USNS Apalachicola, the largest autonomous capability surface ship in the United States Navy, has been delivered by Austal Limited this week.
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The expeditionary fast transport (EPF) ship presents a major advance in independent systems for the fleet, with the ability to conduct up to 30 days of operation without human intervention.
Austal USA partnered with L3Harris and General Dynamics Mission Systems to add automated maintenance, health monitoring, and mission readiness systems to the design, and included existing automated hull, mechanical, and electrical systems from Spearhead Class transport ships.
Automated features such as the machinery control system are centralised on the bridge of the vessel.
Austal Limited chief executive officer Paddy Gregg said the delivery of EPF 13 demonstrates a capability to integrate autonomous technology into proven hull designs and create effective unmanned surface vessels.
“It’s very exciting to see this advanced autonomous technology from our partners at L3Harris and General Dynamics Mission Systems working so well in our proven Austal hull design; to become what is now the US Navy’s largest surface ship with autonomous capability,” Gregg said.
“EPF 13 can operate for up to 30 days without human intervention, which opens up so many opportunities for unmanned missions in various operations, as an autonomous prototype.”
The vessel completed five sea trials during 2022 to 2023, and is the first EPF ship to be delivered to the Navy with support for V-22 Osprey tiltrotor flight operations. It can also launch and recover 11-metre rigid-hull inflatable boats.
Austal USA president Rusty Murdaugh said the company is also working with L3Harris on a machinery control system upgrade of Overlord vessels, Mariner, and partnering with Saildrone to manufacture Surveyor unmanned surface vehicles.
“Austal USA is proud to deliver this ship to our Navy, it’s innovative and is going to be a critical asset as unmanned capabilities continue to push boundaries and redefine how missions are achieved,” he said.
“A lot of capability is being delivered to our warfighters with this ship and I’m incredibly proud of our team of shipbuilders.”