US is looking for builders for large unmanned ships

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The United States is one step closer to developing a Large Unmanned Surface Vessel (LUSV), or a large sailing drone. Naval News writes this based on a press briefing given by the US Navy. Two companies managed to complete the first phase of testing. The propulsion, electricity generation and distribution systems they built had to work independently. But the so-called LUSV is still in its infancy; the construction and rollout will take several years.

A concept LUSV from Austal. (Image: Austal)

The US Navy recently held a press briefing to provide industry and media with the latest status of the LUSV project. Captain [kapitein ter zee, red] Scot Searles, the project leader for unmanned craft, said that to date two suppliers have passed the first test. This meant that the propulsion, electricity generation and distribution systems had to be able to run for thirty days without human intervention. The companies that successfully completed the test are Bollinger Shipyard and Fincantieri Marinette Marine. “Two other companies have already completed 85 percent of the test and we expect them to complete it in the coming weeks,” Searles said.

The thirty-day test is an important first phase of the LUSV project. That project was started last year by NAVSEA, Naval Sea Systems Command, with a request for information. This means that the industry is asked how they see such a LUSV. Searles emphasized at the press conference that the project is being approached with a very open mind: “Every part that passes the test without a scratch is on the “Yes” list for the LUSV. We want as complete a list as possible before we switch to a request for proposal”. This means that companies in the defense industry will be asked what contribution they can make to the project. The thirty-day test, which should serve as the first selection test, is therefore important.

Big drone
The end result of the LUSV competition should be a large unmanned ship, with a length between 60 and 90 meters, and a displacement of 1,000 to 2,000 tons. The armament will consist of missile launchers.

The LUSVs must be able to be used for air defense and anti-submarine warfare. They will work as additional capacity within the existing structure of the US Navy: within squadrons around aircraft carriers or in an amphibious squadron, but other compositions are also possible.

Smaller vessels
In addition to the LUSV, the US Navy is also working on the deployment of smaller unmanned vessels. Four prototypes (the Sea Hunter, Sea Hawk, Mariner and Ranger) have been sailing in the Pacific Ocean for the past six months to test how they can be integrated into the operations of the manned fleet.

The ships visited Japan and Australia, among others, and sailed a total of 46,651 nautical miles (or almost 86,400 kilometers). These small vessels are also important for the larger drone ships, which must be used in exactly the same way.

“Once the LUSV is ready for deployment and ordered, the smaller unmanned vessels will allow the concept within which they operate to be refined,” Defense News quotes Commander Jeremiah Daley, the head of Unmanned Surface Vessel Division One.

The Netherlands
In terms of role, the LUSV will be comparable to MICAN, the Dutch project involving the construction of two ‘rocket boats’, which Marineschips.nl previously wrote about. These ships, based on a commercial platform, will also sail around with a low crew or even unmanned, and serve as a complement to the frigates. Containers are placed on board containing launchers for missiles or drones. These will be controlled from a mothership. The current LC frigates should be able to do this, and later that role will be taken over by the Future Air Defender (FuAD).

Secondary, the Dutch ships will also be equipped with sensors to better map the situation and threats in the North Sea. In part because of the presence of Russian spy ships in the North Sea. It is difficult to find out exactly what these ships are doing, partly due to a lack of eyes under water. The MICAN ships must therefore help with this.

Kasper Author: Kasper Goossens
Kasper has been writing as a freelance journalist for Marineschappen.nl since November 2023. He previously worked for the Belgian news website Business AM, where he specialized in defense and geopolitics. Every week he bundles the most important events in these sectors in a newsletter on Substack, ‘Defense in Brief’. Kasper studied Journalism at the Arteveldehogeschool in Ghent.

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The article is in Dutch

Tags: builders large unmanned ships

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