New small boats demonstrated to the SA Navy


Senior operational, logistic and maintenance officers from the South African Navy (SAN) got a taste of a new family of fast support boats which could enter service in the next few years.

Three prototype boats, all manufactured of high-density polyethylene (HDPE), were demonstrated to the Navy for the first time last week. While the focus was on the 9 metre boarding boat, a 6.7 metre multipurpose boat and a small workboat were also put through their paces on a beautiful Cape morning in False Bay.

The boats are being offered to the South African Navy (SAN) by a partnership between Cybicom Atlas Defence (CAD) and Rhino Marine Products for a variety of mission profiles, such as harbour patrol, general sea boat work, boarding operations, Special Forces deployment, riverine patrol and diving support.

CAD has extensive experience in supporting the SAN with products and services, including a Periscope Simulator, Helicopter Flight Deck Trainer and the recently handed-over submarine Engineering Test Bed.

Rhino Marine Products (Pty) Ltd, a Cape Town based company, has been manufacturing HPDE boats for the marine construction environments and off-shore oil and gas industry since 2003.

CAD recently approached Rhino Marine to manufacture boats for military applications, with CAD operating as prime contractor. This, according to Jules Gilman, African Business Development Manager for CAD and Atlas Elektronik, reflects a new partnership bringing together a boat builder and a mission system integrator to deliver a local optimized turnkey solution.

HPDE, a more durable replacement for conventional RIBs, aluminium and glass reinforced plastic (GRP) hull work boats, has a very high strength to density ratio, and is foam-filled. The nature of HDPE results in the boat hulls requiring minimal maintenance as they require no painting, do not corrode and can be repaired within 30 minutes using just two specialised tools. HDPE is only slightly more expensive and heavier than conventional materials but CAD believes that its low maintenance requirements will result in significant life cycle cost savings.

The boarding boat is powered by two 315 hp Yanmar Marine turbo diesels driving two Ultra jet propulsion units. Besides increased manoeuvrability over traditional propellers, the jets permit the boat to cruise at low speed with high thrust, enabling the boat to increase speed very quickly without any lag. The propulsion arrangement utilises a closed cooling system and a senior naval officer noted that this was a tremendous benefit as experience of propeller driven patrol boats in the warm waters and humidity of the African Great Lakes region resulted in damage to many of the engines.

The boarding boat can carry ten combat personnel plus a crew of three comprising two gunners and a coxswain. The 250 litre removable fuel tank, like the rest of the craft, has limited self-sealing capabilities against small arms fire as a result of the heat generated by the bullet forming a seal. According to Rhino Marine, the boats can be armour-plated up to NIJ level III (multiple hits from NATO 7.62mm) with negligible weight increase.

The boarding boat has been sized to easily operate from the Valour-class frigates operated by the SAN. A single-point hoist has been designed to take into account varying Centre-of-Gravity points. The boarding boats can also be carried aboard the SAN’s proposed Patrol Vessels.

During the demonstration, speeds in excess of 36 knots were obtained. While the sea was relatively flat, the boat was very stable and exhibited excellent manoeuvrability and controllability. Due to the toughness and resilience of HPDE, the boats may have to be equipped with rubber side protection so as not to damage yachts and other soft-skinned vessels when coming alongside and during boarding operations.

Gilman notes that the benefits of the joint CAD/Rhino systems approach include a single point of supply and accountability with a local integrated support package. This comprises local spares and training.

According to CAD, there are numerous projects within the South African Navy that require small boats, with demand exceeding 80 small boats over the next four years. Some of the projects that require these vessels include Project Biro for offshore patrol vessels (which need boarding boats), and Project Hotel for a hydrographic survey vessel (which requires survey motorboats). Other categories of boats include an 11 metre Riverine Patrol Boat and a 9.5 metre Torpedo Recovery Boat. Many of these have sophisticated systems such as towed array sonar etc.

The Navy will also eventually require replacement of its Namacurra class harbour patrol boats. As the Navy has a preference for a twin-hulled design in this class, Rhino Marine has already commenced design of 9/10.5 metre catamaran harbour patrol boat version.

CAD is also offering their Compact Tactical Aid (CTA) system for integration into the larger of the small boats. This is designed to provide control and situational awareness for smaller boats that have been deployed from shore bases or mother ships in patrol, boarding, hydrographic, commando and mine counter-measures roles.

The CTA provides navigation information and also displays all information normally available on the plethora of dials, indicators and equipment front-ends equipping boat steering positions. It thus interfaces with radar, navigation units, video sensors, engines and other systems.

CAD will also offer its boats to other defence related customers, based both locally and internationally. Interest has already been received for the Riverine Patrol Boats from South America and South East Asia.