Wednesday, August 11, 2021

US Military Turns to Deployment of Autonomous Maritime Assets

Helicopter Landing Barge Kits Tested
Shipping News Feature

US – It seems the future has arrived when it comes to the previously considered science fiction creations of autonomous military hardware. Not in this case robotic soldiers (although these are not unheard of), but the acceptance by the US forces of autonomy in the maritime sphere.

Earlier this year the US Army Engineer Research and Development Center tested its latest research vessel, the Martin, the first full-size, semi-autonomous craft of its kind for the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). The vessel, from Boston based Sea Machines Robotics, was however only a small step on the road to autonomy.

Now Sea Machines has extended its commitment to a multi-year Other Transaction (OT) agreement with the US Department of Defense (DoD)’s Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) to produce the latest stage of works commenced in October 2020 when the DoD contracted it to engineer, build and demonstrate ready-to-deploy system kits that transform existing commercial barges to platforms capable of both landing and replenishing military aircraft autonomously.

The role of the DIU is to uncover, scale and see to the deployment of breaking commercial technology across US military departments with a view to avoiding and solving critical military situations, hopefully before they arise.

The latest budget tranche of $3.1 million covers Phase 2 of the barge program and the kits being prototyped will include Sea Machines’ SM300 autonomous command and control systems. Sea Machines says the kits will increase logistical options via the expansion of shipping capacity. Each modular kit will meet US Navy criteria and will also be in compliance with classifications and regulations from the DOD’s aviation bodies.

This second phase sees the equipment now transitioning from the proof of concept stage to the design and trial stage, bringing the prototype equipment kits to life. Michael Johnson, CEO of Sea Machines commented:

“As a leading developer of autonomous control systems, Sea Machines is bringing innovation and modern design to the DoD. The extension of our contract represents the intersection of traditional sectors, such as government, and the capabilities of autonomous technology. Our extended contract represents the confidence the DoD has in our technology and ability to deliver.

“This program is a perfect example of autonomous technology opening up new operational capabilities and leveraging new technology for operational advantages. Sea Machines is an independent US-made start-up providing real-world high-tech solutions to the United States Department of Defense and competing alongside and with the multi-Billion legacy defense contractors.”

Assisting Sea Machines in the deployment of this project is FOSS Maritime, a leading marine transportation and logistics provider based in Seattle. FOSS is responsible for providing the naval architecture, support engineering, and operations management to outfit a remotely commanded deck barge to land helicopters and host a scaled fuelling station for aircraft, surface vessels, and shore replenishment.