With a slight twist of his right wrist, Adrian Bishop turns the throttle and three 1,800-horsepower diesel engines propel a camouflaged patrol boat at a speed of nearly 70 mph across Tampa Bay.
Bishop is taking the SeaStriker 22 from the Tampa Convention Center, where he showed it off Tuesday at a conference for foreign military commanders, back to the boat factory where it was built, RiverHawk Fast Sea Frames, off Rattlesnake Point south of the Gandy Bridge.
There will be no demonstration this day of the Gatling gun mounted at the rear, but otherwise Bishop puts the SeaStriker 22 through its motions. It’s a familiar task for a man who spent 20 years with the Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewmen, special operations forces who deliver SEALs on their clandestine missions.
The new mission for Bishop and RiverHawk Fast Sea Frames is to tap a growing demand among militaries around the globe for small, fast vessels that can be quickly designed to meet changing needs, says Jake Shuford, the company’s director of fleet development and integration.
Tampa, where RiverHawk employs about 60 people, stands to benefit from the company’s success.
Little known outside the insular military community, RiverHawk operations have sold three vessels — through the U.S. government — to
“We could build six to 10 a year in Tampa,” says CEO Mark Hornsby.
RiverHawk would not reveal prices.
“Get ready,” says, Bishop, a retired Navy chief who helped test the Mark V Special Operations Craft used by SEALs.
In seconds, the boat cuts through the wake, the impact for passengers cushioned by special seats outfitted with coiled metal shock absorbers.
“I like this a lot better than the Mark V,” Bishop says. “With the Mark V, you have to sleep in your seat. This boat can sleep six. It has a galley and a shower. This is a whole lot more comfortable for the operators.”
On the way back to the shipyard, Bishop points toward a small spit of land.
“See that sandbar?” he says. “I could slice right through that if I had to.”
The trip home over, Bishop eases the SeaStriker 22 toward its berth at the RiverHawk yard.
“You never want to go faster than you want to hit the dock,” he advises.
RiverHawk is in a massive hangarlike building, the former Westship World Yachts center, which the company leases.
RiverHawk was launched about four years ago, says Shuford, a retired rear admiral whose last post was president of the Naval War College in Newport, R.I.
“We knew there was a demand for these types of ships,” Shuford says.
They are easier to operate and train on than larger ships such as a destroyer or frigate, Shuford says. They also are less expensive to buy and maintain and can be delivered quickly.
RiverHawk makes its larger ships at a yard in Houma, La., which has delivered two to Iraq, Shuford says. The Tampa center can build vessels such as the SeaStriker 22 in 22 weeks, he says. In November, it delivered a 141-foot Advanced Multi-mission Platform fast patrol vessel built in Tampa to Lebanon.
On this day, there are two hulls in the shipyard. One is put together and waiting to be fitted with engines, controls, seats, radar and weapons. The other is in two separate molds waiting to be put together.
The company builds the SeaStriker 22s by pouring a fiberglass composite into the molds for the hull, radar array, console and other components.
The SeaStriker 22 docked outside was designed in December 2011 and rolled out the following May to display at the annual Special Operations Forces Industry Conference in Tampa.
It was no coincidence.
The conference, says Shuford, is a prime place to exhibit a vessel designed for special operations forces needs.
“We’ll be there again this year,” says Shuford, who hopes that the Tampa-based U.S. Special Operations Command might be interested in purchasing some of his vessels.
Though much smaller, this week’s conference at the Tampa Convention Center was another good place to show off the SeaStriker 22, Shuford says.
The Coalition Warfare Interoperability Conference is attended by high-ranking officers from the 70-plus countries that make up the U.S. Central Command’s international coalition.