KEY POINTS

  • DARPA and the U.S. Navy work on a completely unmanned class of ships
  • The project, if successful, it would create a new technological advantage
  • On a separate project, the Navy is working to develop lightly manned warships

The U.S. Navy is working on a project with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to create completely human-free autonomous robo-ships. The concept is called No Mariners Required Ship (NOMARS). If successful, the project would mark an important technological advance over current development efforts to create unmanned surface vessels (USVs). The NOMARS will be able to perform all the dangerous sea missions all by itself.

According to Popular Mechanics, despite a flat defense budget, the Navy aims to grow its fleet and modernize it with USVs. In the next five years there are plans to build ten 200- to 300-foot long Large Unmanned Surface Vehicle ( LUSV) ships, displacing 2,000 tons each. A LUSV would act as a floating magazine, stocking a large number of missiles; or as a scout warship, sailing ahead of the main fleet in order to detect threats. The LUSVs would be optionally manned with a small number of crew members, but ideally they would be autonomous vessels.

The Pentagon's budget for the fiscal year 2020 called for the Navy to procure two LUSVs as part of its ongoing efforts to modernize its fleet, according to Task&Purpose. The service's budget request for the fiscal year 2021 called for the procurement of 17 other unmanned vessels, as well as two additional LUSVs.

The Navy’s LUSVs will be reconfigurable, high-endurance, low-cost ships based on commercial vessel designs. They will come with ample capacity for accomodating various modular payloads, particularly strike payloads (land-attack missiles) and anti-surface warfare (AsuW). The head of the Navy’s Fleet Forces Command directed in January the service's surface force to work on plans for incorporating LUSVs into individual afloat units.

The NOMARS project that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) works with the U.S. Navy aims to create an entirely autonomous ship. The LUSV will still have built-in accommodations for a crew and is based on existing ship designs. However, from the ground up, the NOMARS concept will be an unmanned ship. DARPA works on the Navy’s specifications on ship’s hull size requirements, ship’s capabilities and other factors in order to design a robotic vessel out of them.

As designers could strip out all facilities related for crew habitation, NOMARS will be much smaller than a crewed vessel with similar capabilities. The ship’s living accommodations, bathrooms, recreation room, mess, hallways, combat information center and bridge would all become redundant. This would dramatically shrink the size of the unmanned vessel.