Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division has seven detachments throughout the United States — the Acoustic Research Detachment in Bayview, Idaho; the Acoustic Trials Detachment in Titusville, Florida; Detachment Puget Sound in Silverdale, Washington; the Memphis Detachment in Tennessee; the Southeast Alaska Acoustic Measurement Facility in Ketchikan; the South Florida Ocean Measurement Facility in Cape Canaveral; and the Combatant Craft Division (CCD) (Code 83) in Norfolk.
One of those detachments — CCD — recently reached a milestone: celebrating their 55th anniversary. Established on Aug. 11, 1967, this year marked 55 years of CCD being the Department of Defense’s (DOD) technical support center and primary source for watercraft design and system engineering.
Until 1967, the U.S. Navy’s design function for boats and small craft was located in Main Navy, Washington, D.C., and consisted of a small group who developed primary designs, drawings and specifications for Navy boats. However, they were restricted by having no direct, physical testing and evaluating of prototype craft developed for the verification of these designs.
Originally termed the Boat Engineering Department, Naval Ship Engineering Center (NAVSEC), Norfolk Division, CCD was formed after the functions of the Boats and Small Craft Design Branch were transferred to NAVSEC Norfolk Division on Aug. 11, 1967, establishing a Test and Evaluation Branch within the Boat Engineering Department at NAVSEC Norfolk. Technical personnel were then detailed to NAVSEC Norfolk Division for the purpose of developing the organizational structure.
“Back then, it was a small outfit, with only 27 of us,” John “Jack” Mathias said, the boat inventory manager for the Logistics Engineering Resource Branch, and CCD employee for more than 47 years. “We didn’t do much in the way of design back then. Instead, we looked for boats being built and tried to get them to be militarized and would do whatever it took to get them to meet operational requirements.”
CCD has been located in several locations and endured many name changes throughout its 55-year tenure. Design and test personnel were located in the Amphibious Maintenance Support Unit until the fall of 1969, when the department was relocated in NAVSEC Norfolk Division’s headquarters in Norfolk. In 1980, it was designated the Combatant Craft Engineering Department Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) Detachment Norfolk, where it continued to grow for 12 years before joining Carderock in 1992, officially becoming the Combatant Craft Department. A year later, in 1993, it was moved to its new location in Suffolk, Virginia, where it stayed for a decade before relocating to the Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base in Virginia in 2003.
The first big breakthrough for CCD came in the late ’70s when Naval Special Command Warfare contacted them to do a planing hull for them.
“That is when we became experts in our craft,” Mathias said. “It was a 65-foot Mark 3, with an off-centered pilot house and three Detroit diesel engines — you couldn’t keep them running. But we were able to build 100 of them, all of which were very successful, which gave us a good reputation within the Navy. I have never seen anything more beautiful than a boat that did what it was supposed to do — that was when I realized that this was my niche.”
They first began doing design work in 1976, when they worked on the Coastal Patrol and Interdiction Craft (CPIC).
“CPIC was a 95-foot craft, and it was incredibly successful,” Mathias said. “However, the Navy had no operational requirement for it at that time. They wanted to keep it on a shelf and use it only if it was needed. That is when we started designing some inexpensively built boats used for targets.”
It wouldn’t be until Oct. 12, 2000, that Mathias’ life, and the entirety of CCD, would change forever.
“The attack on USS Cole (DDG 67) changed my life,” Mathias said. “After the attack, the admiral sent a message to all ships in the fleet saying that we were responsible for security. That meant that we had to put guns on boats and buy security boats for all homeports. Up until that point, I dealt with requirements, and making sure boats were operationally ready. Now, our focus had changed.”
After the attacks on 9/11, the group’s priority and focus changed again.
“I was out buying security boats when the attacks in New York happened,” Mathias said. “We bought more than 100 boats in a hurry and got them into the field even quicker. Then, while they were building the Guantanamo Bay (GTMO) prison, we had to take three boats down to Key West, Florida, in order to transport them to GTMO. However, getting them to Key West meant we would have to shut down the major roads and bridges along the way. I wrote a letter to the Florida State Police asking for help — they ended up escorting the trucks and shut down the roads for me. I still get choked up about this — they told me, ‘thank you for helping fight the war on terrorism.’”
Today, the primary administrative and engineering offices are located at the Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story in Virginia. CCD is responsible for conducting waterfront operations in support of engineering, test and evaluation on demonstration and in-service watercraft from a facility at Naval Station Norfolk. Together, these facilities provide synergistic integration of all watercraft design, engineering and test and evaluation functions in one geographical area, enabling a specialized design and test center with optimal test and evaluation conditions, and in close proximity to its primary military clients enabling rapid fleet interface.
The biggest difference between the beginning days of CCD and now is simple: the amount of boats.
“In our infancy, we were strictly buying commercial boats to fill commercial requirements,” Mathias said. “The biggest thing now is the boat inventory – we have all different kinds of boats – the boat family has grown exponentially from a few boats to an enormous amount, nearly 3,200. When I began at CCD, nobody had heard of a Rigid-hull Inflatable Boat (RIB). Since the mid 80s, we’ve had over 2,000 of them in Navy inventory. There are currently 1,077 RIBs in Navy inventory, between four meters and 11 meters. One of our coworkers, Harry Hindlin, went to a small craft symposium in England around 1983, and came across a surf rescue boat used by the Royal Naval Lifeboat Industry. It was a 24’ RIB. He sold the concept, and we received funding to have one built, tested and trialed for use as a ships’ boat, ostensibly to replace the hallowed 26’ Motor Whaleboat. The RIB proved to be everything we wanted.”