FEATURE | US naval shipbuilder successfully demonstrates coordinated manned and unmanned vessel operations

Photo: Huntington Ingalls Industries

US naval shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII) has successfully demonstrated capabilities enabling HII-built amphibious warships to launch, operate with, and recover HII-built large-diameter unmanned underwater vehicles (LDUUV).

The demonstration’s aim is to test a new mission-critical technology solution that will allow HII’s national security customers, particularly the US Navy, to effectively operate unmanned craft alongside large manned ships during deployments.

HII-built San Antonio-class amphibious transport docks (LPDs) have unique well decks that can be flooded to launch and recover various maritime platforms. The US Navy has previously demonstrated the ability to recover space craft from an amphibious warship well deck. The demonstration also hopes to determine the viability of the San Antonio-class LPDs serving as mothership for unmanned vessels with only minimal modifications.

Results of initial testing

HII’s Advanced Technology Group, comprised of employees from across the company, performed the launch and recovery demonstration with a prototype platform called Pharos and HII’s LDUUV Proteus, which measures 7.8 metres long and is designed to carry a payload totalling 1,630 kilograms. The demonstration took place in the Pascagoula River of Mississippi near the company’s head office.

Photo: Huntington Ingalls Industries

The demonstration involved having the LDUUV approach and be captured by the Pharos cradle, while Pharos was being towed behind a small craft that simulated an amphibious ship at low speed. Pharos was put in a tow position, then using a remote control, it was ballasted down in the trailing position allowing the LDUUV to navigate into cradle. Once the unmanned vehicle was captured, Pharos was deballasted back up into a recovery and transport position.

The demonstration also included ballasting down to launch the LDUUV after the capture.

Compatibility with other vehicles

Pharos is outfitted with heavy duty wheels to allow its transport manoeuvrability within the well deck of an amphibious ship for stowage on the vehicle decks. Pharos can be rolled off the back of an amphibious ship while using the ship’s existing winch capabilities to extend and retract the platform from the well deck, so that the launch and recovery can be performed outside of the well deck itself. The Pharos design is scalable and reconfigurable to fit various unmanned underwater or unmanned surface vehicles.

The partially submerged Pharos cradle prepares to recover the Proteus UUV during the demonstration. (Photo: Huntington Ingalls Industries)

The Pharos design was conducted by HII, and three main partners supported the development. The University of New Orleans, in conjunction with the US Navy, performed the initial model testing, and the prototype device was fabricated by Metal Shark Boats in Louisiana.

HII said it is currently exploring modifications for other UUV’s and participating in live demonstrations with the fleet within the next year. Results from the Pharos demonstration will be used to further mature concepts and continue to develop innovative national security solutions.

Click here for more news stories, feature articles, and vessel reviews as part of this month’s focus on unmanned craft.

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