The South African Navy is currently evaluating its prototype Project Xena riverine patrol boat delivered to the Maritime Reaction Squadron in Simon’s Town the week before last.
Xena project officer Captain Nick Marais says the Navy has ordered five of the R4 million boats. All are scheduled to be delivered by the military`s year end in March and will incorporate lessons learned from the prototype trials.
Marais says the full requirement is 16 boats. These will be acquired in future years. The current batch is on order from Cape Town-based Vee Craft Marine (VCM) under a fixed-price contract.
The project officer says VCM are experts in aluminium hull design. “When you deploy outside our borders and you get damage to your hull, it is extremely difficult under rough conditions to repair glass fibre.
“Aluminium is quite easy. You just weld on a patch. Also, it is lighter, funnily enough for the displacement, and stronger.
The Xena boat is fitted with inbuilt water jets so it can cross sandbanks, vegetation and shallows. “Outboard motors cannot do this,” Marais says. The MRS currently uses six Namacurra-class harbour patrol boats and six Lima utility landing craft. Both types are fitted with outboard motors.
The main purpose of the boats will be riverine patrol where economy and long range are at a premium. The boats do, however, have a “very high thrust to power” ration “if you need to intercept or interdict.”
“We don`t know what its top speed is yet, but we know it is faster than the Namacurra,” Marais said last week. We`re waiting for better weather. I want flat water to see its top speed.
The boat has a crew of four and can carry six MRS Reaction Force Division (RFD) commandos. The area, amidships, where the commandos are carried can also be used for cargo.
“It`s just four clips, the seats come out and cargo goes in.” Marais says the boats can easily be used for medical support and disaster relief, “that sort of thing.”
In a flood scenario this “boat would have been ideal, it can go into shallow water, bring out people and take in food and water.
A Navy statement notes that the boats “cost in the region of R3 million each”. They have specific design features for the African battle space such as:
· Advanced communication equipment (valued at about R1 million) that can be connected to a central operations room where the commanders can have real-time tactical picture displayed on an electronic map.
· A very shallow draft where the boat can travel at full speed, fully laden in less than one metre of water.
· Special water-jet propulsion systems that can have the boats navigate over sandbanks and through surface vegetation with ease.
· Easily changed configurations where the boat can either transport eight personnel or 1500 kg of equipment.
· A 12.7 mm heavy machine gun and a 7.62 mm light machine gun.
· An endurance of nearly 24 hours on patrol.
Other statistics are:
· Length: 10.5m
· Beam: 2.6m
· Displacement: 5.6mt
· Top speed: 29+ knots
· Economic speed: 10-12 knots
· Endurance: 12 hours at 15 knots