Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor
Washington, DC, United States (4E) – The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) awarded some $800 million in contracts for research and development into autonomous underwater drones that can either be used for reconnaissance or as explosive weapons.
Each of the 23 selected firms will be given tasks related to the procurement of materials and services used to develop, build, fabricate and support the Unmanned Undersea Vehicle Family of Systems (UUV FoS). Work on the ambitious project that might revolutionize undersea warfare is to be completed by July 2023.
Awardees will compete for task orders to help the U.S. Navy procure materials and services for the development, manufacturing and fabrication of underwater drones, said the DoD. Twenty-eight bids were submitted for the UUV FoS contract that covers work through July 2023 if all options are exercised.
Unmanned systems are a growing area of importance for the Navy, which requested an additional $1 billion in fiscal year 2019, bring its spending to nearly $3.7 billion. This is the largest year-over-year increase in unmanned funding for all the main service branches, according to the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI).
The $800 million contracts support DoD push for underwater drones. In its fiscal year 2019 budget, DoD requested $9.6 billion for unmanned technology and related systems, or a 28 percent increase year-on-year, said AUVSI.
“Unmanned systems and robotics are key technology areas that enable the United States to counter the range of evolving threats posed on the modern battlefield,” said AUVSI president and CEO Brian Wynne.
Based in Arlington, Virginia, AUVSI is an international nonprofit organization that promotes and supports the unmanned systems and robotics industry. It’s the world’s largest non-profit dedicated to the growth and technological progress of unmanned systems and robotics.
The Navy has spent the most on autonomous drone projects for the past three years, according to AUVSI. More than half of all drone projects for the land, air and sea are under the Navy’s orbit.
A massive $1.3 billion of drone-funding requests support maritime drones. Ground-based drones constitute some $700 million.
Last May, the Navy released a summary of its “Strategic Roadmap for Unmanned Systems.” This document said the integration of drones in the service “offers many advantages such as reducing personnel and manpower, risk to personnel and operating costs.”
The Navy said employment of manned and unmanned teams and technologies will transform modern warfare. This combination will boost asymmetric operations; exploit the technologies to the Navy’s advantage and will give American troops a big edge in any armed confrontation.
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