The Advantages of Fast Attack Craft

by James Rutter
Fast attack craft can enter waters too shallow for larger vessels.

Fast attack craft can enter waters too shallow for larger vessels.

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Navies have used fast attack craft since the late 19th century. Early versions of these ships consisted of torpedo boats and torpedo boat destroyers. These vessels used steam power and light armaments and saw use in World War I. During World War II, forces deployed combustion engine-powered coastal motor boats and PT Boats. Modern fast attack craft include missile boats, gunships and torpedo boats.

Coastal Defense

Large ships, such as heavy troop transports, battleships and aircraft carriers, need a deep harbor or river to move inland. Attacking navies must deploy smaller, poorly armored secondary vessels to transport soldiers and supplies to the shore. Fast attack craft enable modern navies to defend coast lines from these encroachments. These coastal defense ships can navigate the shallow waters off the coast and dart in and out from smaller harbors and inlets. This advantage enables coordinated coastal defense while maintaining a safe distance from which to attack larger ships. The Sri Lankan Navy used fast attack craft to patrol against terrorist attacks from that nation's separatist movement. Peacetime uses include protecting fishing waters and mineral and oil deposits.


Unlike modern battleships, aircraft carriers, submarines and some destroyers, fast attack craft draw power from turbo diesel engines. These fuel-efficient, lightweight engines keep the overall weight and required size of a fast attack craft low, enabling them to achieve high speeds and maneuver quickly. A low weight also reduces the depth of the ship's ballast---the portion of the hull that remains underwater. This feature of fast attack craft lets them enter and maneuver through shallower waters along coastlines, letting them engage smaller and larger targets up close or at a safe range.


Despite their small size and high maneuverability and speed, fast attack craft can carry a variety of heavy munitions and sophisticated weaponry systems. The X-Class ships used by the U.S. Navy are capable of launching anti-ship guided missiles and guided torpedoes; either of these weapons can disable or destroy much larger ships, including battleships, submarines and destroyers. Fast attack craft also wield machine cannons that fire armor piercing rounds. These anti-material weapons can tear through the hulls of smaller, unarmored vessels and also take down incoming aircraft.

Anti-Piracy and Trafficking

As the priorities of modern navies shift away from protecting coastlines from attacking vessels, naval forces have redeployed their fast attack craft to take on other roles. These include anti-piracy, which involves using the fast attack craft to engage pirate ships and intercept incoming smuggling vessels. Fast attack craft also find use in countering drug trafficking. These re-purposed vessels patrol the coast, where their high speed and maneuverability enables agents and coast guard crews to intercept and board suspected drug-trafficking ships.

About the Author

Since 2005, James Rutter has worked as a freelance journalist for print and Internet publications, including the “News of Delaware County,” “Main Line Times” and Broad Street Review. As a former chemist, college professor and competitive weightlifter, he writes about science, education and exercise. Rutter earned a B.A. in philosophy and biology from Albright College and studied philosophy and cognitive science at Temple University.

Photo Credits

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