Special Operations: Stiletto Still A Contender


October 29, 2013: The U.S. Navy is resuming efforts to adapt its experimental M80 Stiletto amphibious ship [VIDEO] for use by SOCOM (Special Operations Command) SEALs and other commandos. Stiletto has been around for a decade and was part of a pre-September 11, 2001 effort to adapt new technology for military use. While initial tests were successful, the war on terror overtook SOCOM and projects like Stiletto got sidelined until more pressing matters (like Iraq and Afghanistan) were taken care of. Now the navy and SOCOM believe it is time to get back to some of these interrupted research efforts. So next year the sole Stiletto ship will be equipped with new weapons and electronics and testing will continue. The Department of Defense will spend about six million dollars on all these tests and then decide if Stiletto is a keeper.

It was back in 2006 that the navy took possession of its first and only Stiletto ship. This was a new, experimental design that was basically a 25.5 meter (84 foot) long, 60 ton, multiple hull craft. The ship took 15 months to build and cost $6 million. With a double M hull shape, which enables high speed operations through rough seas, the vessel is 12 meters (40 feet) wide and 5.5 meters (18 feet) high, and draws less than a meter (3 feet) of water. With 185 square meters (2,000 square feet) of usable interior space, it can carry up to 20 tons of cargo. There is a rear ramp for launching a 10 meter (34 foot) SEAL inflatable landing boat. The top deck can be used for operating UAVs (like Scan Eagle). The vessel has a range of about 900 kilometers and a crew of 3-6 or so can stay at sea for several days at a time. Fully equipped with the latest sensors and electronics, the Stiletto would cost less than $20 million each. Machine-guns, auto-cannon, or small missiles can be mounted on the upper deck. The Stiletto has already successfully carried out tests delivering SEALs through rough seas. The Stiletto can carry a dozen SEALs, their equipment, and inflatable landing boats. The Stiletto is 45 tons empty and thus could be hoisted aboard a cargo ship for transport to any part of the world.

Stiletto was originally designed for use with U.S. SOCOM, but with the war on terror demanding the attention of all the SEALs, the ship was used to seek out and catch drug smuggler boats, using army and civilian crews. In one incident, the Stiletto spotted such a boat and there ensued a high speed chase. Seeing that the Stiletto was catching up, the drug runners headed for some shallow water, not realizing that the Stiletto could handle that as well. The drug boat and its crew were captured. In 2012 the Stiletto was also used to help recover a returning NASA space vehicle.

With the war on terror going on, the Department of Defense didn't know what to do with Stiletto. SOCOM was still interested but unable to do anything with Stiletto as long as all the SEALs were so busy with terrorism. Stiletto, and its unique design, seemed to work. The carbon fiber material the boat was built of seemed to be holding up to years of heavy seas.

In some respects, the Stiletto is an update of the World War II PT boat, which were the same length but narrower. PT boats had the same range and speed but a larger crew (12-18) to handle the torpedoes and machine-guns carried. The M80 Stiletto can carry a lot of computers, radars, and sonars, and that’s what the 2014 tests will concentrate on (also using Stiletto as a commando command ship). Stiletto has already been tested as a mine clearing craft. Stiletto is not just a successful solution in search of a problem but a successful development in an area of amphibious operations that SOCOM had to sideline while its operators were tied down in Afghanistan and other non-coastal terrorist hideouts. Now the SEALs are back to their amphibious origins and Stiletto is still in play.



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