If maritime expositions have stars, it’s fair to say that at Pacific 2019, the much-anticipated Whiskey Project next-generation tactical watercraft was certainly one of them.
Unveiled there for the first time, the 8.5 metre carbon-fibre composite craft looked every inch the part, from hulking twin 200 hp diesel outboards at the stern to a remote weapon station deploying a 7.62mm minigun at the bow.
Yet the craft’s striking appearance is simply a reflection of the program’s objective – to produce operator-focused watercraft that provide optimal performance and protection for those who risk their lives in tactical maritime environments.
The Whiskey project, funded by private equity, is headed by two veteran RAN clearance divers well-versed in Special Operations. Darren Shuback and Ryan Carmichael, with a combined total of more than 40 years RAN service, have seen equipment pushed beyond its capability.
“Many problems came down to a hell of a lot of retrospective equipment being fitted,” Carmichael said.
“A RAN 7.2 metre RHIB designed to carry a 12-strong boarding party is now restricted to six or eight on board depending on the sea state. Anything above Sea State 4 is simply about survival.”
They acknowledge that providing a capability to rectify current shortcomings leads to broader opportunities linked to the Future Frigate program, future Mine Warfare support vessels, Special Forces requirements under Project Greyfin, and ultimately, the replacement of every RHIB in the RAN with watercraft fit for purpose.
The 8.5 metre Whiskey Alpha (an 11 metre Whiskey Bravo is under development and 6 metre and 7.5 metre craft are also in design) features a planing hull designed by Hawaiian company Navatek in response to a commission from the US Navy Office of Naval Research. This cuts debilitating slamming by 40 per cent to that experienced by a comparable RHIB, a benefit enhanced by a shock mitigating console and seating.
Maximum beam is 2.90 metres and full hull draft is 0.6 metres.
The hull’s advanced carbon fibre composite construction – more than 100 times stronger than steel – includes a collision bulkhead and provides increased displacement and a payload of nearly 2,000 kg, together with a higher average speed than a deep V hull.
Power is agnostic – either outboard, inboard stern drive or an inboard waterjet backed by a fuel capacity of 650 litres.
The Whiskey Project was officially launched by Defence Industry Minister Melissa Price and given the number of senior RAN officers inspecting Whisky Alpha, has clearly attracted strong official interest.
Carmichael says development will continue “working with Defence, the NSW state government and the Defence Export Office.”