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DARPA has awarded seven contracts for new unmanned surface vessels USV ship design.

| 2020

According to a press release published on October 13, 2020, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded seven contracts for work on Phase 1 of the NOMARS (No Manning Required Ship) program, which seeks to simultaneously explore two competing objectives related to unmanned surface vessels (USV) ship design: (1) the maximization of seaframe performance when human constraints are removed; and (2) achieving sufficient vessel maintenance and logistics functionality for long endurance operations with no human crew onboard.
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Russian Vyborg Shipyard laid the Purga ice class coastguard ship of project 23550 925 001 Artist’s concept of NOMARS vessel. (Picture source DARPA)

NOMARS aims to disrupt conventional naval architecture designs through creative trade space explorations that optimize useable onboard room considering a variety of constraints. This should pave the way for more capable, affordable small warships that can be procured and maintained in large numbers.

Autonomous Surface Vehicles, LLC, Gibbs & Cox Inc., and Serco Inc. received Phase 1 Track A awards and will work toward developing novel NOMARS demonstrator conceptual designs. These awards will focus on maximizing vessel performance gain across new design criteria, with potential considerations to include: unusual hull forms, low freeboard, minimizing air-filled volumes, innovative materials, repurposing or eliminating "human space" exploring distributed system designs, and developing architectures optimized for depot-maintenance.

Barnstorm Research Corporation and TDI Technologies, Inc. received Phase 1 Track B awards and will develop robust approaches to ship health-monitoring via novel Self-Adaptive Health Management (SAHM) architectures, which will be pivotal to achieving NOMARS at-sea endurance and reliability objectives. InMar Technologies and Siemens Corporation also received Phase 1 Track B awards; the former will develop new techniques for morphing hull structures to maximize performance, while the latter will implement toolsets previously developed through the DARPA TRADES program to design optimized material structures for novel NOMARS ship concepts.

NOMARS is expected to uncover future benefits through improved understanding and design of unmanned surface warships. In Phase 1, performers will conduct large trade space exploration studies which will provide insights and tools for future USV ship development programs. Following this, Phases 2 and 3 of the program will build prototype hardware demonstrating some of these concepts, culminating in an "X-ship" seaframe that can be used for demonstration, testing, and future ship design experiments.

NOMARS isn’t only focused on the ship. Understanding how unmanned ships can be optimally designed for cost-effective, scalable maintenance is a critical piece of the design trades being explored. At the conclusion of this program, it is envisioned that NOMARS will have significantly improved our knowledge and understanding of how to build large numbers of affordable and reliable unmanned warships. This, along with insights about ways flotillas of such ships can be effectively maintained and operated, will enable new capabilities for the U.S. Navy.

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