrain in March, according to the ship's program manager, US Navy Lt. David Weinreb.

The fleet of 85-foot patrol boats is cued to replace the aging patrol boat fleet of Naval Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC) and will support the Coastal Riverine Force (CRF).

Currently there are four Mark VI patrol boats in the US Navy, Weinreb said, with two assigned to the 5th Fleet with a third due to be delivered.

One more Mark VI is planned to be sent out to the 5th Fleet, he said, adding that three of the four existing boats are allocated for the Gulf.

"The Mark VI patrol craft can go up to speeds in excess of 35 knots and has a robust communications system, nine weapons platforms, including three remotely operated systems that are two .50-caliber machine guns up top, and a 25mm cannon up front," Weinreb said at a preview of the boat at the 5th Fleet base in Bahrain.

Although highly praised, the boats are facing minor teething problems.

"There is still a couple of bugs in the system in relation to issues of the size of the Mark 18 UUV, which would be launched from the Mark VI," he said.  "They are being worked out, its a little different size to what we expected them to be and they should be worked out by the end of the month."

The Mark VI has a reconfigurable back deck that can be used to carry multiple underwater unmanned vehicles (UUV) launch and recovery systems or two zodiac crafts for visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) missions.

Royal Navy ship HMS Defender and Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship RFA Cardigan Bay anchor a formation of coalition mine countermeasures and maritime security vessels in the Arabian Gulf, operating in support of the International Mine Countermeasures Exercise on April 11.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Royal Navy

"There was really nothing that did what this patrol boat can do, this is the first boat in the NECC family that has these capabilities, which include force protection, VBSS, counter-smuggling missions and has communications capabilities. We can operate UUVs or UAVs, and it has a reconfigurable cabin that allows us to take onboard any number of personnel or systems to execute the required mission," Weinreb said.

In addition to the debut of the Mark VI, the 5th Fleet on Sunday showed off the capabilities of the USNS Choctaw County during the International Mine Countermeasures Exercise (IMCMEX) in Bahrain.

The Spearhead-class expeditionary fast transport (EFT) vessel was placed in active service this year and was performing one of its first missions at IMCMEX as an EFT and command boat off the coast of Kuwait.

The ship is manned by a civilian crew and provides maritime security operations, crisis response and troop transport. More details on the boat's functions were not immediately available, as the ship's master declined interviews at the preview. 

U.S. Naval Forces Central Command spokesman Lt. Ian McConnaughey spoke positively about having USNS Choctaw County (T-EPF-2), renamed on Oct. 1, 2015, and formerly known as joint high-speed vessel (JHSV), in 5th Fleet's area of operations "as it is a new platform that adds to and builds our capacity. It is the second Spearhead-class expeditionary fast-transport ship and is part of the U.S. Military Sealift Command. It is a noncombatant ship with a crew of 22 civilian mariners."

"The ship has the capability to embark a complement of military personnel and mission configurations for a wide range of missions, including counter-illicit trafficking, theater-security cooperation, humanitarian assistance, and disaster relief and noncombatant evacuation operations," he said. "It primarily functions as a delivery vehicle for cargo, personnel and modular/tailored forces in response to a wide range of mission demands, allowing other ships to remain on station, thereby avoiding an operational pause."

McConnaughey said that the EPF's arrival and employment demonstrates the US commitment to the region, bringing new platforms and new capabilities to support and promote security, freedom of navigation and providing on-the-spot, quick and effective logistical support to US and coalition forces.

"Our enduring presence in the region is a constant, and we're here to stay. In the coming years you are going to see new platforms coming to the 5th Fleet area of operations, so it is just a little taste of what's to come," he said.


Twitter: @awadz

Awad Mustafa was a Middle East and Africa correspondent for Defense News.

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