Partnership Developing Robotic Boat Launch, Recovery System

By Mikayla Easley
Rendering of Fairbanks Morse and DECK’s unmanned launch and recovery system

Fairbanks Morse Defense photo

ARLINGTON, Virginia — Two companies are teaming up to create technologies for the U.S. military’s anticipated fleet of unmanned vessels.

Fairbanks Morse Defense has entered an agreement with DECK Marine Systems of Estonia to design and build an “intelligent” launch and recovery system specifically for unmanned marine vehicles, a company statement announced.

The partnership will marry Fairbanks Morse’s experience in manned technologies with DECK’s background in engineering and autonomy, said Fairbanks Morse Defense CEO George Whittier.

The system would allow either manned ships or large unmanned vessels to serve as motherships for smaller, maritime drones and autonomously deploy and collect them — a technology that does not exist today, he said.

“The technology at the simplest level is not significantly different than a davit, which has been around for hundreds of years,” he said. “The challenge is: how to do all of that while it is unmanned? How do you make that a smart solution, and then how do you adapt it to a variety of solutions?”

Given the technology’s complexity and lack of requirements for one specific capability as of now, development of the unmanned launch and recovery system will take a couple of years, Whittier said.

Fairbanks Morse’s expansion into unmanned maritime capabilities comes as the Navy continues to prioritize unmanned and autonomous technology for its future fleet, Whittier noted. The Navy is asking for $549.3 million in research and development funding for large unmanned surface vessels and $60.7 million for core technologies of unmanned undersea vessels in its 2023 budget request.

To respond to this trend and other military modernization efforts, Fairbanks Morse created a new business arm called Fairbanks Morse Technologies that was announced in September.

The business will have three focus areas: upgrades and modernization of the company’s existing equipment; digital solutions such as extended reality; and the growing need for unmanned and electrification technology, Whittier said.

Fairbanks Morse’s unmanned launch and recovery system co-developed with DECK will be a part of the new business sector. The expansion will allow the companies to provide a larger variety of technologies for the services, Whittier said.

“We have a very small unmanned presence today,” he said. “But within our Fairbanks Morse Technologies business, we’re going to really start to broaden that.”


Topics: Robotics