ZPM’s nanotube-reinforced carbon fiber prepreg is normally associated with high performance composite power boats, but the use of such ultra-lightweight materials in an unmanned surface vessel (USV) makes sense. Built entirely of Arovex™, the newly announced 54-foot Piranha USV weighs only 8,000 lb, yet can carry a 15,000 lb payload 2,500 miles, making it suitable for missions as diverse as anti-piracy, search and rescue, submarine hunting, and harbor patrol with a range of armament options that includes stabilized machine guns, Mark 54 torpedoes, and over-the-horizon missiles.
Future versions will leverage the Piranha USV's reconfigurable payload capacity for a wide range of missions, including anti-piracy, surface surveillance, surface action, mine countermeasures, electronic warfare, and antisubmarine warfare.
"The Piranha USV provides real opportunity to use unmanned vessels as a true force multiplier," said Russell Belden, VP Advanced Composite Solutions and Director of the Piranha USV Program at ZPM. “It is designed to perform a wide variety of missions like anti-piracy, search and rescue, submarine hunting, and harbor patrol. Since the Piranha is an unmanned surface vessel, it will reduce the risk to the warfighter and provide greater capability for those missions at a dramatically lower cost. This craft provides real opportunity to use unmanned vessels as a true force multiplier." "The US Navy and Coast Guard are facing a looming budgetary crisis with little relief in sight," said James Hasik, principal at Hasik Analytic, a defense industry consulting firm that has been working with ZPM to refine the USV's operational concept and marketability to military customers. "A cost-effective unmanned vessel like the Piranha, with its range and payload, could provide the numbers and capabilities to significantly augment the current fleets, and help to control the seas from the Caribbean to the Mediterranean, the Persian Gulf, and the Horn of Africa."
In particular, the Piranha USV could be a very useful tool for combating modern piracy. Capable of cruising long distances to escort single ships or convoys, it can use advanced sensors and networked satellite or terrestrial communications to detect pirates or other hostiles before they can threaten shipping.
"Surface navies have been clamoring for unmanned systems that can truly deliver useful capabilities," said Lance Criscuolo, president of ZPM. "The Piranha USV offers the US and its allies the platform they need to bring the advances in unmanned aerial systems from the sky to the water. ZPM has a history of developing materials for lighter, more efficient products. We're very proud to apply this knowledge and offer a USV to keep the waters safe and our sailors out of harm's way."
Construction of a Piranha USV prototype is currently underway, and will begin sea trials in the second quarter this year.