Besides protecting littoral boundaries and safeguarding borders, preventing drug trafficking, maritime salvage and protecting shipping are key areas where fast, agile boats are increasingly becoming the number one option for coast guard, police, customs and other government organisations.
Fast Coastal Patrol craft (FCP), Fast Coastal Interceptor (FCI), Fast SWAT Patrol craft (FSP), Fast Search and Rescue (FSR), Fast Attack Craft (FAC), Fast Patrol Boat (FCB), Medium Patrol Boat (MPB), Rigid-Inflatable Boat (RIB), Rigid-Hulled Inflatable Boat (RHIB) or Riverine Combat Boat (RCB) are only some of the patrol, strike and assault craft types, offered by various companies world-wide.
One government which is currently investing in this type of boat is the Indian Ministry of Defence, which in September announced a tender for four Fast Interceptor Craft (FIC), to improve the protection of its long coastline. The boats will be longer than 9m and have a maximum speed of over 40kts.
It's easy to see why the Indian Navy wants such vessels when you consider that the terrorists who attacked Mumbai in 2008 went in by sea. Beyond the rapid interception of suspicious vessels or the increasing proportion of littoral operations, however, many navies are considering these boats as cheaper options.
Navies world-wide are currently also facing budget cuts or simply do not have as extensive 'blue water' ambitions as others. Modern high-tech boats can be a cheaper, but also capable alternative.
"We do see a great interest in our platforms as we can accommodate quite complex equipment in a relatively small fast platform," says Bo Axelsson, president of the Swedish company Swede Ship Marine.
Without giving any details he confirmed ongoing dialogues with different customers for various different series of vessels, that will be either large, flexible and reconfigurable for various mission types, or smaller and very fast, with speeds exceeding 50kts.
His company has also contracted a new program with the UAE Navy for twelve fast offshore patrol vessels. The design of these new 26.5m boats will be based on the company's 24m Ghannatha class high-speed transport vessels. The first three boats will be constructed at Swede Ship Marine and the following nine at Abu Dhabi Shipbuilding as CKD with material kits from Swede Ship Marine.
Another shipbuilder in this sector is US company Tampa Yacht Manufacturing, who offer a line of 13 different crafts, all marketed under the name TEMPEST. While also unable to give any details, CEO Bob Stevens confirmed that his company currently had multiple international orders filled for its FCI, FSR, FSP, FAC type vessels by defence ministries and government agencies worldwide. According to Stevens, they would also be participating in international tenders for FCI, FPB and MPB and developing a craft, exceeding 20m in length.
Other countries investing in small patrol vessels include Trinidad and Tobago and Iraq.
To protect the country's oil platforms after the pullout of the US troops, Iraq is currently rapidly boosting its navy. Part of this will be 15, 35m-long patrol boats with a maximum speed of 30kts, which are being built by US Company Swiftships Shipbuilders.
The Coast Guard of Trinidad and Tobago received the last of six new high-speed patrol crafts already this January. The 30m-long aluminium boats, built by Australian company Austal, are capable of a speed of more than 40kts.
The Romanian Border Police received three SHALDAG MK IV type fast patrol crafts this year. The boats, built by Israel Shipyards, exceed 40kts and will serve in the Black Sea with tasks of law enforcement, fighting illegal immigration and smuggling.
Estonia's Baltic Workboats also completed the construction of three WC 1500 patrol boats, which had been ordered by Azerbaijan State Customs Committee. The 15m-long WC 1500 can also reach a speed of about 34kts.
Refurbishing and refitting patrol boats is also a growing market segment for companies. For example Australian company DMS Maritime recently won a contract, worth around $50m, to support 19 patrol boats, used by Pacific island nations. It runs for five years and has options to extend for a further twelve years.
At the same time the US Navy is experimenting to decrease the cost of operations of its Riverine Command Boat (RCB). At the end of October it demonstrated for the first time publicly an experimental RCB, operating on an alternative fuel. It was a blend of 50% algae-based and 50% NATO F-76 shipboard fuel. The 14.7m-long RCB can reach speeds of 40kts and therefore, provides the US Navy with a platform that can effectively navigate in challenging shallow waters.
Another small boat with unique features is the new Hurricane MACH II RIB, which was launched by French company Zodiac this year. According to its developers this 11m-long vessel is capable of speeds over 60kts.