SEA-AIR-SPACE NEWS: Huntington Ingalls Aiming to Boost Sustainment Business with Unmanned Ships

By Jon Harper

Huntington Ingalls photo

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Huntington Ingalls Industries, the nation’s largest military shipbuilder, is gearing up to construct new robotic vessels for the Navy, but it also sees major business opportunities in sustaining the platforms, according to company officials.

The Navy’s most recent update to its long-term shipbuilding plan, released in June, envisioned as many as 140 unmanned surface vessels and unmanned underwater vehicles in its future inventory. Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has estimated that as many as one-third of the Navy’s fleet could be robotic in coming decades.

Huntington Ingalls is already making large investments to beef up its infrastructure and know-how for building these types of platforms.

It has been aggressive in acquiring or investing in other companies with enabling capabilities such as Hydroid, Alion Science and Technology, and Sea Machines Robotics, noted Andy Green, HII executive vice president and president of its technical solutions division.

The company has also made a $46 million capital investment in a new Unmanned Systems Center of Excellence that includes a 135,000 square-foot main building and a 22,000 square-foot initial assembly building on 20 acres in Hampton, Virginia. The facilities will allow for the construction of a wide variety of UUVs and potential USVs, according to Green.

“All of that is designed to reflect our belief that this is going to be a significantly growing market,” he said Aug. 2 during a media briefing at the Navy League’s annual Sea-Air-Space conference in National Harbor, Maryland.

“Right now, unmanned — as a percentage of any large company’s revenues — is pretty small … in terms of UUVs and USVs,” he said. However, “we do see it as a high growth area. We see that as certainly growing well above and beyond your [growth rate for] traditional spending on traditional platforms.”

However, the company isn’t just gung-ho about building robotic ships and submarines. It is also wants to be paid to help sustain them once they are fielded.

“We're aligned with the Navy's idea that unmanned vehicles are going to be a significant component of the future fleet,” Green said. “We have thought about the maintenance of these vehicles. … There's a long logistics and sustainment train that goes along with that that we've got to think about.

“We're trying to stay in sync with the Navy in terms of what they're thinking about, and how these programs are evolving, so we can make sure that we not only are involved in building and integrating them and the technologies associated with them, but we're also involved in the entire lifecycle of that platform, the sustainment and the logistics that go along with it,” he added.

Green noted that the contractor has a long history of performing sustainment work on the Navy’s manned systems that are deployed around the world, and it hopes to leverage that expertise as well as the know-how of its newly acquired companies.

“We have that core DNA at HII to be able to do that,” he said. “How exactly that plays out remains to be seen, and it kind of depends on the platform.”

It would be easier to sustain smaller vessels such as some of the UUVs that have been developed, because they can be transported easily to maintenance facilities, he noted.

“Our smallest unmanned platforms, you and I can pick it up and carry it,” he told National Defense. “You can put it on a truck or a plane and you can send it anywhere” to be worked on.

For larger systems, HII could deploy personnel overseas to do sustainment activities, he noted.

“The bigger they get, the harder they are to move around and the more complex they are,” he said. “In the future, if you had a UUV forward deployed we would … [go] out to that location, bring in a conex box that has all the right tools and stuff that we need to do it, get the right technicians and get them over there and service it on site if it's too much trouble to send it back” for maintenance, he said.


Topics: Robotics and Autonomous Systems

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