NAVY TESTS HIGH TECH STEALTH BOAT
Navy Tests High Tech Stealth Boat
High Tech Stealth Boat
Norwegian-built Skjold uses radar-absorbing materials and can race at 60 mph.
By Peter Barnes, Tech Live Washington, DC, bureau chief
An odd-looking, fast, stealthy, high tech catamaran is cruising off the shores of Virginia this summer. It's called the P-960 KNM Skjold (pronounced "shold," Norwegian for "shield"). The US Navy is studying it to see if it will help protect the American coastline from attack and serve on foreign coastlines during overseas missions. Tonight's "Tech Live" reports.
Designed for missions in coastal waters, the Norwegian-built vessel can race at speeds of about 60 mph. It can also fool radar. Radar-absorbing materials in the hull make it look like a small fishing boat on an enemy radar screen, instead of a ship half the size of a football field. And the Skjold is networked from bow to stern with nearly 40 computers.
"It's all very automated," said Rune Anderson, the Royal Norwegian Navy officer who is commanding the ship on its US visit. "There's a lot of computers helping us out. The total crew will be about 15." That's half the crew of an American patrol craft of similar size.
The Pentagon is evaluating lighter, faster ships as part of its military "transformation" plans for handling small regional missions and homeland defense. Such craft would move in squadrons of four to six vessels, which is how the Skjold is configured in the Norwegian navy.
Strength and speed
The Skjold is 157 feet long and 45 feet wide. It's built of a light, superstrong foam composite about 3 inches thick. Giant fans below deck create a cushion of air that lifts the ship five feet above the surface for high-speed cruising.
"We have a transit speed of 50 knots-plus," Anderson said. "We have very good sea-keeping -- we can maintain high speed in bad weather -- and that gives you a short reaction time in any situation."
The Skjold is designed to carry surface-to-surface missiles with a 100-mile range and three-inch guns.
John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a nonprofit nonpartisan organization that he founded in December 2000 and one of the world's leading experts on defense, space, and intelligence policy, thinks the Norwegian boat could fill an existing hole in the Navy's arsenal, "It certainly is not something the Navy has. It could provide coastal protection as well as be stealthy out on the open sea. It's an interesting option for the Navy to consider. Traditionally, the Navy has been a blue water navy --- in the wake of 9-11 they need to look at all the options of working in brown water."
Pike then compared the Skjold to the Navy's Cyclone class of boats, which he termed "definitely not stealthy," and mused on possible uses for the Skjold.
"If you were to try sneak into Iraq to land teams of SEALS in a PC craft like the Cyclone, you wouldn't be able to do it without being detected. The Skjold would give you the option of deploying without risk of detection."
The Norwegians are paying $50 million a ship. But with mass production for the US Navy, the cost could drop significantly. The Pentagon doesn't have a specific time line for selecting or deploying this type of high-speed craft.
The Skjold completes its one-year visit to the United States in September, when it will return to Norway.