Textron Systems' CUSV demonstrated on Potomac River Test Range

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On March 28, Textron Systems' Common Unmanned Surface Vehicle (CUSV) autonomously conducted maneuvers on the Potomac River Test Range during a demonstration before an audience made up of government, defense contractors, and military personnel.

During the event, Navy and corporate leaders discussed their collaboration to weaponize a CUSV capable of multiple missions.

“The reason we collaborate is because we as a nation find ourselves in a situation where we can no longer take time to deliver capability to our warfighters,” says John Fiore, Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) technical director, during the March 28 event.

“We as a warfare center and you as industry are tasked to make sure our Sailors and Marines can deploy, execute their mission and come home safely to their families and loved ones.”

NSWCDD engineers said that the weapon technologies that they developed will be evaluated for integration with Textron Systems' CUSV to create a “new modular autonomous weapon system” to impact the Fleet's maritime operations.

At this point in time, there is no program or acquisition in place to implement these efforts, being that they are in the early development stages without funding or planning to implement into the Fleet.

“Our first project is what we are calling a Surface and Expeditionary Warfare Mission Module which will consist of our engagement technology paired with our Battle Management System (BMS) controlling a Longbow Hellfire Missile,” says Chris Nerney, NSWCDD technical program manager for Unmanned Systems.

“The idea is a mission package that could slide into the CUSV modular mission bay and provide a direct and indirect fire capability.”

Later this year, the Navy and Textron Systems plan to use a gunfire demonstration to prove the developmental concept that combines direct and indirect fire capability. That will be followed by a live missile shoot, which is scheduled for next year.

“We are creating a modular surface and expeditionary warfare payload with a gun and a missile weapon system to be evaluated for integration onto the common unmanned surface vehicle,” says Kevin Green, NSWCDD technical lead for Ship-to-Shore Precision Engagement Integration and Prototype.

“This payload could enable warfighters to counter fast attack craft and fast inshore attack craft and it could provide ship-to-shore fire support for expeditionary and special operations forces. It also gives us a baseline development effort to operate and perform further research and development.”

Nerney, Green and their Textron Systems collaborators are envisioning how new payloads in the CUSV mission bay could help warfighters in different missions from maritime interdiction and special operations, to surface warfare encounters that include engaging fast attack craft and fast inshore attack craft as well as other threats.

“We're demonstrating the realm of the possible, proof of concept, and leveraging a Textron developmental craft and proven weapon systems with the Hellfire, BMS, and other capabilities,” says Wayne Prender, Textron Systems vice president of Control & Surface Systems.

“Now, we're bringing those technologies together and implementing them in an autonomous way that's unique and new.”

For surface and expeditionary warfare missions, warfighters could use a “modular, plug and play unit” designed to fit the CUSV mission bay. Included in this mission module are sensors for targeting, a weapon station with a gun and a launcher system for missiles. It could provide capabilities to enable a number of missions outlined in the Unmanned Surface Vehicle Master Plan.

NSWCDD engineers are creating the payload in response to guidance outlined in the Navy's recent USV Strategic Roadmap and the Marine Corps Operating Concept. Furthermore, they determined that the USV's mission portfolio could be expanded by weaponizing it with both direct and indirect fire capability. The portfolio could be expanded to include surface warfare, maritime security, and maritime interdiction operations, in addition to special operations forces and expeditionary forces support.

“We are developing automated weapon systems that provide tactically effective automation of the entire kill chain, and we're doing so with minimal dependence on what is usually an unreliable datalink,” Green says.

“Our experience integrating unmanned systems has taught us that the weapon systems must be just as automated as the platforms themselves in order to reduce the number of operators and operate reliably beyond line of sight.”

Specifically, Sailors and Marines could be able to use the Battle Management System to fire missiles and precision guided munitions from the CUSV. The autonomous system would be used for detection, tracking, and direct fire engagement.

“If the decision was made to outfit the CUSV with a variety of payloads, it could be deployed from nearly any large ship and could be deployed in significant numbers from a U.S. Navy ship or a Joint High Speed Vessel type platform to perform a variety of roles,” Nerney says.

“We are focused on the Mine Countermeasures Unmanned Surface Vehicle today because it's the Navy's only program of record unmanned surface vehicle platform.”

Between now and the live fire test, NSWCDD and Textron Systems will collaborate to “rapidly develop and integrate as proofs of concept” a variety of surface and expeditionary warfare payloads for the CUSV to include operations with unmanned air and subsurface vehicles.

“Our partnerships with industry allow us to move fast,” Fiore says. “If you're the one that's going to be giving this capability to warfighters, I want you to be effective in doing that. That's what motivates us and that's why we collaborate. That's why it's so important for us to have you here today with your equipment and have you partnering with us.”

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