Navy, Industry Eager to Develop Bigger Robo-Ships.

Author:Mayfield, Mandy

As the Navy's first mediumsized robotic ship, Sea Hunter, sails the waters off the California coast, its next iteration is being built in a shipyard thousands of miles away in Mississippi.

Construction on Sea Hunter II will be completed by the end of the year, officials at lead contractor Leidos say.

The two robo-ships may be a harbinger of things to come as the Navy uses the prototypes to develop tactics, techniques and procedures and ponders how to integrate them into operations.

In 2017, the Official of Naval Research tasked Leidos to develop Sea Hunter II--an autonomous unmanned surface vehicle--with a $43.5 million contract to build the platform.

Leidos developed the first Sea Hunter under the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. It was christened in 2016 as part of the agency's anti-submarine warfare continuous trail unmanned vessel program.

"Every single decision that has gone into Sea Hunter I and Sea Hunter II was all about redundancy because there would not be a human on there to go change a filter or go flip a switch," said Donnelly Bohan, vice president and division manager of the maritime systems division at Leidos. "We also needed that vessel when it was underway to behave and to be trusted just like a manned ship would behave."

Sea Hunter II is currently under construction at a plant in Gulfport, Mississippi. Leidos has created a "hub" for unmanned surface vessel development in the region, with testing and integration in Long Beach, Mississippi --just a few miles from the Gulfport plant--to produce robotic ships, said Dan Brintzinghoffer, vice president of maritime business development at Leidos.

"We've co-located the development, the hardware integration and the construction of the ship into one location ... in the Gulfport-Long Beach area," he said during a call in March. A subcontractor, United States Marine Inc., is constructing the boat.

Portions of the capability being developed at the Long Beach facility include construction of the interior electronic systems, electrical distribution capabilities and construction of what "houses the brains of the system," Brintzinghoffer noted.

Bohan said Sea Hunter II should be in the water by the end of the year.

The vessel is "well out of the mold," Bohan said. "It was in a mold for about three to four months [and] it is being outfitted right now at our subcontractor." The company is also vying for contracts for the Navy's Medium and Large Unmanned Surface Vehicles, which it...

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