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Navy SEALs to get Smoother Boats
Associated Press | January 15, 2008BOOTHBAY, Maine - Navy SEALs are tough by nature, but they take a beating from their patrol boats: bruises, bumps and sore backs, even sprained ankles and chipped teeth.
An all-composite version of the aluminum Mark V patrol boat constructed by luxury boat builder Hodgdon Yachts Inc. is aimed at reducing the wear and tear on boat operators and SEALs by absorbing the impact as the vessel crashes through the waves at 50-plus knots.
The goal is to deliver up to 16 combat-ready Navy SEALS in shape to carry out their missions and to reduce the boat operators' neck, back and joint injuries.
"The idea is to build a boat out of the best carbon-Kevlar composite that we can build to reduce those slamming forces," said David Packhem Jr., president and chief executive officer of Maine Marine Manufacturing LLC, a military spinoff of Hodgdon Yachts.
The 82-foot research prototype unveiled Friday looks similar to current patrol boats, but it has a new hull made from advanced composite materials.
Though designed to reduce slamming forces, the prototype is actually 50 percent stronger - and slightly lighter - than the aluminum version. Packhem thinks even more weight can be eliminated without sacrificing performance.
"This extraordinary boat is going to be of extraordinary value to the Navy and to our SEALs," said U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who christened the vessel Friday with a bottle of champagne.
The original Mark V, known in military parlance as the MK V Special Operations Craft, was created in the mid-1990s to get special operations forces, primarily SEAL combat swimmers, quickly in and out of messy situations.
Powered by a pair of diesel engines, the vessel is propelled to a top speed of about 60 mph by twin water jets.
The aluminum hull is stiff and lightweight, but the ocean's force is transmitted to the boat's occupants in bone-jarring fashion.
Fighter jet pilots are subjected to forces up to 10 times the pull of gravity, but the Mark V has produced forces upward of 20 Gs slamming against waves, said Lt. Damon Shearer, senior medical officer of Naval Special Warfare Group 4.
Soon after the vessel went into service, the Navy began getting reports of injuries.
Though it responded by installing shock-absorbing seats, there continues to be a problem with back, neck and joint injuries that occur over time, Shearer said in a phone interview. Furthermore, SEALs are sometimes weary from the beating by the time they arrive for their mission, he said.
Navy Capt. Evin H. Thompson, commander of Naval Special Warfare Group 4 in Norfolk, Va., who attended the ceremony in Maine, said he hopes the new vessel dubbed the Mark V.1 will build upon the lessons learned at sea with the original vessel.
"We've learned along the way about the power of the sea," Thompson said. "The sea can be cruel."
Hodgdon Yachts worked with the University of Maine's Advanced Engineered Wood Composites Center on the project. Maine's congressional delegation secured $14 million through a series of earmarks over several years.
The prototype developed for the Office of Naval Research and the Special Operations Command was created using multiple layers of carbon with a foam core and an outer layer of Kevlar for additional strength, Packhem said.
Dubbed MAKO for the shark that frequents the Gulf of Maine, the vessel will undergo shipbuilder testing this month in Maine's coastal waters before traveling to Norfolk for further evaluation by the Navy.
If it performs as expected, it could be deployed within two to three years, Thompson said.
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