Fast Attack Craft (FAC) can represent a cost effective solution, to both coastal and littoral defence requirements, and less intensive, maritime policing, needs. This article gives an analysis of the latest developments in the FAC domain.
Demand for FAC is particularly noticeable in the Asia-Pacific region, and this article puts a spotlight on developments in terms of procurements and upgrades in this part of the world. For example, regarding the Bangladesh Navy, recent years have seen the combat capabilities of the BN’s four ‘Hegu’ class FACs considerably enhanced by the replacement of their old SY-1 Anti-Shipping Missiles (AShMs) with Chinese Aviation Industry Corporation (CAIC) C-704A AShMs. Coming into service with the Bangladesh Navy by late this year will be eight indigenously-built 11.7 metre/m (38 feet/ft) FACs, with the intended roles of backing sovereignty claims, and enforcing maritime law. The state-owned Dockyard and Engineering Works (DEW) Narayangani is building the fully composite craft to the X12 design under a technology transfer agreement with Indonesia’s PT Lundin. The X12 is a derivative of the Swedish Dockstavarvet Combat Boat 90 concept. DEW did not respond to enquiries as to the cost of the project, which also includes ten full-cabin versions for the Bangladesh Coast Guard, but Indonesian media reports have put the value of the contract at $6 million. Armed with three machine guns, the 35-knot (65 Kilometres-per-hour) craft will be powered by Volvo Penta diesel engines linked to waterjets.
To the southeast of Bangladesh, the growth and modernisation of Burma’s navy, over the past decade, has been dramatic. The force’s commitments include fishery protection, anti-piracy and anti-narcotics operations. Also important is the enforcement of claims to probably hydrocarbon-rich areas in the Bay of Bengal. Burma previously relied mainly upon China for the supply of naval vessels, but now has a booming warship construction industry. Since 2004 some 20 indigenously-built missile- and gun-armed FAC have been commissioned, while a new class of fast motor torpedo boat, reportedly optimised for anti-submarine warfare, is coming into service. The Burmese, though, have now turned to Israel to up their FAC game. In late 2015, six Super Dvora Mk.3 craft were ordered from the Ramta division of Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). The acquisition of these vessels is a potent symbol of Burma’s determination to protect its offshore assets at a time when bidding for exploration rights in the county’s Exclusive Economic Zone is intensifying. IAI neither confirm nor deny the existence of the Burmese contract, but Mr. David Bogner, International Marketing and Customer Service Manager at IAI Ramta, gave Armada an update on the Super Dvora Mk.3. “It is an exceptionally versatile platform, capable of over 48 knots (89km/h), it has strong pursuit and interception capabilities for naval and coast guard roles, but can also land shore parties, and even be beached if required.” Mr. Bogner emphasised the range of options available to operators. “A typical weapons fit might be a Rafael Advanced Defence Systems’ Typhoon stabilised cannon, plus smaller weapons, but we can meet individual customers requirements. We respond to users’ preferences for surveillance and fire control radars. We offer MTU or Caterpillar engines for propulsion. The articulating surface drive option, utilising surface-piercing propellers, both reduces drag, thereby increasing efficiency, and helps enable shallow water operations.”
As well as being a supplier of such craft, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was a long-term operator of multiple small FACs of various types. The Chinese have rationalised its FAC fleet over the past decade though, and now relies mainly upon the 224-tonnes, 43m (141ft) catamaran ‘Houbei’ class, which is intended to pose a threat of saturation missile attacks to US Navy carrier groups operating in waters adjacent to the PRC. These 36-knot (67 km/h) craft, powered by twin diesel engines, linked to four water jets, are armed with eight CAIC C-803 AShMs as well as a ZEERI Type AK-630 close-in weapon system. The type provides a relatively stable missile platform, and can operate up to 400 nautical miles/nm (741 kilometres/km) offshore. More than 80 such vessels are in service, with estimates from builders Hudong-Zhonghua Shipbuilding putting the cost at up to $50 million per vessel. There have been a number of regional media reports, as yet unconfirmed, that Pakistan plans to build vessels of this type under licence.
The PRC’s erstwhile rival India operates more than 20 FACs of various types, with the ‘Car Nicoba’ class now having prime responsibility for security and search and rescue within India’s Exclusive Economic Zone. These ships have been involved in a number of kinetic actions against pirates in recent years. The craft’s main armament is a Medak CRN91 30mm cannon, backed by a pair of machine guns, and KB Mashinostroyeniya 9K38 Igla surface-to-air missiles. A Furono navigation radar and a Bharat Electronics Limited Link-II tactical data link are also fitted. These vessels can reach 35 knots, and the final vessel in the 14-strong 330-tonneclass is currently under construction at Garden Reach Shipbuilding and Engineering (GRSE) at Kolkata. GRSE did not respond to requests for information on costs and other aspects of the project.
Expansion of the Indonesian FAC inventory is in progress, as Jakarta seeks to enhance surveillance and response capabilities in its coastal waters. Progressively supplementing existing larger types of FAC such as the ‘Todak’ class is a planned fleet, according to deputy defence minister Lieutenant General Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin, of at least 40 locally-built ‘KCR-40’ and ‘KCR-60’ class FACs. These new classes, under construction since 2012, have a main armament of CAIC/PT Pindad C-705 Indonesian/Chinese manufactured AShMs; the ‘KCR-40’ class has two of the missiles fitted, while the longer ‘KCR- 60’ class has four. Gun armament for the ‘KCR-40’ class is a 30mm CMS NG-18 cannon, and two 20mm Denel Vektor cannon, while the ‘KCR-60’ class features a BAE Systems Bofors 57mm cannon. Shipyards involved in the programme include PT PAL, PT Palindo and PT Citia, with a manufacturer’s estimated project cost of $10.2 million per vessel for the 40m (131ft) variant. According to PT PAL production director Mr. Edy Widarto, prospects for overseas manufacture of the vessel are also being explored. In terms of sensors, China North Industries (NORINCO) TR-47C and SR-47AG naval surveillance radars are carried by the vessels, while triple MAN V12 diesels enable a speed of about 30 knots (55.5km/h). Jakarta last year stated that, despite the prototype having been destroyed in a fire, the programme to build four 63m (206.6ft), waterjet-powered ‘X3K Klewang’ class missile-armed stealth trimaran FACs in Indonesia would continue. Nevertheless, on 16 February, constructors PT Lundin announced that only one example will be completed.
Pakistan operates a range of FACs of varying antiquity. The PRC, nowadays Pakistan’s prime supplier of naval vessels, delivered a new 570-tonne, 63m (207ft) FAC, the Azmat to Pakistan in 2012. This ship was constructed by the China Shipbuilding and Offshore Corporation (CSOC). Since then, a further example has been built in Pakistan by the Karachi Shipyard and Engineering works (KSEW) company, in co-operation with CSOC. The ship has been commissioned, while in April 2015 the first steel was cut on a third of class at KSEW. A fourth vessel is planned. Designed primarily for a littoral, armament of this 30 knot (56km/h) FAC consists of eight CAIC C-802 AShMs, a 23mm cannon and an AK-630 close-in weapon system. KSEW has quoted a unit cost of US$ 50 million per vessel.
The Hukbong Dagat ng Pilipinas (Philippine Navy) has a very mixed fleet of gun-armed FACs, featuring both indigenously-built craft and vessels acquired second-hand from other nations. The newest FACs are six Multi-Purpose Assault Craft (MPAC). These 40-knot (74km/h) assets, designed primarily for coastal and riverine use, can act as both assault craft and FACs, and can carry 16 troops for landing via a forward drop-ramp. The MPACs are armed with three machine guns. Three 15m (49ft) versions were built by Lung Teh of Taiwan; the others, constructed by Propmech in the Philippines, are 17m (56ft) long.
Now, Manila is proceeding with a programme to build another three examples, with $5.7 million allocated for the project. In late February 2016 the Department of National Defence announced that the work on the new vessels will be shared between Lung Teh and Propmech. The projected craft will be optimised for FAC duties, and will carry a light surface-to-surface missile system, probably Rafael’s Spike. They will reportedly also be armed with a remotely-controlled 12.7 mm General Dynamics/US Ordnance M2HB machine gun, and two US Ordnance M60 7.62mm machine guns.
The latest addition to Singapore’s littoral combatant inventory is the ‘Independence’ class, with the first of class having been launched by local shipbuilders ST Marine in June 2015. Jointly designed by Kockums (now Saab), and ST Marine, the 27-knot (50km/h) warship is larger and more capable than the ‘Fearless’ class patrol craft which it replaces. A strong armament suite consists of an OTO Melara 76mm gun, mounted forward together with a 12-cell vertical-launch system for the ships’ MBDA Mica SAM system. There are also two side-mounted OTO Melara Hitrole remote-controlled machine guns, and a Rafale Typhoon 25mm automatic cannon at the stern. Meanwhile, an aft flight deck aft can support operations by a medium helicopter, while a stern well enables the embarkation and launching of a rigid-hull inflatable boat. A novel feature of the ship is an integrated bridge and combat centre, with the ships’ sensor package including Thales’ NS-100 naval surveillance radar. ST Marine did not respond to requests for information on the cost of the ‘Independence’ class.
The Sri Lankan Navy’s Fast Attack Flotilla has an FAC order-of-battle which includes ‘Dvora 1’,’Dvora 2’ and ‘Dvora 3’ vessels plus ‘Shaldag’ class designs, and the locally-developed ‘Series III’ class. The 53-knot (98.1km/h) ‘Series III’ features a Rafale Typhoon weapon fitted with a 20mm Alliant Techsystems Bushmaster cannon. A Furuno FR 8250 radar is used for navigation and propulsion is provided by twin Deutz V16 diesel engines and two Arneson ASD 16 articulating surface drives.
Along with being a supplier of FACs Taiwan has in recent years bolstered its coastal and littoral naval fleet with twelve ‘Ching Chiang’ class vessels, and 30 ‘Kuang Hua’ class FACs, both equipped with AShMs. Taiwanese capabilities are now being further upgraded. At the end of 2014 the Tuo Jiang, the first of a new class of wave-piercing catamaran-hulled warships commenced trials. These 560-tonne 60.4m (198ft) long craft are being constructed by Lung Teh Shipbuilders. Lung Teh President Sheldon Huang told Armada that eleven of the ships will be built. “They are offshore-capable gun and missile platforms, twin diesels linked to waterjets enabling a speed of 45 knots (83km/h), with a cruising speed of 25 knots (46km/h),” he said. Mr. Huang confirmed that the company is aiming to export the type. “We intend to market these vessels worldwide,” he said. Official estimate of the cost of the programme is $843.4 million. These new FACs are, for their size, very heavily armed. Their missile fit includes eight CSIST Hsiung Feng II, and eight Hsiung Feng III AShMs. There is a 76mm OTO Melara/Finmeccanica general purpose gun, and a Raytheon Phalanx close-in weapon system for air defence, as well as two 12.7mm machine guns, and two triple Mk.32 torpedo launchers. The advanced hull form of the ‘Ching Chiang’ class should enable fuel efficiency, seaworthiness and manoeuvrability, while the superstructure incorporates stealth features to reduce vulnerability to detection, and to guided missile attack. The ships are intended primarily for littoral warfare. However, they can operate at Sea State Seven (with waves up to nine metres/30ft in height), have a range of 2000nm (3706km), and could therefore also engage PRC warships far from Taiwan. The armament and performance of these latest Taiwanese warships should therefore pose some challenges for Beijing’s naval strategists.
Republic of Korea
On the northern coast of the East China Sea, the Republic of Korea’s (RoK) navy is seeing a major upgrade of its coastal and littoral capabilities, phasing in newly-constructed ‘Yoon Youngha’ class FACs. This class carries Agency for Defence Development/LIG Nex1 SSM-700K Haesseong AShMs, backed up by a Hyundai Wia 76mm gun. A total of 18 of the 570-tonne, 46m (151ft) long ‘Yoon Youngha’ class are planned to be constructed by Hanjin Heavy Industries and STX, and most are now in service. In terms of sensors, these ships carry an STX Radar SYS-100K and LIG Nex1 SPS-530K naval surveillance radars. For their propulsion, a combined MTU 12V 595 TE90 diesel engine and General Electric LM500 gas turbine propulsion systems, linked to water jets, enables a speed of over 40 knots (74km/). Hanjin has given a cost estimate of US$ 38 million per vessel.
Alongside the RoK, the Vietnam People’s Navy (VPN) is also concerned about Beijing’s naval machinations. Currently, the Vietnam People’s Navy (VPN) rely on the Russian-designed ‘Molniya’ class corvettes. Gas turbines give these 480-tonne, 56m (184ft) long vessels a top speed of 42 knots (78km/h). These main armament is 16 Raduga P-15 Termit or Tactical Missiles Corporation Kh-35U AShMs, backed up by a Gorky 76mm dual-purpose gun and two Tulamashzavod AK-630 close-in-weapon systems. Four are known to be in service with the VPN. Two more are currently under construction in Vietnam according to recent regional reports, with a further four expected to be constructed under licence in Vietnam at an undisclosed date.
Regional territorial disputes, and maritime crime, demand that Asia-Pacific navies maintain significant high and low intensity combat, coastal and littoral water intervention capabilities. It would, therefore, be surprising if new types of FACs, customised for single or multiple roles as required, did not continue to enter service with Asian naval forces in significant numbers.