The Mark VIs’ Future Fate
Naval News has pursued this seesaw of funding and divestment of the Mark VIs, often seen as one of the few fast and heavily armed small patrol boats in the U.S. Navy’s inventory. The roughly 85-foot Patrol Boat can transport 10 crew and eight passengers and also fit inside the well decks of amphibious ships. Mark VIs are armed with one or two Mark 38 MOD 2 25mm chainguns and various .50cal M2HB heavy machine guns, 40mm automatic grenade launchers, and 7.62mm M240 medium machine guns.
The Mark VIs were deemed “very expensive to maintain” said Major General Tracy King, USMC, Director, Expeditionary Warfare (N95) at the Surface Navy Association 2021 Expo. Repeated inquiries by Naval News to the U.S. Navy’s Chief of Information (CHINFO) office and the U.S. Navy’s Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) in 2021 and 2022 could not gather further information and details as to what, how, and why the Mark VIs were considered “very expensive to maintain.” As written in 19 August 2021, “The MK VI uses two diesel engines to power waterjets instead of shafts and propellers.” Major General King also mentioned that in wargaming scenarios against peer nations, the MK VIs were deemed “not really needed (given their small size and limited missile firepower).” The U.S. Marines have practiced firing Stinger short-ranged Air-Defense missiles (SHORADs) and Javelin Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (ATGMs) from the Mark VIs open decks in an effort to practice Distributed Lethality and Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO).
Official Defense Visual Information Distribution Service (DVIDS) photos show the Mark VI in service in the Pacific during 2021, but no DVIDS photographs exists of the Mark VIs in service in 2022. National Defense Magazine did report that the Mark VIs were in a “state of limbo” in February 2022, pending funding issues.
Naval News reached out to CHINFO in mid-December 2022 on if there is any operational funding in Fiscal Year 2023 (FY2023) for the Mark VIs and CHINFO emailed a reply on December 23, 2022:
“The [U.S.] Navy did not request any funding for MKVI Patrol Boats for FY2023 or beyond.”
U.S. Navy Spokesperson
The fate of the U.S. Navy’s Mark VIs may end up in the Ukrainian Navy as up to 16 Mark VIs and associated equipment have been approved for Foreign Military Sales (FMS) at an estimated cost of $600 million. However, it remains unknown and unclear if the U.S. Navy’s Mark VIs will be selected for Ukraine or if these will be new builds by SAFE Boats International. The Ukrainian Mark VIs will be armed differently with heavier caliber armament (Mark 44 30mm chainguns as opposed to Mark 38 25mm chainguns) than their retired U.S. counterparts.
Procurement Status of the 40-foot Patrol Boat
The U.S. Navy’s CHINFO also answered on the status of the new Metal Shark 40-foot force protection patrol boat, nicknamed the “40PB,” and if the 40PB will have any hull or armament modifications distinct from the manufacture’s configuration. NAVSEA previously stated that the 40+ knot sprint speed 40PB is not a direct replacement for the 85-foot Mark VIs, but replaces the 34-foot Patrol Boat (34PB).
“Yes, the U.S. Navy is currently executing a single 5-year IDIQ [indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity] for fifty-six (56) 40-foot Patrol Boats (40PBs). To date, twenty-eight (28) 40PBs have been delivered to the U.S. Navy. An additional ten boats are expected to deliver in FY23. Twelve boats have entered US Navy service. Service entry for the remaining boats will be determined by Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC). No significant changes to the boat configuration and armament are planned.”
U.S. Navy Spokesperson
Note that a number of 40PB have also been delivered to Ukraine and are already operational with the Ukrainian Navy in the Black Sea:
Any Additional New U.S. Navy Small Patrol Boats?
Naval News also asked CHINFO if the U.S. Navy has any future plans to procure new small boats to potentially replace the Mark VI even though the U.S. Navy has stated over the past years that it does not have any replacement plans.
“Combatant Craft Medium and MK VI boats are being procured for Foreign Military Sales (FMS). There are no additional FY23 small patrol craft procurements planned for the U.S. Navy. The U.S. Navy has planned FY23 acquisitions for several support and service craft.”
U.S. Navy Spokesperson
Naval News Comments
With the lack of FY2023 funding and beyond to continue Mark VI operations, the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) can no longer rely and use the Mark VIs. Despite this, the USMC Force Reserve is pressing ahead with the testing of four small craft contenders for littoral operations in the hopes of small-scale acquisitions in 2023. If these small craft contenders can operate in the open ocean remains to be seen (note that some of them lack an enclosed cabin and an open flat deck space for Marine gunners to fire guided missiles from).
Thus, the lack of a dedicated U.S. Navy patrol boat larger than the 40PB leaves a gaping hole in capabilities that the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) will have to fill with their dedicated Fast Response Cutter (FRC) warships, arguably the only small craft produced in numbers within the Department of Defense’s inventory. The FRC is pretty similarly armed as the Mark VI, can transit greater distances, has decks and a cabin, and uses propellers instead of waterjets in addition to being numerous (65 planned) compared to just 12 Mark VIs. Nonetheless, respectably, the USCG is not the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Navy intends for the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) to fulfill the roles of the Mark VI despite the LCS being much larger, taller, heavier (as illustrated in the photo below).
When it comes to small craft firepower in support of U.S. Navy SEALs and maritime Special Operations Forces (SOF) in the littorals and inland waterways, the U.S. Navy might find itself lacking a new small craft for clandestine operations and heavy fire support with no Mark VI replacement in sight. The 40PB is less than half the size of the Mark VI and lacks 25mm autocannon(s). If the Mark VI ever fire-supported or transported SEALs and Marines on covert missions ashore (not Visual Board Search and Seizure (VBSS) of underway boats and ships) is unknown; if not, then the role and capabilities of using the Mark VI for ashore infiltration and exfiltration SOF missions is a moot argument as the U.S. Navy’s Patrol Coastal (PCs) are also being retired due to them approaching the end of their service lives. The PCs were originally designed for SEAL infiltration and exfiltration ashore.
The proposal to arm the Combat Craft Medium (CCM) with an ATGM or a Mark 50 remote machine gun (Combatant Craft Mission Equipment (CCME)) is well underway in U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). This may allow SEALs with some organic firepower in CCMs instead of relying on another small craft to come and provide precision and suppressive fires, such as from the retired Mark VIs.