The Office of Force Transformation last week briefed an influential Navy committee on the progress of experiments with its new high-speed military ship, which is designed to maneuver close to shore and network with intelligence-gathering assets.
The presentation comes on the heels of two experiments that could help define how aspects of the $6 million ship’s unconventional design and development process can be adopted by the Navy or other services for future vessels, Navy Capt. Neil Parrott, OFT’s action officer for the ship, told Inside the Pentagon in a July 7 interview.
The office has not yet received “any direct feedback from members of the panel,” Parrot told ITP in a July 18 e-mail. Many of the panel’s questions focused on the ship’s ability to adapt to different missions during experimentation, he added.
Stiletto, created under an OFT and U.S. Special Operations Command partnership, is shaped like a low, wide rectangular box, with one panel of windows and few protruding antennas making it hard to detect. The fast moving vessel -- which can travel up to 55 knots and has a range of 500 nautical miles -- also incorporates a new hull design that adds to its stability and allows for it to maneuver in shallow waters.
Although further experimentation will help define Stiletto’s role in the military, some exercises have already shown the craft could be used as a command and control center to perform mine-detection operations in the littorals and inland waterways, Parrott told ITP July 7.
OFT officials used results from the ship’s first experiment held in May to prepare the briefing. Dubbed “Exercise Howler,” it focused on gauging how well Stiletto networked with other platforms to help clear near-shore areas riddled with mines, Parrott said (ITP, May 11, p11).
Input from the vessel’s participation in Naval Network Warfare Command’s annual exercise Trident Warrior a month later was also used to develop the presentation, he added.
During Howler, which took place off Imperial Beach, CA, exercise partners OFT and Naval Special Clearance Team One were able to reduce the time required to detect 30 mines in a 50 yard by 50 yard area from three days to one, Parrott said.
The ability to identify mines quicker helped divers focus more energy on clearing the field, he added. If personnel have been “diving for three days just to find mines, they’re worn out by the time they’re ready to destroy” them, Parrott said.
Three unmanned vehicles with three sensors each fed data to Stiletto, where the boat’s networking suite was used to layer images and determine possible locations of mines.
Parrott touted Stiletto’s flexibility to meet the needs of varying missions.
The craft’s commercial-off-the-shelf computing suite gives operators the ability to “plug and play” and multiply the surveillance and processing needs of smaller intelligence-gathering assets, he added.
“Networking capability” is key to harnessing power in the “information age,” Parrott said. “You can’t be a 100 percent player unless you can play in the network.” Many smaller crafts do not have the enhanced networking capabilities a vessel like Stiletto could provide, he said.
The largest U.S. vessel composed entirely of carbon reinforced fiber, Stiletto is ultra-light, but strong, Parrott said. Carbon fiber has allowed designers to create new shapes like the craft’s double M-shaped hull, developed by San Diego-based M Ship Company.
The hull has four distinct arches that utilize air pressure to funnel water and glide along the ocean’s surface, a design element that -- combined with the craft’s width -- makes it very stable.
The ship’s weight, material and design allow Stiletto to be able to function without “an established, mature logistics hub,” Parrott said. The ship, light enough to be lifted with a shipyard crane, can be maneuvered easily for maintenance.
Parrott envisions a vessel like Stiletto operating with a “mothership,” a pairing that could expand the Navy’s command over a given area.
Further experimentation is required to assess if the vessel’s carbon fiber can withstand harsh sea conditions, Parrott said.
OFT is presently exploring if Stiletto should be outfitted with more carbon fiber because the craft has no protection from rocket-propelled grenades or small arms gunfire, he added. The office is also considering outfitting Stiletto with active protection system technology, which uses a radar package placed on military vehicles to detect and destroy incoming projectiles.
These adjustments and the ability for Stiletto to be designed to a smaller scale may make the craft more attractive to the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command, recently tasked with developing the service’s ability to control rivers and inland waterways.
Although Stiletto is not involved in any DOD efforts to create new crafts for the riverine mission, Parrott said an upcoming exercise in San Diego, CA, with NECC may demonstrate whether the vessel has any qualities that may assist designs for future riverine crafts.
Stiletto “possibly scratches an itch a service needs scratched,” he added.