Ross Wilkers

UNMANNED

Navy takes one big and one small step toward unmanned future

With one contract out for bid and the award of another, the Navy’s push to speed up its adoption and integration of unmanned sea vehicles into the fleet continues to take further shape.

On Tuesday, the Navy issued a request for proposals to industry for a future Medium Unmanned Surface Vehicle that can navigate and execute missions autonomously. Bids are due by Sept. 30 of this year with an award for a first prototype anticipated between October and December, or the first quarter of the government’s 2020 fiscal year.

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The Navy envisions MUSV as a “pier-launched, self-deploying modular, open architecture surface vehicle” that can accelerate not just vehicle and payload development, but also give an inflection point in efforts to create a more distributed force in support of the National Defense Strategy.

Contents of the final RFP were not released. But presolicitation documents help at least outline what the Navy is looking for in a medium-sized unmanned surface vessel. MUSV should be between 39 and 164 feet long and able to carry payloads for electronic warfare and “ISR” -- intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

There is one additional wrinkle to how the Navy is pursuing the MUSV program. The branch is using Section 804 acquisition authority to carry out a rapid prototyping effort.

On Thursday, a second smaller but important glimpse in the Navy’s unmanned future emerged through the award of a $9.6 million contract modification to Lockheed Martin for help to develop and study subsystems and concepts for unmanned underwater vehicles.

Those studies will build off of Lockheed’s prior work on the Navy’s Extra Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicle program -- also known as “Orca” -- through which the service branch is acquiring prototypes of what is essentially an unmanned submarine.

Lockheed and Boeing first received contracts in September 2017 to build Orca prototypes, then the Navy decided to move forward with Boeing on the program in March.

The latest contract for Lockheed calls on the company to continue developing the underlying technologies such as navigation, autonomy and payloads that make UUVs work.

About the Author

Ross Wilkers is a senior staff writer for Washington Technology. He can be reached at rwilkers@washingtontechnology.com. Follow him on Twitter: @rosswilkers. Also find and connect with him on LinkedIn.

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