Today’s naval warships aren’t just constructed—first there are literally years of study involved into how the vessels can be best used and that is followed by endless other studies that consider every facet of the design. It is a major undertaking to design and create a new class of an existing platform—such as a new destroyer or frigate class of warship—but now the Navy Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) has announced that it has awarded new contracts to study the concepts for a Large Unmanned Surface Vessel (LUSV).
The LUSV remains a key component of the U.S. Navy’s surface warfare strategy aimed at deploying small, medium and large drone boats to support a wide sphere of manned warfare operations.
Last week NAVSEA announced that it has awarded contracts totaling $41,985,112 to a total of six companies for the LUSV studies, and each of the contracts includes an option for engineering support that if exercised would bring the cumulative value for all the awards to $59,476,146. The firm-fixed price contracts were awarded to Huntington Ingalls Inc. in Pascagoula, Mississippi; Lockheed Martin Corp. in Baltimore Maryland; Bollinger Shipyards Lockport, LLC. in Lockport, Lousiana; Marinette Marine Corp. in Marinette, Wisconsin; Gibbs & Cox Inc., in Arlington, Virginia; and Austal USA, LLC, Mobile, Alabama. All of these awards followed a full and open competition that began with the release of a Request For Proposals in fiscal year (FY) 2019.
“These studies contracts will allow the Navy to harvest the learning from our land- and sea-based prototyping efforts and work directly with industry to refine the requirements for an affordable, reliable, and effective Large Unmanned Surface Vessel and reduce risk for a future design and construction competition,” said Captain Pete Small, program manager, Unmanned Maritime Systems (PMS 406), within the Program Executive Office, Unmanned and Small Combatants at Naval Sea Systems Command.
All of the contracts were established in order to refine the specifications and requirements for a LUSV, and moreover to conduct the necessary reliability studies informed by industry partners with potential solutions prior to completion of a Detail Design and Construction (DDC) contract.
According to a report from GovConWire.com, NAVSEA received eight offers for the project via FedBizOpps, and will use fiscal 2020 navy research, development, test and evaluation funds to cover the initial work. The awards also come one year after NAVSEA first sought LUSV design concepts from industry contractors.
The Department of Defense (DoD) said that the option for engineering services would extend through May 2022.
Future Surface Combatant Force
The LUSV program will support the Nay’s Future Surface Combatant Force architecture through the development and fielding of low-cost, high-endurance unmanned vehicles that complement manned surface combatants.
Last month, as part of a formal Integrated Force Structure Assessment, an analysis teams led by the Chief of Naval Operations and Marine Corps Commandant also explored the question of fleet size in relation to fast-emerging man-unmanned teaming integration. Navy modernization and weapons development leaders have consistently emphasized the reality that larger “mothership” manned platforms such as amphibious assault ships will likely control fleets of hundreds of drone boats.
The Navy could also be going “all in” with automated robotic warships that could be capable of locating and tracking enemy submarines and other maritime threats.
In July, U.S. Navy awarded L3Harris a $35 million contract to design and fabricate a prototype Medium Unmanned Surface Vehicle (MUSV), which is expected to be delivered for testing by the end of 2022.
However, Congress has actually reduced speed on some of these efforts, and for the second year in a row had slowed the development of the LUSV in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. The language of the bill called for the Navy to have a working prototype with all systems tested and fully integrated before it can use procurement money to actually start production.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.