The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has selected L3Harris Technologies to design an autonomous surface ship concept that would demonstrate the reliability and feasibility of an unmanned ship performing lengthy missions.
The work will be performed under DARPA’s No Manning Required Ship (NOMARS) program, which the agency wants to undertake as a clean-sheet ship design process that eliminates design considerations associated with crew.
Under the first phase of the two-phase program, the L3Harris design concept will streamline NOMARS’ construction, logistics, operations and maintenance life-cycle. The company teamed with VARD Marine to validate the concept and design of the architecture and hull, mechanical and electrical systems.
The company said its design featured an operating system that can make decisions and determine actions on its own – without direct human interaction. This concept optimizes autonomous surface ship operations to support the US Navy’s future missions.
“The NOMARS program selection reinforces our commitment to deliver highly reliable and affordable autonomous solutions that transform the way the US Navy conducts its future missions,” said Sean Stackley, president, Integrated Mission Systems, L3Harris.
NOMARS aims to challenge the traditional naval architecture model, designing a seaframe from the ground up with no provision, allowance, or expectation for humans at sea. By removing the human element from all ship design considerations, the program intends to demonstrate significant advantages, to include size, cost, at-sea reliability, survivability to sea-state, and survivability to adversary actions such as stealth considerations and resistance to tampering. The program also will strive for greater hydrodynamic efficiency via hull optimization without requirements for crew safety or comfort.
NOMARS is not the first significant unmanned vessel program L3 Harris is working on. In July 2020, the US Navy awarded the company a contract to develop a single medium unmanned surface vehicle (MUSV) prototype, with options to procure up to eight additional MUSVs.
The navy’s MUSV program is expected to provide pier-launched, self-deploying, modular, open architecture surface vessels capable of autonomous navigation and mission execution. The navy wants to use MUSVs to produce, deploy and disburse intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and electronic warfare capabilities, and provide/improve distributed situational awareness and sensing to the battle force. The navy expects to receive the first prototype by 2023.