In May, builders of small, fast boats for the military discovered what most of them already knew.
“This is a good time to be in the business you’re in,” Scott Littlefield, director of science and technology at the Office of Naval Research (ONR) in Washington, D.C., told attendees at the 2005 Multi-Agency Craft Conference (MACC) held in Norfolk, Va. “The technology at MACC is more like what the Navy is looking at,” which is essentially “small and fast.”
Small and fast as defined by the Navy isn’t always the same as small and fast in the commercial marine arena, but there’s definitely some crossover. Two recent ONR projects, the X-Craft and the SeaCoaster, have been built at midtier commercial yards (Nichols Brothers and Austal USA, respectively). Another high-profile “small” Navy project, the littoral combat ship (LCS), is being built by Austal USA and Marinette Marine/Bollinger Shipyards (see sidebar).
Littlefield also told MACC attendees that the Navy is very interested in high-speed, shallow-draft, beachable cargo vessels. In a follow-up interview, Littlefield told WorkBoat that ONR is looking at the SeaCoaster as a possible candidate for this type of vessel.
“The SeaCoaster is an air-cushioned catamaran but without a skirt,” he said. “Each hull has a cavity underneath it. When it’s on the air cushion, it’s a very shallow-draft vehicle, and one of the things that the Navy is interested in is a beachable craft. And so the SeaCoaster with some modifications might be a beachable craft.”
Littlefield admitted that the SeaCoaster has had some “technical issues” during testing, “but we’re making steady progress.”
ONR also held an industry day recently in Panama City, Fla., to investigate other beachable craft. “Ultimately what we’re looking for right now is high-speed, beachable and with the ability to carry a significant payload over a long range. The fundamental question is if you can get all those attributes in a single craft. I don’t think we know the answer to that yet. We’re definitely looking for ideas,” said Littlefield.
Another category of boats the Navy is very interested in, according to Littlefield, is unmanned surface vehicles (USVs).
“The Navy has had a sporadic interest in unmanned surface vehicles over the years,” he said, “but has never really gotten that serious about it. One of the reasons, historically, is that we didn’t have a ship that was designed to carry them. Now the littoral combat ship will have two spots for either 11-meter RIBs or unmanned surface vehicles the same size as an 11-meter RIB. So now you have a host platform that can carry unmanned surface vehicles, and we’re starting to develop payloads that go on board unmanned surface vehicles. And those vehicles look a lot like many of the things you saw at the MACC show.”
MORE SMALL BOATS
The other keynote speaker at MACC was Bilyana Anderson, deputy manager at the Navy’s PMS325 office in D.C. PMS325 is part of the Program Executive Office Ships, better known as PEO Ships. The office’s mission is “to acquire support ships, small boats, and service craft for the Department of Navy, other government agencies and foreign government customers.”
The PMS325’s 2006 procurement schedule calls for the purchase of 100 boats, broken down into 11 categories, including RIBs, support craft, utility boats, force protection boats, target boats, and Naval Special Warfare boats. Looking out to 2011, PMS325 expects to purchase about 60 of these boats a year.
In addition, PMS325 is working with the Department of Transportation and the state of Hawaii on the design and construction of four 150-passenger ferries to carry visitors to the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor. Part of the project includes an alternative clean-fuel program for the diesel engines. The procurement package is scheduled to be ready in September with the contract award sometime during fiscal 2006.
Anderson also confirmed the Navy’s interest in USVs and said that her office is procuring seven- and 11-meter Spartans, which are modular, multimission USVs capable of 3,000-lb. and 5,000-lb. payloads.
In general, according to Anderson, the Navy is looking for new shock mitigation technology and improved habitability/personal safety for the small craft it will purchase, most of which operate in severe environments. The Navy is also seeking even better support from its commercial vendors along with affordable costs. Most of the PMS325 acquisitions use GSA Federal Supply Service schedules.
Anderson also stressed industry involvement, such as participation in MACC, as well as other direct government-industry contacts. She also emphasized the ultimate goal of providing the best value for those who must fight. “Focus on the fleet,” she said. “Make their job easier.”