U.S. Navy Alters Large Unmanned Surface Vessel Plans

an unmanned ship sits in the water near shore
A Ghost Fleet Overlord test vessel sits pier-side following a capstone demonstration during the conclusion of Phase I of the program in September 2019. Two existing commercial fast supply vessels were converted into unmanned surface vessels (USVs) for Overlord testing, which will play a vital role in informing the Navy’s new classes of USVs.

The U.S. Navy has modified its Large Unmanned Surface Vessel (LUSV) acquisition plans.  Last year, the service said it would begin buying two LUSVs per year starting in FY21. Those plans have been pushed back, and a detail design and construction contract was delayed from FY21 to FY22.  Rather than award the DD&C contract in FY21, the Navy’s FY21 budget request includes $238.6 million for another two LUSVs based on Ghost Fleet Overlord vessels, which were commercial fast supply vessels modified into USVs.  Two Ghost Fleet ships were also procured in FY20. The Ghost Fleet vessels are used to further study LUSV concepts and technologies, as the Navy is still working out exactly how to incorporate unmanned vessels into its fleet.

The subsequent DD&C contract will result in the delivery of an LUSV prototype as a bridge to building production vessels.  Due to an FY20 congressional mandate, the prototype LUSV will not be outfitted with a vertical launch system.  The Navy hopes to transition to a program of record in FY23, with plans to buy two production LUSVs in each of FY23 and FY24 and three in FY25.  Those seven vessels will be outfitted with combat systems and vertical launch systems, according to FY21 budget documents. The production vessels will be funded through the Navy’s shipbuilding account.  Delivery of production vessels is expected to begin in FY26.

About Shaun McDougall

Shaun McDougall is an analyst at Forecast International covering the U.S. and Canadian defense markets.

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