Textron [TXT] is currently constructing the first engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) unit of an unmanned boat that is the basis for the Navy’s Unmanned Influence Sweep System (UISS), which will be deployed from Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) to sweep magnetic and acoustic mines, a company official told Defense Daily.
After undergoing software integration and company tests, the EMD system is scheduled to be delivered to the Navy as soon as the end of 2016, Wayne Prender, Textron Systems’ unmanned systems vice president of control and surface systems, said in a Jan. 12 interview.
UISS, which consists of Textron’s common unmanned surface vehicle (CUSV) and the Mk104 influence minesweeping system, is one part of the mine countermeasures mission package that will be outfitted aboard the LCS.
“This will be a really important year for us with the on contract work,” he said. The company completed the UISS critical design review in November. After the surface vehicle itself is complete, Textron will install its electronics and software and integrate the Mk104, which transmits acoustic and electromagnetic signals through the water to detonate mines. Then, the company will begin testing the UISS in the water before delivering it to the Navy, which will conduct sea trials of the EDM system aboard an LCS.
The success of the EDM phase will drive the Navy’s decision on whether to proceed with low rate initial production of six additional systems, he said.
The company has already finished two CUSV prototypes, which have been used in demonstrations aboard the USNS John Glenn (T-ESD-2) and during the Trident Warrior exercises. However, the version that will be deployed from the LCS will be equipped with some upgrades, including an improved drive train that improves maneuverability, Prender said. The company also expanded the payload bay by relocating the boat’s engines, and UISS will have foldable antennas and a retractable mast so that it can be stowed aboard an LCS.
The company is also trying to position a later iteration of the UISS as a potential alternative to the Remote Minehunting System manufactured by Lockheed Martin [LMT], Prender said. The Navy is currently conducting an independent review that will help officials decide whether to move forward with procurement of the Lockheed Martin system. RMS uses an unmanned, autonomous submersible that tows the AQS-20A variable depth sonar to find and identify mines, but its reliability during testing has been lower than expected.
In flight two of the UISS program, Textron’s unmanned surface vessel will begin pulling side scan sonar to perform a mine hunting mission. Further upgrades will allow UISS to conduct mine neutralization, making it a possible replacement for RMS, Prender said.
The Remote Minehunting System “is specifically designed to tow a side scan sonar, which is one of the capabilities that this system [UISS] certainly has. We’ve demonstrated the ability to pull a side scanned sonar before,” he said, referencing a 2012 demonstration at Trident Warrior exercise, where the CUSV pulled an L-3 [LLL] side scan sonar and the SeaFox mine neutralization system. “As we move forward with the U.S. Navy customer … we’ll [further] develop that capability.”
Textron is also trying to market CUSV to the Navy for broader applications beyond the LCS’s mine countermeasures mission. Using different payloads, the boat can accomplish multiple missions such as communications relay, anti-submarine warfare and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
The company in fall 2015 conduced a demonstration in the waters of San Diego using one of its two prototypes. The exercise proved the USNS John Glenn could accommodate the CUSV and its command-and-control system, pick up the boat, put it in the water and retrieve it, Prender said.
“There are desires to go back out and to now add on some real mission capabilities other than deploy and retreat, but that was a good first step,” he said. “While we are the program of record on UISS for the LCS, the Navy has stated that every ship needs to have multiple mission sets.”