Juliet Marine’s “Ghost” Ship Emerges from Stealth Startup, Gears Up for War
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for a supercavitating craft. The typical approach, as in the Russian torpedo, is to propel the craft from behind and eject gas and/or use a blunt shape in the front to create an air cavity around the craft. “I don’t see how they’ll achieve what they expect to achieve,” Balas says. “And I don’t see how they’ll control the altitude and the yaw of the vehicle.”
His colleague, Roger Arndt, also a professor at the University of Minnesota, is an expert in fluid flow and cavitation. He has doubts about the Ghost propulsion method as well. In fact, cavitation bubbles are normally bad for propellers and can cause serious damage. But there is a type of propeller, with wedge-shaped blades, that produces supercavitation in high-speed racing boats; presumably this is similar to Ghost’s propellers. But in this case, Arndt says, “I am dubious about the application of supercavitating propellers.” (To be fair, Sancoff said that what’s in the patent filing isn’t quite how it works.)
Other experts on supercavitation declined to comment for this article. Sancoff emphasizes that the project has a lot of sensitive aspects to it, in terms of national security, so people who know about it aren’t talking. And he claims that Juliet Marine’s website is getting “attacked” 350 times a month by hackers, mostly in foreign countries.
In any case, the current vehicle—which resides under tight security at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard (“a great asset” for a startup to be able to rent space in, he says)—holds 18 people and weighs some 60,000 pounds fully loaded; the underwater part of the vessel is 62 feet long. Sancoff says it can be launched from any beach. “A group of these boats coming out of the night in the Persian Gulf, armed with torpedoes, would be undetectable to large ships,” he says. “Ghost cannot be hit by a torpedo. You would have to shoot it with a gun.”
Not surprisingly, Sancoff sees an urgent military need for his craft. The Navy loses sleep about swarm attacks and security in the Strait of Hormuz (which runs between Iran, United Arab Emirates, and Oman) and other strategic waterways, he says. Yet it hasn’t moved quickly enough to do anything about the threats. “We talk with the Navy weekly,” he says. “We believe the U.S. could use a hundred of these boats right away.” At a price of $20 million per boat—fully loaded with electronics, radar, and so forth—that “provides us with a billion-dollar market opportunity for coastal and fleet protection,” he says.
Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department has granted Juliet Marine permission to talk with the governments of Israel and UAE, which both have marine security concerns. The company says it is currently building a manufacturing facility near Portsmouth, in anticipation of ramping up to sell Ghost ships to customers. Sancoff adds that Juliet Marine is planning to build two more versions of the ship this fall, using what he calls “the final configuration.”
And while the startup strives to gain full acceptance from the U.S. Navy and other potential defense customers, it is “working on weaponizing” the craft, says Sancoff. “The vehicle’s done. Now it’s time to get mission modules complete.” That means mounting torpedoes, machine guns, radar, mine-detection systems, and other sensors onto the craft—and making sure it all works the way it’s supposed to.
That remains to be seen, of course. But if it performs as advertised, Juliet Marine could end up playing a vital role in global security on the high seas. “That’s the beautiful thing about being an entrepreneur,” says Sancoff. “You take a risk with it.”
Wade Roush contributed reporting to this story.