Robo ship USV

Robo Navy?

Dan Middlemiss, 19 July 2020.

Will the Canadian Navy ride the robotic wave of the future? Maybe the future has already arrived.

The United States Navy (USN) recently awarded a $35 million contract to L3 Technologies for a prototype Medium Unmanned Surface Vehicle (MUSV). This represents another milestone in what may become a family of unmanned systems as an integral component of what the USN is calling its future distributed surface force architecture. The first prototype is to be delivered by the end of Fiscal Year 2023.[1]

The USN has also been seeking accelerated acquisition of even bigger unmanned vehicles of this type, and envisions Large Unmanned Surface Vehicles (LUSV) some 200-300 feet long and displacing 1,000 to 2,000 tons. The Navy wants these LUSVs to be low-cost, high-endurance, readily reconfigurable, based on commercial designs, and able to carry a variety of modular payloads - for anti-surface warfare, and various anti-ship and land-attack missile missions.[2]


The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has already funded the development of several different Autonomous Unmanned Surface Vehicles (AUSV). The Sea Hunter, launched in 2016, follows a line of experimental vessels of this type, notably the Sea Shadow, Sea Fighter, Sea Jet, and Sea Slice.

Less than a year ago, China unveiled its first, large displacement Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV), the HSU-001. This vessel appears to be designed for area surveillance, mine countermeasures, and various littoral operations.[3]

While these developments are still embryonic in nature, they do foretell what may be confronting navies in the near future. As these robotic systems become larger and more complex, the costs of transporting and maintaining them will increase accordingly. Still, they hold the potential to break the trend of hugely expensive, traditional warships. Canada has been following and experimenting with these types of automated systems, but on a small scale. We will have to see whether our Navy can free itself from its ‘circle-the-destroyers’ mentality, and seriously begin to adapt to these coming changes.


  1. Sam LaGrone, “Navy Awards Contract for First Vessel in its Family of Unmanned Surface Vehicles”, USNI News, (, 15 July 2020).
  2. Congressional Research Service, "Navy Large Unmanned Surface and Undersea Vehicles: Background and Issues for Congress", R45757, (30 March 2020).
  3. H.I. Sutton, “China Navy Reveals New Large Underwater Robot Which Could be a Game Changer”, (1 October 2019).


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