The Sea Shadow & Hughes Mining Barge – “Invisible Ship” and Spy Barge Sold at Auction

Sea Shadow

Update: The final auction price for the Sea Shadow and the HMB1 was an impressive $3.2 million.

The Sea Shadow is an experimental 164′ long catamaran “stealth ship” built by Lockheed in the mid 1980s for the United States Navy.  For most of her life, the Sea Shadow has been housed in the 364′ long Hughes Mining Barge (HMB1.)  Now, both the Sea Shadow and the Hughes Mining Barge are being sold for scrap. The Sea Shadow cost close to $200 million to build. There is no public record of the cost of the HMB1 as it was paid for by the CIA on a secret mission to raise a Russian nuclear submarine.  At just under three hours left in the auction, the current highest bid for both vessels together is slightly over $400,000.

In press reports, the Sea Shadow was often referred to as the “invisible ship.”   The History Channel video, below, for example, is entitled, “The Navy Launches Invisible Ship.”  This sounds a bit like the story of the emperor’s new clothes. If you can capture the ship on video, it is not very invisible. Press hyperbole aside, the unarmed ship was intended to test stealth design features and is supposed to be very hard to spot on radar.  Invisible, it is not.

When the Sea Shadow was new, it was considered to be very much a secret.  As it is not really invisible, the Navy needed a place to conveniently hide the ship. The answer was the Hughes Mining Barge, HMB1. The submersible barge served as a drydock and hanger for the top secret ship, making it literally invisible beneath the domed enclosure over the barge.

The HMB1 has an interesting backstory of its own.  Allegedly built to mine magnesium nodules in the deep ocean,   It was actually built as part of the CIA’s, Project Azorian, a top-secret effort to salvage the remains of the Soviet submarine K-129 from the ocean floor in 1974.   When Project Azorian ended, HMB1 became available to serve as hangar, drydock (and hiding place) for the Sea Shadow.

The winning bidder for the two vessels will not have a stealth ship to play with. Under the terms of the auction the winner will be required to dismantle and scrap the Sea Shadow within six months.

The Navy Launches Invisible Ship

Thanks to Bowsprite,  Alaric Bond and Phil Leon for contributing to this post.

This entry was posted in Current, Lore of the Sea, Ships and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Sea Shadow & Hughes Mining Barge – “Invisible Ship” and Spy Barge Sold at Auction

  1. Louis Cohen says:

    The cover story for the Glomar Explorer and the mining barge was mining manganese nodules.

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  3. james clifford says:

    The Journal of Local History, published by the Redwood City history archives, had this in 2011. Lots on the barge, including some exclusive details about the cover story.