Navy Eyes Unmanned Vehicles for Dangerous Missions

The US Military already uses unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for risky air missions, but now the Navy is one step closer to using state-of-the-art unmanned sea vessels to perform tasks too dangerous for manned ships.

Government contractor Textron Marine and Land Systems recently demonstrated its Common Unmanned Surface Vessel (CUSV) at its shipyard in New Orleans. The company has been working on the boat -- which is operated by similar command-and-control technology that powers Army UAVs -- for more than a year.

While unmanned boats are not a new concept, Textron said the CUSV is the first designed from the ground up to be operated remotely to perform risky Navy activities such as approaching hostile ships, detecting enemy submarines, and sweeping the ocean for mines, without endangering lives. Previous unmanned vessels have been made by fitting manned vessels with remote-control equipment.

Outfitted with a command and control system from Textron subsidiary AAI that's also used to operate UAVs, CUSV can be controlled remotely from 10 to 12 miles away from a command station on land, at sea, or in the air, according to Textron. Beyond that range -- up to 1,200 miles -- a satellite control system can be used to operate the vessel.

The vessel also includes data-link technology, a reconfigurable and versatile payload bay, a common payload launch and recovery controller, and a modular unmanned system based on both an open architecture and off-the shelf technology, according to Textron.

The CUSV looks much like a Navy PT boat, with a length of 39 feet, a top speed of 28 knots, and a cruising range of 1,200 nautical miles. It also includes an anti-sinking feature that enables the boat to automatically shut off, right itself, and resume its course if it capsizes, according to Textron. Additionally, the CUSV includes advanced technology that allows it to detect obstacles in its path to avoid collision.

Textron has not yet inked a deal with the US Navy to use CUSVs, two prototypes of which currently exist. However, it is actively pursuing contracts with the US Navy, as well as other navies around the world, to purchase CUSVs for military use, Textron spokesperson Tom Williams said in an email to Design News. The company, which expects to begin commercial production of CUSVs in the next year or so, has not yet disclosed how much the vehicles might cost.

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