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Navy gives initial green light for first unmanned surface vehicle to join the fleet

Textron’s Common Unmanned Surface Vehicle is part of the Navy’s UISS effort. (Courtesy of Textron)

WASHINGTON: The Navy has for the first time cleared a major acquisition milestone on an unmanned surface vessel (USV), giving it the formal green light to begin operating in the fleet.

The vessel in question is the Unmanned Influence Sweep System (UISS), a crucial piece of technology packaged as part of the Navy’s suite of systems designed for mine countermeasures. The ship, small enough to deployed from a Littoral Combat Ship, reached “initial operational capability,” or IOC, on July 22, the Navy said late last week.

The program achieving IOC means the USV, accompanying sonar and other associated technology has been through testing, and the Navy has “trained crews… we have logistics setup, all of which are what makes IOC so important,” Rear Adm. Casey Moton told reporters today. “It’s just a huge milestone to get that done for our first” unmanned surface vessel.

Moton, a senior Navy officer overseeing the program, added that UISS, alongside the other pieces of technology that make up the Littoral Combat Ship’s mine countermeasures mission package (MCM MP), will together undergo a broader initial operational test and evaluation later this year. That milestone is separate and distinct from the IOC declaration last week because it will determine if the other capabilities separate from UISS can successfully work together.

“Over the years, the program has worked tirelessly to mature and field the UISS system that will keep the Navy’s most valuable asset, our sailors, safer by keeping them out of the minefield. With this declaration, the program is inching closer toward system-wide IOC for the MCM MP,” Capt. Godfrey Weekes, also a Navy official overseeing UISS, said in a July 28 statement.

More broadly, the fielding of the mission package allows the service to begin the sundown of the MH-53E helicopters that, in conjunction with its Avenger-class mine countermeasures ships, have taken on the MCM mission for decades.

Earlier this year, the service awarded Bollinger Shipyards the production contract for MCM USV, a surprising win given that Textron Systems built the Common USV that informed much of the program’s experimentation.

The IOC declaration also follows a highly critical March 2022 report from the Pentagon’s chief weapons testers who found significant problems with both UISS and its launch and recovery equipment when auditors observed the craft.

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