One of the Pentagon’s two Overlord large unmanned surface vessels conducted a first-ever Panama Canal transit, sailing thousands of miles from the Gulf Coast to California in a major test of autonomous systems with few reliability issues along the way, the chief of naval operations told USNI News.
The 59-meter USV, which was converted from a regular high-speed craft to a USV prototype last year, departed Mobile, Ala., on Sept. 18. After operating in the Gulf of Mexico for some time, it made a Panama Canal transit and arrived in Port Hueneme, Calif., on Nov. 5, according to data provided to USNI News from the MarineTraffic vessel tracking service.
“Recently, the Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO) in partnership with the Navy conducted a long-range autonomous transit with a Ghost Fleet Overlord vessel. During this voyage, the vessel traveled over 4,700 nautical miles, 97 percent of which was in autonomous mode — a record for the program. Ghost Fleet Overlord will continue fleet experimentation to inform the Navy’s unmanned concept development,” Pentagon spokesman Cmdr. Josh Frey told USNI News today.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday told USNI News in a Nov. 5 interview that the Navy has a good idea of its requirements for unmanned vehicles on the surface, under the sea and in the air, and that today the focus is boosting reliability of the prototypes.
“You know, we just did transit of one unmanned [surface vessel] through the Panama Canal. Ninety percent of that transit, more than 90 percent was autonomous, with a very high-reliability rate,” he said, adding that there were “a couple of small casualties” during the voyage but that “we are learning, and what we are trying to do is develop a prototype with a very high degree of reliability that we can then double down on and scale.”
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