Surface Warfare Directorate Still Considering Large Combatant Requirement; MUSV RFP Released

July 17, 2019 3:53 PM
Sea Hunter, an entirely new class of unmanned sea surface vehicle developed in partnership between the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), recently completed an autonomous sail from San Diego to Hawaii and back—the first ship ever to do so autonomously. Sea Hunter is part of ONR’s Medium Displacement Unmanned Surface Vehicle (MDUSV) project. US Navy photo.

ARLINGTON, Va. – The new director of surface warfare is still considering what the Navy needs from upcoming manned and unmanned surface ship programs and how to get the best capability for the dollar.

Rear Adm. Gene Black (OPNAV N96), who recently took over the portfolio after serving as the commander of the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group, said his staff “haven’t closed the book” on requirements for the upcoming Large Surface Combatant program as it works through what the Navy needs and how to acquire it.

“It’s a question of how much speed do you need, how much speed can you afford, how much do you want. How much signature are you willing to pay for? What payloads are you going to put in in?” he said while speaking at a local Surface Navy Association chapter event.
“The things I know: I want a big sensor, I need big computing power, and I want some big magazines. Beyond that, we’re not entirely sure.”

“We’ve got Flight III DDG coming, it’s going to be a fantastically capable ship, and that gives us a little bit of room to think through some of these challenges, because this is going to be an expensive ship and we want to be sure we’re coming in with a capability and cost that are a good balance,” he concluded.

On the Medium Unmanned Surface Vehicle – the final request for proposals for which was released Tuesday – Black said he can envision many uses for the MUSV in a highly contested environment but that a lot of experimentation and learning remain before the Navy would field them.

“We’re figuring out how we’re going to use these things, but it’s certainly not going to be that in the next couple years we turn an unmanned vehicle loose on the West Coast and send it off on a mission,” he said.
“There’s a lot of learning that has to go on. I think we need to come to terms with, are these manned, unmanned, optionally manned? When would you man them, when would you not? We’re working through all that and we don’t have any of those answers right now.”

Black, who led the Truman CSG during an unusual deployment that saw both strikes on Syria from the Eastern Mediterranean as well as flight operations from north of the Arctic Circle and within Norwegian fjords, said the utility of something like the MUSV is already apparent to him. During his deployment, where he faced both a constant presence by Russian spy ships and warships as well as challenging weather and traffic conditions, he said having a forward pair of eyes would have been useful.

“If I had had an MUSV at my disposal, I’d have pushed it out in front of me, certainly when I went up into the High North, because it gives me sensors and eyes and connectivity way out in front of the strike group and awareness of what’s going on so that I can decide if I want to go in another direction or do something completely different,” he told USNI News during a question and answer session.
“We’re just now exploring that space. We’ve stood up a Surface Development Squadron out on the West Coast. My guys are partnered up with them. Candidly, we’re going to get some of these things and we’re going to buy them, and I know what I think we’re going to do, but the fact of the matter is the young guys and gals in the audience are going to use them for totally different ways that are much better than any idea that I ever had. So we’re figuring out how we’re going to do it.”

The contents of this week’s final RFP were not publicly available, but Naval Sea Systems Command said in a Tuesday news release that “the MUSV will be a pier-launched, self-deploying modular, open architecture surface vehicle capable of autonomous navigation and mission execution. The development RFP contains options for additional USVs. A full and open competitive procurement will take place in fiscal year (FY) 2019.”

“Accelerating Unmanned Surface Vehicle (USV) and payload development and warfighting integration will provide an inflection point in delivering a more distributed force in support of the National Defense Strategy. The Navy plans to award a contract for a single MUSV prototype in the first quarter of FY20,” the release continues.

The Navy has touted a new acquisition model that relies heavily on industry feedback early on to help accelerate program development, bringing together the requirements, accusation and engineering officers together with industry to talk about what is actually feasible and cost-effective to meet the Navy’s needs. MUSV is among the programs to rely heavily on this early industry feedback.

Alan Baribeau, a NAVSEA spokesman, told USNI News today that a request for information was released on Oct. 17 and received responses from 24 companies.

A draft MUSV Performance Specification was released on Feb. 5 and was based on both American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) commercial specifications and additional military specifications related to autonomy, reliability and government-furnished equipment (GFE) payload integration requirements. Baribeau said the use of commercial specifications supported maximum industry participation and and reaching affordability targets.

The Navy held an industry day on Feb. 12 and 13 with more than 70 companies in attendance and with 37 separate one-on-one engagements during the event to allow the Unmanned Maritime Systems office (PMS 406) within the Program Executive Office for Unmanned and Small Combatants to answer questions and collect feedback, he said.

The draft RFP went out on April 25, with updated specifications based on industry feedback, with another update based on ongoing feedback released June 24.

Throughout this spring, Baribeau said, the program office “has worked with OPNAV N96, SEA05 (NAVSEA’s engineering directorate), [Naval Surface Warfare Center] Carderock Division, PEO Ships, SUPSHIP (Supervisor of Shipbuilding) Gulf Coast, ABS and [the Office of Naval Research] to address the industry feedback and find a balance of commercial specifications with specific military specifications added only where needed for reliability, military payloads, autonomy and sensory perception,” he said.
“Concurrently, PMS 406 coordinated with OPNAV N96 to refine the MUSV Initial Top Level Requirements, revising requirements that were cost drivers (including endurance and payload capacity) while retaining the key characteristics that will provide a platform with military utility.”

The final RFP, Baribeau said, “balances capability and cost.”

USNI News previously reported that the notional requirements included the need to carry a payload equivalent to a 40-foot shipping container, operating on its own for at least 60 days, the ability to refuel at sea, cruising autonomously at 16 knots with a minimum range of 4,500 nautical miles, and communicating via a government-provided communication relay system. The Navy also said then that the MUSV would be between 12 and 50 meters long, or something between the size of an 11-meter rigid hull inflatable boats (RHIBs) and the Cyclone-class patrol craft (PCs).

Baribeau declined to discuss the specifics of this week’s final RFP and whether any of those specifications had been updated.

Megan Eckstein

Megan Eckstein

Megan Eckstein is the former deputy editor for USNI News.

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