Home Americas US Marines buying small craft fleet for littoral operations trials

US Marines buying small craft fleet for littoral operations trials

MFR small craft
US Marine Corps photo of four small craft contenders at the 4th Assault Amphibian Battalion headquarters in Tampa, Florida.

The US Marine Forces Reserve (MFR) is working on a rapid acquisition of small expeditionary watercraft that will be used for a range of trials in support of Service-level Force Design 2030 experimentation efforts.

Partnering with the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU), MFR narrowed the list of potential commercial craft down to four finalists.

The chosen small boats will offer the opportunity for service-level experimentation and analysis in the realm of littoral operations, reconnaissance and counter reconnaissance, signature management and operations in support of expeditionary advanced base operations. These assets will afford MFR the ability to provide additional evaluation of a new, relevant capability at future training and exercises.

The rapid acquisition of these small craft is intended to coincide with Service approval for MFR to retain and reorganize two companies from 4th Assault Amphibian Battalion (4th AA Bn) into Littoral Craft Companies, which will assume the small expeditionary watercraft mission.

As these companies come online, their efforts over the next few years will help inform and define the mission of small craft units and assess how small craft capability might scale within the service.

4th AA Bn leadership recently hosted four separate tactical watercraft vendors at the unit’s Reserve Training Center in Tampa, Florida. DIU acquisition and project managers facilitated the effort using the fast and flexible CSO process. Selected boat vendors presented their craft during static displays, answered queries during question-and-answer periods and conducted on-the-water demonstrations to showcase general craft characteristics and capabilities.

Brig. Gen. Douglas Clark, 4th Marine Division commanding general, was personally on site to oversee the demonstrations and evaluations and to host other distinguished visitors interested in small craft experimentation and capability development.

Marines trialing one of the small craft during the evaluation and demonstration event on Nov. 2, 2022, near the 4th Assault Amphibian Battalion headquarters in Tampa, Florida. Photo: US Marine Corps

“This is a great opportunity for us here within Marine Forces Reserve to help generate data for Force Design’s campaign of learning,” Clark said. “We’re looking at small boats from the commercial industry to see what options we may want to pursue for experimentation and to gain experience for a better understanding of how to conduct operations in the littorals.”

Experts from across the Navy and Marine Corps were included throughout the process of vetting the commercial offerings, assessing the proposed products and analyzing the potential acquisition procedures.

DIU project manager Heather Ichord is helping the Marine Corps and MFR effectively use and navigate the CSO process.

“The DIU team was introduced to the Marine Forces Reserve small craft initiative through the Marine Innovation Unit and from there we started with 34 vendors in August,” Ichord said. “Our evaluation team down-selected to 12; we heard 11 presentations, and then we were able to see, and get on the water with these four vendors.”

The overall process from conceptual idea to research, pitches, decisions and forthcoming selections of these small craft occurred in less than five months.

The next phase of the process includes contract awards to selected vendor(s) and spending the next 18 to 24 months conducting concept and limited engineering experimentation. The designated companies of 4th AA Bn, alongside the selected vendor(s), will tackle that portion of the mission, with oversight from DIU and experimentation direction from MCWL. These two Reserve units from Galveston, Texas, and Tampa, Florida, respectively, will be assigned to experiment with and evaluate the newly selected watercraft as well as the numerous sensor and mission-profile packages that may be configured on the platforms.

MFR plans to use Congressionally-approved National Guard and Reserve Equipment Appropriation funds, commonly known as NGREA, to purchase the initial expeditionary craft. MFR expects to extend contractual offers with anticipated acceptance by spring 2023. The initial delivery of small boats is expected to arrive in spring/early summer 2023.