US Navy Unmanned Autonomous Patrol Boat Project

By George Backwell at April 14, 2012 23:30
Filed Under: Navy insights, Research & Development

Unmanned surface vessels took a step further toward becoming a reality when a U.S. Navy research and development programme attained its first objective –  to build and demonstrate a vessel on the assumption that no person steps aboard at any point in its operating cycle.

The Textron Common Unmanned Surface Vessel (CUSV) vividly met this objective during the Navy’s 2011 ‘Sea Warrior’ experiment at Hampton Roads near the Norfolk Naval Base, clearing the way for subsequent Federal Government invitations to tender for work on the remaining objectives set out by the Defense Advanced Research Agency (DARPA) in its Anti-submarine Warfare Unmanned Vessel Continuos Trail (ACTUV) programme. A project aimed to develop an unmanned X-ship optimised to robustly track quiet diesel electric submarines.

Patrol Boat – Unmanned & Autonomous: Photo courtesy of AA! Systems

Fleet-Class Common Unmanned Surface Vessel by Textron

Not only was the unmanned patrol boat in the Norfolk trials able to intercept and warn off an intruding vessel – click here for video – by means of a threatening pre-recorded loud-hailer ‘Level 1’ order, but with DARPA’s anti-submarine warfare requirements in mind the boat's equipment bay was able to contain a submarine-tracking, robotic device.

The patrol boat autonomous control system incorporates a developed obstacle-avoidance technology that Navy researchers call ‘Sliding Autonomy’ that offers a range of capability from fully autonomous operation to man-in-the-loop intervention.

‘Sliding Autonomy’ modes range from the most basic, in which the operator has direct manual control over the rudders and engines individually, to semi-autonomous modes with a specified speed and course, to full autonomous mission mode using the vessels collision avoidance system. In addition, it allows users to create a single, seamless operational network of airborne, sea-based and ground-based assets from ship to shore, shore to ship, or ship to ship.

Textron has developed its multi-purpose ‘Fleet-Class’ CUSV incorporating AAI's (AAI is an operating unit of Textron Systems) unmanned maritime command and control station as part of a multi-warfare, multi-mission and multi-payload solution. The CUSV includes:

 AAI's common command and control system; data link; reconfigurable and versatile payload bay; common payload launch and recovery controller; and modular USV system open architecture using commercial, off-the-shelf technology.

Patrol Boat Equipment Launch Bay: Photo courtesy of AAI Systems

The 'Fleet Class' CUSV is of modular construction, capable of executing mine warfare; anti-submarine warfare; communications relay; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; anti-surface warfare; and UAS/UUV launch and recovery missions.

Now that an unmanned craft capable of sophisticated collision avoidance has been demonstrated one wonders if an unmanned autonomous vessel (with that ‘man-in-the-loop’ control condition) might be developed not only for military purposes, but also for commercial merchant shipping operations. Perhaps an offshore support vessel to begin with; beyond doubt the crew-less vessel offers considerable financial and organizationnal benefits to ship owners.

 

 

 

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