Royal Marines from 539 Assault Squadron put on a display of their latest up-armoured and up-gunned Offshore Raiding Craft in the choppy waters of Plymouth Sound on Thursday 22 January 2009.

The Marines, whose traditional role has always been to maintain law and order on the high seas, put the new mid-console variant of their Raiding Craft, known as the ‘racing car’ of the amphibious fleet, through its paces at speeds of more than 20 knots.

The Royal Navy has a large amphibious fleet and the Raiding Craft represent the smallest and most manoeuvrable elements of this fleet. Their role is to allow Royal Marines from the fleet to close with the enemy either at sea or on land. With the latest upsurge in piracy this role could not be more pertinent.

But protection is just as important to maritime equipment as it is to equipment used in the land environment, especially when undertaking dangerous engagements such as intercepting potential pirates. And the new craft have been designed following experiences in southern Iraq, when Marines came under attack from local insurgents, with improved armour and more firepower added.

Colour Sergeant Baz Fowler gave his thoughts on the new craft: 

“The main difference for me is that there is better all-round visibility from the craft. We now have 360-degree arcs of fire all round, which we can bring down to within a metre of the craft. In a river or sea environment we can produce intimate fire support close in. Modifications have added weight to the craft but the fire support we can now provide is a good trade off.”

Manufactured by Holyhead Marine in Anglesey, the lightweight air transportable boats are powered by twin Steyr diesel engines linked to Rolls Royce waterjets. They cost around £200,000 each, can be carried by C-130 Hercules aircraft or underslung beneath a Chinook helicopter.

The new craft carry a crew of seven, with two coxswains now situated in the centre. Two gunners are at the front, using twin general purpose machine guns, while there are three more gunners on the stern, two on the guns, one on fire control:  “For the two coxswains aboard, the craft gives better protection all round,” says Lance Corporal Tom Lockyer.  “And having them further forward has given them better visibility. It will be fantastic when we start using the craft for what they were designed to do.”

At the stern the craft carry more general purpose machine guns along with 0.5-inch calibre heavy machine guns or grenade machine guns depending on mission requirements.

Captain Matt Pinckney said: “This is a good bit of equipment.  It is very manoeuvrable and ideal for what we need to do. It moves at 20 knots one minute, and then can stop dead still to allow us to lay down effective fire.

Royal Marines’ landing craft are always at the forefront of military operations in the river environment. Now we have a much greater capability to take the fight to the enemy. The guys can feel very confident of going into these areas to complete the tasks they have been set.

There was a sense of urgency after Operation Telic where there was a huge threat environment and we needed more armour and firepower. Equipment is improving all the time with investment from the Government. Royal Marines are training to go into any situation – we can now go in and do an even better job.”

Introduced into service in 2005, the Raiding Craft have proved a success in the squadron’s tasks of landing from sea on hostile shores and providing support and reconnaissance to other UK forces in the river environment. 

Two of the new fast craft will be debuted on Exercise Taurus in the Far East in February.

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