UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Worldwide Patrol Boats - History

The invention of the internal combustion engine and its refinement led to increased interest in small, fast attack craft. British experiments led to the development of small, fast attack craft to challenge the line of battle as early as 1905, but the United States took little interest in the motor torpedo boat. The Royal Navy successfully used motor torpedo boats in World War I, and sank the Russian cruiser Qleg by MTB in the brief post-war struggle in the Baltic against the Bolsheviks.

As historian William Breuer noted, curiously enough Prohibition and rum-running sparked initial American interest in the PT boat. "Rum runners...brought a few British versions of the PT boat into the United States and were using them to smuggle liquor from Canada.... In military fashion, the smugglers carried out experiments to improve...performance... including the addition of more powerful engines. They developed operational procedures —such as stalking along the coast at night—that would be put in practice years later at Guadalcanal, New Guinea, New Britain, the Philippines, and elsewhere in the Pacific."

Though an early 20th century development of the Royal Navy, the motor torpedo boat gained international fame following its adaption and use by the United States Navy during the Second World War. The PT boats were highly effective craft built in large numbers to interdict enemy supply lines and harass shore installations and landings on the various islands and atolls of the South Pacific. PT boats were credited with sinking numerous enemy ships, shooting up landing barges, rescuing downed flyers, landing partisans, and attacking remote outposts on isolated islands.

American PT boats and their daring crews early captured public attention and admiration, helping shoot down attacking planes at Pearl Harbor and providing the means of Douglas MacArthur's escape from Corregidor. The PTs were involved in nearly every Pacific campaign, even extending their operations into the Aleutians, the English Channel, and the Mediterranean theaters of war. The PT boats were vital partners in the United States victory over Japan. PT boats gained additional fame after the war following the successful political career of John F. Kennedy, skipper of the famous Elco PT 109.

Unfortunately, while the PT boats did much to win the war in the Pacific and inspired a number of offshoots, including Japanese "Shinyo" suicide craft, and the hydrofoil missile ships and numerous inshore patrol craft used by many navies in the 1980s, most of the boats did not survive the war's end.

Much of the post-Cole small boat warfare literature focused almost exclusively on the terrorist dimension; relatively little attention had been devoted to how some navies are planning to use FACs against potential USN operations in their home waters.

Iran and its military have invested substantially in developing its naval forces. The IRGC Navy has been involved in enhancing its asymmetric naval warfare capabilities. These capabilities include exploiting enemy vulnerabilities through the use of “swarming” tactics by well-armed small boats and fast-attack craft, to mount surprise attacks at unexpected times and places. Accordingly, there is a significant concern that the vessel will be utilized by the IRGC as a fast attack craft. According to published reports, similar vessels have been armed with torpedoes, rocket launchers, and anti-ship missiles. The IRGCN has augmented its traditional speed boat flotilla with domestically produced motor launches, Chinese-built patrol craft equipped with the C802 ASCM, and fast attack missile catamarans capable of speeds in excess of 50 knots.

China maintains a fleet of approximately 30 ocean-capable fast attack craft. The PLA developed new stealthy warships benefiting from Russian or Ukrainian design advice, weapons, electronics and other systems, plus new computer aided design methods which speeded their development. A new stealthy warship emerged in April 2004: a new fast-attack craft (FAC). Produced at two or three shipyards, this new FAC utilizes a wave-piercing catamaran (twin) hull design, which improves stability at high speeds even in rough seas. It is based on a design obtained from the Australian fast-ferry firm AMD with radar-absorbing materials applied to the hull.

Much of the equipment of the Korean Peoples Navy (KPN) is 1960s vintage, including the venerable SS-N-2/STYX ASCM and its associated OSA and KOMAR fast attack platforms. The KPN flotilla not only has an anti-surface warfare mission, it also performs a significant special forces role as well.

In his study on naval tactics in littoral waters, Hughes offers a pessimistic view of the survivability of blue water warships: “I have yet to find a rationale for sending large, expensive, and highly capable warships into contested coastal waters unless they can take several hits and continue fighting without missing a beat after suffering a first attack by an enemy. It is better to fight fire with fire using expendable, missile-carrying aircraft or small surface craft. In fact, ever since the introduction of numerous torpedo boats, coastal submarines, and minefields early in this century, contested coastal waters have been taboo for capital ships and the nearly exclusive province of flotillas of small, swift, lethal fast-attack craft.” Wayne Hughes, Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat, (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2000)

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list