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U.S. Navy Explores Program for Uncrewed Mothership to Launch Drones

US Navy seeks designs for uncrewed mothership
Navy is using two former offshore patrol vessels converted to autonomous operation to transport its uncrewed crafts (Nomad was used in RIMPAC 2022 - US Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Tyler Fraser)

Published Dec 2, 2022 10:35 AM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. Navy has opened a request for information as it conducts market research for the next step in its development of Unmanned and Small Combatants. In the new project, they are requesting information and concepts for an Attritable UxV Mother Ship (AUMS) as a potential solution to cost-effectively delivering large numbers of UxVs to forward locations in a contested environment.

The Navy has already made progress in its efforts to develop a new generation of uncrewed vessels exploring their role both for combat and in monitoring and surveillance operations. In addition to highlighting the testing that has gone on and various roles in exercises for uncrewed vessels, the Navy has been using these craft in areas such as the Persian Gulf. Earlier this year their role in surveillance was highlighted when Iranian forces interfered with these crafts, including briefly towing one and taking a second one aboard one of their vessels.

“The Navy would like to hear the industry’s recommendation for the overall approach to a potential AUMS program,” they write in the recently posted notice. Companies have till December 15 to react to the Navy’s outlined concept as well as propose enhancements. The Department of Defense highlights that it is currently a research effort while saying it would be possible that the Navy would award a design and construction contract in mid-FY2026 for an AUMS system.

They outlined some basic parameters for the vessels explaining their role would be to deliver the smaller UxVs into position. The current concept calls for transporting a 20-foot container either aboard the AUMS or towed by the autonomous vessel to a predesignated position. “Upon reaching the drop-off location, the container with the UxVs will be self-sustaining and can be just deployed and left; there is no requirement for AUMS to loiter in the area,” according to the notice. If the container is transported aboard the AUMS it will require a system “push it over the side,” as part of the deployment.

The concept calls for an autonomous mother ship that would have both line of sight and beyond line of sight over the horizon communications systems. They want a system that is capable of following waypoints and navigating via GPS.

Among the specifications that they are exploring is a system that would operate in the open ocean and never be closer than three nautical miles to any shoreline untended. They propose a range of 1,000 to 2,000 nautical miles. The AUMS will need to be capable of operating in a fully unmanned state for up to five days while underway.

The notice also calls for an analysis of the “sea state survivability” initially proposing the AUMS should be able to operate in sea states 3 to 6 and be able to survive in one sea state higher than the operating sea state. They are also proposing an operating speed between 12 and 20 knots as well as the capability to refuel at sea. 

Security on the AUMS should include 360-degree camera coverage as well as a design that is resistant to boarding. The uncrewed vessel is also to have a self-scuttling capability based on a remote order.

Companies responding to the notice can revise the elements of the design but the Navy asked for a cost analysis based on the capabilities. They expect that vessels would be delivered within 18 to 24 months after the contract is awarded potentially in mid-FY 2026. The program will incorporate the design, building, testing, and delivery of the first vessel to be followed by a notional class of 10 additional AUMS.