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08/07/22: MARTAC USVs beginning next set of missions in 5th Fleet

MARTAC's unmanned surface vessels will begin a new set of missions in the 5th Fleet area of responsibility in the next few days, according to the company's chief executive officer.

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The Florida-based company has autonomous vessels operating around the world for the Navy, Bruce Hanson told Inside Defense in an interview. MARTAC has a strong presence in 5th Fleet operating with Task Force 59, a Middle East-based task force working on the development of unmanned systems.

The Man-Portable Tactical Autonomous System includes MARTAC vessels 12 feet or smaller and the company’s Devil Ray vessels are 24 feet or longer, Hanson said.

Typical missions for MARTAC vessels include intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, port and harbor security and sensing capabilities, in addition to classified missions, Hanson said.

While MANTAS and Devil Ray are contractor-owned and contractor-operated, Hanson said “it’s only a matter of time” before it becomes a program of record with the Navy.

Last week, Sioux City (LCS-11) arrived in 5th Fleet -- the first time a Littoral Combat Ship has been deployed to the Middle East.

MARTAC’s vessels conduct “high-value escorts” and escorted Sioux City into 5th Fleet, Hanson said.

The company has been in discussions with the Marine Corps and has trained “dozens of Marines” in Bahrain, Hanson said. Alongside Navy efforts, the Marine Corps is pursuing surface and subsurface unmanned systems.

“The missions they're looking for [are] like near shore mine detection, things like that, and then ship-to-shore, ship-to-ship logistics,” Hanson said.

The Marine Corps is interested in smaller USVs for “proximity logistics,” as well as the larger vessels that can carry considerable payloads in and out of the shoreline or from ship to ship, he added.

Since MARTAC’s vessels were designed from day one to be autonomous, Hanson said the services are still figuring out how to utilize these capabilities.

“Their performance characteristics are so severe that quite literally at high speeds, if we have it tuned that way, it'll kill the person in a turn. They can't even handle the G-forces,” Hanson said. “That's where it's a different animal where these boats will do things that people can't physically do either in rough seas or high-performance situations.”

Hanson compared it to putting a person on a missile -- something far beyond what a human could handle.

“They're trying to expand their minds to say, hey, we can do these missions that normally you can’t do because people will be the limiting factor,” Hanson said.

The company envisions these USVs working in groups, Hanson said.

“Just like with people -- you can have one guy is the leader, one guy is the comms guy, another guy is the weapons guy, another guy is the navigator, the other guy's mission guy,” he said.

The vessels are “comms agnostic,” Hanson said. The U.S. could be controlling the system and “within one second France could drive it, one second later the U.K. could drive it, one second later Greece could drive it.”

While he couldn’t detail specifics, Hanson said the USVs are operating near 6th Fleet and that “our foreign allies that have our boats right now, they use them daily for things.”

The USVs recently participated in Autonomous Warrior 2022 in Jervis Bay, Australia in May. The vessels completed ISR missions above and below the water, communications relay and kinetic and non-kinetic activities, Hanson said.

The Australian Defense Force was very interested in MARTAC’s “nested dolls” concept, where operators launched and recovered smaller USVs from larger USVs, Hanson said.

The exercise helped break down barriers in trusting autonomy, he said, and Task Force 59 was with MARTAC in Australia, voicing confidence in the systems’ autonomous capabilities.

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