Serco Inc. announced it has completed Phase 1A Concept Design for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) No Manning Required Ship (NOMARS) X-Ship program.

NOMARS is a two-phase DARPA program aimed at demonstrating the reliability and feasibility of an unmanned surface ship performing lengthy missions autonomously and is focused on exploring novel approaches to seaframe design.

The Defense Department has also picked Serco for Phase 1B, Preliminary Design.

The company said that the NOMARS vessel design has no provisions for personnel aboard and a high requirement for year-long, high-reliability operation. Reduced platform size, zero onboard manning and the ability to stay on mission longer will reduce significantly the Navy’s cost per mission hour, Serco said.

DARPA initially said after the Phase 1 trade space exploration studies, Phases 2 and 3 will have contractors build prototype hardware to demonstrate some concepts. This will culminate in an “X-ship” seaframe to be used for demonstration, testing and future ship design experiments.

Serco’s NOMARS team, named Voyager, also includes Metron and Wartsila Defense

Serco said Metron and Wartsila Defense are working on developing an autonomy system that will act as the ship’s virtual engineering staff, making decisions and predictions to operate the vessel at maximum continuous reliability and inform remote operators of ship health and mission capability.

Meanwhile, Serco said it has focused on an analysis of a range of machinery and hull design options and working with a shipyard partner to validate the producibility of the design options.

”DARPA has enabled us to do something cutting edge in Naval Engineering,” Nate Miller, Serco’s Program Manager, said in a statement.

“We not only interrogate why a concept is a superior performer, but we now pinpoint each concept on the frontier of dominated alternatives,” he said. “We can then consider it against the customer’s measures of merit, which not only helps create confidence in a particular ship point design, but we are able to quantify the relative trades, allowing for better informed requirements.”

”We really wanted to push the limits with this design, and DARPA has structured this contract in a way that allows us the freedom to consider a wide range of traditional and emergent technologies, it really is an exciting time to be in the field…I believe we are creating something game changing,” Ryan Maatta, the team’s Lead Reliability Engineer, added.

After finishing the conceptual design phase, the Voyager team is now moving to further define top-level and derived requirements at the System Requirements Review. 

Serco said in the next phase it “will leverage its Model Based Systems Engineering (MBSE) expertise, integrating the systems engineering verification within a digital thread. This process significantly reduces technical risk by streamlining Validation & Verification.”

Later in the process, NOMARS Phase 2 is set to cover risk reduction of enabling technologies and ship design concepts, detailed design and construction, and initial demonstrator at sea testing, the company said. 

Phase 2 is expected to be awarded the first quarter of fiscal year 2022. A vessel at sea demonstration is planned for the third quarter of FY ‘24 before advancing to a transition period when NOMARS will join other unmanned Navy ships currently being evaluated by the service for integrated fleet operations

Serco noted its team includes naval architecture and marine engineering expertise from John J. McMullen and Associates (JJMA). In 2005, JJMA was purchased by Alion Science and Technology Corporation. Alion’s naval system business unit, including JJMA, was then sold to Serco in 2019. In August, Alion itself was acquired by Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII] (Defense Daily, Aug. 20).

Previously, in 2020 DARPA awarded seven contracts to work on NOMARS Phase 1 Track A including Autonomous Surface Vehicles LLC operating under L3Harris Technologies [LHX], Gibbs & Cox Inc., and Serco. 

Separately, last March DARPA said Barnstorm Research Corporation, TDI Technologies, Inc., InMar Technologies and Siemens Corp. received Phase 1 Track B awards (Defense Daily, March 2).