Magazine article National Defense

Revolutionary, Stealthy Low-Cost Warships

Magazine article National Defense

Revolutionary, Stealthy Low-Cost Warships

Article excerpt

Earlier this year, satellite imagery revealed Iran's construction of a full-size USS Nimitz-class aircraft carrier replica, which was created so that swarms of high-speed Iranian boats could practice destroying it.

Defeating that threat will require a different kind of vessel than the massive, blue-water ships that populate the Navy's fleet, boatbuilding company executives told National Defense. To protect its larger carriers and warships, the service may need to rely on small, creatively-shaped boats that are heavily armed and equipped with unmanned systems.

"There is a need for a highly, highly stabilized craft that are not large, that are smaller, that can be used to patrol [and] defend our Navy's ships while they're in troubled waters against high-speed boats," said Greg Sancoff, president and CEO of Juliet Marine Systems.

That's where Juliet's Ghost ship comes in. Ghost doesn't look like any other surface vessel the Navy owns, Sancoff said. Its command module sits on top of two struts, each of which is connected to a torpedo-shaped tube equipped with an engine and propellers that create a bubble of gas around the tube.

The result is a completely gryostabilized boat, where the command module flies above the surface of the water and its underwater structures sail through gas, reducing friction and drag. Having that level of stability is important for combat, he said. Ghost is able to fire Nemesis, non-line-of-sight, and tube-launched, optically tracked, wire-guided missiles while moving through waves.

"If you're in Ghost in six-foot seas, you don't feel any of the sea motion," he said. "So you could deploy missiles in high sea states. You could follow destroyers and aircraft carriers in higher sea states."

The boat is less vulnerable to hostile fire because the engines, fuel and most computing systems are underwater, he said. "If someone tried to fire a round at us and wanted to hit an engine or a fuel tank, you're not going to be able to do it, because [it's] ... protected by the water itself."

]Juliet Marine is not the only shipbuilder investing in radical, futuristic hull forms. M Ship Co.'s M80 Stiletto prototype has been used for eight years by the Defense Department as a platform for research and development and even for limited operations doing drug interdiction around Colombia, said Bill Burns, co-founder and executive director of the company. It was developed for littoral combat and is the largest Navy vessel built completely from carbon-fiber composite materials.

The Stiletto has an M-shaped hull that combines features from aerostatic, hydrostatic and hydrodynamic boat designs in order to effectively transition from low to high speed and increase the stability of the boat, he said. Its 40-foot wide beam offers enough space to launch unmanned systems, including aircraft and submersibles.

Today, few Navy ships are equipped with unmanned technologies, and when they are, those older vessels were not built with robotic systems in mind, Burns said. To get the most out of drones or unmanned underwater vehides, the Navy will have to consider new hull shapes.

"You're going to see designs that have low crew and/or be unmanned completely, and then be able to launch and retrieve other unmanned systems," he said. …

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