On the high-tech seas

Lightweight and high-speed, the Stiletto carries a 1-Gbps LAN.

M Ship Co./Bob Grieser

Light, fast and laden with IT, the experimental Stiletto would support special operations forces

The Stiletto, an 80-foot, high-speed, high-tech carbon-reinforced ship designed to support surveillance and reconnaissance in high-risk areas, took 15 months and $6 million to build. In terms of Defense Department acquisition years and outlays, that's about as good as it gets.

But the real test will come in May, most agree, during Exercise Howler, when DOD's Office of Force Transformation and the Special Operations Command begin testing the prototype vessel for operational readiness. OFT and SOCOM are partners in the development of the ship.

After tests, DOD will know whether the Stiletto model works as-is or needs to be re-engineered.

Either way, the department is learning a lot from the research and development of Stiletto, according to Terry Pudas, acting director of OFT. The vessel, which operates speeds up to 50 knots'its light weight leaving a small wake'includes an electronic keel for mission reconfiguration and communications, and has the ability to launch unmanned aerial vehicles.

It is also being held up as a model for transformation.

'What drives transformation is this notion of being in a competitive environment,' Pudas said. 'It's the ability to outlearn your present competitor and turn that learning into action.'

The ship's electronic keel includes a 1-Gbps local area network. Among the unmanned aerial vehicles the ship can launch from its upper deck is the Silver Fox, a lightweight UAV that can be recovered easily from the water after providing its aerial surveillance images, officials said.

Scott Keough, a Navy chief petty officer who is part of the service's special operations force, said Stiletto's advantage over other vessels is its M-hull design. The hull, developed by M Ship Co. of San Diego and also used in other of the company's models, lets the ship run extremely fast, while the onboard UAVs give special operations forces crucial intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance information that can be shared with other divisions.

For covert special operations forces, which operate in dangerous locales and often in the dead of night, Stiletto's ability to launch and retrieve UAVs and provide potential targeting information is critical, Keough added.

'We put the information out there, and anyone who knows the information is out there can dial on their (radio) frequency and look at what the UAV is looking at,' Keough said.

Stiletto is the brainchild of the late Arthur Cebrowski. Cebrowski, a retired Navy vice admiral who died in November after an extended illness, was the first transformation chief for OFT, a think-tank office that DOD officials created in late 2001.

'This is showcasing not what the future is or should be, but what the present is and should be,' said Cmdr. Gregory Glaros, a transformation strategist who heads the Stiletto program at OFT. Glaros said the vessel would be used for technological explorations and operational experiments.

Communications connectivity

However, Pudas said the Stiletto is not necessarily intended to be a program. In developing Stiletto, OFT set out to create a tangible experimental vessel that could be outfitted with the latest sensor and communications connectivity to keep special operations forces updated with the latest information.

'We know it will probably not be the 100 percent solution,' Pudas said. 'We're doing this because there's a real need to create knowledge and accelerate learning. Industry does the same thing. This takes PowerPoint to reality.'

The onboard communications equipment includes the Craft Integrated Electronic Suite, developed by Azimuth Inc. of Fairmont, W.Va., which runs on rack-mounted computers aboard the ship. The CIES software includes a tactical display system, standard navigation sensors and an integrated alarm system.

The ship also includes FalconView, which combines maps and geographic references. The software was developed at the Georgia Tech Research Institute, and according to the FalconView Web site is free to Defense components.

Kevin S. Poe, aerospace engineer and program manager at Azimuth, said the software runs on Microsoft Windows XP. Ship pilots'who sit in cockpit chairs with tactical dashboard screens in front of them'can watch streaming videos in real time over the system.

The Stiletto illustrates the transformation path that special operations forces are on, said Vice Adm. Eric T. Olson, deputy commander of the Special Operations Command.

'We've invested heavily in top-notch systems,' Olson said recently at the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association's West 2006 show.

SOCOM was established in 1987 as a joint, unified command to lead, plan and execute global operations against terrorist networks. n

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