GEAR & TECH

This Navy testbed is a very fast – and “sharp” – ship

(Harold Hutchison)

Believe it or not, the United States Navy has a very fast testbed vessel — one that not only looks futuristic, but is also being used to test all sorts of futuristic technology. That vessel is known as the Stiletto, and while it looks like something out of science fiction, it's actually 13 years old.

Sailors assigned to Naval Special Clearance Team One (NSCT-1), prepare to dock in the well deck aboard experimental ship, Stiletto.

(U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate Airman Damien Horvath)

When you look at the Stiletto, your first impression, based on its shape, is that it's some sort of stealthy vessel. That's a common misconception. During a tour at the Navy League's SeaAirSpace 2018 expo in National Harbor, Maryland, members of the Stiletto program explained that the ship's radar cross section is about what you'd expect for a ship of its size.


The Stiletto's hull is made from carbon-fiber composites.

(Harold Hutchison)

The ship looks as it does because it has a carbon-fiber hull. The material is incredibly light — I had the opportunity to handle a roughly softball-sized chunk of the material and can tell you first-hand. While the exterior is durable (the ship has handled seas rough enough to make lab-acclimated scientists queasy), it's also vulnerable to being punctured.

SEALs prepare to enter the Stiletto. The vessel is small, but can accommodate the SEALs' vessel inside.

(US Navy photo by Photographer's Mate Airman Damien Horvath)

According to an official handout, the Stiletto has a top speed of 47 knots. However, during builders' trials, the crew reported hitting a speed of 54 knots. Normally, the ship cruises along at a comfortable 30 knots and can go 750 nautical miles on one tank of fuel.

In addition to being able to carry a RHIB, the Stiletto can also launch drones.

(US Navy photo by Photographer's Mate Airman Damien Horvath)

But the Stiletto also has ample space – it easily accommodated a rigid-hull inflatable boat that was over 30 feet in length, and there was still plenty of space left over for other gear. The crew explained that adding new systems to the adaptable ship takes a few hours or a day at most.

The wide array of sensors on the Stiletto show how easy it is to add something new to try out.

(Harold Hutchison)

One thing that was skimpy on the Stiletto, however, was the galley, which consisted of a microwave oven and stack of paper plates. The ship of the future, it seems, didn't quite have everything.