The Navy released the final request for proposals (RFP) for the development of a Medium Unmanned Surface Vehicle (MUSV) on July 16.

MUSV will be a pier-launched, self-deploying modular surface vessel that uses open architecture. The Navy said it will be capable of autonomous navigation and mission execution.

The Navy defines a MUSV as being 39 to 164 feet long.

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

It plans to conduct a full and open competitive procurement this year and expects to award a single MUSV prototype in the first quarter of FY 2020. The first MUSV prototype is expected to be delivered in FY ’22.

The RFP also includes options for additional MUSVs, the Navy said.

“Accelerating Unmanned Surface Vehicle (USV) and payload development and warfighting integration will provide an inflection point in delivering a more distributed force in support of the National Defense Strategy,” Naval Sea Systems Command said in a statement.

Previously, the service released its draft MUSV performance specification and had a MUSV industry day in February.

The Navy said this RFP incorporates months of dialogue and feedback with industry.

A June Congressional Research Service (CRS) Report noted the Navy plans to award a contract for the second MUSV in FY ’23. It said the Navy wants these vessels to be low-cost, high-endurance, reconfigurable ships. Initial payloads will be intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and electronic warfare systems.

MUSV is building on Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) work with its Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) with the Office of Naval Research, which resulted in the construction and testing of the Sea Hunter USV.

Responses to the RFP are due by Sept. 30.

On Wednesday, Rear Adm. Gene Black, Director of Surface Warfare Division (OPNAV N96), said they are now exploring how to best use MUSVs and other unmanned surface vessels.

“We’re figuring out how we’re going to use these things, but it’s certainly not in the next couple years that we turn an unmanned vehicle loose on the West Coast and send it off on a mission. There’s a lot of learning that has to go on. I think we need to come to terms with, are these manned, unmanned, are they optionally manned? When would you man them, when would you not man them? We’re working through all that and we don’t have any of those answers right now,” Black said during a Surface Navy Association event.

Black noted the service recently stood up the Surface Development Squadron on the West Coast in May and will have to experiment and figure out how to best use the vessels.

The squadron aims to integrate medium and large unmanned surface vessels and support fleet experimentation to bring new warfighting concepts and capabilities to the fleet. It is responsible for maintenance, training, and manning oversight of the Zumwalt-class destroyers and MUSVs/LUSVs like the Sea Hunter and under-construction Sea Hunter II (Defense Daily, May 24).

Black said his staff is partnering with the squadron and thinks sailors will eventually figure out new and innovative ways to use the unmanned vessels.

“Candidly, we’re going to get some of these things, we’re going to buy them, and I know what I think we’re going to do, but the fact of the matter is the young guys and gals in the audience are going to use them for totally different ways that are much better than any idea that I ever had. So we’re figuring out how we’re going to do it.”

Black, who until recently served as the commander of the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group, said if he had a MUSV at his disposal, “[he’d] have pushed it out in front of me, certainly when I went up into the high north. It gives me sensors and eyes and connectivity way out in front of the strike group and an awareness of what’s going on so that I can decide if I want to go in another direction or do something completely different.”

While Black served as commander of the strike group in 2018, it deployed both the to Eastern Mediterranean and north of the Arctic Circle during the Trident Juncture exercise (Defense Daily, Oct. 26, 2018).