The US Navy’s (USN) quickening pace of activity in the unmanned undersea vehicle (UUV) sector was evident at the Surface Navy Association (SNA) symposium this week.
On cue, L3Harris announced it has been awarded a contract by the US Navy and Defense Innovation Unit for the delivery and testing of an IVER 4-900 PW UUV and two field-swappable modular payload sections, including real aperture and synthetic aperture sonars. Gene Guttromson, Director of Business Development for the Unmanned Maritime Systems division in the company’s Integrated Mission Systems segment, took time to speak with MON about this award and related topics relevant to the undersea warfare domain.
The Other Transaction Agreement (OTA) award to the company supports the customer’s Next Generation Small-Class Maritime Expeditionary Mine Countermeasures Unmanned Undersea Vehicle programme. This is another instance observed by MON in which DoD is ‘fast tracking’ urgent acquisition requirements through the OTA process, which increasingly found favor with the military during the latter parts of the ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The IVER 4 was built by L3Harris OceanServer (Fall River, MA), “ground up and purpose built, such that anyone can use it easily, and demonstrate and test their own payloads and sensors,” according to Guttromson. The baseline, evolving IVER UUV’s open architecture and other capabilities, had previously found favor in the academic, science and technology and adjacent sectors. Indeed, earlier IVER UUV models were also procured commercially by US government organizations, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Naval Special Warfare Command and others.
Fast forward to 2020, where persistent end-user feedback taken on board by the OceanServer team resulted in improvements, such as the addition of a quick release mechanism in the centre of the vehicle, integrated into the current -4 variant.
Focusing on the IVER 4, Guttromson explained his team had “integrated sensors the customer is very much interested in, with the intent to use the vehicle with these sensors and evaluate it, see how much better it is, and prove that it is working well. And then we’ll take any feedback, and see if we need to evolve the software or even improve the integration on the vehicle. We’d like to see that grow into a capability – a COTS-based model that does exactly what delegates are talking about at this week’s SNA: quickly getting capability into the hands of the user, get their feedback, and evolve and improve the technology and vehicle quickly to remain relevant.” He was unable to reveal the supplier of the IVER 4’s sensors, however.
The two missions being supported by the L3Harris IVER 4 are expeditionary mine countermeasures and undersea search operations.
Beyond this contract, the L3Harris executive pointed out his company “absolutely plans to take this commercial-based vehicle and all the goodness that comes with it, and get into the hands of our key allies and other US government agencies – Department of Homeland Security and others.”
He was upbeat on the future of the broader UUV sector in general, noting that, as artificial intelligence and machine learning evolve, “you’re only going to do more things.” And while noting these are not current areas of focus for the IVER 4 team, it is focused on increasing endurance, having the right battery packages and other enhancements. In fact – ‘spoiler alert’ – the intention, during this April’s 2020 Navy League Sea Air Space Conference, is to gain insights from L3Harris Open Water Power on its efforts to advance state of the art of batteries for UUVs.
Marty Kauchak in Virginia for MON