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31/01/24: US Navy Sets Sights On Fielding Autonomous Swarming Drones

The US Navy is reaching out to industry seeking small Unmanned Surface Vehicles (sUSV) with autonomous swarming capabilities.

The US Navy is reaching out to industry to address an operational need for what it is calling small Unmanned Surface Vehicle (sUSV) interceptors. 

According to the announcement released by the Defense Initiative Unit (DIU), the service is looking for “small Unmanned Surface Vehicle (sUSV) interceptors, capable of autonomously transiting hundreds of miles through contested waterspace, loitering in an assigned operating area while monitoring for maritime surface threats, and then sprinting to interdict a noncooperative, maneuvering vessel.” 

The effort, which is dubbed Production-Ready, Inexpensive, Maritime Expeditionary (PRIME), focuses on production-ready USVs that are capable of blue-water operations with autonomous waypoint navigation, and sense-and-avoid capabilities.

The desired requirements also call for the USVs to be capable of carrying payloads of 450 kg (1000 lbs) to a range of 500-1000 nmi, and have sprint speeds of  35 knots. 

The second part of the solicitation focuses on the autonomy—both software and hardware—aspect of this. Seeking solutions that would enable multiple sUSV to cooperate together and adapt to changing target and environmental parameters. 

The solicitation also states that all this might occur in a GNSS-denied environment, which the sUSVs must adapt to work in. 

The announcement also calls into consideration the ease of exporting the designs under this effort to US allies, while also adhering to export regulations.

Swarming sUSV

One interesting aspect of the solicitation is to call for multiple companies to collaborate on a single or multiple offers. For example, with one company offering a sUSV platform as a prime, while others integrate an autonomy core and UAS platform.

This is likely based on prior US Navy experiences from exercises such as the Pacific Fleet’s Unmanned Systems Integrated Battle Problem (UxS IBP). 

While the main focus of these exercises has been the US Navy’s larger USVs, we have also seen the Navy demonstrate similar capabilities to what this solicitation seeks. 

In last year’s iteration of the IBP, we witnessed demonstrations involving MARTAC’s T-38 Devil Ray equipped with SpaceX’s Starlink launching AeroVironment’s SwitchBlade 300 UAS. 

During last year’s exercise, we also witnessed the US Navy demonstrating armed sUSVs for the first time. The Navy modified a Ship Deployable Seaborne Target (SDST) to carry an explosive payload which scored a hit against a towed target. 

In October 2023, a NAVSEA demonstration involved a Textron Common USV (CUSV) armed with LIG Nex1’s Poniard guided rocket system. Also known as the Korean-Low cOst Guided Imaging Rocket (K-LOGIR), the system was created for South Korean coastal defense requirements against North Korean swarms. In 2019, it became the first weapon system from South Korea to participate in a Foreign Comparative Test. 

Aside from Navy experimentation, we also saw Marine Corps officials evaluating the Long Range Unmanned Surface Vessel (LRUSV), a semiautonomous vessel capable of extended travel, equipped with UVission’s HERO 120 medium-range loitering munition. 

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