Navy shipbuilder HII [HII] this week announced the successful demonstration of a capability allowing amphibious ships to launch and recover Large-Diameter Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (LDUUVs).

The company’s

San Antonio-class amphibious warships, among others, have well decks that can be used to launch and recover several kinds of maritime platforms. On June 13, HII announced its Advanced Technology Group conducted a demonstration with a prototype platform, the Pharos, to launch and recover the company’s Proteus LDUUV.

In the demonstration near Pascagoula, Miss., on June 8, the Proteus approached and was captured by the Pharos cradle while Pharos was being towed behind a small craft to simulate an amphibious ship traveling at low speed.

Pharos was put in a tow position, then via remote control it was “ballasted down in the trailing position allowing the LDUUV to navigate into Pharos.”

After the Proteus was captured the Pharos platform deballasted back up into a recovery and transport position. HII said the demonstration also had the system ballast down to launch the LDUUV after it was captured.

HII said Pharos is fitted with heavy duty wheels, allowing transport maneuverability within the well deck on an amphibious ship for stowage on the vehicle decks. The platform can also be rolled off the back on an amphibious ship while using the ships’s existing winch capabilities to extend and retract Pharos from the well deck.

The company said Pharos’ design is scalable and reconfigurable to fit various unmanned underwater and surface vehicles.

HII designed Pharos with Louisiana-based company Metal Shark while it worked with the Navy and University of New Orleans to conduct initial model testing.

The company said it is now exploring modifications to use Pharos with other UUVs and “participating in live demonstrations with the fleet within the next year. HII will use results from the Pharos demonstration to further mature concepts and continue to develop innovative national security solutions.”

HII’s Advanced Technology Group, which led this program, is made up of employees from across the company. The company said this kind of research and development initiative was funded internally.

“HII is committed to advancing the future of distributed maritime operations and demonstrating our capability to support unmanned vehicles on amphibious ships,” said Kari Wilkinson, president of HII’s Ingalls Shipbuilding, which hosted and partnered in the demonstration.

“I am very proud of our team’s initiative to strengthen the flexibility of the ships we build by anticipating the challenges and opportunities that exist for our customers,” she continued.

Andy Green, president of HII Mission Technologies, said the Pharos initiative is an example of how the company can leverage expertise across divisions “to develop unique solutions for customers.”

The company has recently been pushing to expand beyond being known for just traditional shipbuilding, to become more of a technology company that includes other enabling naval technologies like unmanned systems, data analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning.