The unmanned ships Seahawk, front, and Sea Hunter launch for the Pacific Fleet’s Unmanned Systems Integrated Battle Problem 21. (File)

WASHINGTON: The Navy is planning to issue a major research and development contract focused on autonomous and unmanned vehicles, according to a new notice that also schedules an industry day later this month.

“The Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock Division (NSWCCD) announces an industry day for unmanned vehicles (UxV) and unmanned systems (UxS) development, experimentation, demonstration, acquisition, operations, and employment resulting in products and/or services that are within thirteen functional areas,” according to a public Navy notice published this week.

The industry day, scheduled for Nov. 18 and being held virtually, will focus on a contract vehicle the Navy aims to establish centered on unmanned payload integration, autonomous vehicle control systems, test and evaluation, prototyping, cybersecurity and modeling and simulation, among other things.

The service anticipates it will use a multiple award, indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract to award the work. Also called MAC IDIQs, such contracts effectively allow the military to create a finite pool of qualified companies who are then permitted to compete amongst themselves for individual task orders. These contract vehicles allow industry easy access to work in their respective areas of expertise and provide the Navy an outlet to quickly identify appropriate companies for narrowly-scoped tasks.

The industry day notice and statement of work do not provide specific details about the contract itself such as the total value, how long it will last or the number of companies the service intends to on-ramp.

The Navy in general has talked up its efforts into unmanned systems in recent years and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday has established a service-wide unmanned task force to drill down the Navy’s most pressing challenges. He’s previously said more details about that group’s work will be made public in 2022.

But the new contract, being managed by Carderock and Naval Sea Systems Command, illustrates the ground-level work being done by the service’s research and acquisition elements. It also provides a clearer pathway for how industry players who may not hold prime contracts for marquee programs such as the Large Unmanned Surface Vessel can get involved with the Navy’s ongoing efforts.

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