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The Sea Shadow was unique and invisible to radar. It was scrapped, but has changed quite a bit

Sea Shadow, translated as “Sea Shadow” or “Sea Shadow”, is one of those projects that is not often mentioned and that has changed a lot. Therefore, we decided to tell you about this experimental warship, which was unique and even invisible to radars. Not without reason, but because he contributed to the development of one of the most important modern technologies, which has certainly saved a lot of pilots and sailors. I’m talking about stealth techniques.

The marriage of SWATH and stealth, or what lies behind the Sea Shadow

The experience and observations gathered during World War II, along with the development of technology and the Cold War drive to achieve a technological advantage over the enemy (USSR), the United States conducted many mysterious programs. One of them was the title Sea Shadow, which finally gave life to the ship of the same name.

Photo by PH2 Aaron Ansarov

Before that happened, however, DARPA, the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, selected Lockheed Martin to realize its vision in the mid-1980s. It was a very lucrative business for this well-known and thriving defense company as it received a total of $176 million for the execution of the contract, which is equivalent to more than $633 million today.

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The purpose of this contract was to develop a ship that would combine stealth and SWATH techniques. While the first is common knowledge (it comes down to such structures that minimize the radar signature of an object), the second is quite exotic, but don’t worry – both will be described later in the article.

Work on Sea Shadow began between 1983 and 1985 on the 4,700-ton barge Hughes Mining. This kept the mysterious project safe from prying eyes for many years, as it was only in 1993 that the world learned of its existence. Then comparisons between the Sea Shadow and the F-117 stealth bombers immediately appeared, which is not surprising, since this ship tried to introduce into navigation exactly those solutions that made the aircraft “invisible” to radars. Lockheed Martin was responsible for both devices.

Photo by PH2 Aaron Ansarov

As for the reason behind the creation of the Sea Shadow, it was probably born out of fear of the French Exocet missile and the “sea photography” technology behind it. This allowed even a small fleet, a single helicopter or aircraft to destroy much larger ships at low cost, thanks to supersonic speed and the ability to maintain a low ceiling, which meant that the missile appeared on the horizon only a few tens of seconds after impact . Fears of Russian satellites that could locate US ships also added their three cents. This is where, among others, a completely flat roof arises.

The Sea Shadow development program lasted several years. During these, the said barge was his only home, where all the repairs and modifications after the creation of the ship were carried out. At night, the engineers went outdoors for testing.

Like a ship from another planet. Sea Shadow owes its unusual appearance to two design foundations

As I mentioned, when describing Sea Shadow, we can’t help but introduce the concepts that the designers started working on. So SWATH is directly related to the design of ships that instead of one hull have two hulls, making them look and swim as if they were on top of two submarines. It was because of this that this ship not only looked strange, but for those times could even defy the laws of physics for some.

The Sea Shadow’s superstructure, 50 meters long and 21 meters wide, looked like a trapezoid at the front. However, it differed from this geometric shape in that it was suitably elongated laterally in the underwater sections, hiding electric motors that accelerated the ship to 18.52 km / h. In practice, this is the so-called SWATH structure, which is mainly designed to minimize the ship’s resistance to waves near the sea surface and at the same time maximize its stability by placing under the waves most of the necessary part of the ship to you keep afloat.

This type of design resulted in the decks being split into a total of three. The lowest was the wet deck, the second were diesel generators powering said electric motors, and the last was the main bridge deck. However, the SWATH has nothing to do with the Sea Shadow, which looks like a ship carved with a huge chisel from a block of aluminum. This detail is related to stealth techniques.

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Since stealth is mostly an attempt to construct the “flattest” objects to reflect the radar generated waves in as many different directions as possible, hence these ubiquitous unusual shapes. Stealth led the Sea Shadow’s designers to combine flat sheets of gray metal that resembled a group of sharply cut geometric shapes, causing the various perspectives to play tricks on the beholder’s eye as to exactly what form the Sea Shadow took. Interestingly, all the external panels were chosen not by engineers, but by Lockheed Martin’s ECHO I computer program, which at the time was a breakthrough, allowing one to test how effective a given ship/fighter design would be, consistent with the stealth approach , before its creation.

Photo by PH2 Aaron Ansarov

Of course, the Sea Shadow’s stealth was also influenced by SWATH technology. It was thanks to him (placing the engine under water and raising the hull above its surface) that the ship sailed with almost zero wake (keelwater), and was also resistant to passive sonars due to the highly raised diesel generator.

A sad end to Sea Shadow

From this description it might seem that the Sea Shadow is an ideal ship … but after all, no navy uses even some similar designs. So what went wrong with this particular one? The answer to this question lies in the capabilities of the Sea Shadow itself. This one may once have been virtually invisible to radar, but today its secrecy must be questioned due to advances in technology.

However, this was not the biggest problem. Sea Shadow was practically free, difficult and expensive to create, and despite its advantages, it didn’t allow you to swim with a particularly rich arsenal, so its usefulness compensated for its other shortcomings. All this made the Sea Shadow from a potential revolution to just a one-off research tool that was announced on the day of its introduction to the world.

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Finally, Sea Shadow led to improvements in the design of other ships led by the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, and further added its three cents on improving control systems, automation, and even the structure itself. Unfortunately, instead of going to a well-deserved museum, it was pulled from testing in 2006 and sold for scrap for $2.5 million about a decade ago.

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