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Combatant Craft Division Celebrates 50 Years

By Kelley Stirling, NSWC Carderock Division Public Affairs | Oct. 19, 2017


The Combatant Craft Division (CCD) of Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division marked its 50 years with an anniversary celebration picnic Oct. 14 at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, Virginia, a day after the U.S. Navy celebrated 242 years.

CCD develops, designs, tests and supports combatant craft and boats for the nation's defense.

Boats have always been part of the U.S. Navy at some level, but their importance changed with the onset of the Vietnam War and the criticality of riverine operations. Driven by this need, in August 1967 the Navy established authority for combatant-craft design and testing in Norfolk, giving the boat technical community a dedicated organization with this new boat engineering center.

"The military was buying boats like crazy from commercial industry and adapting commercial products, with mixed results. There weren't a lot of technical processes and methodologies to predicting boat performance," said Mack Whitford, a retired naval architect from CCD who said he had to watch a video about Vietnam patrol boats and swift boats titled, "The Small Boat Navy," narrated by Raymond Burr, when he first started working at CCD in 1986.

Part of CCD's full life-cycle portfolio is the 7-meter rigid hull-inflatable boat (RIB), a small, high-performance boat every Navy ship carries. The RIB replaced the long-used 26-foot motor whaleboats in the 1980s. For about 40 years starting in the early 1950s, more than 1,500 whaleboats were built and used aboard nearly every Navy ship as the ship's lifeboat and, in some cases, as a liberty, cargo, mail and work boat. Jack Mathias, who started working at CCD in 1974 and is still there managing the inventory for more than 3,600 boats and craft for the entire Navy, said bringing the RIB in was a huge undertaking and initially there was resistance since it was inflatable.

Mathias said he used to walk by the office of the engineer who was really pushing for the RIB jokingly saying, "psssssssssssssssssss," referring to air being let out of the boat. Whitford said that the justification for replacing the motor whaleboats with the RIB was the top-side weight on the new DDG class (Arleigh Burke) decreased because they could use a lighter davit to lower and raise the small boat into the water.

The RIB, which was initially developed by the Royal Naval Lifeboat Institute as combination lifeboat and surf-and-rescue boat, has expanded its role in the Navy over the years, especially after the October 2000 bombing of USS Cole (DDG 67) by a small boat driving into the side of the ship with explosives. After the Cole, Combatant Craft Division supported increased acquisitions of the RIB, as well as providing a modification to the security package, which became even more important after 9/11.

Some of the updates to the RIB at that time included adding a machine gun foundation, security strobe lights, a siren, VHF radio and spotlights. The boat itself is not only the ship's ready service lifeboat, but also is used for maritime interdiction operations, vessel boarding search and seizure, anti-terrorism and force protection, and law enforcement operations.

Over its 50 years, CCD has had many homes and several name changes since the Navy's decision that testing and evaluating small boats was work much better suited in the Norfolk area than in Washington, D.C. Originally under the Naval Ship Engineering Center, Norfolk Division on Little Creek Amphibious Base, the division moved to the Glopar Building in Norfolk in 1969 as a component of the Naval Sea Combat Systems Engineering Station. It became part of Carderock Division in 1992 and relocated to Suffolk, Virginia, and then moved back to Little Creek, Virginia, in 2002, where most of its 180 personnel work to this day. The division also maintains a waterfront test and evaluation facility at Naval Station Norfolk, which was moved there from nearby Fort Monroe in 2009.

"When I first got here, Jack had 12-foot drawing boards. We were still doing drafting, serious drafting," Whitford said. "To me, it was like, 'This is a real naval architecture place.' In school, you had the big drawing room with a wooden drawing board and so it was like, 'this is home.'"

The differences between boats and ships are a big distinction for Combatant Craft Division, as they provide the support only for boats and craft, with the exception of the patrol coastal ship, the single U.S. Navy commissioned ship under Combatant Craft Division's purview. As characterized by the Combatant Craft Division Head Kip Davis, the differences are not necessarily about the size. Boats are designed to operate in multiple environments and may have a requirement for multiple operational modes, meaning displacement, semi-displacement or planing. Boats have to be able to come from an ocean environment into regions and shallow waters where only boats can get to. Boats are generally carried to operating theaters by other vehicles, such as ships or aircraft.

"Small boats, like the motor whaleboat and the RIB, because they are small, but they still have diesel engine and all the associated systems and you have to have room for certain number of personnel - they are really harder to design than a larger boat because everything has to fit and be efficient and have adequate accessibility for maintenance, etc. - so they are more of a challenge," CCD Engineer Lori Fanney said.

Over the last 50 years, CCD has had a hand in the testing or development of some interesting things, like the "flopper stopper," a device that helps to keep boats from capsizing when they are top-heavy; the "lead sled," which was like a disposable landing craft; or the "sea pringle," a not-so-successful wave strider with a pringle-shaped hull.

Some of the special projects that have been quite successful out of CCD were the Integrated Bridge Systems, which is standard today, and the Stiletto Maritime Demonstration Program.

Most recently, the division provided full-spectrum support for the Coastal Riverine Force Mark VI Patrol Boat and the Naval Special Warfare Combatant Craft Medium. CCD is currently working the redesign of the landing craft utility (LCU) 1600 class, expected to hit the fleet in about five years. The division is also at the forefront of development of unmanned surface vessels.

"There is no other organization in the U.S. that has the capabilities we have at Combatant Craft Division for the development, design, testing and support of the Navy's combatant craft and boats," Davis said. "These are world-class capabilities, and to my knowledge, are unmatched worldwide."

At the ceremony, Davis reminded employees of his credo.

"The mothers and fathers of the sons and daughters who joined the Navy expect that their children will operate in the very best marine vehicles, systems and craft in the world. For boats and combatant craft, it is CCD's mission to satisfy this expectation. This is our common goal. Give your very best every day so the Sailors who depend on our product and services can accomplish their mission any day," Davis said. "Face each day thankful for the opportunity to serve. Congratulations to all of you and your families, on the accomplishments of CCD, for making CCD the best job in the Navy."