Gigantic warships equipped with massive amounts of firepower, like Arleigh Burke-class destroyers and Nimitz-class carriers, immediately spring to mind when we think “United States Navy.” But not every ship in service is a seafaring behemoth — in fact, cyclone vessels are quite small.
The smallest warships in U.S. Navy service are Cyclone-class patrol craft. The Navy acquired 14 of these ships for special operations work in the 1990s. These small vessels weigh roughly 288 tons, have a crew of 28 personnel, and can hold either nine SEALs or a six-man Coast Guard law-enforcement detachment.
Two Cyclones operate in a joint Navy-Coast Guard exercise.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Sean Furey)
These ships are roughly 178 feet long and have a top speed of 35 knots. They also pack a punch. Cyclones are equipped with two 25mm Bushmaster chain guns and a mix of M2 .50-caliber machine guns, 7.62mm machine guns, and Mk 19 automatic grenade launchers. The ships also can carry the FIM-92 Stinger for air defense.
In some cases, even these tiny ships are too big for special operations work. So for those select missions, Cyclones carry rigid-hull inflatable craft and two combat rubber raiding craft, operated with either a hydraulic lift or a stern ramp. To date, these ships have seen a good amount of action in the Persian Gulf and in the Caribbean.
USS Zephyr (PC 8) catches up to a drug-smuggling go-fast. While the Cyclone-class ships were intended to support special operations, they also can support the Coast Guard.
(U.S. Customs and Border Protection)
The Navy handed down the lead ship of the class, the former USS Cyclone (PC 1), to the Philippine Navy, where it’s still in active service. Five of these ships served with the Coast Guard for a few years before being returned to the Navy. These vessels are slated to be replaced by the Littoral Combat Ship in the near future.
Learn more about these small Navy vessels that prove that size doesn’t equal strength in the video below!