The Whiskey Project Group – Next Generation Tactical Water Craft

The Whiskey Project Group (TWPG) has secured a significant contract valued at US$12.5 million (approximately AU$19.4 million) with the United States Defence Innovation Unit to supply a fleet of tactical watercraft for use by the United States Marine Corps (USMC).

Written by Kerryn Caulfield, Executive Director, Composites Australia Inc.

Initially intended to develop operational concepts, these boats are expected to be agile enough for littoral missions, robust for distributed operations, and equipped for a range of activities including reconnaissance, tactical movement and logistical support in maritime environments.

In the realm of tactical watercraft, TWPG has charted a course of remarkable progression from its first-generation 8.5 metre Whiskey Alpha to its latest offering – a formidable 11.9 metre Whiskey Bravo second-generation craft. The range of vessels is evolving to facilitate a broader scope of mission profiles, engineered for greater versatility and payload capacity – crucial factors for Defence Forces that require robust watercraft with multi-role offshore capability in all sea conditions as well as low-speed maneuvering for ship boarding, recovery or disembarking.

The Group’s initial vessel, the 8.5 metre Whiskey Alpha that was launched in the shadow of the pandemic has been refined with the integration of a jet drive onto the diesel engine, marking a decisive shift from traditional propeller systems. This development enhances the watercraft’s operational range and maneuverability while minimising the risks associated with underwater obstructions and damage from floating debris. The absence of an exposed propeller significantly reduces the draft, allowing operations in shallow waters – a key requirement for riverine and amphibious missions. This design also lends itself to superior handling and rapid acceleration, both critical in high intensity maritime engagements.

From its first-generation 8.5 metre Whiskey Alpha (above) to its latest offering – a formidable 11.9 metre Whiskey Bravo secondgeneration craft, TWPG has engineered this craft for a broad scope of mission profiles that are crucial factors for Defence Forces. These require robust watercraft with multi-role offshore capability in all sea conditions as well as low-speed manoeuvring for ship boarding, recovery or disembarking.

Strategic foresight and tactical planning have significantly influenced the redesign of the vessels, allowing for effective airdrop capabilities from aircraft like the C-130 Hercules or C-17 Globemater. This feature – a fusion of engineering innovation and strategic military planning – provides military forces with a crucial element of versatility that facilitates swift deployment, critical for promptly addressing evolving threats. The SeaBlade hull design in all models has also yielded substantial benefits, including better directional stability and a significant reduction in slamming load impacts on personnel and equipment. This design feature, coupled with a high waterplane area, also enhances fuel economy contributing to the overall efficiency of the vessels.

The watercraft’s dual and single-point lift capabilities resonate with the Department of Defence’s innovation unit’s criteria, which seek to ensure that new acquisitions are versatile and fully compatible with existing military logistics systems. This compatibility is critical for operations alongside the United States Marine Corps, with whom the innovation unit is closely aligned.

In building a formidable team, The Whiskey Project Group has harnessed a network of Australia’s most skilled shipwrights, naval engineers and suppliers. This elite group is led by McConaghy Australia, known for their precision in high-performance marine construction. Gurit, leaders in advanced composite engineering services and materials. Adding to this impressive roster is Farr Design, renowned for their innovative naval architecture. A key figure in this alliance is Brett Ellis, a marine composites engineer whose expertise is underscored by his America’s Cup victory, symbolising a blend of experience and triumph in marine engineering. This collective expertise underpins the group’s ability to deliver world class maritime solutions.

According to Will Mueller, General Manager for McConaghy Australia, “We utilised a vacuum consolidated wet preg epoxy, a cost-effective building method that ensures good structural outcomes. The fibre matrix combines unidirectional and multiaxial carbon fibre, giving us the lightest and strongest structure possible. For the subfloor framing, cockpit floor, and console area, among others, we employed carbon fibre foam panels, conveniently pre-cut and ready to fit into the shell, significantly saving time. Additionally, we have confidently incorporated Gurit’s Ampreg™ new 31 resin system in our construction process.”

Employing savvy foresight, TWPG has been operating on a modest scale in the U.S for several years, primarily to engage with the US military for various projects. In anticipation of fulfilling their first batch of vessel deliveries to the USMC, along with providing initial training and maintenance, TWPG is planning to broaden its operations in the United States in the early part of 2024. Parallel to this expansion, TWPG is also focusing on enhancing its production capabilities. This effort is expected to evolve into the establishment of a comprehensive US-based manufacturing facility, potentially as soon as the following year.

An element of the AUKUS framework is intent to develop and procure robust, technologically advanced, multi-role small watercraft. The business case across all three AUKUS countries becomes compelling when considering the conservative estimate is for at least 180 small combatant and patrol craft in the 9 to 12 metre size category – a powerful projection for this veteran owned company