11 January 2018
Navy officials are looking to move forward with a modular systems approach to speed up acquisition of incremental capabilities and focus delivery efforts for its unmanned maritime systems.
Building on several unmanned undersea vehicle programs started last year, Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) leadership intends to fund multiple training operations through 2018 in the hopes of opening up the opportunity for industry to test payloads in 2019.
"We want the latest and greatest, but it's got to work before we put it on a system. We got out and test it, but before we go and inject it into a program of record we want that technology to be as proven as it can," Capt. Jon Rucker, Navy program manager for unmanned maritime systems, said during a briefing Thursday at the Surface Navy Association annual symposium in Arlington, Va. "Especially on unmanned systems, which frankly need to get out there quicker."
Rucker pointed to unmanned minehunting units for the Navy's Littoral Combat Ships as an urgent operational need.
Navy officials are in the process of developing incremental capabilities for its Mine Countermeasure Unmanned Surface Vehicles (MCM USVs). The boats can currently handle sweep payloads, and the next step is loading sonar minehunting payloads, according to Rucker.
Raytheon [RTN] and Northrop Grumman [NOC] have been contracted to deliver designs for integrating sonar payloads for the MCM USVs. Rucker expects to select a design for future payloads once the first crafts are delivered around the end of 2018.
The MCM USVs have been adapted to the family of systems approach to allow for modular crafts with easily integrated electrical and mechanical interfaces, according to Rucker.
After standing up its Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (UUV) program in 2017, Rucker said NAVSEA is now looking to move forward with accelerated acquisitions to complete military designs.
The Snakehead large displacement UUV program, intended for long-range ISR missions, was completed in September and is now in the detail design phase for hull materials.
The second accelerated acquisition project, the Orca Extra-Large UUV, also received requirements four months after the program started, instead of the usual process of two to three years.
"Nobody thought we would do what we said we were going to do...from the day we got signed requirements, both the Snakehead and the Orca are accelerated acquisitions," Rucker said. "From the time we got signed requirements to the time we competitively awarded two contracts was 238 days. That's the fastest it's ever been done."
The Navy has Boeing [BA] and Lockheed Martin [LMT] under contract for the UUV program's design phase, which is expected to run through the first quarter of FY '19, according to Rucker.
Rucker believes an incremental approach with a focus on open architecture and modular systems will help shepherd NAVSEA's unmanned systems through 2018.
"This family of systems approach, from the surface and undersea side, if I were to show you what it looked like before, it was helter skelter. Now these focused lines of effort have helped us work with industry to focus on where to invest our technology dollars," Rucker said