In all the good, bad and mixed news coming out of Iraq, there is a notable gap. Nobody’s said much about the most vulnerable chokepoints in the entire Iraqi economy: the two offshore oil terminals on the Persian Gulf near Basra, from which 90 percent of Iraq’s revenue is derived. Three years ago, suicide bombers targeted one of the terminals. But since then, nothing, silence, which is in itself VERY good news. And the U.S. Navy’s smallest warships are one reason for it.
Before the terminal attack, the Navy had been trying to get rid of its 14 Cyclone-class patrol boats. The service said the so-called “PCs” were too small, too fragile and not worth the money required to keep them afloat. But they were some of the only Navy warships with a draft shallow enough to squeeze in close to the oil terminals. So the Navy reversed course. Now the 10 or so Cylcones that hadn’t already been discarded are getting upgrades and more crews to enable them to patrol better and longer. I reported on the PCs’ revival last year for National Defense:
Lt. Marisa McClure and Lt. Cmdr. Brent Devore, both PC skippers, say their boats are ideal for green-water [near-shore] operations. Their light tonnage, powerful propulsion plants and shallow draft mean they can move nimbly in crowded coastal waters. Recent modifications — including additional small-caliber weapons, such as machine guns and grenade launchers; a digital navigation system, and a stern ramp for launching and recovering small boats — have only increased the patrol boats’ effectiveness in littoral missions.
“The Navy is starting to branch us out,” says McClure, currently commanding Thunderbolt (PC-12), one of the training vessels at Little Creek [in Virginia]. “Our main mission is with the Fifth Fleet. We are defending the oil platforms in the northern Arabian Gulf. But we do other missions in the Gulf as well, like maritime interdiction.”
Plus, with their tough jobs and tiny crews, PCs are ideal testbeds for a new breed of cross-trained “hybrid sailor” that will become more important as Navy ships shed people in a bid to save money. Patrol boats aren’t much to look at, and the big-ship blue-water Navy pretty much hates them, but for the muddy, nasty duty of securing Iraq’s oil terminals, there’s no better weapon.