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U.S. Navy Moves Forward With its Autonomous Vessel Program

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L3Harris also worked on DARPA's Sea Hunter prototype autonomous vessel, above (USN)

By The Maritime Executive 07-14-2020 09:45:09

The U.S. Navy has made a significant step forward in its unmanned vessel program, awarding a contract worth up to $300 million to defense contractor L3Harris for the development of a prototype Medium Unmanned Surface Vehicle (MUSV). 

The MUSV program is intended to provide the fleet with pier-launched, self-deploying, modular surface vessels capable of navigating and carrying out their missions autonomously. The primary mission set will include comms, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and electronic warfare. According to an early specifications list obtained by USNI News, the design must be able to carry a standard 40-foot container, navigate autonomously in compliance with COLREGS and operate independently for at least 60 days at sea. 

The initial $35 million award covers the construction cost for the first prototype, and the total contract value could rise to $295 million if all options are exercised. 

“The award of Medium USV is the culmination of a great dialogue with industry to right-size the requirements for a capable, reliable, and affordable unmanned surface vehicle that will employ a variety of modular payloads,” said Capt. Pete Small, the MUSV program manager. “Leveraging new rapid prototyping authorities and mature commercial technology will allow us to quickly deliver a capable prototype to the Surface Development Squadron to conduct experimentation and learning in support of the Navy’s plans for a future fleet incorporating unmanned vessels.”

The delivery of the first prototype is scheduled for FY2023, and the Navy's FY2021 budget request calls for funding for a second unit that year. 

It is the Navy's first contract for a newbuild autonomous vessel of this size. The well-known Sea Hunter (ACTUV) autonomous vessel, which fills a comparable technological niche, was contracted by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). L3 was also involved in the Sea Hunter program, serving as a subcontractor to Leidos.