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RESPONSE TO TERROR | MILITARY

Navy Reassigns 6 Special Operations Boats

Security: Heavily armed vessels will now be used to guard U.S. coastlines.

November 06, 2001|TONY PERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — The Navy on Monday assigned to homeland defense six heavily armed ships normally used for special warfare operations and drug interdiction.

The six, two on the West Coast and four on the East Coast, will provide protection for Navy ships and commercial vessels and work to thwart attempts by terrorists to infiltrate the country by sea.

Adm. Robert Natter said the Cyclone-class coastal patrol ships "provide additional capability to help defeat terrorism."

Each vessel is 180 feet long, displaces 330 tons, has a maximum speed of 30 knots--about 35 mph--and is armed with a 25-millimeter rapid-fire gun and positions for machine guns and grenade launchers. Crews are trained in boarding suspicious vessels on the high seas.

Crews will be a combination of Navy and Coast Guard personnel. The West Coast boats are based in San Diego, the East Coast vessels in Norfolk, Va.

The coastal patrol ships often are used to support missions by Navy SEALs and other special operations personnel.

The decision to switch the craft and their crews to homeland defense marks the first time the Navy and Coast Guard have been part of a joint effort to guard the nation's coasts and ports.

"New threats require new thinking," Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad Allen said. The Coast Guard also is patrolling the West Coast with its own cutters.

Navy and Coast Guard personnel have worked together since the 1980s on drug interdiction efforts in the Caribbean and Pacific.

The Navy's decision to bolster its homeland defense commitment comes just days after Gov. Gray Davis assigned National Guard troops as security at California's most prominent bridges. Davis said he had information that the bridges might be targeted by terrorists.

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