Austal USA Launches First Production Hull of 65-Foot Saildrone Series

CNO Adm. Lisa Franchetti (second from right) and colleagues at Austal for the launch (Saildrone)

Published Mar 7, 2024 3:02 PM by The Maritime Executive

The California-based autonomous boat company Saildrone has partnered with shipbuilder Austal to start production of its extra-large sail-powered vessel, the Surveyor. 

Saildrone's orange drones are a familiar sight in the research community, and have been used on long-distance blue water operations for years. They have self-deployed from California for surveys in the Bering Sea, ventured into Antarctic and High Arctic waters, and traced out thousands of miles of trackline in the Central Pacific, without intervention or resupply. The Navy has also trialed them in the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz for surveillance applications, with some success (except for a brief capture-and-abduction incident involving Iranian operatives). To date, Saildrone's devices have logged more than 1.1 million nautical miles sailed and 32,000 days of sea time. 

Building on the legacy of its original 23-foot design, Saildrone has created a 65-foot model that can carry a much larger payload. The new Surveyor can support full ocean depth multibeam sonar surveys to 11,000 meters of water, longer-range surveillance, and defense and security payloads to respond to "maritime threats." It has a displacement of 15 tonnes, putting it in the same size class as a large ocean racing yacht.

Courtesy Saildrone

Surveyor fits neatly into the Pentagon's plans to buy large volumes of less-expensive, high-performance drones to compete in the Western Pacific. The first production model was launched on Monday, with Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Lisa Franchetti in attendance, and Austal plans to deliver one every six weeks on its aluminum production line. 
“Using unmanned assets helps put more players on the field by freeing up manned assets for more specific and important tasks,” said Adm. Franchetti. “It’s good to see high tech industry partnering with the traditional shipbuilding industrial base to rapidly deliver cutting-edge products at scale.”

Saildrone has also reached an agreement with Austal Ltd. to look for opportunities to build its platforms in Australia for Indo-Pacific customers.