Report on Navy Large Unmanned Surface and Undersea Vehicles

The following is the Oct. 18, 2022, Congressional Research Service report, Navy Large Unmanned Surface and Undersea Vehicles: Background and Issues for Congress. From the report The Navy wants to develop and procure three types of large unmanned vehicles (UVs) called Large Unmanned Surface Vehicles (LUSVs), Medium Unmanned Surface Vehicles (MUSVs), and Extra-Large Unmanned Undersea […]

The following is the Oct. 18, 2022, Congressional Research Service report, Navy Large Unmanned Surface and Undersea Vehicles: Background and Issues for Congress.

From the report

The Navy wants to develop and procure three types of large unmanned vehicles (UVs) called Large Unmanned Surface Vehicles (LUSVs), Medium Unmanned Surface Vehicles (MUSVs), and Extra-Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicles (XLUUVs). The Navy’s proposed FY2023 budget requests $549.3 million in research and development funding for these large UVs and LUSV/MUSV-enabling technologies, and $60.7 million in additional funding for core technologies for XLUUV and other Navy UUVs.

The Navy wants to acquire these large UVs as part of an effort to shift the Navy to a more distributed fleet architecture, meaning a mix of ships that spreads the Navy’s capabilities over an increased number of platforms and avoids concentrating a large portion of the fleet’s overall capability into a relatively small number of high-value ships (i.e., a mix of ships that avoids “putting too many eggs into one basket”). The Navy and the Department of Defense (DOD) have been working since 2019 to develop a new Navy force-level goal reflecting this new fleet mix. The Navy’s FY2023 30-year (FY2023-FY2052) shipbuilding plan, released on April 20, 2022, includes a table summarizing the results of studies that have been conducted on the new force-level goal. These studies outline potential future fleets with 27 to 153 large USVs and 18 to 51 large UUVs.

The Navy envisions LUSVs as being 200 feet to 300 feet in length and having full load displacements of 1,000 tons to 2,000 tons, which would make them the size of a corvette. (i.e., a ship larger than a patrol craft and smaller than a frigate). The Navy wants LUSVs to be low-cost, high-endurance, reconfigurable ships with ample capacity for carrying various modular payloads—particularly anti-surface warfare (ASuW) and strike payloads, meaning principally anti-ship and land-attack missiles. Each LUSV could be equipped with a vertical launch system (VLS) with 16 to 32 missile-launching tubes. Although referred to as UVs, LUSVs might be more accurately described as optionally or lightly manned ships, because they might sometimes have a few onboard crew members, particularly in the nearer term as the Navy works out LUSV enabling technologies and operational concepts. Under the Navy’s FY2023 five-year (FY2023-FY2027) shipbuilding plan, procurement of LUSVs through the Navy’s shipbuilding account is programmed to begin in FY2025.

The Navy defines MUSVs as being 45 feet to 190 feet long, with displacements of roughly 500 tons, which would make them the size of a patrol craft. The Navy wants MUSVs, like LUSVs, to be low-cost, high-endurance, reconfigurable ships that can accommodate various payloads. Initial payloads for MUSVs are to be intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) payloads and electronic warfare (EW) systems. The Navy’s FY2023 five-year (FY2023-FY2027) shipbuilding plan does not include the procurement of any MUSVs during the period FY2023-FY2027.

XLUUVs are roughly the size of a subway car. The first five XLUUVs were funded in FY2019 and are being built by Boeing. The Navy wants to use XLUUVs to, among other things, covertly deploy the Hammerhead mine, a planned mine that would be tethered to the seabed and armed with an antisubmarine torpedo, broadly similar to the Navy’s Cold War-era CAPTOR (encapsulated torpedo) mine. Under the Navy’s FY2023 five-year (FY2023-FY2027) shipbuilding plan, procurement of additional XLUUVs through the Other Procurement, Navy (OPN) account is scheduled to begin in FY2024.

In marking up the Navy’s proposed FY2020-FY2022 budgets, the congressional defense committees expressed concerns over whether the Navy’s acquisition strategies provided enough time to adequately develop concepts of operations and key technologies for these large UVs, particularly the LUSV, and included legislative provisions intended to address these concerns. In response to these markups, the Navy has restructured its acquisition strategy for the LUSV program so as to comply with these legislative provisions and provide more time for developing operational concepts and key technologies before entering into serial production of deployable units.

Download the document here.

GAO: Navy’s XLUUV Undersea Minelayer $242M Over Budget, 3 Years Behind Schedule

A program to develop an unmanned, 80-ton minelaying submarine is three years late and $242 million over budget, according to a Wednesday report from the Government Accountability Office. The Navy’s Extra Large Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (XLUUV) prototype program was set to deliver five of the autonomous submersibles based on Boeing’s Echo Voyager as a rapid […]

Undated image of XLUUV test vehicle. US Navy Photo

A program to develop an unmanned, 80-ton minelaying submarine is three years late and $242 million over budget, according to a Wednesday report from the Government Accountability Office.

The Navy’s Extra Large Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (XLUUV) prototype program was set to deliver five of the autonomous submersibles based on Boeing’s Echo Voyager as a rapid acquisition for the minelayers, according to the GAO.

The service contracted in March of 2019 with Boeing to build the five prototypes to meet a 2015 joint emergent operational need (JEON) for an advanced mining platform.

“The Navy considers these five XLUUVs to be prototypes, but is also planning to use these vehicles for military operations as soon as possible to fulfill the JEON. In other words, according to requirements documentation, DOD and the Navy are pursuing the XLUUV because it fulfills an emergent need for anticipated military operations,” reads the GAO report.
“The contract provided for delivery of the first vehicle within two years—that is, delivery to the Navy was scheduled for December 2020. The option for the fabrication and testing of the five prototype vehicles was a fixed-price incentive contract type. The ceiling price to fabricate all five vehicles is currently $281.5 million, including technical manuals and other documentation.”

GAO Image

Based on Navy cost data as part of the Fiscal Year 2023 budget request, the latest cost estimates for the five prototypes plus a $73 million test vehicle is $621 million.

The Navy added the test vehicle to the XLUUV program in March for the service to have a platform to work with while waiting for the final prototypes. The test vehicle will combine elements of Boeing’s Echo Voyager and the final XLUUV without the modular payload bay, reads the GAO report.

The GAO blamed the cost overruns on the “Navy’s decision to not require the contractor to demonstrate its readiness to fabricate the prototype XLUUVs, as called for by leading acquisition practices. Without knowledge to inform decision-making, delays ensued as the contractor implemented updates, revisions, and alterations after the Navy contracted to purchase the five XLUUVs in February and March 2019, according to Navy officials,” reads the report.

XLUUV delivery schedule. GAO Image

Questions on the delays sent by USNI News to a Navy spokesman were acknowledged but not immediately returned. A Boeing spokeswoman referred USNI News to the Navy when asked for comment on Wednesday.

A defense official told USNI News on Wednesday that much of the delay was due to COVID-19 pandemic-related production issues. The lack of batteries, qualified welders and titanium were bottlenecks in the XLUUV production process.

With the delays, “the delivery of the first XLUUV is now expected to be over 3 years late. The contractor originally planned to deliver the first XLUUV in December 2020 and all five by the end of calendar year 2022,” reads the report.
“Navy officials told us that the contractor has tentatively targeted February 2024 to June 2024 for delivery of all five vehicles.”

Since the 2019 award of the XLUUV, the Navy has given few details as to the role it has planned for the XLUUV or details of the design.

Artist’s conception of the Boeing and HII Orca XLUUV. Boeing Image

According to the GAO report, “the body of the vehicle is comprised of four sections or modules. This modularity allows some of the inner components, such as the batteries or payloads, to be added or removed when the vehicle is in the water … the Navy could add two additional batteries to the XLUUV if, for example, it needs more power for a mission due to increased range or payload requirements. Also according to Navy officials, the Navy plans to begin exploring the development of a universal payload module, which could carry many types of equipment for a variety of missions.”

The Navy has a history of turning unmanned prototype programs into operational assets. After an extended testing period, in 2009 U.S. Central Command took possession of five Navy RQ-4A Broad Area Maritime Surveillance Demonstrators (BAMS-D) and used them extensively in the Middle East for surveillance operations.

Austal USA Inks Deal with Saildrone to Build Wind-powered Drones as USV Work Expands

By the end of the year, Austal USA’s yard will start producing sail-powered, unmanned surface vessels for the Navy and other customers, the company announced this week. Starting in October, the Mobile, Ala., shipyard will start building the 65-foot aluminum Saildrone Surveyor drones in its modular manufacturing facility for use by the U.S. Navy. “The […]

Saildrone Photo

By the end of the year, Austal USA’s yard will start producing sail-powered, unmanned surface vessels for the Navy and other customers, the company announced this week.

Starting in October, the Mobile, Ala., shipyard will start building the 65-foot aluminum Saildrone Surveyor drones in its modular manufacturing facility for use by the U.S. Navy.

“The Saildrone Surveyor … is designed specifically for deep ocean mapping and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance applications, both above and below the surface,” reads a Wednesday statement from Austal USA.

Powered by wind and solar power, Saildrones are designed for high endurance voyages, originally for maritime research applications. But the Navy has been using them as surveillance platforms in U.S. Central Command since late last year as part of U.S. 5th Fleet’s Combined Task Force 59.

“We use the wind to sail these around, primarily collecting ocean data, atmospheric and oceanographic observations, but we can also put a payload in the keel and do things like fisheries surveys or single-beam mapping,” Brian Connon, Saildrone’s vice president of ocean mapping, told USNI News last year at the Navy League’s annual Sea-Air-Space symposium.

The long endurance of Saildrones as part of the testing in CENTCOM is one of the ways the Navy is developing its future fleet of unmanned systems that will provide the surveillance information for the Navy’s nascent distributed maritime operations concept.

For Austal USA, the work for Saildrone plays into its expanded shipbuilding offerings as it winds down the Independence-class Littoral Combat Ship program, yard president Rusty Murdaugh told USNI News last month.

The Navy announced earlier this year it had a notional plan to acquire 150 USVs in its latest long-range fleet structure. Yards like Austal and smaller shipbuilders in the Gulf Coast are looking to the smaller ships as part of the growth of the service’s unmanned fleet.

“To do a 70-foot autonomy ship was something not on our radar a couple of years ago but what you’ll see is the yard is agnostic … [Austal USA] is, able to build 70-foot ships or 700-foot ships. That’s the range of shipbuilding that we have going on as booked business right now and we’re going to continue to keep that wide range as long as it meets the needs of our customers and supports the yard’s ability to do high volume,” Murdaugh told USNI News.
“We’ve changed the way we manage the business from hulls to platforms. And so the panel can handle eight to 10 different platforms going through it at once. It has a lot of capacity. And we have growth plans that go out 50 years so that we can double the panel line.”

Report on Navy Large Unmanned Surface and Undersea Vehicles

The following is the Aug. 29, 2022, Congressional Research Service report, Navy Large Unmanned Surface and Undersea Vehicles: Background and Issues for Congress. From the report The Navy wants to develop and procure three types of large unmanned vehicles (UVs) called Large Unmanned Surface Vehicles (LUSVs), Medium Unmanned Surface Vehicles (MUSVs), and Extra-Large Unmanned Undersea […]

The following is the Aug. 29, 2022, Congressional Research Service report, Navy Large Unmanned Surface and Undersea Vehicles: Background and Issues for Congress.

From the report

The Navy wants to develop and procure three types of large unmanned vehicles (UVs) called Large Unmanned Surface Vehicles (LUSVs), Medium Unmanned Surface Vehicles (MUSVs), and Extra-Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicles (XLUUVs). The Navy’s proposed FY2023 budget requests $549.3 million in research and development funding for these large UVs and LUSV/MUSV-enabling technologies, and $60.7 million in additional funding for core technologies for XLUUV and other Navy UUVs.

The Navy wants to acquire these large UVs as part of an effort to shift the Navy to a more distributed fleet architecture, meaning a mix of ships that spreads the Navy’s capabilities over an increased number of platforms and avoids concentrating a large portion of the fleet’s overall capability into a relatively small number of high-value ships (i.e., a mix of ships that avoids “putting too many eggs into one basket”). The Navy and the Department of Defense (DOD) have been working since 2019 to develop a new Navy force-level goal reflecting this new fleet mix. The Navy’s FY2023 30-year (FY2023-FY2052) shipbuilding plan, released on April 20, 2022, includes a table summarizing the results of studies that have been conducted on the new force-level goal. These studies outline potential future fleets with 27 to 153 large USVs and 18 to 51 large UUVs.

The Navy envisions LUSVs as being 200 feet to 300 feet in length and having full load displacements of 1,000 tons to 2,000 tons, which would make them the size of a corvette. (i.e., a ship larger than a patrol craft and smaller than a frigate). The Navy wants LUSVs to be low-cost, high-endurance, reconfigurable ships with ample capacity for carrying various modular payloads—particularly anti-surface warfare (ASuW) and strike payloads, meaning principally anti-ship and land-attack missiles. Each LUSV could be equipped with a vertical launch system (VLS) with 16 to 32 missile-launching tubes. Although referred to as UVs, LUSVs might be more accurately described as optionally or lightly manned ships, because they might sometimes have a few onboard crew members, particularly in the nearer term as the Navy works out LUSV enabling technologies and operational concepts. Under the Navy’s FY2023 five-year (FY2023-FY2027) shipbuilding plan, procurement of LUSVs through the Navy’s shipbuilding account is programmed to begin in FY2025.

The Navy defines MUSVs as being 45 feet to 190 feet long, with displacements of roughly 500 tons, which would make them the size of a patrol craft. The Navy wants MUSVs, like LUSVs, to be low-cost, high-endurance, reconfigurable ships that can accommodate various payloads. Initial payloads for MUSVs are to be intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) payloads and electronic warfare (EW) systems. The Navy’s FY2023 five-year (FY2023-FY2027) shipbuilding plan does not include the procurement of any MUSVs during the period FY2023-FY2027.

XLUUVs are roughly the size of a subway car. The first five XLUUVs were funded in FY2019 and are being built by Boeing. The Navy wants to use XLUUVs to, among other things, covertly deploy the Hammerhead mine, a planned mine that would be tethered to the seabed and armed with an antisubmarine torpedo, broadly similar to the Navy’s Cold War-era CAPTOR (encapsulated torpedo) mine. Under the Navy’s FY2023 five-year (FY2023-FY2027) shipbuilding plan, procurement of additional XLUUVs through the Other Procurement, Navy (OPN) account is scheduled to begin in FY2024.

In marking up the Navy’s proposed FY2020-FY2022 budgets, the congressional defense committees expressed concerns over whether the Navy’s acquisition strategies provided enough time to adequately develop concepts of operations and key technologies for these large UVs, particularly the LUSV, and included legislative provisions intended to address these concerns. In response to these markups, the Navy has restructured its acquisition strategy for the LUSV program so as to comply with these legislative provisions and provide more time for developing operational concepts and key technologies before entering into serial production of deployable units.

Download the document here.

Unmanned Surface Vehicle Mariner Next Ghost Fleet Vessel to Join the Navy

ABOARD OVERLORD USV MARINER IN ANNAPOLIS, MD., – In a small ceremony on Tuesday, the Navy christened its latest Ghost Fleet Overlord unmanned surface vehicle, putting the service on a path to ramp up autonomy experimentation with its fleet of USVs. Mariner, which Gulf Craft built on spec at its Franklin, La., facility under prime […]

USV Mariner on Aug. 23, 2022. USNI News Photo

ABOARD OVERLORD USV MARINER IN ANNAPOLIS, MD., – In a small ceremony on Tuesday, the Navy christened its latest Ghost Fleet Overlord unmanned surface vehicle, putting the service on a path to ramp up autonomy experimentation with its fleet of USVs.

Mariner, which Gulf Craft built on spec at its Franklin, La., facility under prime contractor Leidos, will help the Navy advance testing for the autonomous technology needed for USVs. It will also add to the wide array of commercial systems – like sensors, satellite links, radars and communications suites – that the Navy is experimenting with across its fleet of USVs.

“Besides this platform doing a lot of work in … allowing us to test and mature basically our system engineering pillars – which are really applicable to no matter what we built, whether it’s [Large Unmanned Surface Vehicle] or MUSVs or something else – a lot of the basics here, the perception and the autonomy, the reliable machinery, almost all of that can cross over between those classes. The real differences are the size of the engines,” Rear Adm. Casey Moton, the program executive officer for unmanned and small combatants, told reporters on Tuesday.

“This baseline of what we’re doing first I want to say is really applicable to whatever approach we go. In terms of requirements, LUSV clearly is a program of record requirement, the [vertical launch system] capability – adjunct magazine capability – is important. It’s in our request. That’s really a big aim of what we’re developing,” he added.

The basic design of Mariner is similar to other craft on the Gulf Coast used to support oil rigs and was half-way built when the Navy purchased it, according to Brian Fitzpatrick, the principal assistant program manager for USV’s at the Naval Sea Systems Command’s unmanned maritime systems program office, or PMS 406.

The 194-foot long Mariner is also equipped with datalinks and systems to function as a mothership for other USVs, making it easier for the Navy to now experiment with multiple unmanned craft at the same time.

“Now we can take two of our USVs and go out and do multi-vessel [operations] and control and not necessarily have to take a DDG off of actual fleet operations to go to that,” Moton said. “It gives us that ability to just get there that much more quickly through the testing and the different scenarios.”

Mariner also features the command and control portions of the Aegis combat system and can link to other Aegis ships in the fleet. The Navy added a third electrical generator, on top of the two generators in the original design for redundancy and the aft part of the USV can fit containerized payloads. The convertible mission area can accommodate two 20-foot payloads in the front and either four 40-foot payloads or eight 20-food payloads in the back.

Mariner will head to the West Coast to join the Navy’s other MUSVs under San Diego, Calif.,-based Unmanned Surface Vessel Division One in Fiscal Year 2023.

Moton said that while the goal is to have Mariner perform long transoceanic transits, the Navy still needs to figure out the refueling piece for USVs.

“We actually have some [science and technology] work going on into how to do like a storm refueling while it’s unmanned. But for now, when we’re going to refuel the vessel, we actually put humans aboard and we refuel it because it’s a complex operation,” Moton said.

While the service currently refuels the USVs with humans aboard, it plans to do a refueling test next year to see how it can function without a human in the loop.

“We have to go through the not just the getting people onboard and doing it with the USV, but also us working with the oiler and how many people do we need to do that from a [concept of operations] development standpoint,” Fitzpatrick said.

Mariner is the fourth MUSV that’s part of the Ghost Fleet Overlord effort but the third to deliver to the Navy. The third USV, Vanguard, is under construction at Austal USA under prime contractor L3 Technologies.

Vanguard will be 205 feet long and Austal USA is building the hull to commercial standards, Fitzpatrick said. The additional length will allow Vanguard to carry more fuel and heavier payloads.

“The extra length – and it’s actually deeper – so it’s deeper, it’s wider and it’s longer. So lots more volume so we can get more fuel onboard. We can also carry more payloads, not necessarily the size, the length of the payload, but the weight of the payload,” Fitzpatrick said.

The Navy just wrapped up fleet-wide experimentation with the four MUSVs under USVDIV that participated in the biennial Rim of the Pacific 2022 exercise. Ghost Fleet Overlord test ships Nomad and Ranger, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency-developed Sea Hunter and its sister ship, Seahawk were each pairs with a single destroyer during RIMPAC.

Fitzpatrick said the RIMPAC experimentation yielded 400 terabytes of data that the Navy will spend the next few months combing through to filter what data it needs.

“We’ve been standing up pipelines to bring that data in to be able to do automated processing of that,” he said.

“Right now, it’s collect everything we can. Collect everything we can. There’s a certain amount from a [Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea] side and [hull, mechanical and electrical] side that we know we want to collect,” Fitzpatrick continued. “But right now we’re pulling everything and then it’s got to set the pipeline up to make that not a two or three month evolution, but a couple days.”

Report on Navy Large Unmanned Surface and Undersea Vehicles

The following is the July 26, 2022 Congressional Research Service Report, Navy Large Unmanned Surface and Undersea Vehicles: Background and Issues for Congress. From the report The Navy wants to develop and procure three types of large unmanned vehicles (UVs) called Large Unmanned Surface Vehicles (LUSVs), Medium Unmanned Surface Vehicles (MUSVs), and Extra-Large Unmanned Undersea […]

The following is the July 26, 2022 Congressional Research Service Report, Navy Large Unmanned Surface and Undersea Vehicles: Background and Issues for Congress.

From the report

The Navy wants to develop and procure three types of large unmanned vehicles (UVs) called Large Unmanned Surface Vehicles (LUSVs), Medium Unmanned Surface Vehicles (MUSVs), and Extra-Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicles (XLUUVs). The Navy’s proposed FY2023 budget requests $549.3 million in research and development funding for these large UVs and LUSV/MUSV-enabling technologies, and $60.7 million in additional funding for core technologies for XLUUV and other Navy UUVs.

The Navy wants to acquire these large UVs as part of an effort to shift the Navy to a more distributed fleet architecture, meaning a mix of ships that spreads the Navy’s capabilities over an increased number of platforms and avoids concentrating a large portion of the fleet’s overall capability into a relatively small number of high-value ships (i.e., a mix of ships that avoids “putting too many eggs into one basket”). The Navy and the Department of Defense (DOD) have been working since 2019 to develop a new Navy force-level goal reflecting this new fleet mix. The Navy’s FY2023 30-year (FY2023-FY2052) shipbuilding plan, released on April 20, 2022, includes a table summarizing the results of studies that have been conducted on the new force-level goal. These studies outline potential future fleets with 27 to 153 large USVs and 18 to 51 large UUVs.

The Navy envisions LUSVs as being 200 feet to 300 feet in length and having full load displacements of 1,000 tons to 2,000 tons, which would make them the size of a corvette. (i.e., a ship larger than a patrol craft and smaller than a frigate). The Navy wants LUSVs to be low-cost, high-endurance, reconfigurable ships with ample capacity for carrying various modular payloads—particularly anti-surface warfare (ASuW) and strike payloads, meaning principally anti-ship and land-attack missiles. Each LUSV could be equipped with a vertical launch system (VLS) with 16 to 32 missile-launching tubes. Although referred to as UVs, LUSVs might be more accurately described as optionally or lightly manned ships, because they might sometimes have a few onboard crew members, particularly in the nearer term as the Navy works out LUSV enabling technologies and operational concepts. Under the Navy’s FY2023 five-year (FY2023-FY2027) shipbuilding plan, procurement of LUSVs through the Navy’s shipbuilding account is programmed to begin in FY2025.

The Navy defines MUSVs as being 45 feet to 190 feet long, with displacements of roughly 500 tons, which would make them the size of a patrol craft. The Navy wants MUSVs, like LUSVs, to be low-cost, high-endurance, reconfigurable ships that can accommodate various payloads. Initial payloads for MUSVs are to be intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) payloads and electronic warfare (EW) systems. The Navy’s FY2023 five-year (FY2023-FY2027) shipbuilding plan does not include the procurement of any MUSVs during the period FY2023-FY2027.

XLUUVs are roughly the size of a subway car. The first five XLUUVs were funded in FY2019 and are being built by Boeing. The Navy wants to use XLUUVs to, among other things, covertly deploy the Hammerhead mine, a planned mine that would be tethered to the seabed and armed with an antisubmarine torpedo, broadly similar to the Navy’s Cold War-era CAPTOR (encapsulated torpedo) mine. Under the Navy’s FY2023 five-year (FY2023-FY2027) shipbuilding plan, procurement of additional XLUUVs through the Other Procurement, Navy (OPN) account is scheduled to begin in FY2024.

In marking up the Navy’s proposed FY2020-FY2022 budgets, the congressional defense committees expressed concerns over whether the Navy’s acquisition strategies provided enough time to adequately develop concepts of operations and key technologies for these large UVs, particularly the LUSV, and included legislative provisions intended to address these concerns. In response to these markups, the Navy has restructured its acquisition strategy for the LUSV program so as to comply with these legislative provisions and provide more time for developing operational concepts and key technologies before entering into serial production of deployable units.

Download the document here.

New Navy Unmanned Division to Serve as Bridge Between Program Office, Fleet

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, HAWAII – A new California command for unmanned surface vessels will be the bridge between the Navy’s requirements team in Washington, D.C., and the operational fleet. Cmdr. Jeremiah Daley, who leads the San Diego, Calif.,-based Unmanned Surface Vessel Division One, in a recent interview with USNI News described his new role […]

Sea Hunter sits pierside at Naval Base San Diego, Calif., during the Unmanned Surface Vessel Division (USDIV) One Establishment ceremony on May 13, 2022. US Navy Photo

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, HAWAII – A new California command for unmanned surface vessels will be the bridge between the Navy’s requirements team in Washington, D.C., and the operational fleet.

Cmdr. Jeremiah Daley, who leads the San Diego, Calif.,-based Unmanned Surface Vessel Division One, in a recent interview with USNI News described his new role as the “glue” between the program office at Naval Sea Systems Command and the fleet forward experimenting with the unmanned surface vehicles at sea.

The goal, Daley said, is to figure out what these USVs can do operationally to inform the evolving requirements for the Medium Unmanned Surface Vehicle (MUSV) and the Large Unmanned Surface Vehicle (LUSV).

“I have two overlapping bins – the first bin is the NAVSEA PMS 406 program office bin, which is to take a lot of lessons learned from this platform, which has been around for a few years and … the OSVs, and find out and develop both the autonomy and the ship systems to get to a program of record – LUSV, as an example … and what that looks like. And that’s a combination of … the autonomy and that sort of system for safe navigation of the vessels,” Daley told USNI News at the pier in Pearl Harbor, where USV Seahawk prepared to head out to sea for the biennial Rim of the Pacific 2022 exercise.

“And then there’s the payload piece, which is sort of the other bin. And that is not just a PMS 406 thing. That is an everyone contributing into the mix thing, into the team. And it’s bringing forward those capabilities, finding the right integration points to test them with the fleet, and to find the other testing and research opportunities to work through to figure out what the right blend of capability looks like for the program of record,” he continued.

Daley’s new USVDIV command now owns the Ghost Fleet Overlord test ships Nomad and Ranger, as well as Sea Hunter, which was originally developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and its sister ship Seahawk.

USVs Ranger and Nomad unmanned vessels underway in the Pacific Ocean near the Channel Islands on July 3, 2021. US Navy Photo

Nomad and Ranger were originally developed by the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office, but were transferred over to the Navy for testing and experimentation. More ships are on the way.

Daley is charged with the at-sea experimentation portion meant to inform the requirements side for future USV programs of record. His command, which formally stood up in May, is responsible for “testing and developing not just the maturation of autonomy and how the ship drives, but also all of the associated payloads that the Navy in general is working towards in concert with our research partners towards making – finding the right payloads to put onto USVs and how we implement them for a future program of record,” he said.

While Nomad and Ranger have personnel aboard for RIMPAC, Sea Hunter and Seahawk are operating autonomously without anyone aboard, aside from a small crew that helps the two USVs leave the pier. The Navy plans to use these four USVs – all prototypes – to determine how best to employ the assets in the fleet, including how they can work with manned warships.

“The program office and NAVSEA are building the ship, but I am a fleet person. So my charter is to figure out how we’re going to use them in the fight and how we’re going to increase interoperability, distributed maritime operations and lethality for the combination of manned and unmanned, and how we do that,” Daley said.

At RIMPAC 2022, Daley and his team have the chance to pair the USVs with cruisers and destroyers to experiment with the manned-unmanned teaming concept that Navy officials say is critical to the future of the new technology. The idea is that the USVs can augment the manned ships with additional sensing capability or potentially weapons capacity.

While the Navy has employed the USVs in other exercises, the at-sea phase of RIMPAC is the first time the four platforms are participating in the same drills.

Large unmanned surface vessel Ranger departs Pearl Harbor to begin the at-sea phase of Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2022, July 11., 2022. US Navy Photo

The Navy’s pursuit of unmanned USVs slowed in recent years amid Congressional skepticism over the new technology. Lawmakers wanted to see more testing and argued the Navy needs to better understand how it would employ the assets operationally, or the concept of operations.

“The perception may be from some that we’re running into this, this program’s been around for many years. The SCO – Ghost Fleet Overlord program – at least three years. My command just happens to be new,” Daley said. “But we’re at a level of evolution for how we are doing these types of testing events where you need a dedicated command that’s focused on bringing forward the technology, the lethality, the interconnectedness and finding out the right tactics, techniques and procedures – TTPs – on how we are going to interact and work with the fleet.”

Daley’s new command will help figures out the CONOPs and provide feedback to NAVSEA’s unmanned maritime systems program office, or PMS 406.

“PMS 406 and my organization are in constant contact with each other. We have a PMS 406 test director that is the gatekeeper for all events that we do for the underway periods on all of the vessels,” Daley told USNI News.

“So I am directly connected with them constantly, and my team and I are directly connected with them constantly so we can prioritize and work through and develop the plans on how we’re going to balance all the normal ship things – whether it’s maintenance or other things – and then how we’re going to do the testing and evaluating portion on both continuing the maturity of the autonomy and the sensor payload packages,” he added.

But Daley’s job also includes working toward the goals of the operational fleet commander.

Daley said sailors began pursuing the new command’s objectives earlier this year under the purview of Surface Development Squadron 1, which sits above Daley’s USVDIV One in the chain of command and was originally tasked with USV experimentation. That work leading up to USVDIV One’s formal stand-up in May included planning for RIMPAC.

“So my organization – we are planning just as if we were a regular Navy unit, just like a squadron of ships would have plans and operations departments. We have all the same infrastructure, so we utilized my boss’ staff to get ahead of that because we were brand new. We have the personnel in place to execute now and we will continue to grow as the next year or two go.”

Similar to manned ships, Daley has an operations center functioning like a battle watch 24 hours a day, seven days a week as the four USVs participate in RIMPAC.

“I also have an unmanned operations center that’s set up on the west coast of the U.S. that existed during the Ghost Fleet Overlord program as a test area. So I have the ability not just to be onboard, well stay onboard, but to control the vessels from ashore as well,” he said.

Medium displacement unmanned surface vessels Seahawk, front, and Sea Hunter launch for the U.S. Pacific Fleet’s Unmanned Systems Integrated Battle Problem 21 (UxS IBP 21), April 20, 2021. US Navy Photo

Also similar to manned ships, the Navy will need to determine how it will maintain and sustain the USVs. While the Navy owns the USVs, they are currently operated by a merchant marine company.

“The task that we have is that how do you turn that into the right blend of normal – like a destroyer does quarterly maintenance periods … how do you blend that and use those experiences from the traditional fleet to sort of what LCS has,” Daley said, referring to the Littoral Combat Ship, which has a contractor-centric maintenance model.

“We are taking all of the efficiencies and different types of ways to get after it from a maintenance and sustainability standpoint and how we apply that to unmanned platforms because it’s very different. I don’t have a sailor to go change a filter on an engine at 8 o’clock at night on a Tuesday. I have to come up with different hull, mechanical and electrical control systems, sensors and reliability on the engineering plan that can sustain operations for extended periods of time without having to have humans onboard,” he added, noting the efforts underway in Philadelphia to build a shore-based hull, mechanical and engineering prototype for the MUSV and LUSV programs.

With the four ships already under USVDIV’s purview and three more under construction – two optionally unmanned surface vessels like Nomad and Ranger and one MUSV prototype that L3 Technologies is building – for research and development, Daley said his team will participate in more exercises after RIMPAC to continue providing feedback from the operational side to the requirements side.

“We are no different from a regular ship that requires maintenance and other things. So we’re just not available all the time, just like a regular ship isn’t available all the time. So we will go back and we will collect the data and process that,” Daley said.

“But we have a structured plan on our testing objectives from the program office’s side, so we find those opportunities where we can accomplish both our own internal PMS 406 testing objectives and combine them with fleet events and exercises – fleet exercises – so that we can be as efficient as possible with our underway time.”

RIMPAC 2022: Navy Teaming Warships with Unmanned Surface Vessels

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, HAWAII – With its four experimental unmanned surface vehicles in Hawaii, the Navy is testing news manned-unmanned teaming concepts at the biennial Rim of the Pacific exercise this month. The service’s two Ghost Fleet Overlord test ships – Nomad and Ranger – are here operating off the coast of Hawaii, along […]

Sea Hunter, an autonomous unmanned surface vehicle, arrives at Pearl Harbor to participate in the Rim of Pacific (RIMPAC) 2022 on June 29, 2022. US Navy Photo

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, HAWAII – With its four experimental unmanned surface vehicles in Hawaii, the Navy is testing news manned-unmanned teaming concepts at the biennial Rim of the Pacific exercise this month.

The service’s two Ghost Fleet Overlord test ships – Nomad and Ranger – are here operating off the coast of Hawaii, along with USV Sea Hunter and USV Sea Hawk, as the Navy continues its research and development efforts to understand how it will employ these unmanned assets. Deploying unmanned systems across the fleet is key to the service’s future force structure.

Cmdr. Jeremiah Daley, the commander of the recently established Unmanned Surface Vessel Division One, said RIMPAC is providing his team the chance to see how the USVs operate in conjunction with manned platforms like cruisers and destroyers.

“We are fully integrated with the entire RIMPAC exercise, both from a planning standpoint, the in-port phase with the sort of final planning pieces, and then the two phases in the underway portion – we are fully integrated with the entire command and control network for all of the manned ships here for RIMPAC,” Daley told USNI News this week at the pier, as Seahawk prepared to leave the harbor for the at-sea phase of the exercise.

Sea Hawk, the last of the USVs to leave the pier for RIMPAC’s at-sea phase, is “directly tied” to Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) in a task group led by the Republic of Singapore Navy, Daley said. That task group is operating under a two-star Korean admiral for the exercise.

“We’re working directly with a destroyer. We’re using different types of sensor payloads to tactically employ the USV from a manned ship. We get all of that data back and all of that feedback back from fleet operators on [cruiser/destroyer] or non-[cruiser/destroyer] ships, depending on the platform. And we’re getting that feedback back while doing the same type of interactions that we would do with regular U.S. forces, we’re doing more and doing it with our coalition partners that are here for RIMPAC,” Daley said.

After some experimentation and exercises with the USVs, Daley said his team took takeaways from those drills and used them to plan for RIMPAC. For example, there is a detachment aboard Fitzgerald operating the USV from the destroyer.

“I have an embarked detachment onboard Fitzgerald that is primarily responsible for controlling the vessels, but they’re also surface warfare officers that are working directly with the technical and the tactical groups onboard Fitzgerald to learn more lessons, right. And if we do those types of events more frequently we’ll get data back … more direct feedback in a faster way vice doing them separate and trying to combine them after.”

USVs Ranger and Nomad unmanned vessels underway in the Pacific Ocean near the Channel Islands on July 3, 2021. US Navy Photo

Sea Hunter, which was originally developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), is teaming up with USS William P. Lawrence (DDG-110). Sea Hunter has an electronic warfare payload, while Sea Hawk is operating with a towed array sonar as a sensing payload.

The idea is to use the USVs to augment the sensors aboard the manned destroyers. The USVs are “working directly with the manned platform and their capabilities to bring additional sensing capabilities and distributed sensing capability, which increases lethality from a targeting standpoint, and counter-targeting capability for an adversary if they were trying to find out which ship is doing what – we have four ships out there, as an example, and one of them just happens to be manned,” Daley explained.

Nomad and Ranger will operate with various assets during the exercise, but they are also teaming up with William P. Lawrence. Lawrence is operating under a New Zealand officer at the O-6 level who is the sea combat commander. That officer is embarked on U.S. Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay (CG-53), Daley said.

“We’re connecting our networks in a way that is even one step beyond just manned and unmanned, right. It’s manned and unmanned and collation partners working together,” he told USNI News.

The two Ghost Fleet USVs, which were developed by the Department of Defense’s Strategic Capabilities Office, will have personnel aboard during the exercise. But Sea Hunter and Sea Hawk will operate autonomously without anyone aboard, aside from a small crew that helps the USVs pull away from port. The crew comes off Sea Hunter and Sea Hawk once they head out to sea.

The experimentation at RIMPAC comes as the Navy works to refine both requirements and concept of operations for a future fleet of USVs. Service officials have described the manned-unmanned teaming concept as central to how the service plans to employ the newer technology and integrate it into the fleet.

Sea Hunter delivered to the Navy in early 2021 to attach to the service’s Surface Development Squadron One based in California. Several months later, Nomad reached California after sailing 4,421 nautical miles from the Gulf Coast in a trip the Pentagon described as “98 percent” autonomous.

New Marine Littoral Regiment Will Make Debut in This Year’s RIMPAC Drills

Marines with 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment will join ground forces along with a fleet of ships, submarines and aircraft from 26 countries for this year’s multinational, Rim of the Pacific maritime exercise off Hawaii, officials told USNI News. “As the world’s largest international maritime exercise, RIMPAC provides a unique training opportunity designed to foster and […]

U.S. Marines with 3d Marine Littoral Regiment, 3d Marine Division, post security during a field training exercise at Marine Corps Training Area Bellows, Hawaii, May 30, 2022. US Marine Corps Photo

Marines with 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment will join ground forces along with a fleet of ships, submarines and aircraft from 26 countries for this year’s multinational, Rim of the Pacific maritime exercise off Hawaii, officials told USNI News.

“As the world’s largest international maritime exercise, RIMPAC provides a unique training opportunity designed to foster and sustain cooperative relationships that are critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world’s interconnected oceans,” 3rd Fleet officials said last week in an announcement. “The theme of RIMPAC 2022 is ‘Capable-Adaptive-Partners.’ Participating nations and forces will exercise a wide range of capabilities and demonstrate the inherent flexibility of maritime forces.”

About 25,000 military personnel will participate in RIMPAC 2022, which kicks off June 29 and runs through Aug. 4, with 38 surface ships, four submarines and more than 170 aircraft taking part in training at sea and ashore.

“It’s a return to a full-scale exercise,” Cmdr. Sean Robertson, a 3rd fleet spokesman, said Friday.

The biennial exercise, hosted by Pearl Harbor, Hawaii-based U.S. Pacific Fleet, was scaled down and shortened in 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That year, 10 countries participated in a force of 5,300 personnel along with 22 surface ships, one submarine and aircraft operating at sea over a two-week period in August 2020 off Hawaii.

Participating with U.S. service members are forces from 25 nations: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Denmark, Ecuador, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, the Republic of Korea, the Republic of the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Tonga, the U.K. and the U.S.

The forces will exercise a range of capabilities, including disaster relief, maritime security operations, sea control and complex warfighting, according to 3rd Fleet. That includes training in amphibious operations, gunnery, missile, anti-submarine and air defense, counter-piracy operations, mine clearance operations, explosive ordnance disposal, and diving and salvage operations.

While most of the training and exercise events will be held in and around the Hawaiian islands, a portion of the exercise – largely focused on mine warfare – will take place in Southern California, Robertson said.

This year’s international participants include Ecuador, a first for the South American nation, Robertson said.

While the Hawaii-based 3rd Marines have regularly joined in previous RIMPAC exercises, this year marks the first that it, as 3rd MLR, will participate in its recently-designated form. In March, the Marine Corps officially turned the previously infantry-focused regiment into one that would be structured with smaller, maneuverable, expeditionary advanced base detachments and equipped with anti-ship capabilities – changes more aligned with the service’s Force Design 2030 strategy to reshape its forces focused to “outpace a pacing threat,” as officials have said, in the Indo-Pacific.

That “pacing threat” includes China, which first participated in RIMPAC in 2014 and in 2016 but in 2018 the PLA Navy was disinivited due to China’s deployment of anti-ship missiles, electronic jammers in the South China Sea. Tensions in the region have only grown with continued operations and China’s militarization in the region and expanding global influence.

Third Fleet will lead the exercise as the multinational, Combined Task Force commander, with Royal Canadian Navy Rear Adm. Christopher Robinson as the CTF deputy commander, Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Rear Adm. Toshiyuki Hirata as the vice commander and U.S. Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Joseph Clearfield, who is the Marine Forces Pacific deputy commander, as the Fleet Marine Force commander. Commodore Paul O’Grady of the Royal Australian Navy will command the maritime component and Brig. Gen. Mark Goulden of the Royal Canadian Air Force will command the air component.

This year marks the 28th iteration of RIMPAC, which first began in 1971 as an annual event but shifted to biennial in 1974. It follows on a March planning conference in Hawaii attended by 1,000 members of participating countries and a smaller staff exercise held in San Diego that “allowed its attendees to walk through scenarios in a computer-based format in advance of executing operations at sea off the coast of Hawaii this summer,” according to a Navy news story.

Cruiser USS Vicksburg Nearly Finished with Modernization Program, Set For Decommissioning

A Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser the Navy wants to decommission next year is nearly finished with a modernization overhaul that costs hundreds of millions of dollars, a service official told lawmakers today. USS Vicksburg (CG-69) is about 85 percent of the way through the cruiser modernization program meant to extend the life of the ship. “The […]

USS Vicksburg (CG-69) getting repaired at BAE Systems Norfolk Ship Repair, Va., on April 8, 2022. Christopher P. Cavas Photo used with permission

A Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser the Navy wants to decommission next year is nearly finished with a modernization overhaul that costs hundreds of millions of dollars, a service official told lawmakers today.

USS Vicksburg (CG-69) is about 85 percent of the way through the cruiser modernization program meant to extend the life of the ship.

“The cruiser Vicksburg, I think, is in that 85 percent range,” Jay Stefany, the principal civilian deputy to the assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition, told the House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee on Wednesday.

Whidbey Island-class dock landing ship USS Tortuga (LSD-46) which is also undergoing upgrades to extend the ship’s service life is at a similar stage in its modernization, according to Stefany. He confirmed the Navy has spent close to $300 million to upgrade each ship.

Vicksburg and Tortuga are two of the 24 ships the Navy wants to decommission as part of its Fiscal Year 2023 budget proposal. Both ships are undergoing their modernization programs at BAE Systems Ship Repair in Norfolk, Va.

Asked last month for the completion percentage of the two ships, a spokesperson for Naval Sea Systems Command said the Navy does not track these figures. The spokesperson said Vicksburg is slated to finish its modernization overhaul in the summer of 2023, but that the completion date for Tortuga “is under review.”

The recent budget request, which also proposed decommissioning every Freedom-class LCS currently in service, has met criticism from lawmakers who are unhappy that the Navy is decommissioning more ships in a year than it plans to buy.

During a separate House Appropriations defense subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas) criticized the Navy for how it has used taxpayer funds. Granger, the ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, said the service in the last two years has spent almost $500 million to modernize Vicksburg.

“Some of these ships – especially the Littoral Combat Ships – are among the newest in the fleet. The Navy claims they don’t have enough sufficient funding to maintain and operate these ships, but that’s not the case. Instead, they’ve mismanaged billions of dollars in maintenance funding. One glaring example of this is the USS Vicksburg, a cruiser up for decommissioning this year,” Granger said.
“Since 2020, the Navy has awarded nearly $500 million in contracts to upgrade the cruiser. At a time when the ship is still in its maintenance period, the Navy is proposing to scrap it. If the Navy experts expect Congress to support its vision for this fleet, it must do a much better job of managing the inventory it has. We will not stand idly by as valuable taxpayer funds are wasted.”

Navy officials have repeatedly argued the money would be better spent on modernization efforts than on extending the life of the aging cruisers. During the March budget rollout, Navy deputy assistant secretary for budget Rear Adm. John Gumbleton said decommissioning the proposed 24 ships in the FY 2023 budget would save the service $3.6 billion across the Pentagon’s five-year budget outlook.

Seeking to justify the proposal before defense appropriators today, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said both the LCS and the cruisers would not stand up well in a potential conflict against Russia or China.

“We took a look at our topline and we took a look at a Navy that we can sustain, a Navy that we can afford. But to make it the most lethal, capable, ready navy that we can – in other words, we’re trying to field the most lethal, capable, ready Navy we can based on the budget that we have rather than a larger Navy that’s less capable, less lethal and less ready,” Gilday told lawmakers.

“So we stratified our warfighting platforms. An LCS fell at the bottom of that stratification, along with the older cruisers that have an older radar, that have leaks below the waterline, radars that can’t detect these new Chinese threats, as an example.”

The FY 2023 proposal wants to decommission nine Freedom-class LCS and axes the planned anti-submarine warfare mission package originally slated for both variants in the class.

“Much of the testing done on that module was done on LCS-3, the Fort Worth, that helped us make the determination that we should not put another dollar against that system because it wouldn’t pan out against high-end Chinese and Russian threats,” Gilday said of the ASW mission module testing. Granger was the sponsor for USS Fort Worth (LCS-3).

“So regrettably we made tough decisions in this budget proposal to decommission, or propose to decommission, ships that just wouldn’t have added value to the fight,” Gilday said. “At the same time, we’re taking that money and investing it in our priorities, which are readiness, modernization, and then capacity at an affordable rate.”

Granger expressed her skepticism about the Navy’s plans for the LCS.

“Each one of these ships has significant useful service life left. One of them … was just commissioned in August of 2020. I don’t know how we can have confidence in your request when just a few years ago at this same hearing, the Navy advocated for LCS funding with the same passion you’re now expressing to get rid of them,” she said.