CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- Just as the ribs of a human provide support to vital operations within the skeleton, the RHIBS of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit supports vital operations within the MEU.
The 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit recently acquired the rigid hull inflatable boat or RHIB for its already large and deadly arsenal.
Currently, the 15th MEU is the only expeditionary unit with the boats and is undergoing training misisons to integrate the boat into the MEU’s mission execution.
The 11-meter RHIB is a high speed, high buoyancy all weather boat capable of transporting ten fully equipped Marines and three crew members on over-the-horizon insertion and extraction missions.
Aside from its basic military functions, it is used extensively throughout the US Coast Guard and law enforcement communities as a patrol craft conducting safety patrols along the US coasts.
According to Navy Lt. Doug Baker, Naval Gunfire Liaison and the Operations Executive Officer for the 15th MEU’s Maritime Special Purpose Force (MSPF), the RHIBS are working excellently.
Baker explained the RHIBS will be a force multiplier by providing an organic asset that a MEU typically does not have. The two boats can carry 20 Marines and their equipment with a speed in excess of 30 knots with a range 200 nautical miles, he explained.
This gives the 15th MEU the ability to take Marines from the ship over the horizon to the beach, said Baker.
A key aspect of the boats is their agility. The stopping power and the type of turns it can perform make it a very swift and responsive craft, Baker explained.
“[The RHIBS] can come to a complete stop within their own boat length and they can complete a 180 degree turn at 30 plus knots in a boat length and a half,” said Baker.
The RHIBS are not just ocean going craft, Baker explained. Due to their shallow draft, the boats have the ability to operate in the shallow waters of beach areas and in rivers.
“Given their shallow draft, I think at full speed the draft is about 18 inches of water and [fully loaded] I think it’s about 30 inches. So, they can pretty much drive over 18 inches of water at full speed,” explained Baker.
Sgt. Daniel Bowler, detachment commander for the 15th MEU’s special boat detachment, the RHIB gives the 15th MEU the ability to insert and extract reconnaissance elements on several different types of missions.
These include missions like visit board search and seizures (VBSS) and gas and oil platform (GOPLAT) missions which involve Marines retaking a ship or an off shore oil or gas platform in the ocean.
“Basically [the RHIBS] allow us to go from the bottom up on a ship,” said Bowler. “Anything on water, we can support it.”
Bowler, who pilots one of the boats, explained that another key feature of the boat is its construction. It has a fiberglass superstructure but also has an inflated rubber ring around the top that not only lightens the weight but acts as a cushion when coming alongside ships during missions.
“If we had a solid hull, doing what we do, we’d destroy the boat. If we slammed into a ship we could dent the ship or destroy [our boat],” said Bowler.
According to Capt. Lisa M. Parrott, 15th MEU supply officer, the 15th MEU was able to procure a total of four 11-meter RHIBs at no cost through the Defense Reutilization Management Office.
Using parts and pieces from each, the MEU ended up with the two fully functioning RHIBS used in exercise missions during workups.
This came at quite a large savings to the unit, explained Parrott. The boats were in bad shape with many items needing replacement and engines needing to be rebuilt, she explained.
In contrast, if the 15th MEU tried to open purchase two brand new boats it would have had a large price tag, according to Parrott.
“I think the key thing that helped with the refurbishment is that the [maintenance personnel] spent months at the small boats facility -- where the boats were being refurbished -- and the Marines were working side by side doing on the job maintenance training which something that wouldn’t have happened if we bought them new,” Parrott explained.
Undoudtedly, the 15th MEU will capitalize on the capabilities the vessel offers making it the expeditionary unit to be reckoned with.
Bowler appreciates the usefulness of the RHIBS, but also enjoys just being able to drive the boats.
“It’s as close as you can get to flying and still be connected to the water. I love the missions that we do and it adds a whole new aspect to the MEU,” said Bowler.