- Navy riverine craft. Navy photo.
by DAVID AXE
“Our assessment of security trends points strongly to the conclusion that the future mix of missions facing U.S. forces will call for greater flexibility and agility to operate among populations, with a wide variety of partners, and in a variety of operating environments.”
That was the conclusion of the Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review, released earlier this month. For the U.S. Navy, this increased emphasis on population-centric warfare — also known as “counter-insurgency” — means adding forces suited to operating in coastal and riverine environments, where some 60 percent of the world’s population lives. “Beginning in [fiscal year 2011], the Navy will add a fourth riverine squadron to its force structure,” the QDR posited.
In the U.S. Navy, a riverine squadron includes around 200 sailors manning a dozen assault boats armed with machine guns. After a long period without dedicated riverine forces, the Navy stood up three riverine squadrons beginning in 2006. Starting in 2007, the squadrons took turns deploying to Iraq to patrol around the vital Haditha dam in the western part of the country. Today, a squadron patrols the swampy border zone between Iraq and Iran. During initial deployments, the squadrons managed to field just four boats.
The Navy had a huge riverine force during the Vietnam War, but disbanded it following the end of that conflict. The need for new riverine forces was highlighted in the middle years of the current Iraq war. In 2005, the U.S. Army’s 25th Infantry Division, deployed around the city of Mosul, struggled to intercept smugglers and insurgents traveling on the Tigris River. The Army improvised its own riverine force, piling heavily-armed soldiers into engineering boats. It was a stop-gap solution, at best.
The Navy’s riverine sailors fall under Naval Expeditionary Combat Command headquartered in Little Creek, Virginia. NECC was established in 2006 to oversee the Navy’s “other” forces, including construction troops, port-security sailors, bomb squads and other specialists. With the QDR’s mandate for a fourth riverine unit, NECC is studying how to stand up the squadron and what exactly the unit will do.