Thursday, April 26, 2007

Enter the Stiletto

The Pentagon, in its quest to retool for the age of terrorism, is funding a striking new experimental ship called the Stiletto. Made entirely of lightweight carbon fiber, the vessel's novel design makes it capable of a blazing 50 knots at sea. (That's 57.5 mph; a small yacht typically plods along at 7 knots.) Sponsored by the Defense Department's Office of Force Transformation, the Stiletto is a step toward faster, smaller, more agile boats that can take on enemies who themselves are today faster, smaller, and more agile. Its Pentagon backers call the ship "a combatant craft to counter the asymmetric threat"–terrorists, insurgents, transnational criminals, and more.Built by San Diego's MSHIPCO, the Stiletto uses a unique hull form that is "off the charts," company founder Bill Burns tells the Bad Guys blog. "Nobody's ever built a ship that has a length to beam ratio of 2 to 1 and still goes 50 knots." A naval architect, sailor, and racer, Burns runs a company that has specialized in cutting-edge design for commercial–not military–vessels. The Stiletto, in fact, evolved out of his firm's work on low-weight ferry boats for Venice, Italy. This is its first defense contract.

Stealthy and quiet, with a smooth ride, the ship is being touted as ideal for operations on harbors, rivers, and shallow waters. The Stiletto reportedly did well in early tests in San Diego last year. The ship arrived in Norfolk, Va., a month ago, where it's being looked at by, among others, the U.S. Special Operations Command, the Coast Guard, Homeland Security, foreign militaries, and even local police.

The actual design of the Stiletto and similar craft may change, but the ship looks like a taste of the future. Among its many potential uses: security, interdiction, surveillance, force protection, and special operations. Of course, we like it because it looks cool. The aesthetics were indeed important in the design, admits Burns. "It had to look sexy in a military sort of way," he says. "It's cool-looking but it's also mean."



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