SEA FIGHTER ‘oinks’ its way into San Diego

New Navy catamaran arrives in San Diego

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.


  1. Yea, the battleship statement was a tad overdrawn. That said, this is great little ship, one that I hope convinces the navy to drop the DD(X) and replace it with an upscale LCS style trimaran. Now the seafighter has some serious possibilities. If the Navy gets its way and kills the battleships. I would like to see a sea fighter have a weapon load to make the like a ocean going AC-130. I’m thinking sea fighter load out should be something like a pair of automated NLOS guns. (Stabilized for accurate fire at moderate to high speeds.) A couple of sea certified MLR launchers. Close in defense could be a couple of low profile composite turrets, like those used on the assault Hummer. [ Laser range/ targeting/ FLIR / with 50 cal, M-10 & TOW launcher)

  2. Well, yea, the battleship thing was probably not the best congressional ‘truth in advertising’ to come out this week (anyone know if Dick Durbin had anything to say, he always seems to be on top of the truth LOL!). On the other hand, I’m not sure I can fault Mr. Issa too much, I’d say his knowledge (or maybe he was just saying it for PR effect)of BBs and PTs is about the norm for politicians on both sides of the isle. Or mainstream journalists for that matter.

  3. About the best thing the navy’s got going is the standardized missile packs. With these, and depending on the size of the ship, you can set them up for just about anything. That’s what will make ships like this, or an LCS Trimaran useful. I think that going with larger numbers of small ships is really the best idea. On the defensive side, smaller, faster ships are harder to hit. And if they are hit, they represent a smaller loss in terms of fleet capabilities. On the offensive side, modern networking/communications tech means that they all fight as effectively one ship anyway. You gain in flexibility as well, even though you lose a little on the economy of scale thing you’d have with a larger ship, but I’ll take that hit.

  4. It’s about time, I must say! Ask the British who once had the world’s best battleships if you can build an empire with capital ships alone. The US Navy spent the 90’s building the giant Burke destroyers, Seawolf subs, and new aircraft carriers. It took the wake-up call of 9/11 to get them building the small ships again. As far as the battleship comment, I like the idea of a coastal battleship, armed to the teeth with close-in weapons for shore bombardment.

  5. The General Dynamics/ Austal LCS team will get you that LCS trimaran. and there may well be real benefits to building more LCS type ships. Having said that, an LCS ship is going to be limited. The DD(X) is meant to support shore landings with sustained, precision firepower from over the horizon. An LCS won’t give you that kind of firepower or range, and will have limits to its ammunition. Missile packs, be they NETFIRES, MLRS derivatives, or even LAR 160s, just tighten the ammo limits and give you ‘burst’ firepower rather than sustained. That can be useful. It can also be dangerous if that’s all you have. Given that an LCS also has to get in closer than a DD(X) with its AGS gun, let’s talk protection. With modern missiles, it isn’t a bit harder to hit. The most it can hope for is being harder to find in the first place, hence designs like the Swedish Visby-Class and Norwegian Skjold (Shield) Class. As for battleships like the Iowa Class, they’re easy to find but can strike while being protected by a screen of air defense destroyers and don’t worry much about strikes from stuff like an Exocet. There’s something to that, hence calls for reactivating 2 battleships for fire support instead of running the DD(X) program. It all comes down to exactly what we want those ships to be doing. I can see the utility of using multiple LCS’ in littoral anti-sub efforts, for instance, linked to a network of semi-autonomous sensors and emplaced weapons. Might even be better for the money than a DD(X). Minehunting, ditto. Shore recon, definitely, given the multiple Fire Scout helicopter UAVs and SOF teams that several LCSes could launch. Naval fire support of Marine landings and inshore battles? That may be possible by changing a few things in the overall force, but it won’t come from the Littoral Combat Ships.

  6. I am a radio station Chief Engineer. Admittedly, I don’t know much about Naval ships or design. But I can add 2+2 and come up with 4. I do a pretty good job of keeping our station on the air (and competitive). Based on the little I have read and seen about the Sea Fighter, I can only conclude that this really is a VERY GOOD idea. My basis for this conclusion? 1. A swarm of ants can kill a giant. 2. In WW2, 50,000 M4 Sherman Tanks out fought the ‘Superior’ (and fewer) German Tigers-AND DEFEATED THEM. 3. You lose a lot less by taking out one Sea Fighter than a Nimitz class carrier. 4.They are a hell of a lot cheaper. 5. Billy Mitchell ultimately proved HE was right and the Navy brass was wrong, at the cost of his comission. Billy Mitchell PROVED that the Navy brass are very slow and reluctant to embrace new ideas, and ‘face the facts’ so to speak. They like ‘big ships’ I recently saw a documentary about the U.S. Navy’s KILO MOANA, a research vessel based in Hawaii. It is a SWATH design, similar to Sea Fighter. It’s rough sea performance cannot be argued with. Inspiried by this , I recently emailed Mr. Secretary, Gordon England that based on the KILO MOANA’s performance, it might make sense to make the next Carrier X (beyond NIMITZ), a twin hull design, conceptually ‘parking’ two Nimitz class carriers side by side and ‘welding’ them together, creating a ‘mini airport’ with ‘built in back up’ launch and landing strips. Arresting gear could be reduced because of the increased speed and vertical stability. Eliminating one island and leaving the other one would put it in the CENTER of the ship, rather than on one side improving ship balance and symmetry. Just reangle the ‘landing’ flight deck of the right side and you could launch 8 planes almost simultaneously and land 2! I understand Carrier X will not have this feature. It is understandable based upon Naval brass previous reluctance to accept change, as in the Billy Mitchell case. As a further example of what is ‘DO-able’ and thinking ‘outside the box’, on July 29th when the last space shuttle went up and the foam problem came back to haunt NASA, I emailed Michael Griffin, NASA’s Director, and suggested that since the shuttle’s problems remain unresolved, ‘go back to the technology you understand’, namely Saturn 5 bosters and Apollo reockets of the 60’s, since they WORKED- they were good enough to get us to the moon. With their ‘Heavy lift capability’, very similar to the shuttle, we could ‘get back into space’ Just update them with today’s technology, enlarge the third stage and use it as a building block for the international Space station (instead of just theowing it away (reducing waste)and expand the capsule to accommodate four or more astronauts. ‘Coincidentally’, in September about 3 months later, NASA publically announced that ‘Since July, a team from Lockheed Martin and another from Northrup Grumman and Boeing have been working on designs for NASA’s planned Crew Exploration Vehicle, an advanced version of the three man Apollo capsule and a service module that could carry six astronauts to the space station and four to the moon’ I have the emails time stamped to prove it. One heck of a ‘coincidence’! Come on folks. SWATH is the way to go. If you are going to build a ‘Big ship’ build a REALLY big one. Best bet, build FEWER REALLY big carriers just like I outlined utilizing SWATH technology, and build MANY Sea Fighter types to support and protect the big ones. This gives you the best of both worlds. THIS ISN’T EXACTLY ROCKET SCIENCE! Eddie Miles Chief Engineer KZEP FM San Antonio, Texas ‘San Antonio’s Classic Rock’