The US Navy’s 13th Spearhead-class expeditionary fast transport (EPF), the future USNS Apalachicola (EPF 13), has successfully concluded acceptance and uncrewed logistics prototype trials.

Constructed by Austal USA, the EPF 13’s acceptance trials included a set of at-sea and in-port demonstrations.

It allowed the shipbuilder and US Navy to evaluate the readiness and systems of the vessel before its final delivery.

USNS Apalachicola’s autonomous capabilities were also tested under the uncrewed logistics prototype trials.

The vessel underwent a stress test in high-traffic coastal areas while transiting from Mobile, Alabama to Miami, Florida.

Appropriate handling procedures were taken while it operated with other ships, craft, boats and sailboats.

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The vessel proved its capabilities to perform as a self-driving platform. 

Apalachicola stayed in autonomous mode for around 85% of the total time spent at sea.

This trial was conducted by Austal in collaboration with the US Navy’s industry and shipbuilding partners, including General Dynamics and L3 Harris.

Programme Executive Office (PEO) Ships Strategic & Theatre Sealift programme manager Tim Roberts said: “The ability to expand uncrewed concepts into the existing fleet was validated by these trials.

“The capabilities integrated onto EPF 13 set the groundwork for future autonomous operations.”

Roberts added: “USNS Apalachicola will enhance the operational flexibility needed by our sailors.”

The contract for Apalachicola was awarded to Austal in June 2021, with delivery of the vessel expected to take place later this year.

The commercial-based, high-speed, shallow draft Spearhead-class EPF vessels have been constructed to provide quick, intra-theatre transport of equipment and personnel.