Defence Industry Bulletin - COTS Solutions
Defence Industry Bulletin is designed for professionals in the commercial security and defence sector that need the latest market intelligence and industry news.
The Briefing Room contributions are from leading experts around the globe which examine every facet of the modern defence and military sector covering land, sea, air and security operations.
Fast Craft and Innovative COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf) Solutions
The world is changing fast and this is especially true in the military and professional fast boat sector. When selecting a new boat the questions used to be relatively simple - how long, how many engines, what fuel type, how fast?
Military and professional maritime organisations have been driving the evolution of extreme fast craft for over 30 years. Naval architects, engineers and boat builders have risen to the challenge, producing unique boats in aluminium, fibreglass and composites engineered to deliver high performance. The next stage has been ensuring that structures, equipment and crews can withstand the resulting forces!
Since the millennium RHIBs and High Speed Craft have been at the cutting edge of maritime operations for everything from counter terrorism, homeland security and law enforcement to extreme weather rescue. Looking to the future, navies and coast guards around the world will make financial, environmental and operational decisions to use fewer ships and more boats to secure their coastlines and waterways.
For military and security applications the next generation of RHIBs and HSC will need to be larger, faster, multi-role craft with the same navigation, communication and information systems that are found on a ship’s bridge. Many fast craft will include modular design features that allow them to vary their internal and deck layouts for different mission profiles or as their role changes over time.
The call for extreme fast craft with specific requirements and capabilities has led to innovative designs including catamarans, multi-hulls and novel hull forms. However the process of one-off craft design and bespoke equipment can mean that in the period from concept through tender to launch the requirement has changed...
Technology can be rapidly outdated or the craft simply becomes too complex for its original length overall (LOA). Timelines and budget constraints are increasingly driving procurement decisions. By identifying the priority roles and accepting a level of compromise various Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) hull, engineering and equipment solutions are increasingly viable.
Although Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPV) are used all over the world to cover large areas of water it is the ships boat that is launched to board a suspect craft. Visit, Board, Search, Seizure (VBSS) are maritime boarding actions that range from naval anti-piracy to conducting customs, safety and compliance inspections. As sophisticated criminals increasingly use sea transport the specification of law enforcement and security craft is evolving. The motivation is high when typical illegal cargoes include narcotics, arms and people. Smugglers operate from all sizes of vessels while the boarding teams and naval forces usually transit from a larger vessel to the target in 25 to 40 foot RHIBs.
An increasing role for larger RHIBs and HSC is asset protection or high interest vessel escort which requires a moving security zone as ships approach or leave a port. This level of positive control requires multiple craft supporting interoperability between military, police and government agencies. Boat builders providing craft to this sector need to fully understand the end-user requirements. Specialist solutions include lightweight ballistic protection, shock mitigating seating linked to control systems and sophisticated surveillance electronics. With a full situational awareness suite the electronics may now be higher value than the standard boat. But with all this technology various organisations still require an alongside ramming or ‘hard contact’ capability to physically intercept other craft.
RHIBs make excellent personnel carriers, the inflatable collar makes the craft extremely versatile by providing high stability and the ability to fender off vessels without damage. Foam collar designs offer a heavy duty fender that can be cut, perforated or shot but will not deflate. Tampa Yacht Manufacturing (TYM) is working with clients around the world to create cost effective COTS fast craft platforms. Robert Stevens of TYM said, ‘A RHIB with air filled tubes is often a good choice for stopping and searching other craft. If resistance is expected then foam filled tubes backed up with ballistic protection may be required. A proven performance hull can be utilised for various applications. Our designers simply re-configure the layout and onboard equipment for naval patrol boat, law enforcement or fast rescue applications.’
Maritime organisations use RIBs and HSC to perform a wide range of operations. The consistent aim is that crews arrive safely at their destination ready to do a job, or in some cases ‘fit to fight’. When extreme fast craft simply have a design objective for ‘unbreakable boats with a surplus of engine power’ then ‘man’ becomes the weakest link. To maximise crew performance, increase sea time and ensure a high mission success rate professional operators need to identify what sea conditions could be encountered during transits, then ensure that the type and size of craft they are using is suitable for the purpose.
Brunswick Commercial & Government Products (BCGP) is continuously expanding their ranges of inboard and outboard craft ready for outfitting to client specifications with high end onboard electronics and various COTS component and equipment options. Jeremy Davis, Director of Sales, said, ‘BCGP has been a flagship range for over fifty years in the 15 to 27 foot range. To meet the changing needs of our professional clients we are now building Whalers up to 42 feet and our Impact RHIB range up to 40 feet. To ensure that we cover all mission requirements BCGP now offers the Sentry aluminium series, based on a supply agreement with Metal Craft Marine to produce our hulls up to 45 feet.’
Patrolling is often at low speeds, interception is not. Border forces, law enforcement and critical asset security operators have discovered that to run these multi engine rigs at full power it is essential to have stronger steering systems, more responsive throttles, performance exhaust systems plus drives and propellers that transfer power into thrust and control. The high performance components industry that has emerged around the demanding race boat community of Southern Florida has developed COTS materials that can be retrofitted as upgrades, or specified on new professional sector boats.
Navigation and communication units are classic example of COTS systems. It is relatively simple to identify potential systems, then do side by side comparison of functions and durability. There is no reason why a modern nav or comms system should fail, however as all boat operators will tell you, ‘electronics and water still don’t mix!’ A cost effective solution is to hold spare units to ‘plug and play’ or have an ASAP delivery agreement for unit replacement. Integration is still an ongoing issue with both bespoke and COTS hardware including GPS / chart plotter / radar / AIS units and the associated software. In addition many organisations, especially law enforcement and SAR, now need traditional marine electronics to integrate with PC applications, tablets and smart phones.
The ‘need for speed’ is at the heart of military and professional fast craft operations. However it is a hard fact for many professional organisations around the world that fuel budgets are being cut. Engine manufacturers now recognise that high performance must be balanced with fuel economy and environmental compliance. If fuel budgets become an issue crew training is usually reduced with craft only launched for operational purposes. Top speeds for interceptors can exceed 60 knots, but these ‘burst speeds’ are rarely used as high performance boats have a recommended cruising speed linked to optimum fuel range.
Various manufacturers; including Volvo Penta, Mercury, Yanmar and Cummins have recognised the growing milpro demand for high performance diesel engines. Fast boat operators need to constantly adjust ‘power on / power off’, when running into a head sea or during boarding operations. The engineering challenge has been to combine the robust characteristics of diesel engines with reduced turbo lag and improved throttle response. Since the 1990s the automotive sector, particularly in Europe, has driven the development of high performance diesel engines. Lighter weight blocks and components, combined with electronic fuel management systems and fly by wire controls are enabling the next generation of inboard diesels to close the ‘responsiveness’ gap with gasoline (petrol) outboards.
Over the past two decades navy and air forces around the world have made the decision not to carry gasoline. From this decision high power diesel outboards have become a priority objective for both end-users and engine manufacturers. But there have been significant engineering challenges to overcome, particularly the size of unit and overall weight. In the interim, multi-fuel engines have filled the needs of a specific group of operators. Jeff Wasil, Engineering Manager, at Evinrude said, ‘Fifteen years ago Evinrude started to develop a Multi Fuel Engine (MFE) with, water jet propulsion, for the US Marine Corps and the SEAL teams. These units needed multi-fuel engines to power their fleets of Zodiac F470 Combat Rubber Raiding Craft, operating from ships and aircraft in harsh environments. The 55hp and 30hp MFE engines can be submerged and are designed to run on kerosene, aviation fuels and standard gasoline. Fuel selection can be changed with the simple flip of a switch.’
Engines and propulsion systems that are designed and built for military or professional operations need to run hard, often for long hours in adverse sea conditions. Users rely on these systems for mission success and in certain situations failure is not an option – the engineering must not break. Professional boat operators around the world have learned that power and performance are relevant, but reliability and durability are the most important factors for all types of engine and propulsion system.
It is no coincidence that smugglers of people and contraband often select RHIBs. This is simple market forces at work as RHIBs are relatively cheap and ready to use off the shelf. If the buyer finds a boatyard that asks no questions the RHIB concept allows for stretched hulls and multiple outboard set ups. With no procurement process to go through, no pollution or environmental compliance, no health and safety concerns and no fuel budgets this can deliver a very simple and efficient platform. At the recent Fast Patrol & Interception conference in London, high level maritime agencies from three countries demonstrated that simple is good. They all showed smugglers boats that had been impounded then re-badged as interceptors. These are known as ‘modified boats’ or ‘reformed boats’. This Captured Off The Smuggler version of COTS can be viewed as innovative re-cycling and effective budget management!
Looking globally various regions are building fast craft fleets from zero. Some organisations consider the craft to be a mobile platform that gives them a presence across a specific area of sea or coastline. The term ‘L1’ associated with a tender simply means that to get the maximum number of craft for their budget the lowest bid wins. As specialist boat and equipment solutions evolve to respond to end-user requirements the percentage of COTS equipment in all military and government agency fast craft fleets is likely to increase.
By John Haynes AFNI
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