Gunboats Back in Style

After years of trying to give away its 14 Cyclone-class patrol boats, the Navy is reversing course, according to Navy Times. Now the Cyclones will form the backbone of a revitalized coastal gunboat community based in Little Creek, Virginia.The 60-meter Cyclones were commissioned in the early '90s with the intention of using them to transport SEALs and other special forces in litorral waters. But the special operators never liked the Cyclones: they were too big and drew too deep for many waterways. So in the late '90s, the Navy offered them to foreign navies. There was only one taker -- the Phillipines navy, which acquired the first of the class -- before events intervened.Cyclones.jpgThe towers fell, the U.S. invaded Iraq and the Navy found itself with a lot of foreign littorals to police but with few suitable platforms. So four Cyclones were based in Bahrain, from where they sortied to guard Iraq's only two oil terminals off Basra.Despite their sudden utility, the Navy still wasn't comfortable with the tiny Cyclones. They were simple, cramped and lightly armed (cannons and machine guns only) in a fleet dominated by supercarriers and large multi-mission destroyers. The Navy exiled two boats to the Pacific and convinced the Coast Guard to take five of the ships. Coasties didn't know what to do with the boats and weren't afraid to say so.Against the backdrop of all this fumbling, the Navy was starting to think hard about its future fleet. The consensus was that it needed more hulls suitable to the litorrals. Grand plans were drawn up for a large force of corvettes (LCS) and catamarans (JHSV). Then somebody realized the Navy already had coastal vessels at its disposal. Last week, the commander at Little Creek announced that the Coast Guard Cyclones would be returned to the Navy, the two Pacific boats would make their way to Virginia and new doctrine would be developed to employ the Cyclones as coastal gunboats and mobile training units for small navies.To quote Navy Times: "Hueber said the idea is to train up foreign navies so they can patrol their own maritime borders. The [Cyclone], because of its size, crew and mission, relates best to what smaller navies actually do."That's right, it's gunboat diplomacy for the 21st century.--David Axe

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