Lockheed Martin tapped to design large autonomous ships for US Navy

The United States Navy has tapped Lockheed Martin to study the potential for large autonomous ships that will be able to operate for long periods of time at sea without any human crew members. The company is now the main contractor behind the US Navy's Large Unmanned Surface Vessel (LUSV) competition, joining multiple other companies in working toward the eventual development and launch of a large autonomous ship.

An autonomous ship is exactly what it sounds like — a vessel that operates on water without any humans on board, sparing people the drudgery and dangers that come with long-term and hazardous missions. We've already seen a number of aerial and land-based autonomous vehicles, as well as some examples of autonomous watercraft, but thus far the US Navy has not deployed a large unmanned ship for missions.

On September 17, Lockheed Martin announced that it will serve as the Navy's prime LUSV contractor, and as such will manage the LUSV program, as well as delivering platform integration, systems engineering, automation, combat management, and cyber technologies for the program. The Navy is specifically seeking a relatively low-cost ship that will be 'low-risk,' according to Lockheed's Small Combatants and Ship Systems VP Joe DePietro, who said:

The Lockheed Martin team brings together nearly 200 years of combined experience in shipbuilding, integration, automation and autonomy. Our team is energized by and focused on delivering the Navy what they've asked for – a design for an affordable, low-risk ship capable of bringing the Navy's Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO) vision to life.

The company explained in its announcement last week that it will base its design around a 'proven commercial ship,' one that will be adapted to include autonomy and automation features, as well as the necessary cybersecurity tech to keep it and its payloads secure. The company has been given $7 million and 12 months to move ahead with this phase of the program, one that will, ultimately, result in automated ships capable of 'more lethal force' and less crew risk.