One of my posts in our Virtual Tour series focused on consumer outboards. For the government, we build a “stealth” outboard that is rarely seen: the OptiMax JP. Developed for the U.S. Department of Defense, this multi-fuel engine runs on JP5, JP8, kerosene and Commercial Jet A aviation fuels — the same “heavy” fuels used in helicopters and jets (which DoD already stockpiles all over the place). The 3.0 Liter V-6 OptiMax JP produces 185 horsepower. These unique engines are 40% more fuel efficient than the gasoline engine they are derived from. And, with 95% shared components, there are no unique training requirements necessary. Mercury JPs have been deployed around the world for some time now. Tony Nahitchevansky is our Government Accounts Manager. I called Tony to get some background information regarding the development of this multiple fuel engine for our armed services.
“A Navy ship crash in 1995 which resulted in a explosive gasoline fire spawned a DoD directive for all gasoline powered engines and gasoline fuel tanks be removed from Naval ships by 2010,” Tony said. The mandate called for engines to be developed to operate on fuels that meet the following criteria:
1) Improve ship safety by minimizing fire hazards
2) More economical and more efficient
3) Readily available as a single battle space fuel
Tony said every ship carries JP 5 fuel. Ports have JP8 and Commercial Jet A available. The common denominator with all three fuels is availability. “An unlimited fuel supply enhances our ability to protect assets on the water,” said Tony. It also greatly increases crew safety. Tony said, “There was another ship fire since the 2010 DoD mandate. The fact that the ship only had JP aviation fuels on board provided the crew enough time to react and save the ship in a safe and efficient manner,” said Tony.
The OptiMax JP has been a resounding success. Hundreds of engines were deployed on Army high speed combat craft during the Iraq war. In another program, the OptiMax JP powerhead was mounted to a Mercury Sport Jet pump, which is the propulsion for Sea Fox USVs (unmanned surface vessels). “Sea Foxes are currently in use in the Iranian theater. These remote controlled vessels are deployed to protect and escort U.S. war ships in International waters,” said Tony. The Army uses OptiMax JPs on their riverine combat craft and the Navy uses them on their 8 meter target boats.
Twin OptiMax JP outboards rigged on the 8.5 meter Structural Composites rib. Photo courtesy Structural Composites.
Structural Composites, Inc., is one private sector company currently running JPs. They have developed a 8.5 meter composite rib for the Navy. I called Structural Composites rep Scott Lewit to get some feedback regarding their hull and OptiMax JP experience. Scott said their rib is unique in the manner in which it is constructed. The use of space-age composite materials resulted in a 40% weight savings to comparable sized hulls.
Scott said, “The Navy is moving toward lighter craft so our composite construction is a perfect fit. That, and the power-to-weight advantage you get with outboards compared to traditional inboards or sterndrives, is huge. Outboards are also easier to swap should you encounter an issue,” said Scott. The DoD’s 2010 mandate for the removal of flammable fuels from ships along with the Navy’s need for “instant readiness” all point to the OptMax JP. Its a natural fit,” Scott said. Outboards are also much easier to integrate in with Structural Composite’s shock mitigation system which separates the hull from the deck. (That way, hull impact shocks are softened – not transmitted directly to the bodies of highly trained troops.)
Scott continued, “The JPs are wicked fast. Acceleration is 0-50 in ten seconds and tops out at 72 MPH! Equally impressive is the fuel economy. We are seeing four miles-per-gallon (mpg) at 40 mph, and respectable 2 mpg at 60-70 mph. I really like the responsiveness of the engines. That, combined with the lightweight composite hull construction, makes you feel connected to the water. The twin OptiMax JPs provide instant power – and a great sound,” Scott exclaimed.
Structural Composites’ 8.5 meter rib will be on prominent display at the entrance to the 2012 IBEX (International Boat Builders’ Exhibition & Conference), October 2-4, in Louisville, Kentucky. They are also a sponsor of a seminar on composites. If you’re a law abiding civilian and in the marine industry, this may be your only opportunity to see one in person. If you’re a bad guy, better hope you never do.