News | Dec 4, 2017

Small boats, big problems: Navy blocks attacks from the sea with floating barriers

Maryland firm licenses patented Navy technology, sells life-saving product

News Article Image of Small boats, big problems: Navy blocks attacks from the sea with floating barriers

Truston's port security barriers fence off the USS Porter (DDG-78), a guided-missile destroyer, while docked at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard. (courtesy Truston)

Two members of al-Qaida throttled their small fiberglass boat laden with C4 explosives through a calm Yemeni harbor on a suicide mission in 2000.

Before anyone could defend the USS Cole, the terrorists had rammed the U.S. Navy destroyer and detonated their bomb, blowing a massive hole in the ship’s hull and killing 17 American sailors onboard.

After completing an investigation of the attack, Adm. Vern Clark, chief of naval operations, said “The Navy must take force protection to a new level and challenge every assumption we have about how we conduct our operations around the world.”

And the Naval Facilities Engineering Command took the lead, and formed industry partnerships to produce the patented solution they created.

Today, Truston Technologies, a small marine business headquartered in Annapolis, Maryland, is the Navy’s key partner and the global leader in port security barriers.

Since the attack on the USS Cole, Truston has sold over 20 miles, or 100,000 feet, of their barriers at dozens of locations worldwide.

Erick Knezek, Truston Technologies' co-founder and managing partner.

Erick Knezek, Truston Technologies’ co-founder and managing partner.

“Waterfront facilities often spend millions of dollars for landside security and ignore the waterside – almost as though the water itself is a barrier ­– when in reality, it is a potential avenue of attack,” said Erick Knezek, Truston’s co-founder & managing partner, and himself a former naval officer.

Truston prides itself in offering custom barrier installation using in-house engineers who have developed a range of gate options that allow authorized craft to quickly enter and exit the controlled area.

But the floating port barrier system that Truston sells to government and industry is based on technology developed by the Navy itself.

In 2006, naval engineers Laurence Nixon, William Seelig, and Stephen Slaughter filed for a patent on a low-cost and lightweight floating port security barrier. The trio, plus Robert “Bob” Taylor, had patented an earlier version of barrier nets in 2004.

Truston’s low-cost barrier is made from pontoons and reinforced steel beams that stand a eight-foot tall fence made of 12-strand braided nylon ropes. The floating fences can stop a 65-foot, explosive-laden boat traveling at 60 MPH before it can get close enough to damage harbor facilities, or a ship, military or commercial.

In the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office awarded the Navy a patent on the design, and the use of the patented barrier system was mandated for all shipyards contracting with the Navy.

Navy patent drawing

Truston Technologies licensed the Navy’s patented design with assistance from TechLink.

The next year, with assistance from TechLink, Truston signed a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) and a patent license agreement with the Navy so that it could develop and deliver the best port security barrier system in support of the American warfighter.

Truston’s global military and commercial sales of the port security barriers have since topped $85 million.

TechLink is the Department of Defense’s national partnership intermediary. Its staff of licensing professionals specialize in brokering CRADAs and patent licenses between small businesses and defense labs that have technology available for product development.

“This Navy technology and the patent license agreement resulted in significant sales for Truston, but more importantly supplied the American warfighter and supporting shipyards with improved security,” said Marti Elder, TechLink’s senior technology manager who facilitated the patent licensing process.

Truston is continuing to improve the port security system, with an optional fully-automated, remote-controlled gate being offered for the first time in 2017.

“Other companies have tried to imitate us, but we’re the only floating barrier system used by the most advanced navy in the world,” Knezek said. “And we intend to keep it that way through continued partnership and innovation.”

Troy Carter can be reached at troy.carter@montana.edu or 406-994-7796.

Headshot Image of Marti Elder, CLP

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