Silver Ships, Theodore, Ala., has been awarded a $6 million contract to build up and deliver up to 246 high-speed maneuvering surface target (HSMST) custom vessels for the Navy. The contract is the largest and most lucrative in Silver Ships’ history. 

The contract includes options that, if exercised, would bring the total value of the contract to $48.25 million.

The aluminum boats will be built based on the shipyard’s AM800 RIB series. As target vessels, the 27'x9'6" boats are subsequently destroyed by the Navy after delivery. Since 1994, the U.S. military has operated Silver Ships RIBs throughout all branches. Silver Ships has built and delivered more than 800 RIBs, many used by the Navy to support ship, aviation training and operational needs.

The AM800 target boats have air or foam collars depending on the boat variant. Each AM800 will be outfitted with a specialized compartment designed for installing remote control systems and electronics. These target boats are fully operational and built to the Navy’s specifications and payload requirements depending on the boat’s specific mission. Vessels can be operated by a one or two-person crew for training purposes but are remotely operated during live-fire training.

Most of the HSMSTs ordered will be powered by twin Suzuki 225HP outboards. The remaining boats in the contract will be powered by Mercury outboards and placed on Navy vessels that don’t carry gasoline. HSMSTs are designed with several uncommon design elements specific to their unique mission. For example, an above-deck fuel tank allowing operators to replace tanks quickly and easily.

Steven Clarke, the shipyard’s CEO, said most of the vessels are remotely operated but can also be run by a one-person or two-person crew for training purposes. The boats are not targeted when a crew is aboard.

“Someone can fully operate these boats,” said Clarke. “It’s a fully operational boat built to the Navy’s specifications and payload requirements depending on a boat’s specific mission.” 

Clarke said Silver Ships takes pride in its support of the Navy and remains dedicated to meeting all operational needs while offering maximum crew safety and performance. “We’re one of the most consistent builders for them,” said Clarke.

Being able to deliver on time means Silver Ships has to have the workers needed to build the boats. “It’s been a bigger challenge to recruit recently, but our retention rate is high because we invest a lot in training. We have workers here that have been with us 20-plus years and some even 30-plus years. They tend not to leave.”

"During my Navy service, I greatly benefitted from being able to train with the Silver Ships' HSMST vessels during pre-deployment live-fire events. Their durability and survivability are invaluable and really have made a big impact on fleet operational readiness over the years," said Shawn Lobree, a retired Navy captain and Silver Ships' HSMST project manager.  

The first target boats from this contract are scheduled for delivery in March 2024.

Ken Hocke has been the senior editor of WorkBoat since 1999. He was the associate editor of WorkBoat from 1997 to 1999. Prior to that, he was the editor of the Daily Shipping Guide, a transportation daily in New Orleans. He has written for other publications including The Times-Picayune. He graduated from Louisiana State University with an arts and sciences degree, with a concentration in English, in 1978.

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