NAVAL STATION EVERETT, Wash. (NNS) — The Navy unveiled its future as it officially christened its revolutionary new Littoral Surface Craft – Experimental, commonly referred to as “X-Craft,” Feb. 5.
Developed by the Office of Naval Research (ONR), this high-speed, aluminum catamaran is designed to test a variety of technologies that could allow the Navy to operate more effectively in littoral, or shallow, waters.
Officially, the ship’s been named Sea Fighter and has been assigned hull number FSF 1, which stands for fast sea frame. X-Craft marks the first time a catamaran was designed and built specifically for the Navy.
“The United States Navy has been at the forefront of employing catamaran technology for advanced naval vehicles,” said Sea Fighter’s designer, Nigel Gee. “The difference here is that ONR came out with some very challenging new requirements which required some new technology in order to address that.
“We’ve been working with ONR and The Titan Corporation to produce something that would satisfy those demands,” he said. “They include achieving speeds of more than 50 knots with a full payload; being able to travel 4,000 nautical miles across the ocean without being refueled; being able to land helicopters in sea states four or five; being able to recover watercraft in sea state four at reasonable speeds over the stern ramp; and ensuring the vessel be habitable at sea states four and five for long periods.”
Sea Fighter is powered by a combined diesel or gas turbine (CODOG) engine plant outfitted with two MTU 595 diesel engines and two General Electric LM2500 gas turbines. The diesels will primarily power the ship during long-range cruising speeds, while the gas turbines will enable the sea fighter to travel at least 50 knots in calm seas and more than 40 knots in sea state four.
“There is a tremendous capability in this vessel to move people, equipment, mission modules, and can help with humanitarian assistance,” said Capt. David Comis, initial X-craft project manager from Feb. 2002 to July 2004. “I think this vessel would have been perfect for the recent Indonesian mission. It can get to its destination very quickly and has the capability to take part in a large variety of missions.”
Thanks to its large mission bay, which can hold up to a dozen 20-foot mission modules, Sea Fighter remains mission flexible. It can take part in various undertakings, including battle force protection, mine countermeasures, anti-submarine warfare, amphibious assault support, and assistance with humanitarian aid.
A multipurpose stern ramp, with direct access to the mission bay, allows Sea Fighter to launch and recover manned and unmanned surface and sub-surface vehicles while underway. Its flight deck has dual landing spots that can fit two H-60 helicopters or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).
Perhaps most revolutionary is that this 262-foot catamaran is outfitted with a crew of 26, 16 of which are Navy while the other 10 are Coast Guard.
The plankowning crew is made up of five officers and 21 enlisted. While all of them are male, that doesn’t mean men will always man the ship.
“This vessel was designed with a mixed-gender crew in mind,” said Comis. “There are a large number of restroom facilities on board, so there’s the capability of having separate small bunkrooms for women.”
Sea Fighter is designed with three-man staterooms for its crew, a decidedly more personal setting than the vast berthing compartments of most naval ships. But with minimal manning, each crew member will have to become very knowledgeable of his ship very quickly.
“The thing that’s really unique about this crew is that since there’s only 26 of us, the engineers can’t concentrate just on engineering and the navigators can’t just concentrate on navigation,” said Lt. Cmdr. Brandon Bryan. “Everyone has to know everyone else’s business. So my engineers know how to drive the ship, my guys who drive the ship know how to go down and start the diesel. Everyone knows everybody else’s job, and that’s just the way it has to be with a ship this large and complex.”
And another intricacy to work out is the joint crew of both Navy and Coast Guard.
“I could be wrong, but I don’t think it’s ever happened before,” said Sea Fighter Executive Officer, Coast Guard Lt. Simon Maple.
But crew members say they look forward to working and learning from each other’s chosen service.
“I think the Navy brings their vast experience of operating in a Department of Defense environment,” said Coast Guard Chief Operations Specialist John Leary. “And the Coast Guard will bring its unique international boarding authority that we have for international activities. Plus, we have more experience manning ships with smaller crews.”
Following the christening, Sea Fighter, which only took 20 months to construct, will be put into the water early morning, Feb. 9. The ship will moor at the civilian port of Everett and April 30, Nichols Ship Builders will officially hand the ship over to the Navy.
In July, the ship intends to head south to its homeport of San Diego where it’ll begin its testing process.
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