Of the several advanced hull forms being evaluated for future naval platforms, one of the most unusual is the craft named Stiletto. The unusual aspects of the Stiletto include the origins of her design, the craft's sponsorship, her performance, and her box-like appearance-the antithesis of the image of the dagger with a slender, tapering blade, for which the craft is named.
The Stiletto design was developed in response to the frustration of the Doge (chief magistrate) of Venice at the wakes created by high-speed boats moving through the city's canals. Charles Robinson, a friend of the Doge, responded by developing a small craft that created little wake at higher speeds. Robinson, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate, was a deputy Secretary of State during the Ford administration; today he designs advanced small craft.
When officials of the Office of Force Transformation in the Department of Defense learned of Robinson's design, he was engaged to determine if his design could scale up to a craft that might be useful for special operations forces, whose craft might be detected by their wakes.
The result was the M-hull design. This is a "cuptured-bubble" configuration with rigid sides or "skirts" that recapture the bow wave that then spirals through planing tunnels created by the outer hulls. The outboard hulls' shape minimizes pressure gradients to reduce drag and the craft's wave signature or wake. Propulsion is provided by four Caterpillar diesel engines each turning a shaft fitted with a six-blade, 36-inch propeller. Also unusual, when at rest the craft's propellers protrude above the water.
The M-hull design allows the Stiletto to automatically and naturally (i.e., without operator input) seek the most efficient lift depending upon the craft's speed and payload, and sea conditions. The hull and box-like superstructure are fabricated of composite (carbon-reinforced fiber) materials.
The Office of Force Transformation (OFT) undertook development and construction of the Stiletto outside of the existing U.S. ship acquisition process and outside of the normal naval ship construction community. This approach could open up more American industry to small craft development and construction. The Combat Craft Division of the Naval Surface Warfare Center at Carderock, Maryland, served as program manager for the craft.
Designed by M Ship Co., the Stiletto was constructed by the Knight & Carver Yacht Center in San Diego. The design contract was awarded in October 2004 and the craft was launched on 30 January 2006-a possible record of only 15 months. She immediately began her sea trials.
The Stiletto is designed to move at up to 50 knots. The craft is highly maneuverable, has a very shallow draft, is a stable platform, and has minimal wake. These characteristics plus its large payload make the Stiletto of particular interest to the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), which is participating in the craft's evaluation.
The box-like superstructure has a large stern access with launch and retrieval gear for an 11-meter rigid-hull inflatable boat (RHIB). The cavernous interior provides a high degree of payload flexibility, e.g., space for berthing troops and for their weapons, and for stowage of combat rubber raiding craft (CRRC) used by special forces. The Stiletto can also be fitted to launch unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and to recover them if they are capable of vertical landing, or various weapons. or command and control equipment. The Stiletto has also participated in a mine-clearing exercise.
The OFT does not necessarily envision a large force of Stilettoes being produced by the U.S. Navy or even under the aegis of USSOCOM, which has responsibility for the small craft and submersibles supporting Navy SEALs and other special forces. "Rather." said retired Commander Gregory E. Glaros of OFT, "we see the Stiletto as an alternative model for a new acquisition process." But, he quickly added, the craft could serve as the prototype "for a force of multi-purpose platforms that fits in well with the concept of distributed operations."1
USSOCOM has partnered with OFT for the Stiletto's operational experimentation, which begins this fall off the U.S. East Coast. The OFT-which provided the $6 million to design and construct the craft and the $6.5 million for tests and operational experiments-is now determining potential roles for the craft. And, said an OFT official, the question of whether the design can be scaled up to a larger ship-such as a high-speed cargo lifter-is also being looked at.
1 Cmdr Glaros discussion with N. Polmar, San Diego, 10 January 2006.