The SEA FIGHTER, noted many times previously on MO, arrived in San Diego for a year’s worth of testing and trials.
The high-speed Sea Fighter —- known during design and construction as the “X-Craft” —- is a boxy, twin-hulled aluminum vessel that drafts just 11 feet of water and is operated by a crew of 26 officers and sailors.
While not intended to enter the Navy’s operational fleet, the ship is designed as a test vessel to work out problems and learn lessons that can be applied to the Navy’s next class of ship —- the Littoral Combat Ship, or LCS —- which is similar in design and concept.
The Sea Fighter’s deck provides a platform for two helicopters, such as the Army’s Black Hawk or the Navy’s Sea Hawk. It also has a launch pad for an unmanned aerial vehicle and space below decks for launching and recovering the inflatable combat boats used by special operations forces such as the Navy’s SEALs.
Officials said the catamaran design limits the amount of ship surface in the water. That cuts friction and drag and makes it light and fast and able to cross oceans quickly.
The shallow draft allows it to operate in shallow coastal waters for combat missions or to ferry cargo and troops close to shore from larger vessels.
The vessel is also designed to carry a weapon system to launch an experimental “affordable weapon” —- a small guided missile with a range of 600 miles that can be controlled from the ground.
The firepower angle appealed to Marine leaders who cruised aboard the vessel Monday.
“It holds a lot of opportunities for the Marine Corps,” said Lt. Gen. John Sattler, the commander of the Camp Pendleton-based I Marine Expeditionary Force.
“We know how fast it can go. We know how much it can carry. Now we’ll have to see how we would use it,” he said Monday. “It has a lot of potential.”
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, who also fought to fund the project, said the Sea Fighter combines the “speed of a PT boat,” a small fast attack boat used in World War II, with the “fire power of a battleship.”
(That last quote is certain to generate controversy among MO readers…)
By finding funds outside the normal defense appropriations process, and by ignoring special interests such as traditional ship builders and Navy officials who “want to keep building big slow ships,” Hunter said he, Issa and Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, R-Escondido, helped military and private industry visionaries “conspire to beat the bureaucracy.”
Cunningham, who is the focus of a federal grand jury investigation, attended the demonstration Monday but did not talk about that investigation.
Hunter said the money for the project —- about $79 million —- came from congressional “add-ons,” which are often referred to as “pork.”
In 2003 the Navy’s Office of Naval Research awarded San Diego-based Titan Corp. an exclusive contract to develop the vessel. The Sea Fighter was built in only two years —- an unprecedented feat in the world of naval acquisitions.
“I knew if we got this thing in the water we could sell it to the Navy,” Hunter said.
Vice Adm. Terrance Etnyre, the commander of U.S. Naval Surface Forces, called the Sea Fighter “the beginning of the future” after receiving a symbolic key to the ship from the Navy’s research branch and Titan.
Although there are currently no plans to field this class of ship operationally, the Coast Guard is apparently intrigued by it and is participating in the tests.