Home » Budget Industry » U.S. Navy, Textron to Weaponize Unmanned Craft for Surface Warfare


U.S. Navy, Textron to Weaponize Unmanned Craft for Surface Warfare

Common Unmanned Surface Vehicle. Textron photo.

The Navy is working on adding a number of anti-surface weapons to an unmanned surface vehicle that so far has been used as a passive platform for mine countermeasures.

According to a Tuesday statement from Textron, Naval Sea Systems Command and the company have entered into a study agreement to weaponize the Common Unmanned Surface Vehicle (CUSV) for a surface warfare role.

The brief statement from the company said NAVSEA had signed a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with Textron “ to develop and integrate surface warfare payloads onto the Common Unmanned Surface Vehicle (CUSV).”

The statement said “payloads will include various missiles, designators, sensors, and remote weapon stations.”

Initially, the CUSV was developed as part of the Littoral Combat Ship’s mine countermeasure package to tow the Unmanned Influence Sweep System (UISS). The UISS is designed to emit signals that would cause influence mines – mines triggered by sound or nearby electromagnetic signatures – to detonate.

Last spring, the Navy signed a contract with Textron to buy two additional CUSV systems for mine hunting tests, adding to the USV’s role within the mine countermeasures portfolio. Wayne Prender, senior vice president of control and surface systems, told USNI News that he was confident in the unmanned boat’s ability to conduct missions beyond minesweeping and beyond mine countermeasures altogether, saying “the ability to do that is because of the design of the CUSV – that open modular payload bay, the flexible open architecture that the system is built off of.”

Based on the news release, it’s unclear the types of weapons the CUSV could field. While some of the larger anti-surface missiles could be too large for the USV’s 14-foot-long, 6-foot-wide and 3.5-foot-high payload space, it could act as a forward targeting node for larger ships. It could also field smaller missiles the Navy intends to use for small boat anti-surface warfare like the AGM-114L Longbow Hellfire missile. The service will use a vertically launched Hellfire for its Littoral Combat Ship surface warfare mission package.

The CUSV, slightly larger than the service’s 11-meter rigid hull inflatable boats, could also field remotely operated weapon systems like a 30mm autocannon the Navy uses to protect against swarm boat threats in the LCS surface warfare package.

While the U.S. has been at the forefront of weaponizing unmanned aerial vehicles, largely through the Air Force’s strike capability in its fleet of General Atomics MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted vehicles, Singapore and Israel have been leaders in lethal unmanned surface platforms for port security and force protection missions.

Rafael Protector SV ‘Death Shark’ USV. Rafael Photo

Both countries use the Rafael Protector SV USV – also known as the “Death Shark” – that is equipped with electro-optical and infrared sensors and can field a .50 caliber machine gun, a grenade launcher or a Gatling gun. Singapore has actively used the Protector for patrol missions since 2005.

Like Israel, the U.S. could use an armed CUSV for patrol missions in places like the Persian Gulf to supplement the aging fleet of Cyclone-class patrol craft operating in U.S. 5th Fleet.

“[Unmanned] makes sense for missions that take an extreme amount of time, manpower intensive and can dull human senses,” Eric Wertheim, author of U.S. Naval Institute’s Combat Fleets, told USNI News on Tuesday.

  • Rob C.

    A LCS isn’t a PT Boat. That’s this vessel intended for.
    I’m being cynic don’t like Drone anything. I hope the Navy and the defense apartment put a lot effort that the CUSV and others like it aren’t HACKED. No one invincible cybernetically. I know it’s risky to have man on the boat, but like those guys (including me) we didn’t join service for pleasure cruise.

    It’s harder to use Laptop take over someone driving a ship that meant for humans run as long it’s not too automated.

    • While unmanned comes with drawbacks it also has advantages – no fatigue and expendability being the largest. You could deploy one of these boats for a week long surveillance mission or use it as a scout in high threat areas. Also, I will remind you that just recently two manned small boats were captured.

      • @USS_Fallujah

        Also, while not be truly expendable, you would be willing to send one into a far higher threat area then you could a manned system.

    • Duane

      A CUSV won’t surrender to the Iranians when they intercept and point AK-47s at them. Or start crying while in custody. Nor make spot decisions on whether it’s their job (or not) to decide if a shootout with Iranians is a good or bad thing to do, and then give up the ship without a fight contrary to the Naval code of conduct in order to “avoid a war”. A CUSV is highly unlikely to get lost in the first place, because it doesn’t know what it’s doing, or fails to maintain a plot.

      • NavySubNuke

        Excellent point — after all the US has never had an unmanned object be recovered by Iran right? There hasn’t even been video from Iran of an advanced, and at that point still classified, UAV that (according to the Iranians at least) they were able to jam the control system of while simultaneously spoofing the GPS so that they could induce it to land in their territory.
        Such a drone capture just isn’t possible in the imaginary world of fleet admiral Duane.

        • Duane

          Your point is pointless, as usual. You’re talking about unmanned vessels that are unarmed and don’t fight back. This post is about armed unmanned vessels that certainly do fight back. You whiffed yet again in your inability to comprehend the written word or to stick on topic.

          Unmanned vessels do not put a human being, or a crew of them, at risk, and they do not suffer from the weaknesses of human beings either, as I pointed out. That makes them highly useful in certain applications. Not as a replacement for manned warships, but as a highly useful supplement to manned warships.

          • NavySubNuke

            LOL. Yes Duane – the idea that someone could jam the control signal to this craft and then spoof its location to make it think it is somewhere it is not is completely pointless and off topic.
            After all if the Iranians are able to convince the ship it has safely made it back to home port or that it has washed ashore on a public beach it would of course use all the weapons at it’s disposal to defend itself should they try to board right? The Navy will of course program its unmanned vessels to engage first with a machine gun and only then ask questions right????
            Nice try Duane but once again your willful ignorance, fragile ego, and complete lack of personal integrity are steering you wrong.

          • Duane

            LOL yourself. Of course, nobody anywhere in the US Navy or in DOD ever ever thought for one microsecond that jamming of comms with unmanned vessels, vehicles, or aircraft would ever ever ever be a concern.

            You remind me of POTUS who declared, last year in the middle of the GOP’s unsuccessful effort to repeal ObamaCare, “WHO KNEW that health care could be so complicated?” Apparently because Trump never thought about that prior to running for President, he assumed nobody else had ever thought about it either.

            Birds of a feather.

            Yes, Virginia, there really is a plan do deal with potential jamming of comms with USVs and UAVs. Most of it is highly classified, of course.

          • NavySubNuke

            Ah so now the idea of the comms being jammed is not only relevant and on topic but of course there is a highly classified plan to deal with the potential of it occurring.
            That is rather funny considering 7 hours ago such a consideration was pointless.
            Thanks for admitting yet again that your willful ignorance caused you to make yet another completely inaccurate statement even if your fragile ego and complete lack of personal integrity mean you can’t admit it.
            You really are a piece of gutter trash Duane – but at least you are an entertaining piece of gutter trash!

          • Duane

            You just can’t get over what it’s like to converse with someone who is based in real world understanding and cites well known facts that happen to collide with your alternative facts.

          • NavySubNuke

            Sure Duane – well known “facts” —- that is why you have to constantly change your story.

        • RedStatePatriot

          Only because it was programed to land in Iran…. they did NOT spoof anything to induce that drone. But nonetheless, the 2 cases you are discussing are not nearly the same.

          • NavySubNuke

            Interesting accusation – who programmed the drone to land in Iran and why?

          • RedStatePatriot

            Well the CIA admitted that they had programed the drone to land at the nearest airstrip if it lost guidance, and it did exactly as it was told at the time. It landed at the nearest, which was in Iran. OK that sounds very stupid… but that’s exactly what was done. I have no idea who was that stupid, it almost sounds as if it was given away on purpose. So you tell me why they programed it the way they did, and after it landed the President (Obama) order the military NOT to destroy it. So in other words it was basically a “gift” to Iran by the former administration. I am hardly a conspiracy type, but hey those are the facts, you tell me why?

          • NavySubNuke

            If that is true – and it certainly sounds plausible – it sounds like a code artifact left over from testing rather than some nefarious plot to hand over the drone to Iran (and by extension Russia and China).

          • RedStatePatriot

            Let me be clear I am NOT saying it was done on purpose (although that is a possibility), it seems almost impossible that no one on the development team would have had the forethought to tell the drone to “return to its base” to land. Communications to the drone might have been blocked due to jamming, but since the drone was able to locate a base and land clearly it still had GPS or inertial navigation and could have found its way home if properly programed,

            I tried to post a link to one of the numerous articles that were published after this happened documenting that the drone landed on its own at the Iranian base, but of course this sight would not allow me to post the link.

          • Secundius

            “Curvature of the Earth”, which is ~10.6nmi. Small Aerial Drones operate between 2.4GHz and 5.8GHz, “FM” Frequency. The Gyrodyne QH-50 DASH (Drone Anti-Submarine Helicopter) from 1959 to 1963, communicated of FM Frequency. Once the DASH flew past the LOS distance to the Horizon, communications link was LOST. And the DASH simply crashed into the sea…

          • NavySubNuke

            Very annoying. I knew about it landing after the control signal was lost. But I’d always heard the GPS was spoofed at the same time they interrupted the control signal which is what made it land at an Iranian base rather than a leftover code artifact.

    • RobM1981

      Nobody talks about hacking, or at least not seriously, but it’s in the news constantly – for good reason.

      The latest chip-level “exploitation” is a big deal.

      Self driving cars, planes, etc. are all vulnerable to this, as are these drones.

      Unlike a hot war, the cyber war happens in the shadows – and it is active even in times of peace.

      Who knows what the first day of a serious war would look like. Will satellites go offline? Will planes crash, fooled into thinking that they aren’t flying into mountains?

      We in the public have no need to know the measures and counter measures being deployed, but a healthy skepticism of handing the keys to a weapon over to NOMAD, or V’Ger, or HAL appears to be wise.

  • Duane

    Dream on.

    The LCS has proven to be an extremely valuable developmental test bed for several of the latest and greatest naval warfighting technologies and weapons systems that are in turn being adapted, after proving on the LCS, to other ship types including DDGs and amphibs and even the Ford CVNs. The CUSV is just one of several including the MQ-8B and C (now used for remote sensing to provide long range targeting data for anti-ship missiles; and remote fires of Hellfire missiles against both surface craft and aircraft), and adaptation of the Naval Strike Missile for OTH missile fires, being much improved over the old antiquated Harpoons in use on DDGs; and modularization of the MCM package which is now being adapted to auxiliaries and even CGs and DDGs; and the SeaRam Block 2 anti-missile system,, now being adapted to the Ford CVNs and the Arleigh Burke Flight IIIs as well as amphibs.

    • WhiskeyTangoFoxtrot

      Where would we be without the vaulted and mighty Bar None Litoral Combat Ship Development Test Bed or BNLCSDTB for short. We simply wouldn’t know anything about naval warfare, we simply would know anything about shooting down enemy aircraft or missiles, we wouldn’t have a clue about finding and prosecuting enemy subs. We woudn’t have learned the highly valuable lesson of welding a Harpoon launcher to a barge and calling it a warship. We wouldn’t have learned that all you need to defeat enemy warship is a ‘module’ of 30mm machine guns and a 20 foot RHIB. Heck, we wouldn’t even have a Navy. Just imagine an entire Navy made up of BNLCSDTB ships-they would be unstopable, they would swept the Chinese navy in a matter of hrs, they would sink the Russian navy without breaking a sweat, they would stand almighty as the greatest developmental test bed ever-BAR NONE! I salute you Fleet admiral, your logic is impeccible and your reasoning beyond reproach-no one can argue against you, not even God himself. Bravo Zulu, I present you with the Medal of Lockmart Keyboard Warrior (with mayo and relish). Wear it proudly.

      • NavySubNuke

        Fleet Admiral Duane once told me that the only reason, the ONLY reason, the Navy was even developing unmanned mine countermeasures systems was because of LCS.
        It was only once the Navy developed them for LCS, and ONLY because of LCS, that they realized they could use those SAME systems on other ships too and thus save the lives of other sailors not just the mighty warriors of the little crappy ships.
        It really is impressive the nonsense that he can spew thanks to his willful ignorance, fragile ego, and complete lack of personal integrity.

        • Hey, LCS carries a bunch of UMLCS’s and they we’ll have manned and unmanned little crappy ships., who knew. Be sure to puke to the lee side shipmates.

    • NavySubNuke

      “The LCS has proven to be an extremely valuable developmental test bed for several of the latest and greatest naval warfighting technologies and weapons systems ”
      Did you honestly type that with a straight face?
      I mean I realize that your life is ruled by your willful ignorance, fragile ego, and complete lack of personal integrity but that is a bit much even for you.

      • Duane

        The facts write themselves. Go on, look’em up (some of them are written right here in this post that we are commenting on, and which you obviously didn’t read …. the rest are contained in the archives of USNI, or you can do a google search and find thousands of media posts about the developmental technologies that have been part of the LCS program since the beginning, through it’s evolution after “Distributed Lethality” became the Navy’s current strategy), and then come back with a straight face and try to say that the facts aren’t the facts.

        • NavySubNuke

          See Duane – that is part of the problem —- I have read the facts, the actual facts that is and not your ignorant ramblings and lies.
          That is why I can, with a completely straight face and a clear conscience, point out that your comments are based on your willful ignorance, fragile ego, and complete lack of personal integrity and are not, in any way, based on the truth.

          • Duane

            You didn’t even read this post, dude, as is obvious from your comment and your position (this post is about using the LCS-derived MCM asset the CUSV as an armed USV that can be adapted to any warship), so it is obvious to all here that you don’t read or comprehend anything but from within your anti-LCS bubble.

          • NavySubNuke

            ** Pats Duane on the head ** Nice assumption bout me not reading this post —
            but as is the case with almost every statement you make this one is also wrong.
            Nice try though.

  • waveshaper1

    These unmanned boats will be great for missions like making booze runs from Kuwait to Bahrain and you wont have to worry about the Iranians capturing the crew when it strays off course.

  • leroy

    Hmmm … I see a lot of applications for 3D printing here, including the entire hull and major sub-structures. We need to advance the technology and lower costs so, hopefully the Navy will take advantage of it via contracting with builders who have the necessary machines and expertise. And it had better reflect in the purchase price. Go for it!

  • leroy

    They need to put some kind of drone on these things to increase the range of its sensors. Not necessarily fixed-wing though that would help. A design along the lines of DARPA’s Vertical Take Off And Landing Combat Drone. Small, a camera, perhaps some sort of small radar package. Unarmed at first, but maybe later … some sort of SDB, SACM, Griffin. Could even be controllable via P-8A, E-2D, SH-60, as well as surface ships. The sky’s the limit!

  • leroy

    Put some self-destruct explosives on it so some Yemeni or Iranian, Russian or Chinese, North Korean hijackers (Seajackers? Pirates?) can’t fish it out of the water and steal it. You know the attempt is gonna be made. Just let the world know – unauthorized personnel BEWARE. Nothing like C4 for deterrent effect! Make sure it has a good failsafe so our people handling it can never get hurt.

  • Ed L

    Wonder on easy it will be for someone extremely talented hacker to take control of it.

    • NavySubNuke

      It’s all fun and games until someone uses a zero-day to take over the robot and start machine gunning the beach at Amity island to take out the giant shart.
      Or something like that.

      • Paul 2

        You’re gonna need a bigger drone boat.

      • D. Jones

        “Giant shart”

  • kye154

    Funny how the navy has come out with drone boats, after the Iranians did, who tried theirs out against a Saudi Frigate. Wonder how much the military contractor’s charged the Navy for it? Several million or billions? I am sure the Iranians paid nowhere near that price.for something like this, that is expendable.

    The 5 foot long, Radio Control model of the USS Newport News (CA-148), although smaller, is much more impressive than this toy speed boat. It would probably do significant damage to a ship with 10 pounds of Octanitrocubane, or HMX, or Semtex loaded in it. (If you may recall, Just 1/2 pound of Semtex alone took out Pan Am Flight 103). Now, if they can only come up with a full scale model of the Newport News,for the costs that they charged for these toy boats,, with real automatic 8 inch, 5 inch, and 3 inch guns, it would put the fear of god in the enemy. And that would be fun to watch in action.

    • Duane

      We’ve been developing and deploying surface vessel drones for many years, as well as subsurface drones, able to operate semi-autonomously and even fully autonomously to perform a wide variety of tasks, both ISR and warfighting. They are not toys. The CUSV is part of the world’s first and only unmanned Mine Countermeasures system, involving unmanned vehicles (surface vessel and aircraft) for all mine countermeasures tasks, thus not risking the lives of crewmen on minesweepers. Most nations that have had manned minesweepers lost many of them to the mines they’re intended to sweep.

    • Secundius

      “Fear of God” Maybe! But with the Current US Congress, the Idea of a “Des Moines” class Heavy Cruiser would NEVER be Funded…

    • John Locke

      “Fear of God” is not a universal concept. Certainly the 9/11 hijackers did not fear meeting their god. The bad guys do what they do despite any method available to kill them. A WWII-like cruiser would just be another target for them.

    • RedStatePatriot

      Your comment is the type that children made. If you think the Iranians are ahead of the US in ANY technology then you sir are a ________ ! These are not just some silly RC toys the US Navy is developing. But then again you seem about as smart as an Iranian drone maker.

  • Paul 2

    Wait until the first international incident with one.. and they call it a “research vessel.”

    Ya. A research vessel with small missiles and a remote op 50 cal.

    • RedStatePatriot

      No one is calling it a “research vessel”.

      • Paul 2

        They will. They will the first time something happens.

        • RedStatePatriot

          No they won’t it is clearly an ARMED ship under the control of a Ship of War… you are literally making things up.

  • El Kabong

    Cue the USNI’s resident LCS cheerleader…. Oh look!
    Duaney’s here…

  • El Kabong

    All blather, all the time.

    Duane-TV

  • El Kabong

    Yup – No facts on Duane-TV.

  • PolicyWonk

    So we’ll be playing catch-up with the Israelies in the arming of the proverbial Boston Whaler! We could use these to protect the “littoral combat dry docks” that’ll have to follow the ultra-high maintenance “littoral combat water-skiing barges” that sink like rocks in war games!

    • Secundius

      Frigate version or the “Freedom” is expected to have a “Screw Drive” hybrid propulsion system. Not sure about the “Indy”…

      • PolicyWonk

        If you look at “Breaking Defense”, there’s a picture of the model of the proposed frigate variant submitted by Lockmart (based presumably on the LCS Freedom class).

        The Harpoon boxes look like they were bolted on as an afterthought…

        • NavySubNuke

          Well if they carefully and fully integrated them into the design it would just expose even more a waste of time and money the littoral “combat is only a name” ships are….

        • Secundius

          As I recall that what Mk.141 Lightweight 4-Pack Launchers ARE! Bolt-On’s…

          • PolicyWonk

            Well, they sure will crank up the RCS on an otherwise stealthier design… Even mounting them behind a stealthy cowling would be better than the bolt on in a random place on deck approach.

          • Secundius

            It seems to me that Not a Lot of the Frigate/Freedom design is “Stealthy”! From the Exposed Enclosed RHIB Davit Ports to the Bring Wings. Not knowing what the Stern View IS, probably More Non-Stealthy features…

          • PolicyWonk

            Fair enough – but even the Burkes are comparatively stealthy – they actually managed to reduce the RCS considerably, even on what is a fairly old (yet effective) design. I would expect they’d use a lot of the same techniques for the frigate…

  • John Locke

    One small low yield HPM burst can ruin your day.

  • D. Jones

    These bobbing drones will strike more terror into the hearts of evildoers than the LtlCS*

    *Less-than-lethal Combat Ship

  • D. Jones

    Want to unnerve the bad guys?

    Put an R2-D2 or two on a Remotely-piloted semi-submersible. Super-low radar sig if you stealth out the housing. Float that puppy in to the midst of the evil-doers, flip the switch and let it do its thing.

    For more enjoyment, make a fully-sealed, auto-surfacing variant. Put it in a humpier-backed variant of the Carter. Pop it up in the middle of whoever is misbehaving. Heck it could even be a tethered buoy config. Surface, shred, recover after enemy is done burning.

    Could make a bunch of em instead of frittering away gazillions on the Littoral Combat Target.