Meet the U.S Navy’s Ass-Kicking Patrol Boats From Hell

If you only know them from PT-109, you’re way behind.

Sipa via AP Images

Geopolitical intrigue alert. When news broke on Jan. 12 that Iran had captured a pair of U.S. Navy patrol boats that allegedly strayed into its waters, a question likely arose in many a mind—just what the hell is a patrol boat, exactly?

Well, basically, it’s a terrifying cross between a speed boat and an armored personnel carrier.

Patrol boats—or “riverine patrol boats,” as they’re officially called by the U.S. Navy—are designed to kick ass and chew bubble gum in shallow water environments: rivers, bays, harbors, etc. As such, a shallow draft (for all you landlubbers, that’s the distance between the waterline and the bottom of the hull) is key. The U.S. Navy’s CB90-class patrol boats captured by Iran are about 50 feet long, but their keels dip less than three feet into the water.

Patrol boats have to be fast, too. The Swedish-made CB90 packs a pair of Rolls-Royce water jets that can haul the boat around at 40-plus knots—even while carrying 20 locked and loaded soldiers or four-plus tons of cargo. The specially designed hull allows the ship to go from flank speed to dead stop in just 125 feet, while submarine-like rudders and ailerons give it deft maneuverability.

Sipa via AP Images

And they have to be tough. Unlike blue-water vessels, which often have a clear line of sight on potential foes, patrol boats often deal with threats that can pop up from behind cover on land. (Remember Martin Sheen’s ride from Apocalypse Now? Patrol boat.)

So they tend to be loaded to the gunwales with armor and weapons. The CB90 is built to resist small arms fire, and the operators sit in an aircraft-style cockpit for better protection. The boats can be outfitted with filtration systems to keep the crew safe from biological and chemical weapons, as well as nuclear fallout. And the hull is extremely strong, so the boat can drive itself straight onto the shore and disgorge troops from the ramp on the bow right onto the beach.

Sipa via AP Images

They don’t just soak up the punishment, though; they can spit back some hellfire of their own. Patrol boats are usually outfitted with a wide variety of light, medium and heavy weapons; based on photographs, the U.S. Navy’s CB90s appear to be outfitted with M2 .50 caliber machine guns and GAU-19 .50-cal miniguns, but the boat can also be loaded up with 40mm automatic grenade launchers, depth charges, or actual Hellfire missiles capable of killing tanks.

Fast, agile and mean as hell: Much like the Wu-Tang Clan, patrol boats ain’t nuthin’ to fuck with.