Now in water testing: an unmanned surface boat designed to launch from the littoral combat ship to assist with the location and destruction of undersea mines.
But according to the boat's creators at Textron Systems, the technology may have a much broader range of uses in the future. The system in question is the common unmanned surface vehicle [CUSV], a 39-foot vessel that looks much like a driverless motorboat and will be equipped to help conduct mine counter-measure warfare missions from Freedom- and Independence-variant LCS. Currently the vehicle is in testing with a minesweeping package, but Wayne Prender, vice president of control and surface systems for Textron Unmanned Systems, said the company is working with the Navy to move into mine-hunting with the system as well.
The full LCS mine-hunting package is set to be completed by the close of 2019, program officials said this month. But beyond that, Textron hopes other uses for the drone boat will present themselves.
"In addition to mine countermeasures, we continue to work and explore other mission sets and scenarios for the CUSV. So we have the mine countermeasure suite, and then continue to expand it along what we envision is a true multi-platform flexible ship," Prender said.
The CUSV, he said, could be configured to conduct anti-submarine warfare as well as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.
"We want to be able to perform missions in the maritime domain awareness field, to be able to do port security," he said.
And while the boat is built to work with the LCS, any platform with a crane or a well deck can accommodate it, he said. That means the Navy's amphibious assault ships, as well as a number of the vessels in its combat logistics force, might be good candidates to operate the CUSV. In late 2015, the CUSV deployed out to the Expeditionary Transfer Dock John Glenn off the West Coast as a proof of concept to demonstrate its ability to launch and recover from a new platform.
"That kind of demonstrated the capability of the CUSV to be able to be deployed from a multitude of ships," Prender said. "And we’ll continue to work on how we can expand the capability, not only of the platform, in terms of hosting other payloads and sensors, but how it as a sensor package itself can be employed from larger and other ships."
The Navy's requirements for the CUSV beyond the LCS mine mission remain to be seen. Other elements of the Navy's high-tech mine-hunting package have stumbled--another drone-based program, the remote minehunting system was canceled in 2016 after cost spikes and a congressional inquiry--and decisions have yet to be made on the scope of CUSV's use in the mine countermeasures field.
"Given some of the past experiecnes, we’re all focused on making sure we can do launch and recovery from the LCS and reliability successfully with both variants, that’s where we’re at right now," Prender said. "I think once we're done with that, we’ll have the ability to have conversations about expanding these platforms."