Shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII] on Tuesday upped its commitment to the development and manufacture of unmanned naval vessels, breaking ground on a new center of excellence in Virginia specifically for manufacturing, prototyping and testing unmanned systems that will help it better support its government customers.

By the end of 2020, a 22,000 square foot building with surface finishing capabilities that include blasting and coating will be completed as part of the Unmanned Systems Center of Excellence that will sit on a 20-acre campus in Hampton Roads, Va. By the end of 2021, a 135,000 square foot building will also open as part of the center.

“With the U.S. Navy’s increasing demand for UUVs and USVs, we are committed to investing in and expanding our unmanned systems capabilities,” Andy Green, HII executive vice president and president of the Technical Solutions segment, said in a statement. The new center “will ensure we can continue to provide our customers with the most autonomous systems across all class sizes.”

UUV refers to unmanned underwater vessel and USV to unmanned surface vessel.

HII earlier this month was one of six companies awarded study contracts by the Navy for the Large USV. The company is also teamed with Boeing [BA] on the Orca Extra-Large UUV that is in production and this year acquired Hydroid, a developer and manufacturer of small and medium autonomous UUVs for the Navy, and invested in Sea Machines, a developer of autonomous navigation technology currently used on cargo vessels, data collection boats, search and rescue, patrol and crew transfer vessels.

The initial focus of the new center of excellence will be on large and extra-large UUV manufacturing, an HII spokeswoman told Defense Daily. “Through our partnership with Boeing, we will be manufacturing and assembling hull structures for Orca XLUUV out of our facilities in Panama City, Fla., and this new Unmanned Systems Center of Excellence in Hampton,” she said.

Duane Fotheringham, president of Technical Solutions’ Unmanned Systems business group, said in a statement that to support production of large and extra-large UUVs, “the size of the manufacturing operations needs to increase significantly.”

Some of the features that the new center will house include a high-tech digital manufacturing infrastructure, reconfigurable space for various production and systems integration projects, precision machining capabilities that will include titanium and Inconel, dedicated welding space, a climate controlled clean and secure facility.

The spokeswoman also said that the new facility will help with the sustainment of unmanned systems, adding that “By working to integrate open architecture and modularity, we are positioning our products to be more easily serviced, upgraded and maintained in the future.”

HII said it partnered with the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, the city of Hampton, and the Hampton Roads Alliance to secure the project for Virginia. More than 250 jobs will be created with the center, which will also be located near the company’s Newport News shipbuilding operations that have advanced undersea system engineering capabilities, HII said.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper last week said that the acquisition of unmanned systems will allow the Navy to grow beyond its goal of 355 ships and add “more lethality, survivability and capability.”