U.S. Navy Considers Arming its Drone Boats
American defense contractor Textron announced Tuesday that it has signed a study agreement with the U.S. Navy to examine ways to arm the Common Unmanned Surface Vehicle (CUSV) platform.
The CUSV, also known as the "Fleet-class" unmanned boat, is a 40-foot launch originally designed to support the mine countermeasurers mission of the Littoral Combat Ship. It was built to tow a minesweeping array to detonate classes of mines that listen for the audio and electromagnetic signatures of large vessels. However, it also has a large on-board payload bay, and Textron will now work with the Navy to design variants that are equipped with surface warfare equipment like small missiles, target designators or remotely operated weapons stations.
The CUSV has an endurance of about 20 hours, a range of up to 1,200 nm and can operate in conditions up to sea state 6. It can achieve speeds of up to 35 knots. At present, the U.S. Navy has ordered several models for testing and research purposes, and if it proceeds with full-scale acquisition, Textron could receive up to $120 million for a production run to equip the LCS fleet.
Like the LCS itself, CUSV was designed to a modular standard. It has a payload bay that can carry up to 5,000 pounds of gear and can be reconfigured for different missions, including a manned configuration if needed. If the new study is successful, the CUSV platform could be re-tasked for surface warfare missions when required.
An armed drone boat for the U.S. Navy would not be a world first. The Israeli, Mexican and Singaporean navies already operate Rafael Systems' Protector surface vehicle, which can be fitted with a water cannon, a machine gun or the Spike surface-to-surface missile system.