Stealth ship "Sea Shadow" turned into scrap metal

You can view a really good program about this once top secret ship here:
It takes you inside the ship with interviews with the crew.

It wasn't easy to rouse the press and coax them out early on Easter Sunday 1993, but Lockheed Missiles and Space spokesman Jim Graham swore it would be for something far more mind-blowing than an egg hunt.

"I couldn't say what it was, but I told them they had to trust me," recalled Graham, who worked for the Sunnyvale division of the aerospace company for five years. "I said, 'I got something that's gonna go worldwide.' "

He managed to lure an Associated Press photographer and a reporter from the Aviation Week trade magazine to a morning date on a Coast Guard cutter off the Southern California shore.

Around 9 a.m. and under blue skies, the Sea Shadow was unveiled. The matte-black

catamaran cruised out from behind a picturesque island looking sinister and otherworldly, sort of like Darth Vader's personal yacht, and skimmed along the water atop twin submerged torpedo-shaped hulls.

The Aviation Week reporter immediately recognized the familial resemblance to a stealth fighter aircraft unveiled five years before. He rushed up to the cutter's bridge to peer at the radar screen, to see if the Shadow registered.

"There were plenty of other boats," Graham said. "But not the Sea Shadow. It just wasn't there."

The Sea Shadow IX-529 -- a Cold War experimental craft built by Lockheed engineers under deep cover within a barge in Redwood City -- had accomplished its goal as a sail-by-night stealth craft, and the
unveiling signaled the beginning of missions in broad daylight and in view of curious eyes.

Alas, in November, the 164-foot-long, 68-foot-wide, 560-ton Sea Shadow performed its final disappearing act when huge, tractor-mounted shears snipped it into piles of scrap steel at a Treasure Island boatyard.

"This stuff becomes a commodity," said Bobby Winston of Alameda-based Bay Ship and Yacht, which bought the boat and its companion barge for $2.5 million at government auction on condition that IX-529 be demolished. "It gets dumped onto barges and taken to China, and comes back as computer cases, or razor blades, or something like that."

Preservation efforts
Unceremoniously ripped to shreds -- possibly even falling into communist hands -- is a fate that few wanted to see befall a vessel that was a pioneer of technologies now used in modern watercraft around the globe.

There were efforts to save it, and the Navy offered it for free to any museum that could take it along with the Hughes Mining Barge, an enormous submersible craft with its own claim to fame for playing a key role in a secret U.S. mission to raise a sunken Soviet sub in the 1970s. The barge served as the Shadow's shelter from prying satellite eyes while the boat was built, and as a concealer when it was transported out to sea for night missions during the $195 million program's undercover years that began in 1985. "There was talk of turning it into a museum, but nobody wanted it," said Jeff Nilsson, executive director of the Virginia-based Historical Naval Ships Association. "You have to understand there are a lot of incurred costs. Getting it there, getting it ready, it's a lot of money and in this day and age, museums haven't got money to burn."

Nilsson added that the ship's status as an experimental vessel, absent battle history or even the capability to inflict damage, made it a somewhat less viable attraction.

"It's an oddity, a novelty, a test craft," he said. "It's a catamaran on steroids. It's interesting, but is it going to be a draw? If not, it's not going to work."

Without any viable offers, the Navy went to option B.

"Once we no longer need a vessel, it costs money to keep so we quickly dispose of it," said Chris Johnson, spokesman for the division of the Navy that oversees the dispersal of unwanted stock.

And there are only two paths to take.

"If it's not for a museum, it's for scrap," Johnson said. He said the U.S. Navy is not in the business of selling its old vessels to civilians to keep as watercraft: "You can't do that with a military ship."

Glory days
After its Easter rollout, the Sea Shadow enjoyed some days in the sun, said Graham, who left the Sunnyvale division of Lockheed years ago and is now at a Scotts Valley startup. In high-profile imitation, millions saw a very similar boat used as a villain's sneaky vessel in a 1997 James Bond flick.

But the real deal immediately made newspaper front pages and brought out the television choppers, and a fanciful illustration soon glossily graced the cover of Popular Mechanics. The Weekly World News heralded the arrival of a doomsday craft it dubbed the "Batboat."

"NAVY LAUNCHES DEADLY NEW STEALTH WARSHIP!" screamed the scarehead, "Top secret 'Batboat' carries enough nuclear missiles to blow every major city on Earth to kingdom come!"

Graham said at the time, he tacked the article to his office door and still chuckles over it when he digs through his big Sea Shadow portfolio.

"There was nothing in it!" Graham said. "It was empty in the back. There was absolutely nothing special inside, it looked like a normal boat."

But Graham fondly recalls the Shadow's capabilities. He once sat atop the boat in rough seas outside the Golden Gate, only ripples showing up in his coffee as "Coast Guard cutters were bounding all over the place."

He remembers the undercover Redwood City years, when residents were sure there must be something very special in that guarded barge, something fit for the attention of the Weekly World News.

"One person told me, 'I think there's a UFO in there,' " Graham said. "Flying saucers. Aliens. There was always so much speculation."