The Maritime Systems division of L3Harris Corporation is working on a final design of a medium unmanned surface vehicle (MUSV) and plans to deliver a prototype in early 2023. The business unit, formed with the July 2019 merger of L3 Technologies and Harris Corporation, won a Navy contract for the prototype in mid-July 2020.
Maritime Systems president Dave Zack says the MUSV will be a force structure “foundation” of the effort to build a 355-ship fleet. He adds the Navy expects the future fleet to be supported increasingly by unmanned craft capable of acting as nodes on fleet networks for critical information sharing.
The initial $35 million contract is for systems integration, starting with construction of the prototype MUSV. The contract includes eight options that, if all are exercised, could increase the value to $281 million for nine vessels. After the first is delivered, Zack sees the Navy buying two per year for four years.
The MUSV is one of three components of the Navy’s plan for unmanned vessels, alongside large unmanned surface vehicles and extra-large unmanned undersea vehicles. Zack says these uncrewed systems will support the fleet’s continuing shift to open, distributed architectures—capable of accommodating multiple weapon systems and sensors. He adds that the Navy sees the MUSV as an autonomous platform fitted with advanced sensors and data-fusion systems for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions.
Zack explains the company’s current development work on MUSV payloads will enable the vessel to pass critical, actionable, real-time information in a “resilient, distributed manner—and do it affordably.”
In a Navy release, Captain Pete Small, manager of the Unmanned Maritime Systems Program Office within the Program Executive Office for Unmanned and Small Combatants, says the Navy seeks a “capable, reliable, and affordable [MUSV] that will employ a variety of modular payloads.”
The Navy says the MUSV program “will provide pier-launched, self-deploying, modular, open-architecture surface vessels capable of autonomous navigation and mission execution.” The goal is to help the Navy “produce, deploy, and disperse ISR, conduct electronic warfare, and provide distributed situational awareness and sensing for the battle force.”
The MUSV, Zack says, will be a modified version of a commercial crew vessel built by Incat Crowther for resupply of oil rigs. Swiftships will build the vessels in Morgan City, Louisiana. Naval architect firm Gibbs & Cox will oversee the design to ensure it meets American Bureau of Shipping commercial standards.
The 195-foot vessel will be powered by a four-jet propulsion drive system. The Maritime Systems team is designing the autonomous ship-control system, sensors, and data-fusion suite to allow the vessel to operate in all weather conditions, at high speeds, and during periods of reduced visibility in high-clutter environments such as Gulf of Mexico shipping lanes. The company says the current design effort also will ensure full hull, mechanical, and electrical autonomy, encompassing electrical, hydraulic, and onboard diagnostic systems for mission performance, including collision avoidance.
Zack notes the autonomous control architecture will be scalable, capable of being integrated on board multiple vessel types, and commercial—that is, not tied to proprietary Navy standards.
The Maritime Systems president says L3 Technologies—“legacy L3”—has an extensive pedigree in developing and fielding autonomous control systems for international navies, with 115 systems delivered. The company recently built two mine countermeasures craft for the Royal Navy and the French Navy that provide 100 percent autonomous operation for mine detection and mine neutralization. The company also has built autonomous craft for Japan, South Korea, and commercial undersea exploration and survey customers.