Royal Marines are testing a high-speed assault boat designed to protect Royal Navy ships from fast-attack craft.
Four Swedish Combat Boat 90s are on loan to the unit at Instow in North Devon which needs to train with next generation high-speed craft like ones they will use in the future.
They are fast, provide accurate and effective firepower to protect ships and landing craft and can put a small raiding/reconnaissance party of commandos ashore well in advance of the main force a long way from the mother ship.
Trying out the vessels helps the MOD understand the move from the traditional slower flat-bottomed landing craft to new fast and armed powerboats
The Instow Royal Marines of 11 (Amphibious Trials and Training) Squadron are evaluating the CB90s while in return, the Swedes have been loaned some of the marines’ Offshore Raiding Craft used by Turnchapel-based 539 Royal Marines in Plymouth.
The CB90 weighs around 16 tonnes, has top speed of about 50mph thanks to its water jet engines (which also allow it to turn on a sixpence) and is similar in size to the smaller landing craft used by the Royal Navy’s amphibious forces.
In the cabin there’s seating for up to 18 troops, plus plenty of space for their equipment, and the craft can mount heavy machine-guns for firepower.
The team at Instow – a mixture of around four dozen Royal Marines, Royal Navy and civilian experts – are about one third of their way through assessing the CB90.
So far they have tested basic handling, operating with other landing and assault craft (a prerequisite for any future boat), working out of the loading dock of HMS Bulwark, putting troops ashore, carrying a stretcher aboard safely.
“There’s no real comparison with what we operate at the moment – it’s a completely different beast,” said Lt Col Simon Guyer, officer commanding craft trials wing with 11 Squadron. “It’s a basic boat, you can really throw it about and it keeps coming back for more. That’s the sort of thing we like.”
The boats will not complete trials until the end of next year which includes exercising with a Royal Fleet Auxiliary landing ship having already been successfully run in and out of HMS Bulwark’s dock.
Other trials will be weapons tests to complete (not least remote weapons firing; a commando will sit in the ‘cockpit’ and ‘PlayStation-fashion’ control a gun mounted on the boat’s stern), and most importantly, the ability to safely recover a CB90 to HMS Bulwark by hoisting it on board while the larger ship is still moving in rough seas.
“It is very easy to drive – if you can drive an Offshore Raiding Craft, you can drive one of these,” says Colour Sergeant Ian Gibbons, who has spent 13 years working with landing craft.
All the lessons learned will be incorporated into the final specifications and requirements when the MOD looks for firms to build new force protection craft.