It was one of Lockheed and the Navy’s naval experiments of the 1990s and it still looks cutting edge today. Sea Slice was born to test technologies surrounding a low-draft, high-speed and super-stable modular surface combatant, the grand father of the controversial Littoral Combat Ship if you will. Now this $15 million quad-hull corvette can be yours for a paltry $180K.
Sea Slice was an outgrowth of SWATH (small waterplane area twin hull) designs that had become of great interest to the Navy since as far back as the early 1970s. SWATH designs are all about putting as little drag in the water as possible, and they do this by placing the ship’s drive system into buoyant pod-like load carrying structures below the waterline, with the ship sitting atop of them. The result is a highly stable vessel that cuts through the waves at high speed instead of riding atop them.
SWATH designs historically feature greater efficiency than standard mono-haul or even traditional catamaran designs. Lockheed’s earlier and even more exotic creation, Sea Shadow, was also built around this technology. Sea Slice, although it operates on the same principals as the SWATH concept, it uses four separate bulbous pods instead of two long pods. This design allows for a fairly square planfrom which allows the ship to realize even less pitching and rolling during high sea states. Sea Slice also features a set of reactive fins on its hull-pods that help dampen ships movements due to wave action.
Sea Slice began testing in 1997 and in every way the advanced technology demonstrator was a big success. It could rip through the water at 30 knots while taking on 12 foot waves with minimal pitching or rolling. Its four coke bottle shaped mini-hulls allowed Sea Slice to attain 35 percent greater efficiency over traditional, but still exotic, SWATH designs.
In 2002 Sea Slice moved to San Diego to go through missionized testing surrounding the installation of different modules that would give the ship plug and play capabilities found on much larger and purpose built craft. Within one month, Sea Slice was outfitted with off the shelf weaponry and sensors and put to duty as a Littoral Combat Ship proof of concept test surrogate.
Many types of disparate capabilities were temporarily integrated onto Sea Slice during her testing career. Lockheed craned on a set of containers that were turned into a state-of-the-art, albeit compact, Combat Information Center (CIC), along with data-links, radar, sonar and sensitive electro-optical and infrared sensors. Later, the ship was configured to pull a mine-detecting sled and a crane was installed on Sea Slice’s deck so that it could deploy rigid hull inflatable boats capable of various tasks, including facilitating the use of autonomous underwater vehicles, such as the reconfigurable REMUS. Even Sea Slice’s navigation and control systems were experimental, with a unique windows-based program running the ship along with computer screens and cameras that would allow it to be manned by far less personnel than a traditional ship her size.
During fleet exercises, Sea Slice was used in the role of Littoral Combat Ship and proved that a single platform could be re-roled for many different missions at a moments notice, including anti-submarine warfare, mine detection, strike and anti-surface warfare.
As tests progressed, Sea Slice became armed with a Oerlikon 35mm Millenium Gun on its bow that could engage air and sea targets rapidly with extreme precision via its programmable ammunition. The NetFires missiles system, now known as the sadly defunct Beyond Line Of Sight Launch System (the missile the LCS was supposed to get) was also a centerpiece of Sea Slice’s testing. During one experimental exercise surrounding a Marine beach landing at Camp Pendleton, Sea Slice acted as a close in surface combatant for the Marines as they landed ashore. Once they arrived a CH-46 lifted the NetFires missile launcher off her deck and staged on the beach. From there Sea Slice controlled the launcher’s beyond line of sight missiles remotely using her advanced sensor suite, proving just how nimble and adaptable a Littoral Combat Ship concept could be.
Basically, Sea Slice was Lockheed and Navy’s canvas to paint their Littoral Combat Ship dreams upon. Come to think of it, the 104 foot by 55 foot Sea Slice, or a bit larger version of her, is what the Littoral Combat Ship should have been. Not an unarmed, half a billion dollar plus frigate that can’t take a hit. In the end the LCS concept went from a streamlined, low-drag, high-speed corvette that could do many missions on the fly to a ship displacing three thousand tons with its ‘plug and play’ capability bastardized into a much more elaborate process of switching out complex ‘mission modules,’ the majority of which the Navy is still trying to get to work.
Although Lockheed has occasionally licensed its patented “Slice” ship configuration to other shipbuilders to construct ferries, logistics and survey ships, and a couple navies are now fielding similar designs, by and large Sea Slice doesn’t seem like it has been up to much for the last decade or so. Still, she appears to be in amazingly good condition, with a decent amount of creature comforts available inside her cabin to make long stays plausible, if not pleasant, which makes the $180,000 price tag puzzling.
So if you are sick and tired of your two bedroom 1.5 bath house in the burbs, or want something truly exotic to plow the shores with on the weekend, and you want to take your helicopter along, Sea Slice is waiting for you for the bargain price of new Bentley GT.
Tyler Rogoway is a defense journalist and photographer who maintains the website Foxtrot Alpha for Jalopnik.com You can reach Tyler with story ideas or direct comments regarding this or any other defense topic via the email address Tyler@Jalopnik.com