It sounds like something straight out of a James Bond movie or an episode of G.I. Joe. U.S. Marines arrive on a beach inside a speedboat that transforms into a submarine. But this isn’t a trailer for a new Hollywood blockbuster or a page out of a Batman comic. It’s part of real life U.S. Navy and Marine technology demonstration.
On April 17, 2017, the two services kicked off the Ship-To-Shore Maneuver Exploration and Experimentation (S2ME2) Advanced Naval Technology Exercise 2017 (ANTX17) at Camp Pendleton in California. Defense contractors joined U.S. military personnel to demonstrate more than 100 different pieces of high-tech equipment, including a unique craft called the HyperSub.
“Because it is a speedboat, the HyperSub can be deployed quickly and conveniently from nearly any dock, beach or other typical launch location,” HSP Technologies explains on its website. “Once on the water, the HyperSub can quickly transit to a desired location and, with the flip of a few switches, transition into a submarine.”
The boat is just over 45 feet long and has a dry weight of 30,000 pounds. HSP brought a black painted prototype, dubbed Project X, overland to Camp Pendleton on a trailer. On the surface, two 480-horsepower diesel engines let it cruise at 30 miles per hour while carrying up to 6,000 pounds of cargo.
The basic dimensions are similar in many ways with rigid-hull inflatable boats (RHIB) that the U.S. military operates. However, the HyperSub is slower and heavier than many of those craft. And RHIBs don’t have the ability to submerge partially or fully beneath the waves like HSP’s product.
Underwater, two Innerspace Corporation electrically-powered thrusters – the same types used on a number of small research submarines and unmanned undersea vehicles – propel the HyperSub up to six miles per hour. Battery and life support systems allow for an average of 12 hours of underwater operation, according to the Florida-based manufacturer. With a snorkel, the boat can continue to sail semi-submerged with its air-breathing diesel motors while recharging its batteries.
HSP already offers security cameras as an optional extra, but the craft is big enough to accommodate more powerful military grade surveillance equipment and light weapons, such as machine guns and grenade launchers. One of the most obvious missions for a HyperSub with these systems would be special operations tasks, from infiltrating teams of elite troops to scouting hostile coastlines for secretive missions. The results of the tests at Camp Pendleton might spark interest within U.S. Special Operations Command, where seabasing and other maritime requirements are still emerging.
Marine Corps reconnaissance elements could be interested in the craft's covert capabilities for reconnoitering landing sites before an amphibious assault and for forward deploying frogmen and special operations teams. On top of that, the HyperSub in its current form or the same basic layout in a larger incarnation could perform more conventional duties, like carrying Marines ashore during an amphibious assault or ferrying supplies to an established beachhead or forward base. This seemed to be what the Navy and Marine Corps had in mind for HyperSub’s role in the S2ME2 ANTX17 exercise.
“A panel of government subject experts stated that the Hyper-sub ‘has the potential to significantly advance capabilities related to Ship to Shore manuver [sic; maneuver] concepts’” HSP wrote on its Facebook page on April 26, 2017. It is “a capability that we believe the Hyper-Sub is well suited for.”
For decades, the very idea of an opposed amphibious landing has become more and more precarious. So, since the late 1980s, the Marine Corps has been studying ways to both speed up deployment of personnel from ships to beachheads and make them less vulnerable during that transit period. The appearance of increasingly deadly anti-ship cruise missiles, long-range maneuvering ballistic missiles, integrated air defenses, guided tube and rocket artillery, and more continues to threaten the ability of Marines to conduct these signature expeditionary operations.
“Throughout my entire career, maritime supremacy was guaranteed, air supremacy was guaranteed,” Marine Corps Colonel Dan Sullivan, a participant in the exercise, told CBS This Morning. “Now … the pressure’s on.”
In future scenarios, large amphibious ships would have to keep further off shore and Marines might have difficulty just reaching the beachhead in the first place. Once there, they would have to contend with enemies who are also fielding more and more advanced weapons and other gear. As Sullivan noted in his interview, even irregular actors such as Islamic State terrorists are employing potentially revolutionary equipment, including small armed drones.
HyperSub or a larger troop carrying craft based on the same principle might help hide Marines as they approached the shore. It could then sprint the final distance on the surface at top speed.
Other systems on display at S2ME2 ANTX17 were clearly designed to increase the survivability of Marines in an amphibious attack, or simply remove them from the line of fire entirely. In addition to HSP’s hybrid boat, contractors showed off remote-controlled AAV-7 amphibious tracked vehicles carrying tracked and wheeled unmanned vehicles.
Those battlefield robots had their own machine guns, small hex-copter surveillance drones, and mine-clearing rollers. Other unmanned air, sea, and land vehicles featured prominently in the event, too. All of this would help keep Marines out of danger during the initial landing, which would be the most dangerous part of any waterborne assault.
It’s not clear how well HyperSub actually fits into the Marine Corps’ future plans. This was probably the reason for inviting HSP to the event in the first place. Unfortunately, in its prototype form, the craft has no sensors, weapons, defensive gear and armor, or any other mission equipment. Every one of those systems would add weight and potentially bulk, degrading the boat’s overall performance above and below the water.
In many ways, HSP’s attempts to market the HyperSub as a military vessel mirror the efforts of Juliet Marine Systems to pitch their similar-sized Ghost super-cavitating boat. Since 2007, the company has been trying to garner interest in their design within the halls of the Pentagon. In 2014, the firm even proposed a scaled up, corvette-sized version as a Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) replacement.
So far, the Navy has been less than keen to test the Ghost and Juliet has resisted smaller offers from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in order to protect its proprietary design. Still, HyperSub inventor Reynolds Marion seemed optimistic his unique craft could be a benefit to Marines in his own interview with CBS during the S2ME2 ANTX17 media day.
“I just always figured it would be a good idea as a kid to be able to have a really cool speed boat that could go out and dive when you wanted to dive,” he told the network’s Carter Evans.
Ultimately, it will be for the Marines to say whether HSP's product seems useful in a military context. It may turn out that the real market for these unique ships are billionaire oligarchs who have gotten bored with their mega yachts' current stable of submarines and fast-boats.
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