September 26, 2010: Only a few years after finding a real job in the fleet, the U.S. Navy's Cyclone class patrol boats are facing the scrap yard because these ships are, well, worn out and falling apart. It was five years ago that the navy scrambled to get its Cyclones into its new brown water (along coasts and up rivers) operation.
The thirteen 170 foot long Cyclone class PC (Coastal Patrol) boats were built in the 1990s. But after operating them for six years, the navy decided they had made a mistake, and loaned some of the Cyclone class ships to the Coast Guard and SOCOM (Special Operations Command), while seeking foreign buyers for the rest. But now the navy is establishing a coastal force, complete with naval infantry. For this brown water navy, the Cyclones are perfect, and the navy got them back to work.
The ships are more like a PT boat than a typical seagoing warship. Cramped conditions on board mean that the crews live in barracks on land when the ships are not at sea. Living conditions for the 28 man crew (five officers and 23 sailors) are austere on these 336 ton ships. When in service, the ships come back to base once a week for supplies. Often a SEAL team or a boarding detachment is carried. But there are rarely more than 36 people assigned to one of these PC class ships.
The PCs are not considered "boats", but are designated the smallest warships in the U.S. Navy. These ships are normally armed with two 25mm guns and five .50 caliber (12.7mm) machineguns, plus numerous infantry weapons (7.62mm machine-guns and grenade launchers.) Air defense is provided by a shoulder-launched Stinger missile. While many nations mount anti-ship missiles on ships 336 tons or smaller, the U.S. Navy designed the Cyclone class strictly for coastal patrolling. The ships can cross oceans, and have done so whenever distant American naval bases needed additional protection.
Navy sailors like the Cyclones for the same reason their Coast Guard brethren like their own smaller ships. Everyone knows everyone, there's more responsibility for each sailor, and a less regimented attitude when at sea. It's also been discovered that the Cyclones can do anything a larger warship can do when it comes to coastal operations. Actually, the Cyclones are better along the coasts, as they draw less water, and are faster (moving at up 65 kilometers an hour).
In the Persian Gulf, the Cyclones have been guarding the Iraqi offshore wells and pumping stations, as well as stopping and inspecting suspicious ships. Crews serve six months in the Persian Gulf, then fly back to the United States. The ships themselves serve at least 18 months before traveling back to the United States. Thus half the ten Cyclones in navy service have been stationed in the Persian Gulf for most of the past decade. Of the fourteen Cyclones built, three serve with the U.S. Coast Guard and one with the Philippines Navy.
The useful life of the Cyclones is fifteen years, but because of the easy time they had until Iraq was invaded (serving mainly as support ships for navy SEAL operations), they were able to handle the hard use they have encountered during the past five years. But now the Cyclones will be given a thorough inspection, and some may be refurbished, while others are scrapped.