US missile boats could have saved Ukraine

The US Navy needs to develop small missile boats that can be airlifted to places where larger ships and boats cannot navigate or will arrive too late.

Unlike small special warships that can be embarked to conduct low-end, low-intensity missions, this new generation of missile boats must be capable of high-level combat in a contested environment.

Small enough for air transport

As Russia assembled the largest ground force in Europe since World War II, the US Navy Carrier Strike Group and Allied navies conducted exercises in the Mediterranean Sea, with no possibility of entering the Black Sea to deter the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Turkey’s geography and control over the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus prevent US Navy strike groups and large numbers of blue water fighters from transiting the Black Sea and operating within range of Ukraine.

Short of airlift ships in the Black Sea, the US Navy had no other realistic option to help save Ukraine.

A Ukrainian serviceman stands near a destroyed Russian tank in Trostyanets. Photo: Fadel Senna/AFP

However, the US Navy does not have missile boats capable of being airlifted by the US Air Force’s Lockheed C-5 Galaxy and Boeing C-17 Globemaster III.

Such boats could operate where US cruisers and destroyers are too large to navigate and where US brown water and special warfare (SPECWAR) craft are too lightly armed.

Although the US Navy acquired six Pegasus-class patrol hydrofoil missile boats in the 1970s and 1980s to combat Warsaw Pact missile boats in the Baltic Sea, the service never required a missile boat is small enough for air transport.

Mark V Special Operations Vessel

The US Navy’s SPECWAR had the Mark V Special Operations Craft (MK V SOC), capable of being transported by the C-5 Galaxy. Larger than its successor, the Combatant Craft Assault, the MK V SOC was designed for a crew of five to use speed and stealth to carry up to 16 SEALs on SPECWAR missions.

Within 48 hours of notification, two USAF C-5 Galaxy aircraft can transport a two-boat MK V detachment with all vehicles, equipment and support personnel ashore to begin operations within 24 hours of arrival at a forward assembly location.

combat vehicle assault vehicle
A combat assault craft sails alongside the Expeditionary Sea Base USS Hershel “Woody” Williams (ESB 4) in the Mediterranean Sea, May 26, 2021. Photo: Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Eric Coffer/US Navy

Combining anti-ship missiles, even one as small as the 410 kilogram Naval Strike Missile (NSM), with a craft that matches the weight, size and low radar cross section of the MK V is within the realm of possibility.

The MK V is larger and heavier than a contemporary class of missile boat, the Dvora-class fast patrol boat. The MK V displaces over 57 tons, is 25 meters long and 5.25 meters high and wide. The Dvora is smaller, displaces 45 tons fully loaded, is 21.5 meters long, 5.5 meters wide and can carry two heavier 538 kilogram Taiwan Hsiung Feng I missiles or two Israeli Gabriel Mk anti-ship missiles I of 430 kilograms.

Wide use

The solution does not have to be an MK V with NSM exclusively and is not limited to fighting in Ukraine and the Black Sea.

These boats can be airlifted to operate with NATO in the Baltic Sea should Russia’s invasion of Ukraine spread to the Baltic States or deployed from well-decked amphibious warfare vessels to support the NATO mission. Marine Corps Expeditionary forward base operations in the Indo-Pacific.

Germany’s refusal to supply missile boats to Ukraine in the run-up to the Russian invasion demonstrates the need for an American-made missile boat for allied and coalition navies needing support. a modern and affordable missile boat.


Portrait of Andy CichonAndy Cichon is a retired United States Navy officer, who has served on a variety of ships and staffs, including as Air Warfare Project Manager at the Royal Australian Navy’s Australian Maritime Warfare Center and the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations for the U.S. Navy’s international engagement with Australia, China, Taiwan, South Korea, and Vietnam.

He works for SAIC as a civilian warplayer with the US Navy’s Pacific Tactical Training Group.

His opinions are his own.


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Earnest A. Martinez