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Medium Unmanned Surface Vehicle (MUSV), U.S. Navy

Grey Havoc

The path not taken.
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The Navy wants to develop and procure three new types of unmanned vehicles (UVs) in FY2020 and beyond—Large Unmanned Surface Vehicles (LUSVs), Medium Unmanned Surface Vehicles (MUSVs), and Extra-Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicles (XLUUVs). The Navy is requesting $628.8 million in FY2020 research and development funding for these three UV programs and their enabling technologies.

The Navy wants to acquire these three types of UVs (which this report refers to collectively as large UVs) as part of an effort to shift the Navy to a new fleet architecture (i.e., a new combination of ships and other platforms) that is more widely distributed than the Navy’s current architecture. Compared to the current fleet architecture, this more-distributed architecture is to include proportionately fewer large surface combatants (i.e., cruisers and destroyers), proportionately more small surface combatants (i.e., frigates and Littoral Combat Ships), and the addition of significant numbers of large UVs.

The Navy wants to employ accelerated acquisition strategies for procuring these large UVs, so as to get them into service more quickly. The emphasis that the Navy placed on UV programs in its FY2020 budget submission and the Navy’s desire to employ accelerated acquisition strategies in acquiring these large UVs together can be viewed as an expression of the urgency that the Navy attaches to fielding large UVs for meeting future military challenges from countries such as China.
The MUSV program began in FY2019. The Navy plans to award a contract for the first MUSV in FY2019 and wants to award a contract for the second MUSV in FY2023. The Navy wants MUSVs, like LUSVs, to be low-cost, high-endurance, reconfigurable ships that can accommodate various payloads. Initial payloads for MUSVs are to be intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) payloads and electronic warfare (EW) systems. The Navy defines MUSVs as having a length of between 12 meters (about 39 feet) and 50 meters (about 164 feet). The Navy wants to pursue the MUSV program as a rapid prototyping effort under what is known as Section 804 acquisition authority.
 

bobbymike

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Grey Havoc

The path not taken.
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Robot Ships & Submarines

Congress and the Pentagon are deeply at odds over the future of the fleet. The Navy, backed by Defense Secretary Mark Esper, sees robotic vessels as crucial adjuncts to larger manned warships, with unmanned surface and underwater vehicles (USVs and UUVs) serving as relatively expendable scouts, decoys, and missile launchers. Congress, however, remains deeply committed to traditional shipyards and President Trump’s campaign promise of 355 (manned) ships. There’s fear on Capitol Hill. that the Navy may be moving too fast towards full-up prototypes before working out technical basics, like how to keep ships running with no maintenance crew aboard and how to retain human control of lethal weapons from a long way away.

Both the House and Senate Armed Services Committees have passed language limiting the robo-boat programs. SASC forbids the Navy from spending 2021 appropriations on the Medium USV, Large USV, Large Displacement UUV, or Extra-Large UUV until it can show their “‘critical mission, hull, mechanical, and electrical sub-systems’’ will work well. The HASC language specifically says the LUSV must function 30 days without human maintainers; SASC sets a 45-day (1,080-hour) threshold for both LUSV and MUSV.

We haven’t seen HASC’s funding tables yet, so we don’t know if the House committee wants to cut these programs. But the Senate funding tables cut them by over $548 million (and authorizers do have the power to limit spending):

  • Prototyping for Medium and Large USVs is cut entirely, with SASC rejecting the entire $464 million request as “excess procurement ahead of satisfactory testing.”
  • Prototyping for Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicles is cut nearly in half, losing $36 million out of a $78 million request, again as “excess procurement ahead of…. testing.”
  • Prototyping specifically for the XLUUV (aka the Boeing Orca) and the LDUUV (aka Snakehead) are each cut $10 million (out of an unspecified total) for having an “uncertified test strategy.”
  • Even the relatively small and modest Barracuda mine-hunting UUV prototype is cut $28 million for an unspecified “program delay.”
On the upside, SASC would add $115 million for “advanced surface machinery” to help unmanned surface vessels operate without human maintainers: $45 million for “USV autonomy” and $70 million for “engine and generator qualification testing.” That partially offsets the cuts above – but in a way that makes it very clear the Senate wants the Navy to get the basics right before putting prototypes to sea.
 
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