Tuesday, February 14, 2017

How effectively will the U.S. Navy protect America’s maritime interests during the Trump administration? Given the new president’s oft-stated interest in protecting U.S. borders and maintaining our national prestige, it is important that a strong naval force is an integral part of the mix. Turning this goal into a reality, however, may involve incorporating cutting-edge technology in ways that the Navy has not yet fully come to embrace.

Nobody can say just how closely President Trump has studied the current capabilities of the U.S. Navy, but there is one angle he might find troubling: The Navy has never found a way to stop a swarm attack of small boats against the U.S. fleet. As an example of this vulnerability, consider the Millennium Challenge Exercise of 2002 (MC02).

Very briefly, MC02 was a major war game exercise designed to serve as a test of the military’s transition toward new technologies. The simulated combatants were “Blue” (the U.S.) and “Red” (an unnamed adversary). Red used a fleet of small boats to determine the position of Blue’s fleet on the second day of the exercise; based on this information, Red launched a salvo of cruise missiles that overwhelmed Blue’s electronic sensors and “destroyed” one aircraft carrier, 10 cruisers and five amphibious ships. An equivalent success in a real conflict would have resulted in the deaths of more than 20,000 service personnel. Soon after, another significant portion of Blue’s navy was “sunk” by an armada of small Red boats, which carried out both conventional and suicide attacks that capitalized on Blue’s inability to detect them. In a controversial move, Blue’s ships were subsequently “re-floated” and a script imposed to ensure a Blue victory.

This embarrassing episode highlighted the need to implement new technology in ways that could defend against real-life small boat attacks launched by terrorists or enemy powers. In fact, one such stealth-enabled vessel, GHOST, has already been developed by my company, Juliet Marine Systems (JMS).

Comparable to an attack helicopter on water, GHOST is an attack craft designed to protect vital waterways. Using supercavitation technology and high-performance jet engines, GHOST achieves unmatched stability in high sea states, allowing for accurate deployment of defensive weapons. Its large fuel capacity allows for long-term missions, and its heavy weapons payload capacity ensures it can be ready to protect the fleet. What makes GHOST unique is its combination of speed, maneuverability and endurance, all essential to engaging potential enemy swarms before they reach their intended targets. In defense roles, missions such as fleet protection; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR); and special operations are likely. Civilian government applications could include law enforcement and search and rescue.

GHOST incorporates technology solutions never seen before: Its 16 flush low-drag paddle controls, located behind its forward-mounted propellers, work in conjunction with a fly-by-wire computer and sensors, allowing GHOST to be completely controlled in high sea states at cruise speeds. JMS created a new form of drag reduction, surrounding its underwater hulls with foam tunnels. Drag reduction allows GHOST to reclaim energy usually lost by conventional propulsion — the trail of bubbles often seen behind power boats — and redirect it to reduce drag. GHOST can actively manage movement of air around its hulls, and does so without pumps, fuel or moving parts. As air is much less dense than water, it is desirable to have air around as much of the hull as possible.

As a stable platform in all types of water conditions, GHOST might allow the U.S. to wage a proper defense against enemy swarms. To date, however, the Navy has decided not to go forward with the development of this technology. Indeed, the Pentagon does not want to purchase our boat and also will not permit us to sell it abroad.

In the Trump era, it will take enhanced attention to technologies such as GHOST to ensure that the U.S. retains its ability to protect itself against enemies on the high seas. Doing so will be one way to ensure that America can indeed become “great again.”

Gregory E. Sancoff is president and CEO of Portsmouth, N.H.-based Juliet Marine Systems, Inc. Juliet Marine is dedicated to the rapid development and deployment of technologies that will enhance performance and safety in small vessels.

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