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PT Boats Make a Comeback

March 18, 2009

That’s Strategypage‘s analogy on the Stiletto stealth craft, and I like it!

Stiletto was originally designed for use with U.S. SOCOM (Special Operations Command), but since then, it has been used to seek out and catch drug smuggler boats, using army and civilian crews. One recent night, the Stiletto spotted such a boat, and there ensued a high speed chase. Seeing that the Stiletto was catching up, the drug runners headed for some shallow water, not realizing that the Stiletto could handle that as well. The drug boat and its crew were captured.

Interesting story, but since Stiletto is a small boat and cost way under a billion dollars, the brass can’t find a job for it:

The Department of Defense doesn’t know what to do with Stiletto itself, although the unique shape seems to work, and the carbon fiber material the boat was built of seems to be holding up to years of heavy seas. The Stiletto is 45 tons empty, and thus could be hoisted aboard a cargo ship for transport to any part of the world.


Oh, I don’t know, maybe chasing down pirates with speed boats that seek shelter in the narrow waters off Somalia? Nah, we’ve got missile battleships and aircraft carriers that can do that mission way better, right? But what about defending the Big Ships against suicide boats, operating with the USCG to defend our harbors, escort our spy ships, and perhaps doing some stealthy spying of our own, plus working with Special Forces. Stiletto could be useful in training with our myriad allies which possess small attack craft, and could help deter against Iran and other aggressors with their own attack boat fleets. They could even ferry Marines to shore like an infantry fighting vehicle, but on the sea!

Anyway, concerning the title:

In some respects, the Stiletto is an update of the World War II PT boat, which were the same length, but narrower and shorter. PT boats had the same range and speed, but a larger crew (12-18) to handle the torpedoes and machine-guns carried. 

Another small boat that didn’t get its due fame until it was actually put to use in war.


38 Comments leave one →
  1. Paul V. Patty permalink
    August 4, 2009 5:00 am

    “The carbon fiber material the boat was built of seems to be holding up to years of heavy seas.”

    Seas are one thing – how does this carbon fiber hold up to bullets?

  2. Mike Burleson permalink
    July 14, 2009 1:42 pm

    What I also saw recently that was amusing, was a German Leopard with cage armor loaded to prevent RPG attacks. So much for the added protection of thick armor! Which got me thinking they were really no less vulnerable than the lighter vehicles if they also required the same protection. Old fashioned armor then becomes redundant.

  3. BrianA permalink
    July 14, 2009 12:55 pm

    I can’t resist making a comment about the Stryker vehicle that was mentioned. I had to laugh the first time I saw a picture of a Stryker in a war zone covered with sandbags. It’s the exact same thing that was done in WWII, Korea, Vietnam, etc. etc. The principle has held true throughout these times… soldiers in the field will sacrifice speed for improved protection. However, you can always count on someone coming up with a “revolutionary” idea to make an armored vehicle whose main defensive capability is speed. The problem is that a principle that applies to aircraft does not necessarily work for ground vehicles. Speed will help you out a lot in an initial attack, but then what. Speed does not help you hold on to or defend an area, or patrol on a city street. A vehicle has to slow down and / or stop SOMETIME. As soon as it does, there goes your advantage. Also, with today’s advanced targeting systems and the over-abundance of less sophisticated anti-armor devices, the chances of getting hit are greater than ever. That begs the question of what you want your vehicle to be like when you DO get hit.

  4. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 25, 2009 9:24 am

    Typical! they are always “evaluating” these small and transformational platforms, them still buy more battleships!

  5. B.Smitty permalink
    March 24, 2009 11:37 pm


    We evaled them a few years ago but it never went any further. There’s probably a nice document gathering dust somewhere describing their capabilities.

  6. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 24, 2009 8:50 pm

    I like these Nordic stealth boats too, Smitty, but can we get Congress to go along?

  7. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 24, 2009 8:41 pm

    Well put Alex!

  8. March 24, 2009 1:59 pm

    purfection is overated…after all it is often the imperfections which give something its most powerful manouvers, its individuality which makes it so useful. after all for something to be strong in some areas it will always be weak in others, thus it will never be purfect, so the argument that something is purfect or even will be purfect must always be a fallacy.

    just a little bit of language philosophy…an elective I took in my first year of uni

    yours sincerly


  9. B.Smitty permalink
    March 24, 2009 11:42 am


    Sure, there is no “perfect” solution, but if we want a patrol boat, let’s at least pick a proven hull form (preferably an in-service design) that has a track record somewhere. That way we can save ourselves the trouble of finding all of the handling and ride “gotchas”.

    As Bill alluded to, if we want a 55+kt patrol boat, an SES like Skjold makes more sense, or a smaller, semi-SWATH FSF-1.

  10. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 24, 2009 11:27 am

    Me too Smitty “before it was cool”, but even the Stryker still tips over occasionally. My point is there are no “perfect” weapons systems, and sometimes good enough, available at the right time, is better than the “perfect” promised sometime in the future.

  11. March 24, 2009 8:06 am

    Speaking only of my own disdain for the M-80…first, there are simply much better ways to go fast on the water..ways that use less power and with a much better ride. But what continues to thoroughly chap my behind the most is the way in which that thing appeared in the first place and how it continues to be described in glowing terms that it in no way shape or form exemplifies in fact. Merely that it exists is NOT a sound rationale for such strong advocacy as it enjoys.

  12. B.Smitty permalink
    March 23, 2009 7:42 pm


    I was a fan of the Stryker back then.

    Of course the Stryker program took a proven design (LAV III) and modified it to suit our needs.

    M80 is an unproven design with known sea keeping issues.

  13. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 23, 2009 7:14 pm

    The general disdain centering on the Stiletto reminds me of that leveled at the Stryker combat vehicle in the early decade. No one really liked it but a few in high command, but by gosh we sure did need something like it to fight this new insurgency war!

  14. B.Smitty permalink
    March 23, 2009 9:14 am


    I think by most accounts the LPD-17 hull form is sound. The problems relate to what we put in it and poor construction.

    OTOH, as Bill said, the M80 offers far worse performance than an SES of the same size in rough seas. This is a problem intrinsic to its hull type and design.

  15. March 22, 2009 8:05 pm

    “Are the problems with the San Antonios related to their hull design? Or just poor construction?”

    Poor construction. You could change the hull shape on that thing with 10 Cat D-10s and a thermonuclear device and not have 1 knot of effect on speed or .01 g effect on ride quality. Mike didn’t understand what I meant in my post regarding how ‘basic hull design’ affects the performance and ride quality of high-speed vessels. But then..niether did the inventors of Stiletto.

  16. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 22, 2009 10:25 am

    I would have to say both, and add another fault, an obsolete concept. We build ships which try to do all missions, able to perform none of them well. Ships that are overweight, overcoslty, overcomplicated, decreasing in numbers, and taking too long to enter into service are sure signs that our hull designs have approached obsolescence and are in drastic need of change. Sure, sloppy construction at the shipyards has much to do with it, but everything else combined, proves there is a bigger problem at work here.

  17. B.Smitty permalink
    March 22, 2009 10:06 am


    Are the problems with the San Antonios related to their hull design? Or just poor construction?

  18. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 22, 2009 7:43 am

    “You cannot ‘work out the bugs’ in a basic hull design.”

    Thats what I said about the San Antonio amphibs, but tell it to Galrahn. At least with a small program like this you can start over from scratch, and I think you could make it better with only a refit on occasion. But a giant destroyer or even the LCS, like you say, it is what it is.

  19. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 22, 2009 7:40 am

    Bill, your way sounds good, but the buying process is so politicized. Might have worked when platforms were far cheaper, but you get so much less for your buck these days. Still, if we could go for smaller platforms, safe I think because of the accuracy and power of new precision weapons, then the process would be far more affordable, perhaps with less corruption than say a giant carrier or destroyer program which might linger around for decades, filling the pockets of Congressman and their constituents.

  20. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 22, 2009 7:07 am

    Yeah, that makes sense, but even 25 to one is excellent odds. The Sri Lankan Navy used a squadron of that size as a basic framework for dealing with Sea Tiger swarm attacks.

  21. B.Smitty permalink
    March 22, 2009 12:29 am


    Maybe we need a DARPA Grand Challenge for small craft/HSV design, like we have with unmanned systems.

  22. B.Smitty permalink
    March 21, 2009 3:04 pm

    Oops. My last post should have read “far less than 50-to-1”, not “far less than 10-to-1”.

  23. B.Smitty permalink
    March 21, 2009 3:03 pm


    An M80 mothership is going to be large. Stiletto is roughly the size of an LCAC. Whether you carry them on deck or put them in a well, they will take up a LOT of space.

    You have to factor in the cost of the mothership when comparing an M80 to an LCS. Once you do this, the ratio will be far less than 10-to-1.

  24. March 21, 2009 9:31 am

    It has occured to me that being only negative is not constructive. To counter that, I offer a different spin:

    1. I strongly believe that we (USN and many others like USCG, DEA, Customs and even marine law enforcement) would benefit greatly from the establishment of a rational long-term program and process for the evaluation of new (or existing but not naval) small craft and HSV concepts.

    2. I believe that for such a program to be truly effective, funding must be available to pay for the building of protoypes and the testing of them; many good ideas come from the boards of companies or persons of few means.

    3. The evaluation of any and all craft must be conducted according to long-accepted methods and standards and the results reported in an objective fashion. We do know how to do this..we even have a USN organiztion in place to do it…lonely though they often are these days.

    4. The performance of every concept must be presented in a format that allows for the direct comparison with not only one and another, but against an agreed set of parameters, accepting that only a subset of that ‘global standard’ would be applicable to each craft and the selection of applicable performance standards based on specific design objectives.

    IMHO we desparately need something like that in place to get the right vessels in the right hands and sort the wheat from the chaff..and to completely preclude slobbering love affairs with marginal designs simply because they exist and their supporting PR machines run on snake oil. Has nobody else noticed that every time one of these ‘new things’ get built, those who built it and those who paid to have it built always declare it to be the best thing ever to hit the water since Archimedes invented the screw? (of course it took Congress to perfect the screw..but I digress…)

  25. March 21, 2009 9:03 am

    You cannot ‘work out the bugs’ in a basic hull design. It is what it is. The last thing we need is another MK V SOC or worse..a craft that routinely causes permanent disabling injuries, particularly to the boat drivers. If the MK V could have been ‘fixed’, it would have been by now. In fact, a crapload of money WAS thrown at putting a band-aid on the MK V ride problems in the form of exotic (and hugely expensive) active-suspension seat designs and the like. Of one thing I am certain..the special wrfare community will not accept another MK V solution..nor any other that has similar issues, no matter how ‘cool’ it might look.. They now know much better.

    My main point is (and has been all along) that the M-80 is the product of a lot of snake oil funded by laymen with plus-up power, not the considered pens on paper by competent architects working to satsfy a rational matrix of performance objectives carefully defined by end users. Our Norwegian navy friends don’t even spill their coffee as they go charging merrily along in their properly designed FAC vessel at 50 knots in SS4 while the M-80 guys get beaten to death in SS2.

  26. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 21, 2009 7:48 am

    Believe me Bill, I’ve gotten worse! I still would like to see the boat get a fair chance. Dismissing it for being a rough ride or not having traditional spaces for weapons, etc. seems a fairly moot point if these can be fixed. We are still giving it a work out. Yet, there is more outrage here than the fact that we are using our giant Aegis warships to capture pirate speed boats in the Gulf, and are even now planning to build more of the same at you, the taxpayer’s expense, in case the Taliban captures a port somewhere? We aren’t even sure the $5 billion Zumwalt won’t tip over when it goes to sea. We have also been building amphibious ships for decades, but the San Antonio’s are going to sea riddled with faults, forced to make repairs in foreign ports.

    If we must make mistakes, I am glad we can do it with small boats like the Stiletto which are the right type for the threats we face these days. Not a mistaken idea, but one still going through teething pains and on the right track.

  27. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 21, 2009 7:38 am

    Smitty, I like your Ocean Humvee idea, which leans toward my own “littoral IFV”, which I see Stiletto performing with Marines against Pirates and insurgents in coastal regions. The idea is for the landing troops to get away from their dependence on giant, costly, and vulnerable amphibious carriers and well-ships, to lean more on the littoral craft to get around. Forward deployment and motherships would be essential.

    And you could buy, at $10 million each, 50 M80s for the price of one LCS!

  28. B.Smitty permalink
    March 20, 2009 10:11 am

    M80 would have to go back in for a refit to fix the problems identified in its OPEVAL before deploying anywhere.

    Plus, if the OPEVAL basically said, “don’t use this as a patrol boat”, why would we want to?

    We already have other assets that can fulfill this mission far cheaper (e.g. Mk V SOC, RB-M, Marine Protector, Cyclone, Sea Ark, Long Range Prosecutor, SURC, RCB). As always, my big question with any of these is how do we support them? They need either a land base VERY close to the operating area, or a sea base/mothership that can support them.

    I go back to my desire to buy an inexpensive helo-capable OPV as a sort of “Ocean HMMWV” utility vessel.

    Small boats are fine and necessary, but given the operating area we’re talking about and our lack of forward basing, an OPV seems more appropriate. They can sail from far-away bases, stay on station for weeks, and not require any support. (and you can buy four for the price of one corvette, or 7 for the price of an LCS)

  29. March 20, 2009 8:24 am

    The “well, we built it..lets find some use for it” argument again. Fine with me as a taxpayer. If it (or any of the backdoor funded ‘prototypes’) can find gainfull employment somewhere, I am all for that. As long as it makes sense, tht is, and is not simply being stuffed down the throat of some poor operations group who is told to “eat it and shut up”.

    Just stop the BS that surrounds that thing (directed at the prolific PR machine that supports the M80..not you, Mike. ;-) . Sorry, but that king has no clothes.

  30. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 20, 2009 8:14 am

    Thanks alex, for making my argument for me.

  31. March 20, 2009 4:08 am

    well if you have it already…then it what is the problem with deploying it to see how it does, as for it having no weapons, sure it would not cost much or be that difficult and engineering problem to fit some weapons on to it? like perhaps a machine gun?

    oh and for operating base, why not use the LPD thats on its way out there?

    yours sincerly


  32. leesea permalink
    March 20, 2009 1:28 am

    Stilletto is NOT the answer to anything. The SWCC dumped it. BSmitty is right. Yes Super Davoras are very good boats as are CB-90 aka USN RCB.

    See my post on Galrahn’s site.

    BTW SOCOM has a procurement action out to replace the Mk V SOC with two boats of diferent sizes. Want to see if M80 will make it on that short list?

  33. March 19, 2009 9:41 pm


    I want very much to see good designs given a chance. I have wanted for decades to the see the Navy take a rational apporach to their evaluation, design and procurement. And the only boats I know how to design are, with the exception of SWATH vessels, ‘small and fast’…’Skjold’ being an example.

    What chaps my arse is the sheer magnitude of the farces being perpetrated with crap like the M80. It is nothing but some ‘cool looking’ half-crackpot idea for a hull design that got funded through backdoor channels and thoroughly-worked political connections, and continues to float on the continued obfuscation and outright distortion published by its proponents (who all, oddly enough, are heavily invested financially) about what it is and what it can do. Its PR..nothing else.

    We need to approach the design, test and evaluation of such vessels rationally. That is not being done any more. It once was.

    And you didn’t offer a guess as to why a vessel that was ‘built for SOCOM’ was never bought by SOCOM. ;-)

  34. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 19, 2009 8:08 pm

    Lee, what is a real insult is sending our billion dollar Blue Water missile battleships to fight pirate speed boats in shallow seas. Then the Navy refuses to transform because someone might lose their job. Better than losing a fleet to new asymmetrical threats. Stiletto might not be the best answer, but its better than what we have now. I’d give her a chance at least.

  35. leesea permalink
    March 19, 2009 3:21 pm

    It is an insult tot he history of the valiant PTs of WW2 to compare them to this plastic eggshell of a non-warboat. You knew I would say that. M80 has no organic weapons, lacks range and rides like the s***. I cannot even prosecute targets it acquires having to launch a RHIB to go fight the enemy.

  36. B.Smitty permalink
    March 19, 2009 11:46 am

    Mike, where do the speedboats operate from? Small boats not only need to be transported to the theater, but they need a base of operations VERY close to their operating area.

    IMHO, Stiletto is a solution in search of a problem. The USCG and USN have better pirate chasers in the form of cutters and PCs. Pirate boats have trouble running down a 24kt cargo ship, so I don’t think we need 50+kt, short range, “beat you up and make you sick” boats to track them down.

    Cutters and Cyclones can operate for days at sea away from their base. Stiletto’s meant to go for, what, 8 hours? Even Israeli Super Dvoras can patrol for 3-4 days. (IMHO, they make a better, modern PT boat too)

  37. March 19, 2009 9:20 am

    Soo..why then did SOCOM not procure any Stilleto(s)? Its not like they have not been shopping for a viable solution for a long time..because they have been. And I find it curious that every puff piece on the craft fails to mention the nasty ride characteristics of the thing in anything but calm conditions…with many even going so far as to imply it handles rough water ‘well’.

    But I’m just the curious designer of similarly sized vessels that DO handle rough water well at high speeds. My curiosity remains…


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