February 5, 2006 The M80 Stiletto Experimental Vessel was launched this week offering a sneak peak at the next generation of military vessels. The Stiletto is an operational experiment by the Pentagon’s Office of Force Transformation (OFT) and its revolutionary carbon fibre structure and hull enable it to operate in shallow water, with 50 knot speeds, stability and great stealth as part of its armoury. Costing US$12.5 million to develop and build, the 88ft vessel is capable of carrying 37 tonnes at speed over a range of 500 nautical miles. The patented M-hull design transitions automatically and efficiently through hydrostatic, hydrodynamic and aerostatic lift modes with increasing speeds effectively creating a cushion of air and providing a comfortable high speed ride with great stability, and has enormous promise for a wide range of nautical applications for boats from 8 through 200 feet (see these stunning concepts). The Stiletto is powered by four 1,650-horsepower Caterpillar engines, and can cruise comfortably near its top speed of more than 50 knots (60 miles per hour). With a shallow draft of less than 3 feet, Stiletto has a three man crew, and will carry a complement of 12 US Navy Sea, Air and Land (SEAL) commandos, an11 metre rigid hull inflatable boat (RHIB) and either Manta and Silver Wing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).
The M80 Stiletto initiative is part of OFT’s Wolf PAC Distributed Operations Experiment, conducted in association with USSOCOM, to explore command and control of geographically dispersed, but networked, autonomous and semi-autonomous military forces. This new concept of operations by the Department of Defense is in response to diffuse threats that are perceived as emerging in the future. An extensive overview of WolfPAC can be downloaded in PDF format here.
The M80 Stiletto and Wolf PAC operational experiment was USN (ret) Vice Admiral Arthur Cebrowski’s vision for a more adaptive force using high numbers of smaller, faster networked vessels designed for littoral, or near shore, waters and costing less to build than conventional ships, said Cmdr. Gregory Glaros, Stiletto’s project lead and a military transformation strategist who worked for Cebrowski. Cebrowski died last November, but the new Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC), announced in January 2006, is, in effect, implementing the vice admiral’s vision for expeditionary combat in the 21st century, said Glaros.
“We are confident that the M80 Stiletto’s design is superior to all other existing technologies. Nothing else is out there that can achieve the qualities important to brown water vessels at a relatively low cost with short design and production cycles,” said Chuck Robinson, co-founder of San Diego-based M Ship Co. and a former deputy secretary of state with Henry Kissinger.
The 88-foot long vessel marks a breakthrough in naval architecture, featuring M Ship Co.’s patented M-shaped hull that provides a stable yet fast platform for mounting electronic surveillance equipment or weapons, or for conducting special operations. The hull design does not require foils or lifting devices to achieve a smooth ride at high speeds in rough conditions. Its shallow draft means the M80 Stiletto can operate in riverine environments and potentially allows for beach landings. The fuel-efficient M80 Stiletto is equipped with four Caterpillar engines, yielding a top speed in excess of 50 knots (nearly 60 miles per hour) when fully loaded and can be outfitted with jet drives for shallow water operations and beaching.
“The M-hull form creates a natural surface effect that not only enhances top-speed performance, but uses the bow wave energy to reduce the overall wake signature,” said Bill Burns, co-founder of M Ship Co., noting that the military is also interested in 40- and 120-foot vessels of similar design. “This makes the boat faster and more maneuverable because it remains flat, with almost no heeling, even during high-speed turns. The vessel’s proprietary design also gives it a low-radar profile.”
The M80 Stiletto is also notable because it is the largest U.S. Naval vessel built using carbon fibre composite and epoxy building techniques, which yields a very light, but strong hull.
M Ship Co. leveraged its network of collaborative partners and subcontractors to build the M80 Stiletto in less than one year. Azimuth Inc. developed the vessel’s “electronic keel” -- a maritime 1 Gbyte local area network and data bus for networked plug and play of emerging technologies such as communications, surveillance and weapons systems. SP Systems provided the carbon fiber technology for the composite hull. The vessel was built by National City-based Knight & Carver Yacht Center.