A Seahawk medium displacement unmanned surface vessel participates in U.S. Pacific Fleet’s Unmanned Systems Integrated Battle Problem (UxS IBP) 21, April 21. (US Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Shannon Renfroe)

WASHINGTON — The US Navy is seeking information from industry about imminently available medium unmanned surface vessels it can use for test and evaluation of certain payloads within a year of a contract being awarded, the service said in a June 17 solicitation.

The Navy’s unmanned maritime systems program office “is contemplating an accelerated approach with industry to leverage existing, manned or unmanned surface ship designs that can be modified to enable rapid delivery of an unmanned or optionally unmanned surface ship capability,” according to the notice.

The service defines “medium” USVs as between 45 and 200 feet in length and under 500 tons in displacement. The vessels also must be capable of carrying specific government furnished payloads. (The characteristics of the payloads for the new solicitation are not publicly available.) The June 17 solicitation states the Navy wants vendors capable of providing up to seven MUSVs if requested.

Responses are due by June 28.

The Navy’s interest in readily available MUSVs is significant because the service’s marquee unmanned programs of record have often focused on the exquisite over the widely available. Since 2020, when the service started to redouble its efforts in unmanned technologies, the Pentagon has often struggled to bring programs up to speed as quickly as envisioned, or to convince lawmakers to fully fund their ambitious procurement requests.

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Some of the Navy’s premiere research and development endeavors for medium USVs include Sea Hunter and Sea Hawk, born out of a 2016 DARPA program and later built by Leidos, as well as DARPA’s more recent NOMARS concept, the “No Manning Required Ship” program which selected Serco as its builder in August 2022.

This has led to Navy units, such as Task Force 59, taking the lead with much of the service’s experimentation efforts by striving to integrate a litany of commercially available unmanned vessels and command and control systems in exercises such as Digital Horizons.

The new solicitation also broadly follows the themes of Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks’ Replicator initiative, which seeks to field numerous unmanned vessels at scale in an ambitious two-year time frame.

As for the Navy’s Medium Unmanned Surface Vessel program of record, the service awarded an initial contract to L3Harris back in August 2020, which allows procurement options to be added if funding becomes available, according to the Congressional Research Service [PDF]. However, the service’s current budget request does not show any plans to procure MUSVs within the next five years.