ARLINGTON, Va.-U.S. Navy researchers are looking to two defense companies to begin developing a future generation of unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) and mission payloads that function as minesweepers to augment U.S. counter-mine capabilities.
The Office of Naval Research (ONR) in Arlington, Va., has awarded contracts worth a collective $3.6 million to the Raytheon Co. Integrated Defense Systems segment in Portsmouth, R.I., and to Applied Physical Sciences Corp. in Groton, Conn. Raytheon and Applied Physical Sciences are the ONR contractors for the USV Payloads for Single Sortie Detect to Engage (SS-DTE) Mine Counter Measures (MCM) program, which seeks to develop a USV-based mine-hunting system capable of detecting, classifying, and neutralizing floating, moored, and bottom- deployed sea mines in shallow coastal waters and harbors.
The program will blend unman-ned surface vessels, unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs), manned surface ships, and laser-equipped helicopters. Raytheon's contract is worth $1.9 million, and that of Applied Physical Sciences is worth $1.4 million.
Navy officials envision a 40-foot unmanned surface vessel that carries four lightweight mine-hunting unmanned underwater vehicles. The vessel may look similar to the AAI unmanned boat, shown above.
ONR experts are working with Raytheon and Applied Physical Sciences to develop USV minesweeper technology able to conduct the three phases of mine hunting operations in one sortie, and may become part of a future Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) mine counter measures mission package.
The program has two primary thrusts: launch, control, and communications with the USV and its payload; and neutralizing sea mines.
The SS-DTE MCM payload will contain the components necessary for deployment and retrieval of UUVs, as well as the launch of mine neutralizers aboard a USV, an interface with the LCS communication system, USV autonomy and automation, and software architecture and software planning tools to manage and coordinate the USV MCM payload.
For the overall program, Navy researchers seek to use a modular open systems approach (MOSA) for all components to enable upgrades and add capability with minimal effort as systems and missions evolve.
Navy researchers envision a 40-foot USV host craft that carries four lightweight unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs)-two to search for bottom mines, and two for volume search on or near the surface. The USV host craft also would carry as many as 24 expendable neutralizers, payload management, and data processing.
Navy experts would extract raw data from the UUVs after each mission for processing aboard the USV and transmission to the LCS for further assessment.
The neutralizers for near-surface floating and drifting mines will involve a tethered mine neutralization system initially, but Navy researchers in the long term would like to develop an affordable untethered expendable neutralizer. The neutralizers will destroy mines autonomously.