The US Navy Works Large Unmanned Surface Vessels

By Megan Eckstein

The Navy’s transition from prototype to program of record for its portfolio of unmanned surface and undersea systems is being aided by industry, international partners and developmental squadrons, even as the program office seeks to ease concerns that the transition is happening too fast, the program executive officer for unmanned and small combatants said today.

Rear Adm. Casey Moton said he’s aware of concerns regarding how unmanned systems – particularly the Large Unmanned Surface Vessel – will be developed and used by the fleet, but he’s confident in his team’s path forward.

“From my standpoint we are making a lot of great progress in working out the technical maturity, answering those kinds of questions (about how to employ and sustain the vessels) and getting the requirements right before we move into production…..”

The two prototypes in the water today, Overlord USVs purchased by the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office, are converted manned commercial fast supply vessels that went through an overhaul period to install autonomy systems to control ship navigation and operations.

The Navy was given research and development money this current fiscal year to buy two more LUSV prototype vessels and wanted money in FY 2021 for two more.

It would then buy one more in FY 2022 with R&D funding before starting the program-of-record acquisition program with shipbuilding funds in FY 2023.

It is not clear when the requirements would have to be set to allow for a competitive acquisition program and a contract award by the end of FY 2023, and therefore how much of the prototyping effort would be able to inform those requirements…..

“Both of our vendors with our Overlord vessels right now have HM&E system with reliability features, with autonomy features, and a lot of these features are not super developmental. The fundamentals – the generators, the engines, the fuel filters –a lot of that stuff is normal, good, robust commercial gear, the same kind of commercial gear that’s operating with high reliability on offshore support vessels on offshore platforms…..

Moton noted that an Overlord vessel recently traveled from the Gulf Coast to Norfolk, Va., and back – a 1,400 nautical mile journey – while autonomously navigating and following International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGs) to safely operate among commercial traffic.

This follows a previous mission by a Sea Hunter medium USV from San Diego to Hawaii and back, where the vessel needed small mechanical repairs on the way out but made the trip home without intervention.

The featured photo: A Ghost Fleet Overlord test vessel takes part in a capstone demonstration during the conclusion of Phase I of the program in September. Two existing commercial fast supply vessels were converted into unmanned surface vessels (USVs) for Overlord testing, which will play a vital role in informing the Navy’s new classes of USVs. US Navy photo.

For the complete article, see the following:

Program Office Maturing USVs, UUVs With Help From Industry, International Partners