Press "Enter" to skip to content

The M80 Stiletto

The U.S. Navy has a new lethal weapon in the form of a state-of-the-art attack vessel reminiscent of the patrol torpedo boats in concept only. In reality, M80 Stiletto is a prototype of a seaborne surface fighting machine like no other. It is a test bed for new systems and technologies. The Navy’s M80 Stiletto is designed to be a combination of a high-speed vessel, a low signature command and control station, a delivery platform for special operations forces, and a mother ship that will be able to launch smaller craft. It has an M-shaped hull which is designed to reduce the ship’s wake. The unique hull reduces drag and the acoustic signature and keeps it from slamming against waves and rough surf at high speeds. It is at home in shallow water making it capable of launching and recovering smaller vehicles including U.S. Special Operations Command’s rigid hull inflatables. Perhaps its most impressive feature is its DroneSentry-X. That is a system that will detect incoming drones a mile and a half away and then jam their system so they cannot attack the M80 Stiletto. It is also possible for this craft to launch several drones in what is called a swarm. These drones can drop explosives that will severely damage an enemy ship. Or, they can jam shipboard air defenses and communications. They would also have surveillance capability that could be used to gather critical intelligence and act as target identification for planes or missiles from other ships. The ship is scalable, meaning that a smaller or larger version of the hull could be easily built. reports, “The M80 Stiletto uses new technology to reduce construction and life-cycle costs, while significantly improving performance and capabilities… Although it is only 88 feet long, its beam is an unusually wide 40 feet and – because of its hull technology and composite structure – performs like a much larger craft.
The Stiletto was developed for high-speed military missions in the shallow water areas of littoral and near-shore waters in support of the Navy’s office of force transformation. No other hull compares to its speed, ride quality, payload capability and unmanned vehicle support.
The Stiletto was designed, developed and delivered in little over a year to demonstrate a different hull form and its scalability, composite construction and a modern design/build methodology.
The Stiletto is the largest vessel ever built for the U.S. government of advanced composite material (carbon fiber) for reduced weight and increased stiffness. Its performance and capabilities have fast-tracked the design from experimental to operational.
Although not intended to become operational, the Stiletto was deployed to Colombia to help fight the U.S. war on drugs and made a high-speed, shallow-water drug interdiction that resulted in the capture of 1,800 lbs. of cocaine.”
One cannot help but be reminded of the PT boats that were used during WWII. Fast, lethal, and capable of hit-and-run tactics that made them a mighty fighting force. Who can forget John Wayne and Robert Montgomery in the film “They Were Expendable”? The quick and deadly Mekong Delta boats served a similar purpose. Here then is the newest of the Navy’s small fighting craft. It was designed mainly to be used by Navy Seals.
Instead of the plywood (original PT boats), the hulls were made of these new carbon-fiber materials and has a networked architecture. There are so many firsts in this vessel that it is hard to count them all. They include its hull design, speed, ride quality, payload capability, and provision for unmanned vehicle support.
While the twin hull design has been around for ages, this new one is unique in its application. This boat is 88ft in length with a 40ft beam, providing a rectangular deck area. When fully loaded the vessel draws 3ft of water. The M80 Stiletto can reach speeds of 50 to 60 knots. Its design allows it to create an air cushion by recapturing the bow wave and using its energy. This technology offers less drag and hence greater operational efficiency.
The vessel is built on advanced M-hull technology. Its carbon-fiber body ensures reduced weight and increased stiffness. M80 Stiletto was introduced to the Pentagon’s Office of Force Transformation as part of the scalability process of the M-hull technology.
The deal made with the builders and the U.S. government allows it to purchase the M80 Stiletto and other prototypes from M Ship Company based on a no-bid and sole-source acquisition contract. The M80 Stiletto was designed by the M Ship Company and then built by Knight and Carver in San Diego, CA. The prototype was launched on January 31, 2006. It is a rugged vessel able to withstand being pounded by heavy seas and even grounding likely to occur during military operations. Her strength comes from specially formulated resins and fibers. There are no foils or lifting devices needed for a smooth ride in the worst or best conditions. It can safely land on a beach. The high lift-to-drag ratio allows great speeds. She is propelled by 4 Caterpillar C32 diesel engines. Her crew may vary from three to twelve Navy Seals.
According to Defense Industry Daily, an authoritative journal of the military industry, the late Vice-Admiral Arthur Cebrowski’s core concept was that technology was changing the rules of naval warfare in many of the world’s shallow, near-shore littoral zones. Pervasive communications can make even derelict-looking fishing boats an effective spy network in many of the world’s contested waters, and robots above and below the surface will increase in number. Couple those things with long-reach, high-performance anti-ship missiles as precision strikes get cheap, and these surveillance-strike complexes are becoming deadly threats to even well-defended platforms.
Cebrowski believed that a navy of a few huge capital assets becomes too vulnerable in a networked world. He published some notable work that tried to get the US Navy to rethink its overall ship design and force structure, and also pushed for a smaller set of “Streetfighter” ships that would combine small size, speed, and weapons to broaden the threat picture for enemy commanders and make their tactical decisions much more complex and difficult.
It was just one outgrowth of those concepts. In 2006, Stiletto program manager US Navy Commander Greg Glaros’ provided a window into the initial thinking behind Stiletto as a program: “Stiletto was constructed in 15 months starting Oct 04. She is made completely out of carbon fiber. Her purpose is to insert emerging technology at little cost due to her Electronic Keel and to provide a venue for operational experimentation. It is not perfect, nor is she designed to solve everyone’s needs (no she does not submerge – we left that to the Billion $ club). What she is designed to do is expand our technical competence against an elusive adversary and learn operationally in a very short period. Concerning its survivability or operational relevancy, we will all learn from her mere existence. Easy to kill??? – We seem to easily lose sight that most military systems are all easy to destroy by a willing enemy.
Our objectives should be focused on matching our adversaries at scale with an ability to cope and adapt – surely the Stark, Cole, M-1 ABRAMS, and Hummers have taught us how easy it is to kill systems designed to survive everything our engineering imagined – unfortunately what our engineers imagine often do not align with what our enemy intends…”
Videos available online at Google & You Tube at:
They show a not-so-pretty craft, but one that is fast, maneuverable, and ready to fight using state-of-the-art technology.