US Navy plans corvette-sized unmanned fleet

Harry Lye 19 August 2019 (Last Updated August 19th, 2019 12:50)

The US Navy is planning to build a fleet of 10 corvette-sized large unmanned surface vessels (LUSV) within the next five years to assist its main manned fleet by completing ‘dull, dirty, or dangerous’ missions.

US Navy plans corvette-sized unmanned fleet
SeaHunter is currently the largest unmanned vessel in use by the US Navy. Credits: DARPA

The US Navy is planning to build a fleet of 10 corvette-sized large unmanned surface vessels (LUSV) within the next five years to assist its main manned fleet by completing ‘dull, dirty, or dangerous’ missions.

The navy outlined its aims for the systems in a draft request for industry proposals, saying: “The LUSV will be a high-endurance, reconfigurable ship able to accommodate various payloads for unmanned missions to augment the navy’s manned surface force.

“With a large payload capacity, the LUSV will be designed to conduct a variety of warfare operations independently or in conjunction with manned surface combatants.”

According to a report from the Congressional Research Service, the US Navy requested $372.5m for the construction of the first two LUSVs as part of its 2020 budget and a total of $2.7bn over the next five years to cover the development of the 10 LUSVs.

The draft request added: “The LUSV will be capable of semi-autonomous or fully autonomous operation, with operators in-the-loop (controlling remotely) or on-the-loop (enabled through autonomy).”

The US Navy’s aims to procure two vessels a year until 2024 through its LUSV.

The request reads: “The navy envisions the LUSVs it wants to procure in FY2020-FY2024 as being 200 feet to 300 feet in length and having a full load displacement of about 2,000 tons, which would make them the size of a corvette.”

It also details how the US Navy wants the vessels to be “low-cost, high-endurance, reconfigurable ships”. It will achieve this and the small development time frame by using commercial ship designs.

The US Navy wants the ships to carry modular payloads enabling them to take on a variety of missions. A key mission of the vessels will be ‘anti-surface warfare’ across both land and sea.

These unmanned vessels will be the largest unmanned ships in service with any navy and will be designed to accommodate a small crew allowing them to be optionally manned.

The US Navy has no corvette-class ships but ships of a similar size are in operation with the US Coastguard.

The US Navy is planning to procure a total of 201 unmanned vessels over the next five years including 135 Hydroid ML-18 Unmanned Undersea Vehicles (UUV), 10 small/ medium UUV, three large-diameter UUV, and nine extra-large UUV.

The US Navy is pursuing LUSV technology alongside directed-energy weapons, hypersonic and artificial intelligence as part of a push to confront emerging threats like that of China.