Textron Systems Unmanned Systems not only built flexibility into its Common Unmanned Surface Vehicle (CUSV) hull design but also into its acquisition program, enabling the company to potentially sell some craft to the Navy for the newly assigned mine hunting mission before signing off on a contract for the original mine sweeping mission, a company official said.
The company hopes to sign a low-rate initial production contract with the Navy for the Unmanned Influence Sweep System (UISS) – a CUSV towing a minesweeper – in the third quarter of Fiscal Year 2017, but the Navy may buy CUSVs without the sweeper sooner than that through a separate user evaluation program with rapid development and acquisition authority, Wayne Prender, senior vice president of control and surface systems, told reporters earlier this month.
The Navy identified CUSV as one of three possible solutions to the mine hunting challenge it faces in the Littoral Combat Ship mine countermeasures mission package, and the service hopes to start testing the unmanned vehicle soon to determine if it could be a long-term solution for that capability gap. Prender said he couldn’t talk about the timeline for a CUSV contract to support mine hunting testing and fleet experimentation, but he said it would not be tethered to the more stringent timeline for the UISS, which is governed by standard Defense Department acquisition rules.
“We proposed and the Navy accepted as part of the UISS program a nontraditional critical design review (CDR) philosophy where we drove the design reviews into three different phases: a hull and structure phase, a software phase and a systems phase. That allowed us to begin the build of the vehicle upon completion of the hull and structure CDR earlier than you would traditionally do if you waited for the full system-level CDR to be complete,” Prender said.
The UISS program is more than halfway through its 30-month contract duration, with in-water testing expected in July and delivery expected late this year or early next year. However, since the Pentagon has already signed off on the hull design, Textron and the Navy are looking at flexible contracting options to support user assessments for the CUSV in a mine hunting mission, completely independent of the remaining UISS milestones.
“We’re in the preliminary stages of finalizing those arrangements,” Prender said of a separate CUSV contract
He added that the company’s production line is ready to respond as soon as the Navy is ready to buy more vehicles. Prender said the service already asked Textron for information on production capacity, and “it’s more than suitable to meet what their desired quantities look like. We are building this at the same plant where we build the Ship to Shore Connector down at Slidell, La. And we are leveraging a lot of advanced manufacturing techniques and automated welding technologies. And so there’s a lot of synergies that occur as a result of teaming with our sister company, so we have the ability to produce at-rate to support an expanded mission set beyond just what’s on the horizon for sweeping.”
Prender said the Navy has also expressed interest in buying more CUSVs for mine hunting, not only as a solution for the LCS MCM package but also for expeditionary mine countermeasures off a pier or a platform such as the expeditionary transfer dock USNS John Glenn (T-ESD-2).
“So we continue to lean forward and make sure we’re able to respond to the Navy when they request,” Prender said.
Though the CUSV is only officially on the record as a tow for the minesweeper, Prender said Textron has demonstrated the vehicle’s ability to tow four different payloads: side-scan sonar; mine neutralization; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR); and nonlethal weapons. If the Navy were to buy more vehicles for mine hunting or other missions, “that’s going to really allow the Navy to demonstrate flexibility: the flexible ship concept is very big in the Navy. Multi-payload: so here we have one craft, the CUSV, intended to be used for the sweep mission, also capable with minor changes to support mine hunting and mine neutralization.”