Surface Forces: Wonder Ship Seeks Work


March 18, 2009: Three years ago the U.S. Navy took possession of a new, experimental ship. It was an 84 foot long, 60 ton, double hull, craft called the M80 Stiletto. 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 40 feet wide and 18 feet high, and draws less than three feet of water. With 2,000 square feet of usable interior space, it can carry up to twenty tons of cargo. There is a rear ramp for launching a 34 foot SEAL inflatable landing boat. The top deck can be used for operating UAVs (Manta, Silver Fox or 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 sensors and electronics, the Stiletto would cost about $10 million each. Machine-guns or auto-cannon 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.

Stiletto was originally designed for use with U.S. SOCOM (Special Operations Command), but since then, it has been used to seek out and catch drug smuggler boats, using army and civilian crews. One recent night, 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.

The Department of Defense doesn't know what to do with Stiletto itself, although the unique shape seems to work, and the carbon fiber material the boat was built of seems to be holding up to years of heavy seas. The Stiletto is 45 tons empty, and thus could be hoisted aboard a cargo ship for transport to any part of the world.

In some respects, the Stiletto is an update of the World War II PT boat, which were the same length, but narrower and shorter. 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 lots of computers, radars and sonars. It has already been tested as a mine clearing craft. So far, the Stiletto appears to be a successful solution in search of a problem.





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