Snarki, child of Loki January 20, 2012 7:34 AM

This particular aspect of police militarization (Texas Highway Patrol with six .30 caliber machine guns on a PT boat) will be solved by global warming.

The boat won’t do so much when the Rio Grande is dry.

wizardpc January 20, 2012 7:36 AM

Reading the article, it seems completely reasonable. They’re running this on the border where they run in to the Zetas, not up and down South Padre during Spring Break for kicks.

If the Federal Government would actually protect the border, this wouldn’t be necessary.

Calvin January 20, 2012 7:37 AM

Be afraid…be very very afraid. The continued militarization of local law enforcement should be a concern to every American.

On a separate note…I didn’t know the Rio Grande had enough water in it to justify a rowboat, much less this 34 footer.

BTW…PT stands for Patrol Torpedo…

Darwin January 20, 2012 7:51 AM

Last I checked this was the Federal Governments job. This is nothing but propaganda by Texas legislators.

Jim January 20, 2012 8:16 AM

I agree with @wizardpc in some aspects on this one, if they’re combatting drug cartels (and hearing stories of police not having enough firepower). The minute mission creep causes this boat to be used elsewhere I’m upset.

Andrew Gronosky January 20, 2012 8:23 AM

This may be a patrol boat but it is not a PT boat. Not even close. “PT” stands for “Patrol Torpedo.” A WWII-era PT boat was about 80 feet long and armed with a pair of torpedoes with ~400 lb warheads. It could engage and sink full-sized ships.

That said, six .30-caliber machine guns does sound like excessive armament for a police boat.

Winter January 20, 2012 8:27 AM

This is the same fire-power arms race that happened during the Prohibition era. For the same reasons and bound to catastrophically fail in the same way.

kingsnake January 20, 2012 8:42 AM

If the government was really interested in stopping the cocaine business it would do what it does when it wishes to kill off any other business: after making it legal, regulate and tax the hell out of it. Basically, the “drug war” is artificially propping up the price, and therefore incentive to be in, the informal pharmaceutical business …

yoshi January 20, 2012 8:57 AM


If the Federal Government would actually protect the border, this wouldn’t be necessary.

Define “protect the border”. Last time I checked the border itself was perfectly fine.

(hates soundbites)

Fred P January 20, 2012 9:00 AM

Why is the Texas highway patrol involved in securing the border? I thought that was the job of the DHS.

Lone Star January 20, 2012 9:16 AM

Here in the USA, I started noticing this trend in an Eastern state soon after 2001, especially when the Federal government started giving the states extra money to purchase “counterterrorism” items. Many of our state troopers now have access to weaponry comparable to that available to front line soldiers, except that air support is considerable less sophisticated. More recently, it has started to filter down to the local levels of law enforcement.

A note, for those who are not aware: While all of the states are different, some are very different. Texas is very, very different. Many Texans would much rather it be the country of Texas rather than the state of Texas.

Clive Robinson January 20, 2012 9:19 AM

Hmm it’s not just the cal it’s also the rounds that count…

That said you have to ask if the response is proportionate to the current threat or the threat expected from the current rise in threat.

Like most others I don’t know enough about the area, the nature of the perceived threat, the nature of the LEO’s and the nature of the local Government.

However the question does arise as to why the US with one of the largest standing military forces and largest military budget in the world feel that their military are unsutable for the most basic reason for their existance which is the role of defending the country…

Chris January 20, 2012 9:56 AM

Define “protect the border”.

Preventing illegal people/drugs/contraband from coming across the border.

RadicalModerate January 20, 2012 10:26 AM

@Clive “However the question does arise as to why the US with one of the largest standing military forces and largest military budget in the world feel that their military are unsutable for the most basic reason for their existance which is the role of defending the country…”

A good question as always. Short answer is politics. While many Republicans (and Texans) have suggested deploying the US Army along the boarder to stop illegal imigration and drugs, such action has been vehemently opposed by the Democrats.

The long answer is that there are multiple issues here: drugs, immigration reform, and security. (Some people argue that the Army should be deployed against civilians crossing the boarder.) As I understand it, Europe has similar issues with North African immigrants crossing illegally… I doubt the debate is really all that different here than there.

karrde January 20, 2012 11:14 AM

@RadicalModerate, @Clive:

There’s also the question of legal status of the Army, the FedGov, various StateGovs, State-NatGuard, and the authority of the President to order military operations inside the States.

I think the laws in question are referred to as posse comitatus laws.

Basically, the U.S. Army can be used for law-enforcement if Congress passes a law justifying it.

There’s more to this: drug enforcement was originally seen as a law-enforcement exercise, not a military exercise. Thus, there are more than 40 years of bureaucratic inertia which say that drug enforcement is not a military operation.

Thus, the local Police/county Sheriff/State Police/DEA/Fed-Marshall/FBI do many different pieces of drug-interdiction. But the cartels in question have up-scaled their operations over that time period, prompting similar escalations into military-style hardware and operations by said law enforcement groups.

The cartels are, by my read, a Non Governmental Organization with an international presence, and a quasi-army. They are likely better funded than most terrorist organizations. And they likely have a pool of recruits who are already trained in police/military work.

(On this last point, the Mexican Army/Police have a high desertion rate. Those deserters are reputedly offered better pay if they come over.)

Captain Obvious January 20, 2012 11:16 AM

The obvious issue here is that a democratic president is not going to authorize military action to secure a national border…in a red state.

There’s no question the Feds aren’t doing it, so it falls to the state to protect their own.

echowit January 20, 2012 11:21 AM

Hope this isn’t considered off-topic, but I recall an article in a sort of “future look” edition of ‘Esquire’ magazine sometime back in the ’70s about (my paraphrase) ‘the militarization of police forces’.

Yeah, 35 or 40 years ago — it read like SciFi then.

Wish I could find it again, I’d like to see how close they really were.

chuck January 20, 2012 11:27 AM

The minute the police start needing military equipment is the moment that the war on drugs should be turned over to the US military. I also think that the Governor of Te Has should recall his national guard from US service and declare war on Mexico, since it is being run by drug lords and is a De Facto terrorist state.

mcb January 20, 2012 11:34 AM

@ Andrew Gronosky

“That said, six .30-caliber machine guns does sound like excessive armament for a police boat.”

Shhh, if we don’t let them start down the slippery slope the cops will never get Hellfires for their drones.

Jess January 20, 2012 12:13 PM

Yet another example of why munitions manufacturers (and public employee unions, and the criminal bar, and the drug cartels, and the prison industry, and now boat builders) constantly agitate for more and stricter laws: it pays the bills.


karrde January 20, 2012 1:10 PM

The gun-geek in me wonders what kind of .30 caliber machine gun is shown in the pictures on the article.

Oddly, the pictures convince me that the guns are infantry rifles mounted on a machine-gun-style mount, because they have infantry-style sights on the muzzle. Maybe an M-14 or M-16 rifle.

To compare, look at the Wiki page for the 0.30-caliber machine gun that has historically been used by the US Military.

Then look at pictures of the M-14 and M-16.

Note that the M-14 has an older wood-stock version and a newer plastic-stock version. Also note that both M-14 and M-16 have a barrel-shroud, front sights, and muzzle similar to the weapons pictured in the news article.

Finally, note that the M1919 has a smooth, full-length barrel shroud and no sights on the barrel.

The reason I feel this distinction is important is that I don’t trust the press to understand the difference between a patrol rifle mounted on a machine-gun mount and a machine gun.

One reason to note the distinction is that most police departments in the U.S. stock patrol rifles, usually M-16s chambered in 0.223 caliber. It is not uncommon for a police cruiser to have a patrol rifle of this type in the trunk. Almost always, any weapon answering to the description patrol rifle is capable of burst-fire or full-auto-fire.

Indeed, the fact that many Police agencies have such patrol rifles is often quoted as evidence of militarization of the Police.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Texas police department in question purchased M-14s chambered in either 0.308 or 0.30-06, and got an armorer to mount them on machine-gun mounts with a protective plate for the operator. They might even have found 100-round drum magazines for the rifles, though I doubt they could have acquired belt-fed versions of those rifles.

While it’s an unusual to use an M-14 as a patrol rifle, and also unusual to mount patrol rifles on a machine-gun mount, this isn’t quite the same thing as acquiring an M1919-style machine gun for police use.

However, mounting a patrol rifle on a machine-gun-mount is further militarization than most police departments typically show.

Almost as bad as police departments buying military-grade Bradley Infantry Transport vehicles for their SWAT or equivalent team.

Thunderbird January 20, 2012 2:13 PM

karrde: I stopped reading after seeing “patrol rifle” three times in italics. I think there turned out to be eight of them, which is six more than the number of machine guns on the boat.

All kidding aside, here’s a photo I found that supposedly shows a better look. I don’t know enough to tell what they are, but they look hefty. I wonder if it’s really the same boat as the article?

P.S., I think most WW-II US PT boats actually had four torpedoes.

karrde January 20, 2012 2:41 PM


I must have gotten carried away with pedantry. A Patrol Rifle/Infantry Rifle is a different mechanism than a Machine Gun. That kind of distinction is mostly important to armorers who work for the military.

Anyway, that picture shows what look like heavy-duty rifles with bipod attachments and shoulder stocks, mounted onto a swivel. The rifles were designed to be carried by infantry. They give the soldier the option of firing while standing, or using the bipod to provide a stable platform for a long-distance shot.

The rifles are probably variants on the M-14.

The flat plate on the mount is similar to those used on Machine Gun mounts for most military vehicles. That, plus the fact that the thing is mounted on a swivel on a boat deck, gave the reporter plenty of reason to call it a machine gun.

Further notes: the big box-thing wrapped around the rifles behind the shield-plate is probably a custom extra-large-drum-magazine. Or a special container that can allow the mechanism to work with a belt.

I’m not real clear on how easy it is to get a standard rifle designed to feed from a box-magazine to feed from a belt. At first I thought it was nearly-impossible, but now I’m not quite sure. I admit to being out of my depth on that question.

Anyway, while it may be capable of sustained fire of a couple of minutes, it probably can’t fire for the duration that a M1919-style gun can fire. But, the M1919 is designed to pretty much go full-out for hours at a time.

Machine Gun or not, I wouldn’t want to stand downrange of it.

And it is definitely more militarization-of-police than a policeman carrying a rifle in his trunk.

wizardpc January 20, 2012 3:45 PM

They are M60s, which are belt-fed .30 cal machineguns. Probably surplussed to them by DoD along with the boat.

And yoshi, nothing makes someone look more like a jerk than pretending they don’t know what a common phrase means.

Andrew January 20, 2012 5:36 PM

The San Francisco Bay Area has Texas law enforcement beat out. In addition to the armed cutters of the US Coast Guard, the armed boats of the USCG MSST (Maritime Safety & Security Team, think SWAT) and Air Station San Francisco HH-65 Dolphin HITRON helicopters carrying rifle-armed aerial gunners, several other Bay Area law enforcement agencies get into the act:

Alameda County Sheriff’s Office has two armed vessels: an 85 foot Fast Patrol Boat (“Susan M”) donated by the US Coast Guard with a pair of .50 caliber machine guns and a 31 foot Safe Boat (“August Vollmer”) sporting two H&K 7.62 caliber machine guns courtesy of the FBI.

Oakland PD (of protest-bashing infamy) has a 37′ boat named “ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ” with a single hard mount. For those not up on their Greek, this motto means “Come and get them!” and is the reply Leonidas I of Sparta gave to the Persians when asked to lay down their arms.

Not to be outdone, San Francisco PD has a 47′ Textron Motor Life Boat (MLB) named “Marine 1” and three smaller boats. Pictures of Marine 1 do not show any armament. However, the SF Fire Department fire boat Phoenix 1 can flow 9,000 gallons per minute at 150 PSI, which will sink a vessel faster than all of the above put together.


RH January 20, 2012 6:09 PM

We all assume that the militarization of police is bad, but perhaps there’s sanity to it? Maybe this is a hint that we need a 3rd category of warrior on the front lines… something that isn’t police, but isn’t military.

karrde January 20, 2012 6:20 PM

@Fed Up, @wizard,

thanks for educating me. (See, I remember a lot, but I don’t remember everything…and now I’m not sure that appellation “machine gun” is wrong for an M-60 or an M-248. But I still think that the picture isn’t what I had in mind when I read “machine gun” in the news article; and that the average journalist wouldn’t know the difference between an M-60 and an M1919.)

My only thought at the moment is that while this is more firepower than usually carried by police agencies, it isn’t quite the firepower necessary to oppose an actual army. But the Mex-Army isn’t likely to want to cross the Rio Grande anytime soon. And while the drug-cartels are buying expensive military stuff, I don’t think they’ve gotten to armored infantry carriers yet…

Dave January 20, 2012 9:30 PM


All kidding aside, here’s a photo I found that supposedly shows a better
look. I don’t know enough to tell what they are, but they look hefty.

A bit hard to tell from the silhouette, but that saddle-shaped stock just screams “MAG”. The flash suppressor looks about right as well…

Dave January 20, 2012 9:31 PM

@Lone Star:

Many of our state troopers now have access to weaponry comparable to that
available to front line soldiers, except that air support is considerable
less sophisticated.

… and that they don’t have the military training to go with the military weapons that front line soldiers have.

Dave January 20, 2012 9:36 PM

Followup to my previous post, in the US it’s known as the M240, and what’s in that dual mount is definitely a pair of MAGs. Why they need that sort of firepower though… must be some Texas dicksize thing.

ROBOCOP January 20, 2012 10:20 PM

We here at OCP are more than happy to take over your policing problems … for a profit.

We have this nifty tool called ED209 that you’ll just love … it comes in lovely decorator colors and your choice of of .45 calibre, .50 calibre machine guns and even 20mm matched canons.

Please don’t mind our plan to rename Dallas to “Delta City”, it is just a minor change.

Clive Robinson January 21, 2012 4:12 AM

For those not up on military weapons a little background information.

About 100years ago soldiers were armed with rifles of various forms that were designed to be accurate out to 500meters as would be requiired for infantry style fighting in open country against other infantry or “horse” Cavalry who were usually armed with some kind of sword. Around this time senior NCO’s had hand weapons such as a revolver and officers were armed with what was essentialy a bit of wood with metal end caps.

The first world war changed all of this, fighting was nolonger short actions in open countryside. It was prolonged in “dug in positions” and urban environments such as villages and towns and the attrition rate on men and materials was very high.

Thus the rifle aimed at shooting at ranks of soldiers at 300meters or more was compleatly mismatched to the type of warfare. The machine gun became the standard for trench warfare in that you could lay down “fields of fire” acuratly thus alowing your own troops to advance under cover of heavy fire aimed at the enemy trenches.

However the machine gun has two distinct differences over a magazine rifle due to rate of fire and they are important to know.

The first issue with a high rate of fire is heat, due to various issues each time you fire a gun the breach and the barrel heat up quickly and cool down slowly. The result is that under a sustained high rate of fire the barrel can get sufficiently hot that the metal lands of the rifleing “goes soft” and it’s rate of wear can be measured in hours. A secodry issue with heat is that the breach can get so hot that when a round is chambered it can “cook off” and fire without the trigger being pressed. Which is a significant issue as most infantry rifles are “closed breach” weapons as this gives greater accuracy when firing from the shoulder and also reduces the amount of stopages due to dirt and mud etc that an infantry soldier crawles through on ttheir belly when fighting up to an enemy position.

A machine gun however has a very heavy sometimes water cooled barrel to deal with the heat and would be almost impossible to fire from the shoulder or in the prone position without significant support. Also as a covering weapon it does not have the same need of accuracy and is also usually mounted up high to get as an extended field of cover as possible. Thus it is no where near as susceptible to dirt, and can thus be an “open breach” weapon which tends to avoid the “cook off” problem.

The second issue with a high rate of fire is getting the rounds fed into the breach. Traditional magazines use springs to ensure a certain degree of positive preasure so that the rifle bolt will correctly scoop the round of the top of the magazine and chamber it without misfeeding. There is only a certain number of rounds a spring can deal withh effectivly and the limit for rifle rounds being fed upwards from a straight magazine is usually around 20-30 (modern materials science has improved this a bit). One of the first solutions was to turn the breach the other way up and use gravity to assist and you see this in weapons like the Bren gun where the gunner (who carried it) had an assistant whose job it was to carry and replace the top fed magazines when it was being fired. These straight feed down magazines also had a limit due partly to the spring but a lot to do with the shape of the amunition (rifle amunition used to be rimed like revolver amunition to aid in manual force ejection of a spent round) and it was usually between 30-50 rounds.

The solution with a machine gun is to realise that you can use part of the energy of firing a round to eject the round and further to realise that you could further use that energy to replace the spring in a magazine by using a “film projector motion”. The problem with this is you need quite a heavy duty spring to store the energy required for chambering the next round and this means that the breach design likewise has to be heavy.

Thus the development of machine guns and rifles folowed very different paths for quite some time.

However there was and still is a need for a high rate of fire for covering a patrol as they advance on an enemy position, hence a third style of weapon was needed that had the range and accuracy of a rifle but a high rate of fire thus the “patrol rifle” or “light support weapon”.

However the infantry of today has a problem due to the increase in urban or close quaters fighting a long barreled weapon is a definate disadvantage so various designs such as the “bull pup” have moved the breach down the stock of the rifle so it is very close to the shoulder (and as any soldier who has fired the SA80 or similar left handed will know the hot brass burns down the inside of your shirt due to this) or have shortened the weapon.

Whilst improving the infantry mans ability to fight at close quaters the patrol or light support weapon has not shortend. Thus as infantry soldiers will tell you being the holder of the patrol weapon or long barrel sniper weapon makes you an easily “marked man” for an enemy sniper.

Which is why there are now designs for infantry weapons to be personal light support weapons which are bullpup and importantly open breach whilst also using special light high temprature low wear alloys for the breach block and barrel. The downside of course is the high tempratures they can now reach stand out realy realy well on an “IR heat scope” but as everybody in the patrol gets one including the PL or OC they are all equaly as marked which means you don’t want to be the point man…

Peter January 22, 2012 4:17 AM

These are 240’s 🙂
It says so in the text from the link from Some Guy:
“GT Distributors helped outfit this vessel with six M240B and mounts. “.
And beltfed

Curious January 22, 2012 12:19 PM

I wish there was some kind of ultimate warefare paradigm article somewhere.

It was not until joining the mandatory armed service that the danger of being targeted via infrared aiming equipment was pointed out. So infantry might be singled out by artillery, while soldiers with small arms can relax with whatever they are doing. If I had to guess, then I would think that infrared was pretty much unusable during daytime, but who knows maybe there are no restricting factors anymore for such type of equipment. I guess there might be a difference between googles and more elaborate aiming apparatuses fitted on vehicles.

Figureitout January 22, 2012 3:00 PM

Geez Clive, where do you keep all this information in your head?! Or is google a very good friend of yours?

Regarding the “militarization” of the police, don’t you think most if not all officers in police departments were enlisted in the military in some form or another? That’s just my perception, wish I had some stats to back it up.

n January 22, 2012 3:38 PM

Clive Robinson:

To add to your usually excellent posts on this site, please start a blog and include it as a sig here, thanks.

Nick N January 22, 2012 11:34 PM

“Why is the Texas highway patrol involved in securing the border? I thought that was the job of the DHS.”

And I thought drug interdiction was DEA.

As for the gun terminology pedantry, it also annoys me when movies/news/TV use machine gun, assault rifle and sub-machine gun interchangeably.

dmunz January 23, 2012 7:07 AM

When did we get a “Highway Patrol”? As long as I’ve been in Texas, I thought, it was just the DPS. The “Highway Patrol” was just an Oklahoma thing. Wait, the Red River. Now I understand.

jggimi January 23, 2012 9:16 AM

I thought I’d add one small comment about the drone mentioned in Bruce’s post. While the drone is capable of being armed, with lethal or usually-mostly-less-than-lethal ordnance, that’s not currently in scope. (Pun intentional.) Citing the article:

Gage said he has no immediate plans to outfit his drone with weapons, and he also ruled out using the chopper for catching speeders.

“We’re not going to use it for that,” he said.

chickee January 23, 2012 10:38 AM

@wizardpc – Engage in Overkill much? “nothing makes someone look more like a jerk than pretending they don’t know what a common phrase means.”

Except of course presuming a commonly used almost over used to the point of abused phrase is also commonly and uniformly defined with an agreed upon accepted definition.

Hat tip to yoshi for trying to establish context to frame usage and meaning. Imagine how fast the mindless security threatre (overblown threat meets “do something” security theater) and saber rattling – fear mongering rhetoric and “cyber war” on “terrorism”would be exposed if more people asked for context to provide increased clarity.

Terry Cloth January 23, 2012 10:54 AM

Unfortunately, just because they both carry guns, people think the army and the police do pretty much the same job.

As my father-in-law opines: The police are to protect the citizenry. The Army is to kill the enemy. When you use the army for policing, the citizens start to look a lot like the enemy.

Jon January 23, 2012 4:19 PM

@jggimi – If it can be misused, it will be misused. That’s hardly the first time someone has sworn up and down “Oh, we won’t do that” only to turn around a little later and “Well, we had the tool, so we used it for that.”


ted January 24, 2012 9:20 AM

“The police are to protect the citizenry.”

The only person obligated to protect you is you.

filobus January 25, 2012 7:48 AM

In America liberty is very important, and for many (most?) people if you have power you have liberty to do what you want to do, so… I don’t know really where this idea will lead…

Davi Ottenheimer January 25, 2012 5:44 PM


I’m with you on this one. The SF Bay Area feds (USCG) and local enforcement carry some heavy fire power. I had a guy swing a .30-caliber mg into my boat and crush the skin while he bounced along on his way to mount it to a USCG orange inflatable. Didn’t say he was sorry and I wasn’t about to argue — just another day on the Bay. But the most impressive units I’ve seen are the high-tech black-ops machines that zip out of Santa Cruz harbor.

Roger January 30, 2012 6:50 AM

A couple of observations.

The mounted guns in the picture are M240s (known as the MAG 58 outside the US), and they are indeed honest-to-goodness belt-fed machineguns. Calibre is 7.62 mm NATO. (A reasonably serious calibre on land, but absolutely the smallest that is useful on a boat.)

Nearly everything else claimed about these boats seems to be at best an exaggeration and much of it is outright baloney. At 34 feet it is nothing like a patrol boat; it is just a light utility boat, what would commonly be called a “runabout” and used for inshore recreational fishing. (There is no specific size for a patrol boat but they typically range from 70 to 200 feet and displace from 50 to around 1000 tons. [1])

It appears to be fitted with 6 guns at the boat show where the press release was made, but pictures of it on duty show 3, 2 … or usually none. Similarly the “armour panels” at the boat show are actually just plastic sheets showing where they might potentially be adding armour in the future. It doesn’t actually have any armour at the moment. The 900 hp of OBMs mounted on the boat is massively, dangerously overpowered for a boat of this size, and would exceed the Motor Rating Plate by nearly a factor of 3. I seriouly doubt that they actually use it like this. In other articles, it was also claimed that the boat only draws 12″ of water. Other owners of the same model say it draws 20″ completely empty — before adding machineguns, armour, or half a ton of outboards.

In other words, all of this is mainly a publicity stunt. But not for you; it is probably a “message” to the Mexcian drug runners who have been machinegunning people on Lake Falcon. All this stuff is letting those guys know, “you better cut that out, we’re coming for you.”

  1. Although in the Vietnam War, the USN operated some “Patrol Boats, Riverine”, some of the smallest of which were only about the size of this boat. In most other English-speaking navies, they would have been called armed launches. I guess the exception proves the rule.

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