The United States Marine Corps has selected boat builder Metal Shark to develop and build the service’s first long range unmanned surface vessels (LRUSV) for evaluations and trials.
According to previous statements, USMC is looking to buy three systems in fiscal year 21, and expects to establish an early operational capability a year later, in FY-22.
LRUSV is designed to increase the lethality of US forces with a network of unmanned vessels traveling autonomously for extended ranges and transporting loitering munitions to address targets at sea and on land.
This tiered, scalable weapons system will provide the ability to accurately track and destroy targets at range throughout the battle space. While fully autonomous, the vessels may be optionally manned and they will carry multiple payloads, which they will be capable of autonomously launching and retrieving.
Metal Shark has enlisted autonomous technology developer Spatial Integrated Systems (SIS), recently acquired by Huntington Ingalls Industries, to provide the autonomy solution for the LRUSV system. SIS is a leader in the development of multi-vessel collaborative “swarming” autonomous capabilities, sensor fusion and perception.
Under an “Other Transaction Authority” (OTA) Agreement with Marine Corps Systems Command, Metal Shark will design, build, test, and implement the vessels and will handle the integration of the autonomy system and a command and control (C2) software suite.
In addition to the autonomous LRUSV, Metal Shark said it would also produce manned support vessels for the LRUSV system utilizing its 40 Defiant military patrol craft platform, which the builder is currently producing to create the U.S. Navy’s new “40 PB” patrol boat fleet.
“The LRUSV program represents a significant milestone for autonomous technology, for the defense world, and for the entire shipbuilding industry,” said Metal Shark CEO Chris Allard. “We are thrilled to be integrating advanced autonomy and command and control capability into these highly specialized surface vessels to provide the Marine Corps with a next-generation system.”
The LRUSV program is the latest success for Metal Shark’s Sharktech Autonomous Vessels division, a wholly-owned subsidiary launched in 2018 and specifically focused on the advancement of unmanned vessel technology. In September, it was announced that the United States Coast Guard had selected a 29-foot Sharktech autonomous test vessel equipped with autonomy by Boston-based technology developer Sea Machines for evaluation by the USCG Research and Development Center. In 2019, Metal Shark was selected by US Navy PMS 406 (Naval Sea Systems Command’s Unmanned Maritime Systems division) for the unmanned family of systems multi award IDIQ, a blanket Navy contact covering multiple topics in the autonomous space.