Print Friendly, PDF & Email

J C Menon

The U.S. Navy has selected L3 Technologies to design and build its first medium Unmanned Surface Vehicle (MUSV). The Naval Sea Systems Command has awarded a US$35m fixed-price-incentive-firm-target contract for the detail design and fabrication of a prototype MUSV. This contract includes options for up to eight additional MUSVs, logistics packages, engineering support, technical data, and other direct costs, which, if exercised, will bring the cumulative value of this contract to US$281.4 million, a US Government official informs.

The award follows a full and open competitive procurement process with L3 one of five companies that bid for the contract. Most of its MUSV work will be performed at Morgan City, Louisiana, and the prototype MUSV is expected to be completed by December 2022.

“If all options are exercised, work will continue through June 2027,” the official adds.

Distributed Operations

Naval Sea Systems Command says the MUSV programme will provide pier-launched, self-deploying, modular, open architecture surface vessels capable of autonomous navigation and mission execution. MUSVs will support the Navy’s ability to produce, deploy and disburse intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and electronic warfare capabilities, and provide/improve distributed situational awareness and sensing to the battle force.

“The award of MUSV 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,” says Captain Pete Small, programme manager, Unmanned Maritime Systems, within the Programme Executive Office, Unmanned and Small Combatants at Naval Sea Systems Command.

The Navy defines MUSVs as being 45 feet to 190 feet long, with displacements of roughly 500 tons, pursuing the programme as a rapid prototyping effort under what is known as Section 804 acquisition authority.

Accelerated

“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,” he says.

Delivery of this first prototype is expected in early FY23. The President’s 2021 budget request for the Navy includes additional funding for a second MUSV prototype in FY23. The acquisition strategy for the FY23 vessel is to be determined, however, for flexibility, the development contract contains options for additional USVs, Capt. Small says.

Accelerating USV, payload development and war-fighting integration will provide an inflection point in delivering a more distributed force in support of the National Defence Strategy. The MUSV programme is building on development work by the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) under its Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) effort and the Office of Naval Research (ONR) under its Medium Displacement USV effort. This work led to the design, construction, and testing of the prototype SEA HUNTER medium displacement USV, which has a reported length of 132 feet (about 40.2 metres) and a displacement of about 140 tonnes.

Large Plans

The US Navy wants to develop and procure Large Unmanned Surface Vehicles (LUSVs), Medium Unmanned Surface Vehicles (MUSVs), and Extra-Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicles (XLUUVs). The Navy is requesting US$579.9m in FY2021 research and development funding for these large UVs and their enabling technologies. The Navy wants to acquire these large UVs as part of an effort to shift the Navy to a more distributed fleet architecture. Compared to the current fleet architecture, this more distributed architecture is to include proportionately fewer large surface combatants (such as cruisers and destroyers), proportionately more small surface combatants (including frigates and Littoral Combat Ships), and the addition of significant numbers of large UVs.

The Navy wants to employ accelerated acquisition strategies for procuring these large UVs, so as to get them into service more quickly. Its desire to employ these accelerated acquisition strategies can be viewed as an expression of the urgency that the Navy attaches to fielding large UVs for meeting future military challenges from other countries.