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US Navy to build 10 of the world’s largest drone robot warships

Sea Hunter, a prototype of a new class of unmanned oceangoing vessel, conducts on-water tests in Portland, Ore., recently. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency held a christening ceremony for the ship April 7, 2016, in Portland. (Cheryl Pellerin/Department of Defense)
August 19, 2019

The U.S. Navy wants to build 10 unmanned surface ships within five years and has asked the best minds in shipbuilding to provide design proposals.

The ships, referred to as “Large Unmanned Surface Vehicle (LUSV) ships would serve as a scout for a battle fleet, and would be equipped with “sophisticated radar and sonar, or act as ‘floating magazines’ that pack extra anti-air and cruise missiles,'” Popular Mechanics reported Friday.

“The ships will do what proponents call the ‘3D work’ – aka dull, dirty, and dangerous work,’” Popular Mechanics noted.

The LUSV would be the next generation of unmanned ships, building upon the experience afforded by the Sea Hunter, the unmanned Navy ship that sailed autonomously from mainland U.S. to Hawaii.

“The LUSV will be a high-endurance, reconfigurable ship able to accommodate various payloads for unmanned missions to augment the Navy’s manned surface force,” noted the Draft Request for Proposal is posted on the Federal Business Opportunities website.

“With a large payload capacity, the LUSV will be designed to conduct a variety of warfare operations independently or in conjunction with manned surface combatants,” the request added. “The LUSV will be capable of semi-autonomous or fully autonomous operation, with operators in-the-loop (controlling remotely) or on-the-loop (enabled through autonomy by operators).”

The U.S. Navy had requested two LUSVs that are about 200-300 ft. in length with a displacement of about 2,000 tons,” for the fiscal year 2020 budget, according to the U.S. Naval Institute News.

The Navy’s 2020 budget proposal says it plans to construct two ships per year over a period of five years, for a total of $437 million per year, across its across the Future Years Defense Program (FYDP).

LUSV is estimated to be the largest drone ship ever, and is comparable to the size of a light frigate. It will be designed to include accommodations for a small crew.

“The large unmanned ship will be generally unarmed, but with the ability to accept payloads of anti-ship missiles and land-attack cruise missiles. In that sense they will be an extension of the Navy’s fleet of destroyers and cruisers, acting as floating magazines to bolster the fleet with more weapons. LUSVs will also be capable of acting as floating scouts, sailing ahead of manned ships to detect threats early,” Popular Mechanics noted. 

“The Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office originally spearheaded the LUSV under a program called ‘Overlord.’ Overlord sought to convert a commercial fast-supply vessel—ships typically used to service and resupply oil and gas platforms at sea—into an experimental unmanned ship capable of cruising for thousands of miles and weeks without human contact,” Popular Mechanics explained.

A report by Defense News said, “China is also looking at building unmanned surface ships. The Chinese shipbuilder China Shipbuilding and Offshore International Company is developing a small unmanned surface vessel that China wants to function essentially like the uninhabited baby brother of a U.S. Arleigh Burke destroyer.”

“The JARI USV is a 20-ton, 15-meter boat that is orders of magnitude ((much) smaller than the People’s Liberation Navy’s manned Type -55 destroyer, but has all the same mission areas such as, anti-submarine, anti-surface and anti-air warfare,” Defense News added.