America's Largest Carbon Fiber Ship is a Seafaring Speed Demon

By Andrew Tarantola on at

The answer to designing ships that are both fast and stable has traditionally been to make the vessels as narrow as possible (to reduce drag) and sit them lower in the water (to reduce the buffeting effects of plowing through waves). But US Navy's M80 Stiletto is not your typical ship. Combining cutting edge construction and a unique hull design, this fast attack boat can cut through rough seas like a hot knife through drawn butter.

The Stiletto is a prototype combat ship designed to operate in littoral, off-shore shallows as a means of delivering Navy SEALS and Spec Ops teams to their insertion points quickly, quietly, and most importantly, in one piece. While heavier ships can leverage their mass to punch through oncoming waves, the lightweight pontoons and power boats conventionally utilised for force insertion lack that ability. Once they get up to speed, they'll tend to jump along the tips of the cresting waves, violently crashing down again and again into the trough before launching up the next wave. And it's not just the boats themselves that take a beating, the ride can be so bone-jarringly hard that passengers have been seriously injured.

America's Largest Carbon Fiber Ship Is a Seafaring Speed Demon

The M80, however, can plow through rough seas with ease thanks to its slick twin-M hull design. Measuring 88 feet in length with a 40 foot beam, the Stiletto's rectangular deck sits atop a pair of wide-set parallel skids. As it moves through the water, oncoming waves are pushed through the gap between the skids capturing the wave's energy to generate lift. This results in a small cushion of air that not only reduces the Stiletto's draught to just 3 feet—even when fully loaded with crew and up to 20 tonnes of equipment—but also drastically improves the vessel's ride and fuel efficiency while minimising drag. Plus, since less than a yard of the Stiletto sits below the waterline, it can easily penetrate rivers and coastlines that would beach other ships.

The M80 isn't just built for comfort, it's also built for speed. Its body is constructed almost entirely of carbon fiber—it is, in fact, the largest US naval vessel ever built using these materials—to reduce its weight to just 45 tonnes while maintaining the structural stiffness necessary to endure combat conditions. With its quartet of 6,600 HP Caterpillar engines, the Stiletto tops out at 50 to 60 knots and boasts a 500 nmi operational range. Granted 60 knots is only about 70 mph on land but in the water, that's "They've gone plaid" sort of fast.

Its low profile and faceted design, reminiscent of the F-117 Nighthawk's, help to minimize the M80's radar signature prevent detection. What's more, the ship is capable of launching both airborne and seaborne surveillance drones that push a continuous data stream back to an on-board clustered supercomputer to provide the deployed SEALS with real-time reconnaissance information.

America's Largest Carbon Fiber Ship Is a Seafaring Speed Demon

In addition to ferrying special forces, the M80 can also be outfitted with a number of ISR (Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance) systems as well as mine clearing equipment. It has also been employed to recover NASA Inflatable Reentry Vehicle Experiment 3 (IRVE-3) test vehicle off the coast of North Carolina in 2012 and has even seen action as a shallow-water narcotics interdiction vessel. During a 70-day mission off the coast of Columbia in 2008, the M80 sucessfully chased down a drug runner and seized 816 kg of cocaine destined for America. With a couple more busts of that scale, the £4.9 million M80 will practically pay for itself. [Wiki - M Ship Co - Naval Technology - Images: M Ship Co]