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U.S. Navy Awards $1B in Contracts for Unmanned Surface Vessel Program

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Leidos, the designer of the Sea Hunter unmanned surface vessel, is among the firms on the contract list (USN file image)

By The Maritime Executive 02-19-2020 08:20:00

The U.S. Navy has awarded nearly $1 billion worth of contracts to a group of 40 firms for work on its unmanned surface vehicle programs. 

The businesses on the list will have the chance to compete for individual delivery orders between now and February 2025, with an optional contract extension that would take the funding period out through 2030. For this fiscal year, the contract is effectively a placeholder: FY2019 R&D funding of just $1,000 per company is obligated under each contract's initial order. 

Pinched by budget and manning realities, the U.S. Navy is contemplating a shift towards unmanned surface vessels to augment its fleet in the years ahead. Building its desired 355-vessel fleet while maintaining readiness for the current hulls will be a challenging fiscal exercise, and the Navy has proposed retiring some of its manned vessels early in order to free up funding for other purposes - like unmanned vessel research. 

In 2018, the Navy signaled what at least part of its future unmanned fleet might look like. It solicited input from industry about existing platforms that could satisfy specifications for a new Medium Unmanned Surface Vehicle - an autonomous, medium-endurance, medium-speed vessel capable of carrying three TEU of containerized payload. The vessel would include endurance of 4,500 nm at 16 knots; 90 days of operation without human maintenance; resistance to boarding, manual tampering and cyberattack; capable of unmanned refueling at sea; and capable of autonomous navigation. The service sought a fast 12-month delivery timeline and a relatively brief 15 year service life