DOD shows off light, fast Stiletto

Experimental vessel meets service’s vision of a new class of bold ships

Editor's Note: This story was corrected at 4:40 p.m. Feb. 15, 2006. The previous version's headline, "Navy shows off light, fast Stiletto," was incorrect.

The Defense Department’s Office of Force Transformation has unveiled a high-speed, lightweight ship that adheres to a vision articulated a year ago by Vice Adm. Arthur Cebrowski, the pioneering leader of the office who died in November 2005.

In his final public speech, Cebrowski told AFCEA International and the U.S. Naval Institute in February 2005 that the Navy should build a fleet of fast ships and unmanned vehicles that rely on advanced networked systems. He said the cost of such relatively small vessels would be low enough that hundreds of them could be built for the price of one conventional aircraft carrier.

“This is the age of the small, the fast and the many,” Cebrowski said. “We should get with it.”

The Stiletto achieves much of Cebrowski’s vision, said Cmdr. Gregory Glaros, the office’s program manager for the ship. The Navy displayed the Stiletto to attendees of the West 2006 conference co-sponsored by AFCEA and the Naval Institute in January.

The Stiletto’s M-shaped design converts wave energy to lift the hull out of the water and help the ship attain a speed of at least 50 knots. It derives its networking power from rackmount computers that run on high-speed Intel processors, Glaros said. M Ship Co. of San Diego developed the Stiletto.

Even the cost of the 80-foot-long, 40-foot-wide vessel meets Cebrowski’s vision, Glaros said. The Navy spent about $6 million for the ship and another $6 million for systems and testing, a small sum when compared to multibillion-dollar aircraft carriers.

The Stiletto’s network, which Glaros referred to as the ship’s electronic keel, allows for quick installation of a variety of programs through commercial data connections, said Kevin Poe, a program manager at Azimuth Systems, which developed the ship’s computer and network systems.

Poe said the Stiletto’s rackmount computer system can accommodate as many as 12 computers running 2.2 GHz Intel Pentium 4 processors. That setup provides the ship’s system with power that Glaros said rivals supercomputing speed.

The Stiletto’s Craft Integrated Electronic Suite melds a variety of functions handled by disparate systems and networks on conventional ships, Poe said. Those functions include radar, navigation and charting systems, crew intercoms, and satellite systems.

The network is designed to accommodate changes, Poe said. For example, the Stiletto uses a commercial Global Positioning System receiver, but he said a secure military receiver could replace it.

The systems display all the complex information the three-man Stiletto crew needs to run the vessel and perform its mission, Poe said.

During upcoming exercises, the Stiletto will support the Naval Special Clearance Team 1, which performs mine-clearance operations in harbors and on beaches as part of the Navy’s Special Operations Command, Glaros said.

Chief Quartermaster Scott Keogh said the team plans to carry sensor systems, including inexpensive and lightweight unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), on the Stiletto to scan for mines and other obstacles.

The UAVs can send visible and infrared imagery to the ship’s networked systems from as far away as 20 miles, Keogh said. Onboard software will help the team and crew identify mines and other hazards, and the team can launch a high-speed boat from the Stiletto to complete its mission.

Glaros said the flexibility of the Stiletto’s plug-and-play network means users can easily configure it to support other teams and missions. The ship’s power comes from its network capabilities, just as Cebrowski had envisioned, Glaros said.

“We don’t need to build expensive capital ships,” Glaros said. “We just build capital potential into networked hulls.”

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