The U.S. Navy issued a sources sought/request for information (RFI) notice on March 13 to find sources to satisfy upcoming requirements for the Large Unmanned Surface Vessels (LUSV) program.

The Navy said this is to conduct market research “to determine if sources exist that are capable of satisfying the Navy’s anticipated program requirement for LUSVs. The program falls under the Unmanned Maritime Systems Program Office (PMS-406) within Naval Sea System Command’s (NAVSEA) Program Executive Office (PEO) Unmanned and Small Combatants (USC).

The DARPA Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) program full-scale Sea Hunter demonstration vehicle. (Photo: DARPA)

Responses are due my April 26. The Navy said the complete RFI contains “controlled technical data” that cannot be posted to the FedBizOpps website and will only be made available to Defense Department contractors.

The Navy surprised many when its fiscal year (FY) 2020 budget request included $447 million in research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) funds for two of these new LUSVs.

Navy budget documents noted LUSV is an outgrowth of recent unmanned surface vehicle programs like the Medium Displacement Unmanned Surface Vehicle (MDUSV)/Sea Hunter and the Office of Secretary of Defense Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO) Ghost Fleet Overlord Large USV (Defense Daily, March 12).

A Navy acquisition source told Defense Daily Thursday that while LUSV is a new program, the Ghost Fleet Overlord program will serve as a demonstration, experimentation, and risk reduction effort for the new ships.

The Ghost Fleet program started last year and has two teams working on concepts and using separate pre-existing hulls. The source said it is not clear to what extend Ghost Fleet will be the basis for LUSVS. The LUSVs will leverage Ghost Fleet efforts, may use those hulls, bring in new concepts, or a combination of the above.

The Overlord teams are led by Gibbs & Cox and L3 ASV Global [LLL].

In a statement to Defense Daily, NAVSEA spokesman Alan Baribeau explained the Overlord vessels are experimental while LUSV will “leverage technologies, concepts, and lessons learned through the Overlord research project.”

“Two Overlord-configuration experimentation large USVs will be procured in FY 2020 using the existing OSD SCO Overlord contracts,” he added.

Thereafter, two LSUVs will be procured annually from FY ’21 through FY ’24.

In September 2017 the Navy and SCO released a draft solicitation for the prototype Overlord USV program. That earlier notice said the department was seeking to develop and demonstrate a capability to field an independently-deploying autonomous USV “to demonstrate an enhanced warfare capability to negatively impact adversaries in a given maritime region” (Defense Daily, Sept. 25, 2017).

At the time the Navy said Overlord aimed to convent existing surface vehicle designs into USVs to reach a cost-effective capability for existing mission sets. The plan was to develop a reliable USV within three years using vehicles that could sustain autonomous operations at sea for 90 days with no crew. Overlord included integration and test payloads for electronic warfare, anti-surface warfare, and strike warfare.

The Overlord plan set out a two-phase award with four Phase I competitors awarded a contract worth a total $90 million to demonstrate autonomy for 12 months. In Phase II the government would down-select up to two teams for a 24 month-long period of additional tests and demonstrations. Overlord will end after two years in Phase II with a capstone demonstration of overall USC capability in coordination with manned vessels, followed by delivery of the USVs to the government.

The final solicitation released in November 2017 said Phase I objectives entailed an endurance of 4,500 nm or more than 19 knots transit speed, a top speed of 29 knots with full load capacity, and built in redundancy in all critical hardware and software systems.

On Wednesday Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson compared LUSV to the MQ-25 unmanned aircraft tanker  base on aircraft carriers and noted the Sea Hunter program has both sailed form the West Coat to Hawaii and back and participated in the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2018 exercise.

“I think that in general we’ve been taking a look at unmanned and you know future technologies for quite a while. In fact, the Sea Hunter went out to Hawaii and back, participated in RIMPAC. So this seems like kind of the next natural step. I want to move this past the skunkworks phase if you will and get it out into the operational phase as quickly as we can,” Richardson told reporters on Wednesday (Defense Daily, March 13).

Last year, DARPA transferred the Sea Hunter technology demonstration vessel to ONR, which plans to continue developing the prototype as the Medium Displacement Unmanned Surface Vehicle (MDUSV). At the time, DARPA said ONR might use it as a basis for a new class of unmanned vessels that can travel on the open seas for months and thousands of miles at a time (Defense Daily, Feb. 2, 2018).

Sea Hunter was developed by Leidos [LDOS] and was originally planned to track stealthy diesel electric submarines.