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Replacing the Mk V Special Operations Craft?

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With speculation abounding that the shrouded special warfare community is on the cusp of replacing its aging Mk V Special Operations Craft (SOC) -- a high speed platform that detractors note unduly punishes its operators via transmitted shock -- DSJ consulted with the Naval Special Warfare Command (NSWC) to get a first-hand sense of the MK V replacement plans and schedule. Here's what we've learned...

1. There is no program of record to replace the Mk V, but SOCOM has a notional replacement in mind in called Combatant Craft Heavy (CCH).

2. The CCH requirement has yet to be validated and funded, but CCH is currently an experimental effort to examine NSWC need for maritime capabilities on larger platforms. The Command believes that vessels in this class could be used for forward afloat staging bases and/or used to launch forces as a "mother ship.” A larger class of vessel also offers opportunities for service-common solutions in partnership with the Navy.

3. Industry/academic involvement in CCH requirement development has been limited to date. $1 million from SOCOM and $500k from NSWC funded a study by RAND called "Maritime Access for Special Operations Forces in Denied Environments Analysis of Alternatives” (or MADE AoA). Over the course of a year this effort produced results that helped SOCOM shape its maritime strategy.

4. As to quantities and pending retirements, there were 20 Mk V vessels built. Currently eight are in long-term lay-up and 12 are in NSWC active inventory. Mk Vs have been in operation since 1995 and are expected to start retirement from 2012. NSWC says that a combination of other surface maritime assets will provide the operational capabilities that were provided by the Mk V -- there appears no specific program to replace the Mk V SOCs inventory as it stands down.

5. One MK V.1 boat (MAKO) with advanced composite materials was built in Maine years ago, funded via Congressional earmark. The NSWC says that MAKO is not a CCH prototype, but was rather an experimental effort to address the Mk V hull structural damage sustained during transits in heavy seas. MAKO was built for the purpose of developing a MK V with composite materials that would be lighter and better withstand heavy seastates. SOCOM concedes that after the craft was built, there were some ride quality issues associated with the new center of gravity. The craft remains with Naval Special Warfare Group 4 and is used for testing purposes.

6. NSWC is tight-lipped about what it will want in the CCH when it emerges. A recent Defense Standard article that provides some insights on these needs -- including reduced radar signature, greater firepower, reduced shock to crew, and modular architectures -- is here.   DSJ understands that C-5 transportability will not necessarily be required, as it was with the Mk V.

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