Within the evolving maritime industry, we are faced with this fundamental question: “What modifications of design practices are required to support the development of Unmanned Surface Vessels?” The trivial answer is to remove the people, but mariners and personnel afloat have been a stalwart for the operations of prior maritime vessels. So, we now begin to assess the impact of their removal/reassignment as an industry. Not only a technical challenge exists, the regulatory and statutory challenge is also worthy of noting. It is the goal of this paper to look at the potential implications and modifications required to effectively design unmanned surface vessels. Four major subelements will be required to field a successful system. These subelements are Design, Classification, Testing, and Certification. Classification, Testing, and Certification will be the focus of a future discourse. The Design subelement will be assessed across a set of categories that aligns with the U.S. Navy Ship Work Breakdown Structure. The required assessments need to be given a time horizon for contextual purposes. In support of this assertion, the targeted objective is a vessel certified for unmanned, unescorted, over the horizon, blue water operations by 2025.


Humans have been designing and deploying ocean-going vessels for thousands of years, potentially since the dawn of human history based on findings on Flores Island, Indonesia; San Miguel Island, CA; and the Pesse Canoe (Rose 1998; Pringle 2008; Drents Museum 2016). During this time, the maritime industry has weathered multiple paradigm shifts in major subsystems, such as the transition from sails to steam to internal combustion engines to electric drives, none of these are as potentially disruptive as the current shift underway to unmanned vessel operations. This transition is across the maritime domain, it applies to commercial and naval applications. “The Navy wants to acquire these large unmanned vehicles (UVs) as part of an effort to shift the Navy to a more distributed fleet architecture . . .” (O’Rourke 2022). These new assets will augment and not replace traditional vessels. “We will add to our current fleet a host of manned, unmanned and optionally manned platforms operating under, on, and above the seas” (Gilday 2022).

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