The Sea Shadow is a unique top-secret stealth ship that cost the US government $195 million. Now, you can buy it in an online auction for $100,000. But you won’t be able to take it for a spin – the ship is to be broken down into scrap metal.
The Sea Shadow contains unique technologies still envied by navies around the world, so the new owner will have to disassemble the 563-ton vessel under strict government supervision inside US borders, until its parts have no value except “for their basic material content.”
AFP Photo / U.S. NAVY
From pride of the Navy to scrap heap
After introducing stealth technology in the air – the F-117 made its first flight in 1981 – US Forces wanted to recreate their success, this time at sea.
The Pentagon commissioned industrial giant Lockheed Martin to build a ship that could sneak up on larger enemy vessels to spy or conduct surprise missions. The new ship would also become a testing ground for the technologies that would shape naval warfare in the 21st century.
As one of the most secretive projects in history, it could not be assembled openly.
Lockheed Martin ordered parts from different suppliers, who were never shown the blueprints of the completed ship. They were then welded together inside a secret barge (the HMB-1, also included in the lot) to avoid detection from Soviet satellites.
The Sea Shadow took the water in 1985.
With submerged twin hulls for stability, a low profile to avoid easy visual detection, and sloped sides that reflect radar waves, the Sea Shadow resembles nothing as much as its airborne cousins.
The public were only informed of its existence in 1993, after the end of the Cold War.
And while the ship itself cost about $50 million to build, the entire program totaled nearly $200 million.
Whether the Sea Shadow justified the exorbitant price tag is debatable. Many of the innovations it pioneered have now become standard on new US vessels. On the other hand, the US Navy says it never took part in any real missions.
In fact the closest it came to a genuine conflict was as an inspiration for the Bond villain Elliot Carver’s stealth ship in the 1997 film Tomorrow Never Dies.
After retiring the Sea Shadow in 2006, the US Navy has fruitlessly searched for a museum that would take the ship off its hands. Finally, it decided to put it on an army surplus auction site – where there is currently only a handful of bidders.
And unless someone steps in before bidding ends on Friday, one of the most ambitious projects in US military history is set to meet a somewhat humbling end.
Sea Shadow exiting the HMB-1. The barge, also included in the auction, was built by mogul Howard Hughes to secretely retrieve the sunken Soviet submarine K-129 (Image via GSA auctions)