High-speed catamaran developed for littoral operations
Undersea warfare specialist Wass, part of Italy's Group, is developing an ultra-fast catamaran for coastal antisubmarine warfare (ASW) and area-denial operations.
Dubbed the Black Kite Katamaran, or BKK, the vessel's main mission will be ASW, but configurations are being developed for attack and interception, counter-terrorism, maritime surveillance, antismuggling operations and mine countermeasure (MCM) missions.
The double hull is derived from designs for speedboat racers and is built mainly of composite materials—epoxy resin reinforced with Kevlar aramid fibers and carbon fibers. BKK's double-hull configuration allows it to maintain high speeds and platform stability without sacrificing maneuverability. The vessel will be powered by two 24-valve Seatek diesel engines, each delivering 820 hp. The ship is engineered to exceed 80 kt. in Sea State 3. In a lightweight configuration with a remotely operated machine gun and more powerful engines, it can reportedly reach 100 kt. It will be mission-capable in all weather conditions and in Sea State 5, and able to run for 5 hr. at high speed with one load of fuel.
In its current form BKK is 15.7 meters (51.5 ft.) long, 4.25 meters wide and has a draft of 0.6 meters at full load. The low draft is a bonus for operating in shallow waters and a key survivability element when hunting a submarine, since no torpedo can easily engage such a low-draft target. The vessel has a small radar signature, which will be a benefit in MCM. Payload capacity is 2.5-2.8 tons. BKK displaces 9.7 tons under full load. This increases to 11.7 tons at 70 kt.
The ASW configuration includes two Wass A244/S mod.3 light torpedoes, each in rear side weapon bays. One torpedo can be replaced with smaller torpedoes, such as the Wass A200. The hull configuration makes it easy to drop a torpedo without incurring stability problems, and BKK's acceleration and hard-maneuver capabilities allow the weapons to be launched at optimum attack angles.
Another weapon is a remotely operated Oto Melara Hitrole-N 12.7-mm naval mount.
BKK has a Selex Galileo electro-optical search-and-track system. For ASW it carries eight acoustic sonobuoy tubes on the stern, and can be equipped with a light dipping sonar. The operational concept is typical of a helicopter—BKK will remain in ready alert status in its homeport and dash toward an operational area for a search-and-attack mission. If fitted with dipping sonar, it can conduct an ASW patrol-and-attack mission.
Other configurations could include replacing ASW torpedoes and sonobuoy tubes with light antiship missiles (a preliminary study involves the proposed naval variant of MBDA's Brimstone missile) and possibly adding a heavier gun. The deck is large enough to launch an unmanned aerial vehicle with a 2-meter wingspan or an unmanned underwater vehicle, the latter for MCM.
Assuming an in/out speed of 45 kt. and patrol speed of 12-15 kt., BKK can operate for more than 20 hr. at a time. According to Wass, BKK offers advantages over a helicopter such as endurance and stealth. When racing toward a target area, BKK skims the waves with a draft of 5-10 cm (2-4 in.) and, operating with total emission-control conditions, has a low signature across the spectrum, reducing the chance that a target will detect its presence beforehand.
BKK's crew sits on g-absorbing seats (vertical acceleration of more than 1.5g is expected) in an armored cabin. Personnel include a pilot, copilot and two mission operators behind them. The operators have multimission consoles.
Wass has teamed with several companies to develop the BKK composite vessel. They include SAI Ambrosini, which has expertise in offshore racing and aeronautical engineering, and Celin Avio. The design was also developed with input from Pisa University. Wass added Alfatan shipyard of the United Arab Emirates to the team, to capitalize on the company's experience with and passion for speedboat racing, a major sport in the UAE. Alfatan is responsible for hull construction while Wass is coordinating work on the design, mission system, and sensors and weapons integration.
A 12-meter prototype has been built to test the hull design. Wass says that BKK is designed to be air-transportable. The vessel can also be accommodated within the well deck of an amphibious vessel. A follow-on variant will be tailored for special forces and be capable of carrying eight operators and their equipment.