The Navy's New Patrol Boat Wasn't Made by a Long Shot Inventor

Mark VI Courtesy Safe Boats International

The U.S. Navy quietly updated its fleet last month, adding its first new patrol boat since the mid-1980s. The Mark VI Patrol Boat is an 85-foot vessel that seats 10 crewmen and eight passengers, reaching a sprint speed of more than 35 knots.

Built by Safe Boats International, a military supplier with the motto, “God, Country and Fast Boats,” the Mark VI is designed to patrol shallow littoral areas, support search-and-seizure operations, and function as a high value shipping escort, among other duties. The Navy expects to deploy its first 10 MK VI boats next year and expand the fleet starting in 2018.

Some observers see the addition as long overdue. Tyler Rogoway of Jalopnik greeted the new patrol boat as a sign of belated transition away from a Cold War mindset to “one where interdiction, territorial security, and special operations are also of a high priority.” The Mark VI is outfitted with substantial weaponry and can be reconfigured for “everything from mine hunting and clandestine operations, to dogfighting swarms of fast attack boats,” Rogoway noted.

Mark VI
Courtesy Safe Boats International

The fleet upgrade may make things harder for Gregory Sancoff, a self-made millionaire who is putting the finishing touches on an new kind of boat called Ghost. Sancoff’s hope of eventually selling versions of his vessel, which he built on spec, isn’t helped by the arrival of the Mark VI. Ghost could have been deployed to perform many of the Mark VI’s duties. (Navy officials did not respond to queries sent via e-mail.)

Sancoff is not deterred. “We know the Mark VI,” he wrote via e-mail. “It’s not a special operations boat … it’s more like a coast guard patrol boat.”

Ghost‘s design solves at least one problem that the Mark VI does not: how to best minimize the jarring impact of waves. While the Mark VI is outfitted with shock-mitigating seating, its hull sits on the water’s surface and leaves it vulnerable to rough seas. Ghost‘s main hull, by contrast, is designed to travel above the water. With greater stability, says Sancoff, comes less seasickness and better chances of shooting on target. (Read Bloomberg Businessweek‘s recent feature story and video about Ghost.)

Perhaps because it was developed by a tiny 18-person startup—without formal, established, documented requirements from the U.S. government—Ghost ‘s technology may never be acquired by the Department of Defense. Other governments have already expressed interested in the technology, which could be adapted to build super-fast torpedoes, unmanned sea drones, and more. Just last week, Sancoff’s startup, Juliet Marine Systems, received government permission to sell Ghost’s technology to South Korea. Says Sancoff: “A lot of countries adopt new technology much more rapidly than the U.S.”

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