The US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is moving forward with its No Manning Required, Ship (NOMARS) programme with a broad agency announcement (BAA) released last week.

Under NOMARS, DARPA is seeking a vessel that could operate completely unmanned at sea for extended periods of time. DARPA said in the BAA it wants to ‘explore the NOMARS design space from Conceptual Design Review (CoDR) through Preliminary Design Review (PDR) and system definition.’

The agency is accepting proposals for a potential vessel which would challenge the ‘traditional naval architecture paradigm’ by creating a ship that eliminates all the design considerations associated with housing a crew.

DARPA has set aside $41m for the development of the programme and design of the NOMARS platform, which should be able to operate for up to a year at sea before requiring maintenance. The agency at this time does not plan to build an operational vessel, but rather an ‘X-ship’ demonstrator that can be used as a proof of concept for the NOMARS.

DARPA previously said: “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 programme also will strive for greater hydrodynamic efficiency via hull optimisation without requirements for crew safety or comfort.”

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NOMARS is focused solely on the design of a novel sea frame rather than a vessel complete with mission systems, but DARPA added the notional payload space is 23ft by 12ft by 9ft.

In recent years DARPA has spent considerable efforts on the development of unmanned surface vessels (USVs) with the agency previously developing the 40m-long Sea Hunter platform and the Improved Navy Lighterage System (INLS).

INLS, known as “Sea Train”, is designed to use a mix of powered and unpowered USVs to transport equipment and supplies.

The US is pushing for the development of unmanned vessels as part of its goal to expand the US Navy and allow for more distributed operations in wide areas like the Pacific.