Juliet Marine’s “Ghost” Ship Emerges from Stealth Startup, Gears Up for War

About an hour north of Boston, in a city by the sea, there’s a project underway to reinvent the marine industry. More specifically, the marine defense industry.

Imagine a boat that moves through the water differently from any other boat in existence. It uses “supercavitation”—the creation of a gaseous bubble layer around the hull to reduce friction underwater—to reach very high speeds at relatively low fuel cost. Its speed and shape means it can evade detection by sonar or ship radar. It can outrun torpedoes. Its fuel efficiency means it has greater range and can run longer missions than conventional boats and helicopters.

Now imagine that this vessel has already been built and tested. It “flies” through the water more or less the way it was designed to—like a high-tech torpedo, except part of the craft is above water—and it can be maneuvered like a fighter plane. “It’s almost as much an aircraft as it is a boat,” says its inventor, Gregory Sancoff, the founder and CEO of Juliet Marine Systems, a private company in Portsmouth, NH.

The vehicle, dubbed the “Ghost,” is the first of its kind and is garnering attention from organizations like the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, defense contractors, and foreign governments—as well as hackers in foreign countries, who are presumably trying to figure out how it works. Juliet Marine Systems has received about $10 million in total funding, about half of which comes from its founder and private investors. The startup’s institutional investor is Avalon Ventures, a VC firm with offices in the San Diego and Boston areas.

Until recently, the project was kept under wraps because of secrecy orders from the federal government. But this summer, Sancoff says, the Ghost—which looks like something out of Star Trek (see photos)—will be ready for prime-time deployment. His team of 16 employees is working on integrating weapons and sensors for military missions. “We have a fully functional, basically go-to-war boat right now,” Sancoff says.

The question is, does it really work? And, more to the point, can it be used for missions safely, reliably, and effectively? If the answer is yes—and that’s a big if, from an outside perspective—one could imagine a squadron of Ghosts being deployed to the Persian Gulf, say, to defend warships and other interests against “swarm” attacks by small boats, Sancoff says. The vessel also could be used against pirate attacks, for Coast Guard rescue missions, or to transport workers to and from oil platforms. The technology might have much broader uses, too—in global cargo shipping, for example, to reduce fuel costs, or for commercial jet skis. (Wacky as it is, the concept is not as far-fetched as, say, a submarine that can also fly.)

But to get a better sense of the ship’s real prospects—and the company’s—let’s consider the whole story.

From Medical to Marine Tech

Sancoff, 55, is a prolific inventor and serial entrepreneur who, I’m told, takes engineering magazines to bed. He grew up in a military family and went to high school in Lawrence, MA. As a kid, he lived on Army bases and says he remembers saluting the flag when he got out of the car. Sancoff never served in the military, but that’s probably because he was too busy inventing stuff.

He started his first company when he was 18—a machine shop for doing rapid device-prototyping for other businesses. He sold that and headed west to San Diego in 1982, at age 25. As a consultant, he became an expert in medical devices, including systems for delivering intravenous fluids, collecting health data, and other applications. He started a new company, Block Medical, and sold it for $80 million in 1991. His next company, River Medical, was based around a new kind of drug-delivery device for hospitals. River acquired IVAC, a medical-device firm divested from Eli Lilly, and ended up being sold to Advanced Medical (IMED) for $400 million in 1995.

Sancoff’s next big project was to start Onux Medical, a surgical tech company based in New Hampshire. It was there, in 2000, that he first got inspiration for Juliet Marine and the Ghost ship. Sancoff was sitting in a … Next Page »

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Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and Editor of Xconomy Boston. E-mail him at gthuang [at] xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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25 responses to “Juliet Marine’s “Ghost” Ship Emerges from Stealth Startup, Gears Up for War”

  1. PJS says:

    video or GTFO

  2. Logos302 says:

    It’s the Defender from Decent :).

  3. Paul van Dinther says:

    Wow, a fleet of these vessels could finally clean up the waters around Solalia

  4. esorf says:

    The point of a patent is that in return for protection of your intellectual property, you have to share how it actually works.

  5. Geowash01 says:

    Two points:
    1- Outrun torpedoes? Until they come with supercavitation, too. (Besides tracking this thing will be easy, and it can’t out run a bomb.)
    2 – How will it see? Speed and boundary layer effects likely make all current acoustic sensors OBE.

    • atypicaloracle says:

      1. Supercav torpedoes already exist and have for well over a decade. They’re expensive, there aren’t many countries that developed them, and they can’t turn very well. Also, the part of the boat that is in the water (and thereby vulnerable) is stated to be relatively small – this would be like shooting a bullet with another bullet.

      The vehicle is designed for stealth, so tracking it with what? Aircraft? If the thing’s intended use is for naval interdiction against small craft attacks, then you are flying an observation aircraft near a naval group. That won’t end well for the “trackers.”

      I also have no idea what you mean by “it can’t outrun a bomb.” I’m not an air warfare expert, but I can only assume that hitting a 60′ long target going 80 miles per hour with any form of air-dropped ordinance is going to be insanely difficult.

      2. Well, aside from just looking out the windows… I don’t really know a great deal about how an object going 80-100 miles per hour generates enough of a boundary layer effect to blind its own radar, but apparently jet fighters going several multiples of the speed of sound manage it somehow. Technology is amazing.

  6. guest says:

    “Ghost cannot be hit by a torpedo. You would have to shoot it with a gun.”

    Unless you had supercav torpedos. :-)

    • Guest says:

      Unless as mentioned in the article the torpedos are not able to manoeuvre as well, a small, nimble and fast craft may be very difficult to hit.

  7. ddevine says:

     Hey guys I just invented a $5000 flying car with perfect handling. You should believe me because nobody lies on the internet.

  8. Johnbjormn says:

    The not hit by torpedoes has as much to do with extremely low radar profile as it does with speed — reread the article — or read other sites on this boat

  9. Z Bomb says:

    Supercav torpedos will be the next invention now that this is out there. Bullets were followed by bullet-proof vests. Rockets were followed by rocket-killing devices. Supercav boats will be followed by supercav torpedos. It’s inevitable.

  10. RandomDude says:

    As mentioned, they already have supercav torpedos,  That’s how the Kursk got sunk

  11.  Vapour/bubbleware ?…


  12. Valid says:

    If this ears Up for Warthen it should be destroyed or bombarded by NATO becase it is threat to to world.

  13. SoundBytes says:

    Ever hear of Ekronplan? Or a hydrofoil? This craft seems to be a hybrid of the two but, why?

  14. zensatori says:

      What  bout  objects  such as  deadhead tree trunks? Hyrafoils can  have a prob  with  those , hard  to spot  even on radar just the vertical trunk has a very small patch.

  15. jack says:

    ha, just what we need, billions more on military spending. good luck with that,
    let the h strait close for all we care.

    • mojo78 says:

      Yeah, because we all know the defense of a nation isn’t necessary, especially these days with all of the super nice people of the world.

  16. Kayefsee1 says:

    Here is the secret of the Ghost – the props had to be in the front cause if indeed the torpedos are at super cavitation stage (usually at about 60 knots) a rear driven prop would be caught up in the air cavity tail producing negative thrust.The props at front help keep induced bubbles injected directly behind prop in place even below 60 knots. but props are no good, i know i have a similar craft with superior drive with much less power oh and yeah its a super cavitation vessel and much more.

  17. blipfliptipper says:

    Imagine a fleet of these going up against the PLAN! A whole bunch of Chinese scrap metal sinking to the bottom of the ocean is what you’d get from that. Good stuff.