“Damn the torpedoes – full speed ahead!”RADM David G. Farragut, 1864
The rise and fall of the US Navy's “large high speed SES” program covered a decade from 1969 to 1979 at a cost of more than $650 million (and closer to $1 billion if all related R&D is included). The original goal was to achieve a ship of “large tonnage” sufficient for transoceanic operation (2000–3000 tons) at an operational speed in Sea State 3 of 80 knots or more, with a “desired goal” of 100 knots.
The US Navy officially began its Surface Effect Ship (SES) activities when it jointly formed, in 1967, with the US Maritime Administration (MARAD) what was called the Joint Surface Effect Ship Project Office (JSESPO) headed by Marvin Pitkin, a respected industrial executive and Assistant Administrator for Commercial Development at MARAD. In the beginning, it was believed that both MARAD and the US Navy had common interests of developing a high speed ship of high tonnage. The MARAD interests based on its studies, believed that large ships (of up to approximately 15,000 ton displacement), capable of delivering some 500–5,000 tons of containerized cargo at speeds of 100 knots in calm seas was an attractive commercial possibility to revitalize the American marine industry (see Chapter 4 for the MARAD program).
The US Navy were more circumspect of their mission needs but saw the value of high speeds in the range of 80–100 knots for military advantage and in the 2,000–5,000 ton displacement class. Earlier visions were of a frigate size ship. Various missions such as ASW and Sea Control were being evaluated at that time. Both MARAD and the US Navy were aware of the significant progress that was already underway in England since the late 1950s with developments in both amphibious and sidehull type surface effect ships (although they were known under different names in England, such as hovercraft and sidewall hovercraft based on the original work by Sir Christopher Cockerell).
Based on these common interests, both MARAD and the US Navy agreed to jointly fund a program to explore the various applicable technologies and to develop a prototype ship and set up the Joint Surface Effect Ship Program Office (JSESPO) in 1967.