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Pentagon wants autonomous refueling barges for aircraft refueling

Autonomous refueling barge concept
Photo: Sea Machines

The US Defense Department’s Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) has awarded Boston-based Sea Machines Robotics a contract for the development of an autonomous barge prototype capable of landing and replenishing military aircraft.

The primary purpose of the agreement is to initiate a prototype that will enable commercial ocean-service barges as autonomous forward arming and refueling point (FARP) units for an amphibious maritime projection platform (AMPP).

Sea Machines will engineer, build and demonstrate ready-to-deploy system kits that enable autonomous, self-propelled operation of opportunistically available barges.

The kits will include Sea Machines’ SM300 autonomous-command and control systems, barge propulsion, sensing, positioning, communications and refueling equipment, as well as items required for global deployment. According to the company, each modular kit will meet US Navy criteria and will be in compliance with classifications and regulations from the DOD’s aviation bodies.

The contract includes a concept demonstration phase, with an option for following phases to deploy SM300 operational kits. The live concept demonstration is scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2020, in Washington state, for which Sea Machines has teamed with FOSS Maritime, a leading maritime transportation and logistics provider based in Seattle. FOSS will provide naval architecture, support engineering and operations management to outfit a remotely commanded deck barge to land helicopters and host a scaled fueling station for aircraft, surface vessels and shore replenishment.

Using the SM300, shoreside operators will have remote situational awareness and will be able to demonstrate the capabilities of remote command and control of the vessel, her operating systems and flight deck.

Sea Machines is the prime contractor for the multi-year contract and is working closely alongside FOSS Maritime and other significant industry leaders. These include Huntington Ingalls, America’s largest military shipbuilding company, and Bell Flight, a producer of commercial and military, vertical-lift aircraft.

“The AMPP autonomous replenishment systems will solve critical logistics challenges of expeditionary missions. We are pleased to enable this innovative capability, which will increase the effectiveness and flexibility for the US military,” said Sea Machines’ Phil Bourque, director, sales.