The US Department of Defense is preparing for an ambitious operational experiment with its largest-ever naval vessel built exclusively with carbon materials, according to US defense and industry officials.
The Office of Force Transformation (OFT)-led project aims to validate the novel hull, said officials from the organization. Equally important will be an exploration of operational concepts for using such a vessel. For this role it would be wired with sensor and communications connectivity and positioned close to hostilities as a hub to support special operations forces with timely information, they said.
"This isn't a story actually about the boat," US Navy Commander Gregory Glaros, an OFT transformation strategist who heads the initiative, told JDW. "The story is about distributed operations and how we bring together the disparate sensors that exist out there into some holistic point ... so that we can prosecute our mission."
To that end, Cmdr Glaros said, the OFT is integrating an 'electronic keel' into the ship that comprises a 1 Gbyte local area network and data storage devices. These will allow for various sensors, communications devices and even weapons to be operated readily from the ship and will also serve to fuse the information from the sensors, he said.
The Stiletto is being constructed in San Diego. The vessel is expected to be in the water in January for the start of testing, said Terry Pudas, the OFT's acting director. The experiment is expected to last two to three years. During the tests the ship will be used in roles like mine detection, Cmdr Glaros said.
US Special Operations Command is providing the ship's operators and is a partner in the project.
A crew of three will operate the Stiletto, which will be capable of speeds greater than 50 kt. It will also carry a complement of 12 US Navy Sea, Air and Land (SEAL) commandos and one 11 m rigid hull inflatable boat for them. The Stiletto will also host smaller sized unmanned aerial vehicles.
Cmdr Glaros said Freewing Aerial Robotics' Manta and Advanced Ceramics Research's Silver Fox unmanned aircraft will be operated from the ship during the experiment.
Another goal of the project is to increase US competency in building composite ships and to stimulate US shipyards to embrace them, the OFT officials said.
"We are not the leader in that area," Pudas told JDW, citing other countries' carbon-based efforts like Sweden's Visby-class stealth corvettes. "The aircraft industry is very good at it. In shipbuilding, although there has been interest in composite construction, I don't think we have really developed the skill set to do it."
Burns said that from M Ship's perspective, the experiment would help to determine the scalability of the M-hull design and its potential applicability to concepts such as the US Navy's seabasing construct. He said the company believes that M-hulls could be joined together to create large vessels that remain efficient and functional.
"I think there could be some opportunity for seabasing using the M-hull technologies, not only for the connectors but also for the seabase itself," he said. "And we are developing some conceptual designs where we can actually build square ships that can link together and break apart based on the mission needs."
Pudas said the Stiletto project is consistent with the OFT's focus on pairing technologies with concepts so that US forces can accomplish a task not currently possible.
The Stiletto will cost about USD6 million to build, while the overall costs of the experiment are expected to reach about USD12 million, said Cmdr Glaros.