Home » News & Analysis » PEO LCS Looks To Take Ownership Of ACTUV Surface Vehicle in 2018


PEO LCS Looks To Take Ownership Of ACTUV Surface Vehicle in 2018

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency tests its Sea Hunter unmanned vehicle -- the technology demonstration vessel it designed, developed and built through its anti-submarine warfare continuous trail unmanned vessel program, or ACTUV -- in Portland, Ore., prior to an April 7 commissioning ceremony. DARPA photo.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency tests its Sea Hunter unmanned vehicle — the technology demonstration vessel it designed, developed and built through its anti-submarine warfare continuous trail unmanned vessel program, or ACTUV — in Portland, Ore., prior to an April 7 commissioning ceremony. DARPA photo.

The Program Executive Office for Littoral Combat Ships hopes to take the helm of the Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) program and test it not only as a remote vehicle that conducts missions in tandem with the LCS but also as a host platform to launch other unmanned vehicles far from the manned ships controlling them, the PEO’s executive director told USNI News.

ACTUV was developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and handed over to the Office of Naval Research this year for additional testing. Though its name highlights the anti-submarine warfare mission, it could also be important to the Navy’s mine countermeasures mission, Nidak Sumrean said after speaking at the American Society of Naval Engineers’ Launch and Recovery 2016 conference last week.

“It wouldn’t be launched and recovered off of an LCS, but it would play with an LCS in the sense that it could be controlled and operated from an LCS or a pier or a shore facility,” he said.
“Right now we’re working with ONR, based on the testing that’s ongoing, what would be the natural progression of testing from … ASW, mining and any kind of launching and recovering of other systems off of the unmanned system, if you will – so it could be like a host platform for other systems to be launched and recovered. So we haven’t figured out which systems would be on there, so the roadmap that we set up for ourselves is basically, first kind of operate it and see its capability envelope, and then be able to put some of the sensors that we currently own – CUSV (Common Unmanned Surface Vehicle), Knifefish, some of the other ones – on there and see how they could potentially operate.”

The unmanned vehicle, which PEO LCS is calling the Medium Displacement Unmanned Surface Vehicle, could even operate with unmanned systems outside the PEO LCS portfolio. For example, Sumrean said the PEO hoped to test whether MDUSV could launch a Large Diameter Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (LDUUV), which has previously been associated with launching from a Virginia-class attack submarine.

Sumrean said he needs the chief of naval operations’ warfare systems directorate (OPNAV N9) to budget money for the program transition from ONR to the PEO’s Unmanned Maritime Systems program office (PMS 406), which would hopefully happen in the Fiscal Year 2018 budget.

The MDUSV could have a wide range of applications for the broader surface ship community and is being viewed as a “ship of opportunity,” Sumrean said. PEO LCS hopes it could eventually take on offensive mining and other missions as “another host platform, since it is larger than a typical unmanned surface vehicle.” But other ship types may have a use for this kind of unmanned vehicle, he said. The fleet has already sent ONR several ideas for how to use ACTUV that are informing test plans, Sumrean said, and after the transition those ideas would go to PEO LCS for consideration.

“If the pull is enough, maybe we can build a fleet of those MDUSVs and we would be the PEO to procure those” for broader Navy use, he said.

The first of class littoral combat ships USS Freedom (LCS 1), rear, and USS Independence (LCS 2) maneuver together during an exercise off the coast of Southern California on May, 2 2012. US Navy Photo.

The first of class littoral combat ships USS Freedom (LCS 1), rear, and USS Independence (LCS 2) maneuver together during an exercise off the coast of Southern California on May, 2 2012.
US Navy Photo.

Additionally, PEO LCS is preparing for the completion of the LCS ship hull and the transition into the frigate design. Defense Secretary Ash Carter last year called for the 52-ship small surface combatant program to be truncated at 40, with PEO LCS down selecting from two shipbuilders to one by 2019, according to Carter’ plan. USNI News understands that the Navy’s current force structure assessment – to replace a 2014 FSA that calls for 308 ships, including 52 small surface combatants – is likely to call for a larger fleet and potentially more small surface combatants. Additionally, President-Elect Donald Trump has expressed interest in a 350-ship fleet that would almost certainly have to include a greater number of LCS/frigates.

Sumrean said the PEO has requested enough information from its two shipbuilders that it can do whatever the next administration asks of it. In the first step of a two-step process of contracting the frigate transition, request for proposals has already been sent out to Austal USA and Lockheed Martin, asking for pricing for a block buy of “up to 14” LCS ships, he said. Responses are expected back in the second or third quarter of FY 2017, with the current plan being to hold a straight price shootout, with the lower bidder receiving a greater profit – much like the DDG-51 two-yard competition.

“Once we get pricing from both yards on LCSs, which we know what it costs today, then the question is what is it going to take to take those LCSs to a frigate,” he said.
“And so that RFP will go out later in the 4th quarter of [FY 2017] and the proposals will come in in ‘18 – middle of ‘18, late ‘18 – and we’ll evaluate those.”

“We’re getting pricing from both yards, so that gives us the option to either downselect or, if we want to, continue with both, whichever path the leadership decides they want,” he said. “We could execute either path.”

Sumrean noted some uncertainty in the LCS/frigate vendor base, due to Carter’s decision to downselect and truncate the program. However, he said he is optimistic about the program’s role going forward, due to its size and its ability to launch and recover a range of unmanned vehicles.

“I think an LCS-sized frigate has a role in that” future fleet the FSA will outline, he said.
“If you’re a platform that can handle unmanned, obviously you’re going to be playing well in that mix.”

  • DaSaint

    Let me see: Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes, & Alabama’s 9 electoral votes went to…I’m betting that they continue with the two distinct hull-forms.

  • Aubrey

    To quote a man I respect:

    LCS delende est.

    • Lazarus

      You mean, to quote a person who is out of touch with reality. LCS was designed around support for unmanned systems like the ACTUV. It is an ideal platform for controlling multiple unmanned vehicles including larger ones like ACTUV. Conventional warships are too burdened with the nominal missions to engage in dedicated control of unmanned units.

      • Ctrot

        In other words “LCS isn’t fit for anything else, at least it can do this!”

        • old guy

          “ELSE” is superfluous.

      • Guest

        As the Navy’s first purpose-designed Network Enabled Combatant – with the least robust communications suite of any surface warship – how is LCS ideal for controlling multiple unmanned vehicles? Certain individual vehicles consume half its already inadequate array of radios.

  • Western

    Give a few of these to the Coasties, and see what they can do with the drug lanes coming up from Central America.

  • tpharwell

    Good that they are looking to absorb a whole other shipbuilding program, after having been told to cut their’s in half. Great chutzpah.

  • NavySubNuke

    We considering how well the LCS mission modules are coming along — over weight, late, and far far over budget — their tender loving care should make sure nothign comes of this program.
    Too bad as this program has some interesting possibilities that could be more fully developed if it were given over to capable hands.

  • old guy

    Well, it’s out. The submarine wake tracker we worked on in the BTI program, in 1977, will finally see the light of day (if not submerged.). It was called RUTH
    (Remote Underwater Tracking Hub), named for the biblical saying, “Wither thou goest I go?’ Now, we can get a satellite surface wake tracker operational. (if we don’t have it, already.) but why tie it to a loser like LCS?

  • Robert

    Somebody needs acronym lessons. ACTUV? LDUUV? MDUSV? CUSV? Seriously?