Austal delivers US Navy’s largest autonomous ship

Perth shipbuilder Austal has delivered Expeditionary Fast Transport USNS Apalachicola (EPF 13, pictured) to the United States Navy – the largest surface ship in the fleet with autonomous capability.

Building upon the highly automated hull, mechanical and electrical systems already installed on the Spearhead-class Expeditionary Fast Transport ships, designed by Austal Australia, the Austal USA team in partnership with L3Harris and General Dynamics Mission Systems added automated maintenance, health monitoring, and mission readiness.

This provides EPF 13 with the capability to conduct up to 30 days of operation without human intervention.

Austal Chief Executive Officer Paddy Gregg said the delivery of EPF13 was a real game changer for both the US Navy and broader naval shipbuilding industry – demonstrating a capability to integrate autonomous technology into proven hull designs and create effective unmanned surface vessels.

Gregg said: “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.

“EPF13 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.”

Fundamental to the autonomy effort was Austal USA’s highly automated in-house designed machinery control system (MCS), which allows the ship to be minimally manned by centralising machinery operations to the bridge.

All Spearhead-class EPFs built to date for the US Navy incorporate the Austal USA MCS design, which is secure, scalable, distributive, and reconfigurable for multiple propulsion configurations, according to the company.

EPF 13 went to sea five times over several months in 2022-23, allowing Austal USA to test and analyse not only its typical ship systems, but also the systems resulting from the autonomous design and construction contract modifications.

EPF 13 is the first Expeditionary Fast Transport vessel to be delivered to the Navy with enhanced capabilities to support Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey tiltrotor military aircraft flight operations and launch and recover 11 metre Zodiac RHIBs boats.

Autonomous vessel capability has been identified as an area of strategic importance by the US

Picture: Austal/EPF-13, the first Expeditionary Fast Transport and largest surface ship with
autonomous capability in the United States Navy

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