It doesn’t get much more “mission critical” at sea than what tactical watercraft need to do. With new Oxe Diesel Outboards onboard, the game-changing Whiskey Alpha 8.5 developed by two Australian ex-servicemen looks set to not only storm the market for such craft, but provide versatility and safety beyond anything in the world.
SHOCK AND AWE! delivery for tactical watercraft with Oxe Diesel outboards
There is a technique commonly used in battlefield tactics called “shock and awe”, (also known as “rapid dominance”), which refers to the use of overwhelming power and spectacular display of force to conquer your target or enemy.
In what seems a perfect synergy, a newly developed carbon fibre Australian tactical watercraft utilising two new Oxe Diesel outboards is certainly delivering the “awe” and the “rapid” of this tactic.
The Whiskey Project – a collaboration that has delivered a vessel unlike any you will see in the form of the Whiskey Alpha 8.5 – has utilised the Oxe Diesel 200hp outboard with superb results.
Ryan Carmichael, co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of the Whiskey Project says the Whiskey Alpha 8.5 has been spending more time on the water than not in recent months, with her pair of Oxe Diesel outboards delivering above expectations for this next-generation watercraft.
‘Next generation’ is no cute marketing slogan – this boat is truly beyond anything in its class at the moment.
Says Ryan of the Whiskey Project: “We wanted to present a vessel to the market that offered greater safety and performance and provided operators with a competitive advantage.”
“There are currently more than 25 different variants of small vessels in service with the Australia Defence Force which is inefficient and hampers operational agility.
“We wanted to present a totally modular platform that through its fit-for-purpose design could fulfil most small watercraft mission sets and be more effective in each role,” Ryan said.
A decision on powering a vessel that is breaking so much new ground was never going to be a simple one, but the real-world naval and Special Forces experience of Ryan Carmichael and Whiskey Project co-founder and managing director Darren Schuback made the Oxe Diesel the obvious standout.
High performance hull demanded high performance diesel
“The higher performance of the Oxe Diesel put it far and above the other diesel outboard options for a start,” says Ryan.
The most powerful outboard in its class in the world, the Oxe Diesel 200hp outboard uses a proven 2.0 litre, turbo intercooled common-rail diesel engine that produces torque (415Nm@2,500rpm) that is simply head and shoulders above anything a petrol outboard can produce.
While the horsepower is delivered across a relatively smooth linear curve up to the outboard’s full 4,200rpm of throttle, all of that unbeatable torque can be found at just over the 2,000rpm mark.
Another factor with the Oxe Diesel that fits nicely with the Whiskey Alpha 8.5 is that the outboard is very much “modular” in its design and repairability (its primary components across the outboard are relatively quickly replaceable if required).
Any component on the vessel (like the vessel itself) needed to be as robust as possible, so the Oxe Diesel delivers nicely on that criteria also.
There are key differences in the Oxe Diesel outboard design that set it apart from its contemporaries too – the biggest being belt-driven power delivery from engine to propeller shaft. This not only caters for increased crash-stop robustness, but also transfers the engine’s torque to the bottom of the leg better and allows fast interchangeable gear ratios.
Steering and skeg stability that comes from an outboard application on a small craft was pivotal in the Oxe Diesel outboard choice too.
Ryan explained: “I have been involved with a lot of small vessels either as the guy in the water, (during diving operations), or deploying from such boats in counter terrorism and anti-piracy training and missions.
“Many of the RHIB-based 7.2 metre and 11 metre boats use jet propulsion, which has some advantages but directional stability is compromised at low speed – particularly in a messy sea.
“I have seen the injuries and near-misses that can happen as a consequence of harder-to-control craft – particularly alongside ships in deployment or recovery of such boats – with many instances of capsizes that could have been avoided with a more stable craft,” Ryan said
The Whiskey Alpha’s Sea Blade hull not only offers greater stability, but her Oxe Diesel outboard legs in the water make that job all the easier.
“One of the other considerations of outboards is their ease of maintenance and ability to efficiently swap engines out if required – an obvious operational limitation of inboards,” he said.
“What is that boat?! What are THOSE engines??!!”
The Davidson boat ramp near the Roseville Bridge in the upper reaches of Sydney’s Middle Harbour overlooks a pretty piece of New South Wales waterway and is often where you will find the Whiskey Alpha 8.5 launching for demonstration purposes.
“We’ve been hosting quite a lot of stakeholders and key players in the industry to demonstrate the Whiskey Alpha’s abilities and get feedback,” Ryan said.
“We get a lot of queries at the boat ramp from people not just wanting to know about the boat, but more often than not “what are those engines?!!”
Little do many of those boat ramp-based onlookers realise that while they are looking at cutting-edge technology from bow to prop, the stealth black Oxe Diesels are perhaps one of the most maintenance-friendly marine engines available with easy-access to service points, filters and raw water strainer on the front of the engine (and boasting a 200 hour service interval).
However those lucky enough to go for a ride with Ryan at the helm of the Whiskey Alpha (this guy really does put the “operating” into his chief operating officer job title!) are no doubt more impressed with performance than oil-change regimes.
“Our initial goals included a vessel that could achieve 35knots, (with payload), with relative ease,” Ryan explained.
“We have been delighted to see the Oxe Diesels deliver around 40knots consistently.”
The Whiskey Alpha design is looking to outperform just about any vessel of her size too, with carrying capacity that has exceeded the expectations of even some experienced naval pundits.
“We expect a craft the size of Whiskey Alpha should comfortably be capable of carrying 12 personnel with full operational load out, in a seaway, with speed and good stability.”
“Some said a one tonne payload simply wasn’t feasible in an 8.5 metre boat – but Whiskey Alpha is capable of nearly twice that and the workable deck space is also significantly larger, offering an incredible size to effect ratio advantage.”
That sounds like a fair amount to ask of 400hp in propulsion, considering the Whiskey Alpha platform with a 550litre fuel tank comes in at around the 3,000kg mark (with engines).
“The performance characteristics that have impressed us the most are its effortless ability to handle sea conditions and carry the loads we needed it to,” Ryan enthuses.
“I was particularly impressed with how it handled initially when we took it out into rough conditions.”
“What really surprised me was how little coxswains input was required – even in a rough or confused sea.”
Ryan says the Oxe Diesels offer all the traditional benefits of a refined turbo diesel engine and “you feel like you can just run all day at the 3,800rpm mark – they are a very capable pair of engines.”
“There is no ‘hole’ getting up onto the plane either – it’s a very level build of speed, no doubt also thanks to the hull design that promises that ability.”
Probably some 900Nm of torque at the propeller shaft from belt gearing helps in that task too!
But while the Oxe Diesel proves unbeatably frugal on fuel even at WOT (around 45litres per hour, per engine), at lower speeds this engine has unrivalled abilities for an outboard.
Made possible through an electro-hydraulically operated clutch system, the Oxe Diesel employs what its manufacturers call Quick Shift Capability and Low Speed Control (LSC).
In short, these features use a twin multi-friction plate clutch (electronically controlled) that not only allows the user to throw the outboard from forward straight into reverse with no risk of gearbox damage, but also delivers more positive control and shifting at lower manoeuvring speeds.
Consider also that this gearbox is actually mounted above the waterline, (a nice crash-stop protection to start with), and allows for counter-rotation of the drive shaft, (meaning no need for dedicated spares in differing configurations), and you start to realise just how much of a leap ahead the Oxe Diesel is.
The Whiskey Alpha 8.5 was tested with a variety of three and four-blade propellers in initial water tests, with a three-blade 15 and 3/4inch diameter by 21inch pitch propeller currently in use on the demonstrator.
Whiskey Alpha – the Australian future of tactical craft
While this is a serious vessel with clear military applications, it is perhaps a sign of our times that non-military expertise has provided some of the key components for the Whiskey Alpha design demonstrator – and not just her Oxe Diesel outboards.
This imposing vessel has carbon fibre expertise behind it that includes an America’s Cup winning composites lead engineer and Farr Yacht naval architecture. Ryan readily admits: “We’ve used the technology that is used in some of the fastest and strongest racing boats in the world”.
Its permanent buoyancy foam fender means it can bump and bounce if necessary, and with optional light-weight clip-in ballistic armour available, if things get serious the Whiskey Alpha 8.5 has the answers.
“You can’t get rid of all the potholes in the ocean, but the Whiskey Alpha 8.5 levels most of them out, vastly reducing the slam loading and is the driest boat I’ve ever been on,” says Ryan.
He is referring to the Sea Blade hull design that was integral to one of the overarching philosophies of the Whiskey Alpha project – personnel protection.
“The Sea Blade hull reduces slam loading by up to 40 per cent,” says Ryan “If you’ve ever worked on small boats you know how significant that is.”
“Not only does it ensure far greater protection and safety for the men and women who rely on these boats to do their job, it also means they can arrive at their task fit and ready for the job at hand.”
The Whiskey Alpha watercraft has also been designed to be a true multi-role vessel, with a modular fit out that enables rapid reconfiguration so it can be optimally deployed for a broad range of generalist or specialist tasks. This is a step-change in design innovation compared to the operational problem Defence faces of having too many different types of vessels that can only do one job – or the bigger problem in-service watercraft face where they are modified beyond their design abilities.
Multi-role also incorporates some future-ready configurations.
Ryan had worked for more than 3 years with the Australian Navy setting up systems for autonomous vessel capability – a huge advantage for any on-water force in areas such as surveillance and mine warfare for example.
No doubt the Oxe Diesel outboard will help cater for such design given it has CANbus shift and full electronic power steering or joystick capability (as well as traditional hydraulic steering).
“When we planned to present the Whiskey Alpha 8.5 at Pacific 2019, we wanted to truly deliver a “shock and awe” unveiling of a fully operational demonstrator vessel – not just a prototype,” Ryan says, “I believe we definitely achieved that”.
“But our biggest driving philosophy ultimately with this vessel is one where we want to help our old network and colleagues.
“We want to give them the watercraft we wish we’d had when we were in the service. We want to give them an operational advantage!”