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US Navy Seeks Unmanned Mothership to Launch Smaller Maritime Drones

The US Navy is seeking proposals to build a low-cost unmanned vessel capable of towing and launching many unmanned vessels into contested environments.

A design and construction contract could be awarded by mid-2026, with expected vessel delivery beginning within two years. 

Attritable Mothership Features

The Attritable UxV Mother Ship should have a service life of at least five years and a modular open system design to incorporate mid-life technology upgrades, the service statement specified.

The navy seeks a range of 1,500 nautical miles (2,778 kilometers/1,726 miles) and an endurance of five days. 

Its speed should be between 12 knots (22 kilometers/14 miles per hour) to 20 knots (37 kilometers/23 miles per hour).

Vessel to Carry or Tow Drone Container

The unmanned vessel should support a 20-foot (6-meter) international, intermodal container, carrying onboard or towed unmanned vessels. The ship carrying the container onboard should have a system to push the container over the side.

The mother ship’s role ceases once it drops off the container at the designated site. 

The vessel should be towed or remotely driven and meant to sail in blue waters only — over three nautical miles (5.55 kilometers/3.45 miles) from shore.

unmanned vessels
USS Ranger and USS Nomad unmanned vessels. Image: Eric Parsons/US Navy

Vessel Survivability

The service requires a sea state rating of 3 to 6, with survivability one state higher than this requirement.

The navy also seeks a potential design change included in the proposal, enabling “operations/survival in higher sea states as well as associated costs.”

Communication With Operators

The platform should be GPS-guided. However, “design considerations should account for lack of GPS, but with a focus on the trade space of cost to navigate without GPS vs. navigational drift,” the statement read.

“Also, concepts should consider Over The Horizon communications and Line Of Sight communications as a means of providing basic tasking to the platform and maintaining situational awareness of the platform.”

The vessel design should minimize collision with other vessels and enable minimum damage to other ships in a crash. 

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