M80 Stiletto

The M80 Stiletto is a recently built naval prototype manufactured by the M Ship Company as an operational experimental platform for the US Navy. It has an unusual catamaran (pentamaran) hull design which makes extensive use of carbon-fibre construction for both strength and stealth. The M80 Stiletto is an American vessel designed primarily for littoral combat and shallow water roles taking its name from the Italian Stiletto – a short dagger. This 27 m-long vessel has an M-shaped hull providing a stable and fast platform for surveillance, weapons and special operations (Figure 7.16). Its shallow draft means the M80 Stiletto can operate in littoral and river environments that other naval vessels cannot operate in (due to their draught) and can even allow for amphibious assault if needed. The Stiletto is equipped with four 1,232 kW engines, modest by comparison with the power levels of the Type 45 Destroyer, but has a top speed over 50 knots and has a range of some 500 NM when fully loaded! It uses jet drives for shallow water operations and beaching and a small flight deck for the launch and retrieval of several UAVs. The Stiletto can set up a communications network between special inserted forces teams by launching a UAV to relay information between the team and the boat, and can send real-time images to the team on shore. The ship is 88.6 ft long, with a width of 40 ft (12 m) and a height of 18.5 ft (5.6 m), and with a surprisingly small draft of just 2.5 ft (0.8 m).

The Stiletto is the largest US naval vessel yet built using carbon-fibre composite and advanced maritime epoxy building techniques, to yield a light but strong hull with a very low RCS to avoid radar detection. The M80’s hull is unusually wide to capture the vessel’s bow wave and redirect the wave energy under the hull. The Stiletto’s double-M hull enables the craft to achieve as smooth a ride as possible in rough seas at high speed, critical for Navy SEALS and Special Operations Forces.

In some ways, this is a practical small-scale supercessor to the US Sea Shadow, which after its Lockheed Martin test days of the 1980s was for a few years used by Northrop Grumman for initial research towards the recently abandoned Zumwalt programme. As a final note perhaps to the history of the Sea Shadow (developed at a cost of a little over £110 million), this stealthy platform was recently offered to be given away along with its barge for free to any museum that would take it. The barge itself was built over 35 years ago to raise a sunken Soviet submarine, but since 2005 both have been housed in San Diego, California.