New Torpedo Tube-launched Drones Will Turn U.S. Attack Sub Fleet into ‘UUV Motherships,’ Says Navy

ARLINGTON, Va. – In the near future, the U.S. nuclear attack submarine fleet will be able to launch and recover an underwater robot from a torpedo tube designed to quietly extend the awareness of a submarine, Navy officials said this week. The torpedo-sized Razorback unmanned underwater vehicle has been in testing on the Navy’s attack […]

USS Vermont (SSN-792) transits the Thames River while conducting routine operations on Oct. 15, 2020. US Navy Photo

ARLINGTON, Va. – In the near future, the U.S. nuclear attack submarine fleet will be able to launch and recover an underwater robot from a torpedo tube designed to quietly extend the awareness of a submarine, Navy officials said this week.

The torpedo-sized Razorback unmanned underwater vehicle has been in testing on the Navy’s attack boats for more than a year but requires a dry deck shelter and divers to recover the 600-pound UUV that has blunted the utility of the system, Submarine Force commander Vice Adm. Bill Houston said on Tuesday at the Naval Submarine League’s annual symposium

“The Medium UUV can go on any one of our submarines. That is a priority for us. We have no problem launching UUVs. That’s easy. The recovery part has been the critical aspect,” Houston said at the Naval Submarine League’s annual symposium.

The Navy tested a system earlier this year to recover the Medium UUV via torpedo tube and is close to deploying the system in the “very near future,” said Rear. Adm. Doug Perry, the director of submarine warfare for the Office of Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV N97).

“While the submarine is moving, the UUV has to find that torpedo tube and drive in,” Perry told reporters when describing the recovery process.
“We have the system working. We haven’t fielded that at the fleet level yet. We expect in the very near future we will have that system operational.”

The existing Razorback UUVs are based on the Remus 600 series of underwater robots built by HII, Rear Adm. Casey Moton, the program executive officer for unmanned and small combatants said on Wednesday.

The Navy is combining the needs of the explosive ordnance disposal community and the attack boat fleet under a contract with Leidos and L3 Harris, Moton said.

“They are developing and building systems based on a single UUV designed to meet the unique requirements for both the Navy’s attack submarine force and the EOD community,” he said.

Leidos and L3 Harris are working on a $358 million contract to develop systems for the MUUV for both communities based around the REMUS 600 design.

Operations Specialist First Class Sean McNamara launches the Mk 18 Mod 2 Kingfish for an initial underwater survey of Sweeper Cove on Adak Island in Alaska’s Aleutian chain. EODMU 1 is providing expeditionary mine countermeasures support in support of Arctic Expeditionary Capabilities Exercise 2019. US Navy photo

While the outer lines of the UUVs will be the same, the payloads and sensors on the EOD and attack boat UUVs will be very different and tailored to the individual missions, USNI News understands.

The planned Viperfish variant will replace the MK-18 Mod 2 Kingfish mine countermeasures UUV to search for underwater mines, Moton said.

“The new UUV capabilities will allow the EOD force to conduct longer duration missions, cover more ocean area and do so faster, which enables the vehicles to get into deeper waters and improves the overall effectiveness of MCM operations in austere environments,” Moton said.

For attack boats, “the team will leverage the work done for the existing Razorbacks UUVs, which were designed to operate from a dry deck shelter or from a craft of opportunity. The new Razorback vehicle will be fully integrated and to accomplish this feat, torpedo tube launch and recovery capability will be integrated into the Razorback UUV,” Moton said.
“When this … capability is deployed, every SSN will have the ability to serve as a UUV mothership.”

The promise of MUUVs is to act as sensors for attack submarines to expand what they can detect underwater. While battery life has improved, the MUUVs are still limited in how long they can operate without recharging and the ability to take the UUV aboard a submarine for charging and maintenance is key to the practical operation of the system.

The Navy began testing the Razorbacks with submarines last year, with nine Razorbacks assigned to the Unmanned Underwater Vehicle Squadron-1 (UUVRON-1).

In July, UUVRON-1 was elevated to a major command, which now reports to the commander of Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet Rear Adm. Jeffery Jablon.

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.

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.

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.

New Navy Unmanned Command Will Send 4 Experimental Large USVs to RIMPAC

NAVAL BASE SAN DIEGO, Calif. – A quartet of experimental unmanned surface vessels will set sail for Hawaii this summer for a test of a new unit focused on ramping up the Navy’s use of drones to bolster the surface fleet’s lethality. RIMPAC 2022 will be a high-profile mission for Unmanned Surface Vessel Division 1, […]

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

NAVAL BASE SAN DIEGO, Calif. – A quartet of experimental unmanned surface vessels will set sail for Hawaii this summer for a test of a new unit focused on ramping up the Navy’s use of drones to bolster the surface fleet’s lethality.

RIMPAC 2022 will be a high-profile mission for Unmanned Surface Vessel Division 1, which includes the trimarans USV Sea Hunter and USV Seahawk along with two Ghost Fleet support vessels Nomad and Ranger.

USVDIV-1 was formally established May 13 at Port Hueneme, Calif., under San Diego-based Surface Development Squadron 1, with the primary mission to “accelerate the delivery of credible and reliable unmanned systems in conjunction with increasingly capable manned platforms into the fleet,” Cmdr. Jerry Daley, who took the reins as its first commanding officer, said in a Navy statement.

Members of the new unit have eyes on the biennial RIMPAC – set to run from late June into early August with 27 partner nations, 42 ships, five submarines, more than 170 aircraft and nearly 25,000 participants – as the next fleet activity to help determine and define how the capabilities of the medium-sized surface drones might augment the manned and unmanned fleet.

“All four ships will be dispersed, and we’ll be working with different task force commanders during all three phases of the Rim of the Pacific exercise, both from a command-and-control standpoint and also exercising our capabilities from a payload standpoint,” Daley said Monday during a media roundtable at SURFDEVRON’s headquarters in San Diego to discuss the new unit.Daley said his staff already has integrated with San Diego-based U.S. 3rd Fleet staff, who are in charge of RIMPAC.

“Part of our charter is figuring how we integrate with a manned force,” he said, speaking from his Port Hueneme, Calif., command.

Experimentation conducted during RIMPAC will enable USVDIV-1 to collect data to learn more about the vessels’ requirements, he noted, and ultimately help understand more about “how we integrate with the fleet moving forward for USV,” Daley said.

USVDIV-1 will be focused “exclusively” on working with USVs, said Capt. Jeff Heames, who became SURFDEVRON-1 commodore in March 2021 and last week handed over command to Capt. Shea Thompson. The new unit will advance the work that SURFDEVRON-1 has so far done and ramping up experimentation and testing with the surface fleet and providing input to the Navy’s unmanned program office.

“USVDIV-1 will be a catalyst for innovation as we employ unmanned surface capabilities in the Pacific Fleet,” Vice Adm. Roy Kitchener, Naval Surface Force commander, said in a Navy statement about the new unit. “The implementation of unmanned systems will increase decision speed and lethality to enhance our warfighting advantage.”

With its base at Port Hueneme, USVDIV-1 can tap and share testing and evaluation facilities used by the Navy’s unmanned undersea vehicles with Submarine Development Squadron 5, officials said. The Navy has completed and issued the concept of operations for medium and large USVs, and the CONOPS will likely be updated annually as the new unit progresses on experimentation and evaluation, officials said.

Growing the USV fleet 

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

The Navy envisions a hybrid fleet with unmanned vessels acting as an adjunct “shooter” outfitted with a magazine or providing sensors to augment manned ships with a surface action group (SAG). In such scenarios, the human would provide the command-and-control for a SAG with adjunct sensors and magazines in USVs organized around an amphibious ship or littoral combat ship, for example.

“We’re at the ground floor of discovering what we think we can do and what we think we need,” Heames said.
“If we have more USVs, we can do more experiments and we can operate with more fleet activities and we can gather more data on performance… [By doing so] we can begin to scale our learning and get faster understanding in terms of what payloads we think are most viable, in terms of how much more safe we can be, how much we can sense our environment, in terms of the sensors that we’re using.”

The pace of experimentation and testing will quicken with the recent addition of the two OSVs, obtained in March via the Navy’s Strategic Capabilities Office’s Ghost Fleet Overlord program. Those OSVs went through a retrofit that enable autonomous operations and equipping of experimental payloads.

A Ghost Fleet Overlord test vessel takes part in a capstone demonstration during the conclusion of Phase I of the program in September. Two existing commercial fast supply vessels were converted into unmanned surface vessels (USVs) for Overlord testing, which will play a vital role in informing the Navy’s new classes of USVs. US Navy photo.

“We expect to get three additional USVs in the next couple of years,” Heames said. Two will come from the Ghost Fleet Overlord program “and the third is being purposed-built as a prototype, from the ground up.”

“We’re growing – so that means more opportunities to take these things to sea, more opportunities to learn about how we need to operate with them with our manned Navy,” he said. “And now that we have a USV Division – command entirely focused on USVs – we think that opportunity is going to grow for us to learn more about how USVs are going to fit into the manned fleet.”

“I see some tremendous opportunity to increase the lethality of our surface forces, with some of the payloads… the operating modes that we are exploring,” he added.

By the end of 2022, Daley said he expects to have about 100 people in the unit. The plan is to increase the size of the unit with about 175 sailors by the end of 2023, he added.

Sailors will come from a variety of rates, including operation specialists, quartermasters, hull maintenance technicians, machinist’s mates, enginemen, and information and electronic technicians. The division’s surface warfare officers, he said, “will be controlling and working through both the autonomy and the operationalization of how the unmanned ships will interact with the fleet.”

Testing unique prototypes

Seahawk USV. Leidos Image

Over the past year, SURFDEVRON had been focused on “taking the vessels to sea and understanding the why behind the decisions the vessels make, the autonomy decisions that are being made – from a maneuver perspective[…] especially in the context of operating with our manned fleet,” Heames said.

“The focus was, learning how you can work together, where you would need to control one vessel or have situational awareness of what’s happening in an environment. So that’s been a real focus of effort. We’ve made some progress in that. I think the biggest progress is in understanding the data and having a pipeline to receive the data, a mechanism to store it and some professionals to do the data analytics and understand how we performed, so we can make adjustments on the next activity going out to sea.”

“We’re going to continue to do that, certainly for the next year. The big advantage is we can do more of it, with different vessels,” he said. “We also have different autonomy functions that we’re looking to advance,” so a USV at sea with instruments that sense the environment, such as radar or electro-optic sensors “understands what it’s looking at.”

That information then goes into an algorithm or system “that will make a decision on that information,” he said, but much remains to be learned when the USVs go to sea. How good are those sensors? Are there ways we need to fuse the data to better understand it?”

Each USV will be “unique” prototypes, equipped with different suites of sensors, Heames said. The plan is to put the vessels in different environments, factoring variables like weather or operations with ships or without ships, “and then go back and do the homework on which ones are performing better and make adjustments to it.”

With the capability of vessels operating in autonomous mode, where it can make decisions on its own, Heames noted, “it’s very important for us to understand why it makes certain decisions over others. So the data pipeline and the analytics decisions, either during or[…] very quickly after the fact, are critical so we can understand and make adjustments.”

He added: “We are absolutely oriented toward continuing experiments and working with the program office to better understand what the capabilities are that we need.”

Thompson takes SURFDEVRON-1 command five years after he first began working on Sea Hunter in 2017. “The progress that’s been made… is readily apparent,” he said. When he first landed eyes on the USV, “I was excited. I saw the potential of what an unmanned surface vessel can bring to enhancing the lethality of the fleet.”

Back then, remotely operating the vessel with payloads was a big step, “and “and the concepts have matured,” he said. “That was a big win back in 2017. Now we’re way past that,” with improved autonomous piloting a big advancement.

Thompson said his first exposure to USVs was during a 2017 exercise when he got to operate Sea Hunter remotely while aboard USS Sampson (DDG-102).

“I’m sitting there on the joystick, remotely controlling a surface vessel,” he said. “I may have been the first uniformed guy to actually do it. So as I come back here, I’m even more excited about what the future holds.”

 

Report on Navy Large Unmanned Surface and Undersea Vehicles

The following is the May 5, 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 May 5, 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 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, 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 through the Navy’s shipbuilding account 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 Navy’s shipbuilding 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.