The U.S. Navy and Defense Department’s Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO) on Friday released a draft solicitation for the prototype Overlord Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USV) Program.

The Navy and SCO are looking to develop and demonstrate the capability to field an independently-deploying autonomous USV. Overlord USVs are planned “to demonstrate an enhanced warfare capability to negatively impact adversaries in a given maritime region.”

An Elbit Systems Seagull Unmanned Surface Vehicle tests a torpedo launch. Photo: Elbit Systems.
An Elbit Systems Seagull Unmanned Surface Vehicle tests a torpedo launch. Photo: Elbit Systems.

The SCO is specifically working with the Navy’s Unmanned Maritime Systems Program Office (PMS-406) to manage the Overlord solicitation.

The Overlord Program’s goal is to convert existing surface vehicles designs into USVs to provide the Navy with cost-effective capabilities for existing mission sets. The Defense Department plans to develop and mature reliable USV autonomy within about three years. The end goal is having vehicles capable of sustaining autonomous operations at sea for a 90-day period without crew. Overlord will also include integration and test payloads for electronic warfare (EW), anti-surface warfare, and/or strike warfare.

The government noted that “partnership and coordination with industry to rapidly deliver the required prototype capability to support demonstration and evaluation” is critical to the program.

The draft solicitation expects a two-phase firm-fixed-price award with up to four Phase I competitors awarded a combined contract worth up to $90 million to demonstrate autonomy over 12 months. In this phase the government seeks to evaluate partner teams’ developmental prototypes that address autonomous operation of larger USVs, including autonomy for both vehicle navigation as well as hull, mechanical, and electrical systems.

One month after the Phase I award, the solicitation requires a milestone plan which includes a timeline for achieving the measures of performance in Phase I and a plan for Phase II follow-on work. The Phase II plan is expected to include strategy for procuring at least one boat deliverable at the end of the phase.

Following the first phase, the government will down-select up to two teams for a 24 month-long Phase II for further tests and demonstration. About 2 years after Phase II begins, the Overlord Program is expected to conclude with a capstone demonstration of overall USV capability in coordination with manned vessels and subsequent delivery of the USVs to the government,


Proposals for the solicitation are only expected to address Phase I requirements.

Under the draft solicitation, the government is seeking to evaluate developmental prototypes that address autonomous operation of USVs for use in future advanced technology demonstrations. Participant partner teams are required to include an autonomy provider along with ship provider and/or a ship design team.

The DoD is planning for the prototype vessel to include provisions for an eight to 12-person crew needed to test and evaluate autonomy and reliability.

“The vehicle(s) will be converted for unmanned operation, and be capable of operating in an unmanned mode, but retain an (optional) crew for safety and evaluation. The program will use experimentation with large-scale prototypes as the primary method for technology maturation and risk reduction.,” the SCO said.

The Defense Department expects the Overlord Program to provide the Navy with one or more operationally-capable leave-behind assets for fleet experimentation and testing. It will also deliver a technical data package for USV autonomy that will allow the conversion or construction of a USV with variable characteristics to support future acquisitions without advising a specific hull type.

“Given the rapid nature of this effort and the foundation it will likely lay for the Navy’s future medium and large USV efforts, partnering with industry is critical,” the solicitation said. The SCO added it intends for Overlord to take advantage of commercial technologies, mature existing autonomy capabilities, and integrate existing vehicle designs.

“The Government is committed to a vision of working with the Partner Teams as a true partnership, facilitating the best technical development and program outcome within program constraints,” the solicitation said.

The SCO clarified that the Overlord Program requires a few specific elements if it will be successful. This includes:

  • perception of all surrounding vessels and other collision hazards via radar, ElectroOptical/Infrared, Automatic Identification System and other sensors;
  • path planning consistent with safe vehicle operations and mission objectives, dynamically avoiding collisions and grounding;
  • interactions with other vessels are to be consistent with the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea 1972;
  • autonomy must be capable of managing the vessel’s engineering plans to maximize readiness for maximum maneuverability;
  • mechanical equipment must be able to meet the 90-day period without direct human maintenance or interference; and
  • have the ability for a human supervisor to remotely monitor vehicle status, reassign mission waypoints and directives, take direct control of the vehicle, and authorize payload release with vehicle command and control via both line-of-sight and beyond-line-of-sight links.

Responses are due by Oct. 4.