Textron [TXT] and the U.S. Navy have agreed to develop and integrate new offensive and other payloads on the company’s unmanned surface vehicle, the company told Defense Daily in an interview last week.

The company signed a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) with Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) at the end of 2017, the company announced at the start of last week’s Surface Navy Association (SNA) annual symposium. The agreement covers integrating payloads like missiles, designators, and remote weapon stations to Textron’s Common Unmanned Surface Vehicle (CUSV).

Textron's Common Unmanned Surface Vehicle. Photo: Textron
Textron’s Common Unmanned Surface Vehicle. Photo: Textron

The CUSV was first developed as part of the Navy’s unmanned influence sweeping system (UISS) program, with one vehicle delivered to the Navy. Wayne Prender, unmanned systems Vice President at Textron, told Defense Daily in a Jan. 11 interview that the program, and delivered vehicle, is currently in builder’s trials after finishing integration and initial tests.

The CUSV was previously tested with packages including side-scan sonar; mine neutralization; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; and non-lethal weapons. It is a purpose-built system originally designed for mine hunting and neutralizing.

The program is on track to complete Milestone C later this summer, Prender said.

Last year the company announced it won a $14.8 million contract to deliver a second and third CUSV to the Navy in 2018 (Defense Daily, April 3, 2017).

Prender said Textron has started production on the two additional vehicles, which will be used for mine hunting rather than mine sweeping missions. The company is also on contract to integrate the Raytheon [RTN] AQS-20A and Northrop Grumman [NOC] AQS-24A side-scanning sonars, which will begin after the two boats are delivered.

He clarified one will be delivered early this summer and one early in the fall.

The CUSV the Navy currently has will be used for developmental testing and operational assessments while the next two CUSVs will be used for the mine hunting mission.

In contrast, the CRADA will cover work on a company-owned fourth-generation CUSV, rather than the vehicles delivered or planned for delivery to the Navy. Prender said that vehicle is in alignment with the Navy’s deliverable systems while Textron also owns two CUSV prototypes it built before the UISS win, which are still “highly functional” for demonstrations.

With the newly signed CRADA, “what we’re looking at now is expanding beyond mine countermeasures into other mission spaces. Whether it be intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance or lethal and non-lethal surface warfare packages to showcase the common and flexible nature of our system,” Prender said.

He noted the company’s objective is to work through a trade space on what payloads make the most sense for both the CUSV platform and Navy mission needs. To that end, “We’ll begin some early prototyping and integration this year,” following a January kickoff, Prender said.

The CUSV has 4,000-pounds of payload capacity on the deck with a payload bay measuring 20.5 x 6.5 x 3.5 feet.

“So if you explore today the mission packages or weapons systems that are on a class of our size, that’s kind of what you can envision being migrated to an unmanned system,” Prender said.

Given those space constraints the company and Navy will look into if the vehicle’s unmanned nature allows new capabilities or requires making weapon systems themselves automated.