How ‘baby flattops’ helped the US Navy win World War II

Navy sailor on aircraft carrier flight deck
A US Navy flight deck officer gives a thumbs-up as flight crews work on Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers aboard an unidentified training escort carrier in the 1940s.

  • Before the US entered World War II, the Navy knew its fleet carriers wouldn’t be enough to fight Germany and Japan.
  • The solution was the escort carrier, smaller and slower than larger fleet carriers but capable of protecting convoys and amphibious landings.
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While smaller and slower than the “fleet” aircraft carriers employed by the United States Navy during World War II, the escort carrier – also known as “jeep carrier” or “baby flattop” – still proved highly vital to the war effort.

At just half the length and a third the displacement of the larger fleet carriers, the escort carriers were built on commercial ship hulls, making them cheaper and easier to build.

However, the carriers were too slow to keep up with the main force that consisted of fleet carriers, cruisers, or even battleships. And yet, the small escorts served well in protecting convoys while they could provide air support during an amphibious landing.

The escort carriers also served as transports and were able to ferry aircraft to all of the military services.

More carriers needed

Navy aircraft carrier with planes
A Sangamon-class escort carrier transports aircraft for the invasion of North Africa, November 1942.

The origins of this new class of warship date back just prior to America’s entry into World War II.

In a December 1940 letter to the Chief of Naval Operations, Rear Admiral William F. “Bull” Halsey, Jr., the US Fleet’s commander of the Aircraft, Battle Force, expressed concern the US Navy’s six carriers would be inadequate against both Germany and Japan.

Halsey warned that more ships would be needed, and the result was the small CVE, the Navy’s eventual designation for the Escort Aircraft Carrier.

It was a compromise in design, built using a modified merchant ship hull that was lightly armed and armored, was slow, and had limited carrying capacity – only 24 to 36 planes could be carried compared to the nearly 90 of a fleet carrier.

A lot of small carriers

Navy escort carrier USS Casablanca
Navy escort carrier USS Casablanca, February 4, 1944.

While overshadowed by the larger warships, of the 151 aircraft carriers built during the Second World War, 122 were actually escort carriers.

Fifty of those were of the Casablanca-class, and it ended up being the most numerous class of aircraft carriers ever built. They were also built quickly, and all 50 were laid down, launched and commissioned within the space of less than two years by the Kaiser Shipbuilding Company’s Vancouver Yard on the Columbia River in Vancouver, Washington.

The 156-meter long Casablanca escorts displaced only 7,800-tons – or nearly 11,000 tons fully loaded with 910 crew, 28 aircraft, ammunition and nearly 120,000 gallons of aviation fuel.

Five Casablanca-class escort carriers were assigned to Atlantic patrols, where escort carriers proved one of several innovations that ultimately defeated the Kriegsmarine’s U-Boats. Initially deployed to protect convoys and ferry land-based aircraft, they eventually led five out of 11 roving “Hunter-Killer groups” that helped chased down U-Boats, sinking 53 by the end of the war.

Of the 13 US aircraft carriers of all types lost during World War II, seven were escort carriers, six of which were of the Kaiser-built Casablanca-class.

Navy escort aircraft carrier USS Card
Navy Bogue-class escort carrier USS Card, December 10, 1943.

An additional 45 Bogue­-class CVEs were built for service with the US Navy as well as the British Royal Navy through the Lend-Lease program.

All of the ships that served with the US Navy and half of the ships for the Royal Navy were built by the Seattle-Tacoma Shipbuilding Corporation, while a few of the early Royal Navy ships were produced by Ingalls Shipbuilding of Pascagoula, Mississippi, and Western Pipe and Steel Company of San Francisco, California.

Following the war, 10 of the baby flattops were kept in service for helicopter and air transport operations.

The final class of CVEs to be built was the Commencement Bay-class, which was based on the T3 Tanker Hull but actually constructed as small carriers from the keel up. Thirty-five were ordered, and just 19 were produced while most of those saw little to no operational service.

However, after the war the potential for use a helicopter and auxiliary transports was seen and a few of the Commencement Bay-class escort carriers were called back into service during the Korean War.

A few CVEs from the various classes were also pressed back into service during the first years of Vietnam War, where these warships were redesignated AKV (air transport auxiliary).

Navy escort carrier carrying flying boats fighter planes and biplane
Navy escort carrier USS Thetis Bay transporting 8 PBY Catalina flying boats, 18 F6F Hellcat fighters, and a J2F amphibious biplane, July 8, 1944.

One of the final – but not the last – Casablanca-class escort carriers to be built was the USS Thetis Bay, which began as CVE-90.

She was converted in the mid-1950s to become the Navy’s first assault helicopter carrier, and her designation was changed to CVHA-1, while a few years later she underwent another refit, which extensively modified the warship including having the aft flight deck cut way.

Her designation was changed again to LPH-6, an amphibious assault ship, in May 1959. She remained in service for another five years and was the final CVE to be scrapped.

Despite the important role that these baby flattops played in World War II, sadly not a single one of the 122 Allied CVEs survives today.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on

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The Air Force is spending $500 million on modified corporate jets to monitor battlefields around the world

Air Force E-11A Crash Afganistan
An Air Force Bombardier E-11A aircraft.

  • The US Air Force has awarded Learjet a $464.8 million contract for six Bombardier Global 6000 jets.
  • The jets are built for the corporate sector, but the Air Force will use them as flying communication nodes.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

This month, the United States Air Force awarded a $464.8 million contract to Learjet Inc. for six Bombardier Global 6000 jets.

The large cabin jets, which serve in the business/corporate sector, won’t be used to shuttle the Air Force’s brass – but rather will be modified to serve as Battlefield Airborne Communications Node aircraft.

Designated as the E-11A, the six jets will be assigned to the Air Combat Command where the aircraft will operate as a high-altitude, loitering communications node to air and ground forces. The contract will include the engineering and modification work to transform the basic corporate jet into the flying communication node.

Air Force E-11A Crash Afghanistan
A US Air Force E-11A aircraft.

In that capacity, the E-11A can provide a node for voice communication, as well as a crucial link to share data, video and images.

The payload can also provide relay, bridging and data translation for platforms that are not able to communicate due to terrain impediments including units that are separated by mountains, but also systems that use different voice and data link systems, Defense News reported.

“These aircraft are required for continuous operations outside the contiguous United States in multiple theaters of operation,” Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) program lead Elizabeth Rosa, Aerial Networks Division, said in a US Air Force statement.

“Bombardier is proud to be chosen once again by the US Air Force to provide our high-performing Global aircraft and our unique expertise in support of the BACN program,” said Michel Ouellette, executive vice president, Specialized Aircraft, Programs and Engineering, Bombardier. “Our US-based employees are honored to be lending their skills in support of this elite project.”

Contract terms

Air Force E-11A Crash Afghanistan
A US Air Force E-11A aircraft.

Under the terms of the new contract, which was announced last week by the Department of Defense (DoD), the deliveries of the six aircraft will occur over the next five years, through May 2026.

The contract immediately obligated $70 million to pay for the first Global 6000 out of a potential total of six planes. The service had already received $63 million for the E-11 program in the fiscal year 2021 (FY21) budget to procure the first of the aircraft.

The new Bombardier Global 6000 aircraft will complement the Air Force’s fleet of Bombardier Global Express jets that served as an earlier version of the E-11A.

Four of those aircraft entered the Air Force’s inventory beginning in 2007, while one was lost in a crash in Afghanistan in January 2020. The crash killed Lt. Col. Paul K. Voss and Capt. Ryan S. Phaneuf, both assigned to the 430th Expeditionary Combat Squadron at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan

BACN flying high

Air Force E-11A Crash Afghanistan
A US Air Force E-11A aircraft.

The Air Force also currently operates four EQ-4B Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) drones equipped with Northrop Grumman’s Battlefield Airborne Communications Node payload.

The E-11A fleet of aircraft is based at Hanscom Air Force Base (AFB) in the U.S. state of Massachusetts but deployed around the world based on the need arises.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including “A Gallery of Military Headdress,” which is available on

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The Air Force has picked the new B-21 stealth bomber’s main operating base

B-21 Raider bomber
An artist’s rendering of the B-21 bomber at Ellsworth Air Force Base.

  • The US Air Force has indicated that South Dakota’s Ellsworth Air Force Base will be the first home for the service’s new bomber.
  • The Air Force previously said Ellsworth was the preferred location for the first operational B-21 as well as the formal B-21 training unit.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

While it won’t be for a few more years, residents of the Mount Rushmore State will likely get to see the Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider overhead.

The United States Air Force announced this month that Ellsworth Air Force Base (AFB), South Dakota, will be home to the next-generation nuclear bomber.

The Air Force will likely acquire more than 100 of the stealth bombers, which are capable of launching nuclear strikes around the world.

The B-21 Raider, which is currently in the prototype testing stage, will likely replace many of the aging bombers in the US Air Force such as the B-52 Stratofortress, B-1B Lancer, and B-2 Spirit.

South Dakota’s two senators, John Thune and Mike Rounds, both Republicans, were informed by the Air Force on Wednesday that the service had officially designated Ellsworth as the bomber’s main operating base. The news wasn’t entirely unexpected, however.

In March, the Air Force had announced that Ellsworth was selected as the preferred location for the first operational B-21 Raider as well as the formal training unit.

B 21 Stealth Bomber
An artist’s rendering of the B-21.

Whiteman AFB, Missouri, and Dyess AFB, Texas, will also receive B-21 Raiders as the aircraft become available. The Air Force had previously said that it used a deliberate process to minimize mission impact during the transition, maximize facility reuse, minimize cost and reduce overhead.

“These three bomber bases are well suited for the B-21,” Secretary of the Air Force Heather A. Wilson said in March 2019. “We expect the first B-21 Raider to be delivered beginning in the mid-2020s, with subsequent deliveries phased across all three bases.”

“It’s a once in a generation, historic opportunity for South Dakota,” Thune told the Associated Press last week, adding that it will ensure Ellsworth remains a vital part of the nation’s military.

Sen. Thune had said the bomber could also represent an economic boom for the western part of his state, as the bomber will likely result in a doubling of the size of the base’s personnel and could bring in 3,000 more service members.

Construction projects for the bomber hangers and other facilities are also expected. The base, which is located near Rapid City, is already one of the largest employers in the state and according to a 2017 estimate it had an annual economic impact of over $350 million.

The base had faced the possibility of closure in 2005, and it was even briefly on the Pentagon’s list of military bases that should be closed or relocated.

Ellsworth AFB currently is home to two B-1 bomber squadrons. The Air Force will incrementally retire existing B-1 Lancers as well as B-2 Spirits when a sufficient number of B-21s are delivered. According to the Air Force, Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, and Minot AFB, North Dakota, will continue to host the B-52 Stratofortress which is expected to continue conducting operations through 2050.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including “A Gallery of Military Headdress,” which is available on

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The 6 deadliest rifles in the US military’s arsenal

Marine Corps M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle
A Marine engages targets with the M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle during a field exercise at Camp Lejeune, December 3, 2014.

Assault rifles, battle rifles, they’re all here.

Though some of the rifle platforms originally entered service during the Cold War, some have been updated and upgraded for the 21st century – and they’re part of the reason why the United States military is so lethal.


Army soldier M4A1 carbine rifle
A soldier fires an M4A1 carbine rifle during a stress-shoot exercise, April 23, 2018.

No conversation concerning US military rifles is complete without mentioning the M4 carbine, the smaller, more compact version of the iconic M16 rifle.

Though the M16 and M4 are quite similar, the M4 is lighter and shorter overall, a design that optimizes the platform for situations where a smaller, more compact weapon would be an advantage, such as in close quarters urban spaces, or for soldiers riding in and dismounting from cramped armored vehicles.

Like the M16, it fires the NATO-standard 5.56 x 45 mm cartridge, though thanks to the M4’s shorter 14.5-inch barrel, has a slightly lower effective firing range. The M4 design has proven popular and is used by a wide variety of countries throughout Latin America, the Middle East, Europe, and elsewhere.


Army Green Beret FN SCAR
A Green Beret shoots a FN SCAR during training in Lomo Nord, Côte d’Ivoire, November 14, 2019.

The SCAR family of rifles came to life in order to fulfill a request by the United States Special Operations Command for a modular family of rifles chambered in 5.56 x 45 mm and 7.62 x 51 mm NATO-standard cartridges.

The FN SCAR is therefore actually two different rifles, SCAR-L for light, and SCAR-H for heavy.

Both rifles can be used as designated marksman rifles, or for close-quarters weapons thanks to three available barrel lengths: Close-Quarters Combat, Standard, and Long Barrel.

Though the rifles are outwardly quite similar, the SCAR-L uses NATO-standard STANAG box magazines, whereas the larger SCAR-H is fed from FN-designed magazines.

M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle

Marine Norway Arctic M27 rifle
A US Marine fires an M27 during cold-weather live-fire training in Setermoen, Norway, November 20, 2020.

The Marine Corps’ new M27 is perhaps one of the most accurate standard-issue rifles in the United States military, giving new meaning to the Marine’s mantra “every Marine a rifleman.”

The IAR benefits from a 16.5-inch free-floating barrel and a short-stroke piston action that give the M27 accuracy, range, and reliability improvements over both the legacy M16 rifle and M4 carbine

The M27’s parent rifle is a German-designed Heckler & Koch 416, which was famously used to take down Osama bin Laden during the famous SEAL Team Six raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

The Marine Corps is further enhancing the M27’s lethality by issuing effective flow-through suppressors that allow lower-volume shooting without the possibility of burned powder and bullet detritus flying in the face of the shooter.


M14 US Navy
A sailor fires an M14 rifle during weapons qualification aboard the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson.

Though the M14’s reputation suffered during the United States’ involvement in Vietnam, the rifle itself is quite rugged and offers good accuracy and stopping power thanks to its larger 7.62 x 51 mm NATO cartridge.

Although the rifle was not well-suited to the wet jungle warfare of Vietnam – it was too heavy, too long, and its wooden stock prone to warping – these two updates to the platform have given the rifle a new lease on life.

Mk 14 Enhanced Battle Rifle

Mk 14 Enhanced Battle Rifle
A soldier fires the Mk 14 Enhanced Battle Rifle during the Squad Designated Marksman Course on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, July 20, 2017.

The Army and Special Operations Command redesigned the M14 from the ground up, giving the battle rifle a new adjustable stock, pistol-style grip, collapsable bipod, as well as Picatinny accessory rails and a modern optic, to give the old M14 better range as well as lightening the rifle.

M39 Enhanced Marksman Rifle

Marine Corps M39 enhanced marksmanship rifle
A Marine scout sniper fires an M39 enhanced marksmanship rifle during marksmanship training in Kuwait, November 12, 2012.

The Marine Corps had the same idea as the Army, though they decided to modify the M14 a bit differently, resulting in the similar M39 EMR.

This modified rile also sported an adjustable stock and collapsable bipod as well as an accessory rail that could mount optics.

It was, however, an interim measure and has since been mostly replaced in Marine Corps service by newer, group-up designated marksman designs.

Caleb Larson is a defense writer based in Europe. He holds a master of public policy and covers US and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.

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China has a new ship to hunt the US Navy’s submarines

Navy submarine USS Ohio
US Navy Ohio-class guided-missile submarine USS Ohio off the coast of Okinawa, February 2, 2021.

  • A March report showed that China had recently launched its third anti-submarine detection ship.
  • Those ships are meant to augment China’s sub-detection abilities and erode one of the US Navy’s biggest advantages.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A new open-source investigation has revealed that China recently launched their third anti-submarine detection ship at a shipbuilding facility in Wuhan, augmenting Beijing’s ability to detect submarines.

The ship is most likely a SWATH design, or Small Waterplane-Area Twin Hull. The twin-hull design is both very stable, even at high speeds or in rough seas, and is also known for being very quiet, a useful quality to have for a ship intended to use sonar and other acoustic listening devices to detect submarines.

The Chinese design is likely broadly similar to American SWATH designs, which are noted for having long-range and high endurance.

SWATH-type ships track submarines by trailing towed sonar devices behind them on long spools of cable, and can actively detect submarines by shooting “pings” into the ocean and listening to the bounce-back for submarines hiding in the deep.

USNS Able SURTASS ocean surveillance
US Military Sealift Command ocean surveillance ship USNS Able with SURTASS equipment visible, March 18, 1992.

Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Forces operate SWATH ships as well, known as the Hibiki-class, with the third of the class just recently entering service.

The Cold War-era class’ operating costs are reportedly split between the United States and Japan, and the data swept up by the Japanese ships is shared with Washington as well. This gives the United States in effect more ears in the water at a lower cost.

One of the United States’ ocean surveillance ships made headlines in the late 2000s when it was repeatedly harassed by both Chinese ships and aircraft during a submarine observation mission in the South China Sea.

Though the area the ship had been operating in is widely recognized as international waters, China claims sovereignty to wide swaths of the South China Sea and insisted it was defending waters within its exclusive economic zone.

The People’s Liberation Army Navy has a history of dropping in on American Navy ships and aircraft. During a 2014 US-led multinational naval exercise, the PLAN quietly slipped an electronic surveillance ship near the USS Ronald Regan aircraft carrier and its carrier strike group, presumably to scoop up electronic data.

Japan navy Hibiki ocean surveillance ship
JS Hibiki, a Hibiki-class ocean surveillance ship of Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force.

Despite the threat of detection posed by ocean surveillance ships, submarines in American naval service are progressing.

Construction has already begun on the new nuclear-powered Columbia-class ballistic submarines, which are slated to enter service in the early 2030s. Thanks to a new electric drive design, the Columbias are anticipated to be the quietest submarines ever built for the US Navy.

One of the United States’ primary advantages over other countries like China is the US Navy‘s advanced and hard-to-detect submarine assets, which could be used to restrict Chinese surface vessel movement in the event of a conflict.

This new ocean surveillance ship indicates that China is putting real effort into offsetting or eliminating that advantage, in the event that a conflict with the United States would break out.

Caleb Larson is a defense writer based in Europe. He holds a master of public policy and covers US and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.

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The Navy’s new, powerful aircraft carrier is heading to ‘shock trials’

Navy aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford
US Navy aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford in the Atlantic Ocean, June 4, 2020

  • The US Navy’s brand-new aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford will be return to port this summer.
  • But before the supercarrier ties up in Newport News, it will go through full-ship shock trials,
  • Those tests involve setting off explosives next to the ship to see if vibrations cause problems.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The US Navy‘s brand new aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) will be returning to Newport News this summer.

Much like how an automobile needs to go in for routine maintenance, so too will the Navy’s largest and most expensive warship.

Coming soon: USS Gerald R. Ford shock trials

The supercarrier will tie up at Newport News Shipbuilding’s pier 2 after it conducts its full ship shock trials, which is a standard test that involves setting off high explosives next to the ship to determine if vibration would cause problems.

While anything that was shaken loose or damaged will be addressed, the return to port is actually part of Ford’s first “planned incremental availability” (PIA).

This maintenance period is meant to install the latest updates to equipment and to take care of maintenance work that’s harder to do while the ship is deployed at sea.

Navy USS Jackson shock trials
US Navy littoral combat ship USS Jackson during shock trials in the Atlantic, June 10, 2016.

The updates and upgrades are expected to be completed quickly, in part because the ship has only been undergoing at-sea tests and trials that are meant to certify the carrier’s systems as well as sailor skills.

However, just as “brand new” computers or smartphones often need to undergo software updates on a regular basis, so too will Ford’s various systems.

According to Hampton Roads-based Daily Press, about 60% of the work slated for the PIA involves updating and modernizing equipment. That includes plugging in updated circuit boards and installing new communications networks and software.

PIA updates will occur every few years to keep the carrier up to date with the fast-changing electronic devices, software, weapons system controls and communication networks.

Routine maintenance

Shock Trials
US Navy aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt during shock trials.

During Ford’s time at Newport News, the ship will undergo maintenance. This could be extensive as the carrier is the first of her class, and part of the focus will be making notes on the wear and tear she’s already experienced. Teams will evaluate the components to see how the ship held up compared to what the designers expected.

These efforts will help refine the long-term maintenance plan for a carrier that is expected to remain in service for half a century. Twenty percent of the total work that the carrier will undergo will involve that maintenance.

About 8% of the scheduled work time will also be to address any fixes needed following the shock trials, which are the first such trial of a carrier to be conducted since 1987.

The remainder of the time will be spent addressing and fixing any of the other systems of the ship. This will certainly include dealing with four inoperable weapons elevators.

Navy aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford
A E-2C Hawkeye approaches USS Gerald R. Ford, August 4, 2020.

The lower-stage elevators, which are used to move ordnance, have been a problem since construction began on CVN-78 in 2009. Four of the eleven elevators will be dealt with during the PIA, and the non-working elevators will not be certified at least until later this year.

It isn’t unusual for a warship to enter trials without essential working components including the elevators, but the kinks will need to be worked out and resolved before Gerald R. Ford makes her first deployment.

A concern is that since the elevators are located throughout the ship, each could potentially react differently to the shock trials. That could result in further delays for additional repairs and adjustments, which impact the future carriers of the class.

When Ford returns to Newport News it will be moored adjacent to one of those future carriers, the still-under-construction USS John F. Kennedy, the second in the class, UPI reported.

Ford most recently completed the Combat Systems Ship’s Qualification Trials (CSSQT), a combat preparation phase involving simulated and actual live threats to assess the extent to which a large Ford-class carrier could defend itself in a great power ocean war scenario.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including “A Gallery of Military Headdress,” which is available on

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Why the US Navy’s attempt to build a ‘stealth warship’ didn’t work out

Navy Sea Shadow stealth ship
The Navy test craft Sea Shadow in the “Sea and Air Parade” during Fleet Week San Diego, October 1, 2005.

  • Developed in secrecy in the 1970s and 1980s, the Sea Shadow was meant to be a “stealth ship.”
  • But the ship faced a number of issues and never made it beyond the testing phase.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A key plot element of the 1997 James Bond film “Tomorrow Never Dies” involved media baron Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce) using a stealth ship to destroy a Royal Navy frigate to almost start World War III.

While it seems like extreme lengths to go to gain broadcasting rights in China, one part of the story wasn’t a work of fiction. The US Navy actually did build an experimental stealth ship that resembles the fictional super villain’s vessel.

However, while the fictional Sea Dolphin II was supposed to be massive – large enough that a Bond-style fight sequence could take place within the hull involving dozens of henchmen – the real world Sea Shadow (IX-529) was just 165 feet long and had a crew of just four.

Enter Sea Shadow

Navy Sea Shadow stealth ship
The wheelhouse of the Sea Shadow.

Development of the real-world version began in 1978 when the Lockheed Martin “Skunk Works” sought to extend stealth capabilities to submarines, yet it wasn’t until 1993 that the low signature warship was made public.

The program drew inspiration from the F-117 stealth aircraft. According to Lockheed Martin, “The initial design consisted of a cigar-shaped hull that was shielded by an outer wall of flat, angular surfaces.”

It was found that those angular surfaces could actually bounce sonar signals away and also muffle the engine sounds and the internal noises of crewmen inside the vessel. The Skunk Works team subsequently ran numerous acoustical tests in special sound-measuring facilities and obtained dramatic improvements.

However, the Department of Defense (DoD) actually didn’t show interest in this type of investigation until Ben Rich, the head of the Skunk Works office, adapted the idea for use with surface ships.

Navy Sea Shadow stealth ship
Sea Shadow gets underway at dusk in San Francisco, March 18, 1999.

That led to a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) contract to apply stealth concepts and materials to surface vessels and to test the effects of seawater on radar-absorbing materials.

The Sea Shadow was developed in great secrecy – and while it may have been a “stealth ship” it wasn’t in fact invisible to the naked eye.

In fact, with its unique Small Waterplane Area Twin Hull (SWATH) design, which gave it a catamaran-type shape, it would be hard to miss. It was thus assembled out of sight within a submersible barge in Redwood City, California.

Unlike the fictional Sea Dolphin II, which was worthy of a Bond villain’s super weapon, the Sea Shadow wasn’t actually that large. But it also only required a crew of four that consisted of a commander, helmsman, navigator and engineer.

Testing issues

Navy Sea Shadow stealth ship
Sea Shadow prepares to moor alongside the Embarcadero waterfront park, in San Diego, California, October 2, 2004.

Its first trials in 1981 could be described as underwhelming. The ship’s wake was unexpectedly huge and thus detectable with sonar and from the air. The problem was discovered to be from the motor propellers, which had been installed backwards.

After addressing the issue, the project moved forward and the vessel was completed in 1984. It subsequently underwent night trials in 1985 and 1986, but the Sea Shadow never advanced beyond the testing phase.

Some of what was learned in the testing were applied to other naval technology include submarine periscopes, while the lessons learned also were applied to new Navy warships, notably the DDG 1000 Zumwalt-class.

Finally, in 1993, the public was given a view of the experimental stealth ship – and it likely inspired the Bond filmmakers. The US Navy offered Sea Shadow for sale in 2006, but apparently garnered little interest, not even from a would-be supervillain.

One issue with the sale was that the buyer couldn’t sail the ship and could only scrap it. Why it wasn’t offered to a museum or other institution isn’t clear, but likely it was an issue of the technology on board. Sea Shadow was finally sold for scrap in 2012 … or at least that is what a potential villain would have you believe.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including “A Gallery of Military Headdress,” which is available on

Read the original article on Business Insider