The recent United States Navy Persian Gulf seizure on the 12th of January, 2016, involved two CB-90-class fast assault craft, known in U.S. service as Riverine Command Boats (RCB) along with their 10 crew members. This article will take a look at the CB-90.
The Combat Boat 90 Half (abbreviated as CB-90H; 90 referring to year of adoption in 1990 and H for a half platoon troop capacity) was developed by Swedish shipbuilder Dockstavarvet in 1988 for a military contract to replace the aging Tpbs-200-class of troop landing craft. The CB-90H was designed for reconnaissance and company- or battalion-level Command & Control (hence the U.S. designating it as a Command Boat), apart from its primary role as a rapid littoral troop transport.
Dockstavarvet’s design made use of a lightweight aluminium alloy hull, 15.9m in overall length, 3.8m beam (overall width of hull including superstructure) and a troop compartment for accommodating 18 men in full combat gear below deck. The CB-90H’s powerplant consists of a pair of Kamewa FF water jets driven by two 466kW (625bhp) Scania DSI14 V8 diesel engines, enabling the 20-ton (full displacement) assault craft to reach a maximum speed of 56km/h (30 knots). The Combat Boat 90 boasts outstanding deceleration and maneuverability, with the ability to brake to a standstill from maximum speed in just 40 metres (two-and-a-half boat lengths), as well as changing its angles of roll and pitch dynamically.
Two prototypes were delivered to the Swedish Royal Navy in 1989, and the final design was accepted for service in June 1990. The Swedish Navy currently operates 150 Combat Boats (some used by the Home Guard and the Swedish Marines), of which at least one features a decompression chamber. Command Boats for battalion- and company-level are designated as CB-90L (L for Ledning or “Leadership) and CB-90KompL (“Company Leadership”) respectively. The CB-90L and KompL come with an auxiliary power generator to provide electricity when the engines are offline. The CB-90KompL is also equipped with portable computer and communication devices, giving it enhanced flexibility during operations.
27 of the CB-90 fast crafts are HS variants intended for operations overseas. The CB-90HS (S for Skydd or “Protected”) have added armour that protects against shrapnel and fragmentation from blasts, along with an airtight over-pressurised interior for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) defence. HS variants also feature air-conditioning for operations in tropical waters, an on-board toilet, an auxiliary power generator, a fuel cooling system and more powerful diesel engines to handle the added weight. The Combat Boat’s standard armament consists of three 12.7x99mm (.50) Browning Machine Guns, and also a 40x53mm automatic grenade launcher or alternatively three tons of munitions in the troop compartment.
There is also a stripped-down variant of the Combat Boat designated as the CB-90E (E for Enkel or “Simple”), which are employed as Medical Evacuation (MedEvac) Boats. The E variant has a reduced carrying capacity of 10 personnel, but is capable of hitting a top speed of 74km/h (40 knots) as a result of the decrease in weight. Only five CB-90E boats remain in Swedish military service, with seven donated to the Swedish Sea Rescue Society and the remaining 42 being scrapped or sold as export.
The United States Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC) operates six CB-90 fast crafts as RCBs alongside Small-Unit Riverine Craft (SURC) rigid-hulled patrol boats in support of U.S. Marines, U.S. Army, as well as coalition operations in littoral environments. The RCBs are directly controlled by Riverine Squadrons One, Two and Three.
Other countries that employ the CB-90 in their own capability include Norway, Greece, Mexico and Malaysia. It is in the hopes of the author that his country, Singapore, will consider procuring the highly-agile CB-90 as a valued asset in conducting littoral operations with tactical mobility unlike any other.