Andrew White, Washington, DC

 April 12, 2011

Zyvex Technologies has revealed a lightweight patrol vessel technology demonstrator (TD), which it plans to roll-out in a remotely piloted variant for unmanned operations.

On show for the first time at the Navy League Sea Air Space exposition in Washington, DC, the 54-ft long Piranha patrol boat which weighs 8,400lbs excluding payload, recently finished a six-month programme of sea trials near Puget Sound in the Pacific Ocean.

According to company president Lance Criscuolo, Piranha can operate for 2.5nm per gallon, allowing it to travel 2,800nm without refuelling. This compares preferably to Elbit Systems' Silver Marlin USV, for example, which weighs 1.5t and is capable of carrying a 2.5t payload up to 1,000nm without refuelling.

'The most expensive part of operating a boat can be the fuel costs. Since the Piranha gets 2.5nm per gallon going 25 kts, its operators would only spend one fourth as much on operating costs,' claimed vice president of Zyvex, Russell Belden.

The vessel's 'carbon fibre infused with carbon nanotubes' allows the system to carry a 15,000lbs payload which, Criscuolo told Shephard, would allow it to run ISR, EW, troop carrying and mine warfare missions. Capable of travelling up to a maximum speed of some 45kts, the TD was also fitted in port with L-3's Wescam MX-10 EO/IR payload. The boat also includes a gyroscope for stabilisation and has operated in conditions up to Sea State 6, it was added.

Criscuolo went on to describe how a 11m hull was under construction, providing compatibility for the US Navy's Littoral Combat Ship programme. However, he warned that a forthcoming unmanned variant would initially comprise a remotely piloted vehicle as opposed to a fully autonomous system capable of obstacle avoidance. Additionally, Criscuolo informed Shephardthat the company was also developing a man-portable 18ft version for riverine operations.

To date, Piranha has been shown to various border patrol and customs organisations and the company said it was in discussions with 'market leaders in the USV world' for potential tie-ups in the future.