Austal delivers largest surface ship with autonomous capability for US Navy

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Austal has delivered the EPF-13, the first Expeditionary Fast Transport and largest surface ship with autonomous capability in the United States Navy. Image credit: Austal USA

Global shipbuilding company Austal has delivered Expeditionary Fast Transport USNS Apalachicola (EPF 13) to the United States Navy – the largest surface ship in the fleet with autonomous capability.

Mechanical and electrical systems were already installed on the Spearhead-class Expeditionary Fast Transport ships, designed by Austal Australia and the Austal USA team.

The US team collaborated with L3Harris and General Dynamics Mission Systems in adding automated maintenance, health monitoring, and mission readiness to provide EPF 13 with the ability to operate without human intervention for up to 30 days.

According to Austal Chief Executive Officer Paddy Gregg, the delivery of EPF13 was a game changer for both the US Navy and the wider naval shipbuilding industry, demonstrating the ability to integrate autonomous technology into proven hull designs and create effective unmanned surface vessels.

“It’s very exciting to see this advanced autonomous technology from our partners at L3Harris and General Dynamics Mission Systems working so well in our proven Austal hull design; to become what is now the US Navy’s largest surface ship with autonomous capability,” Mr Gregg said.

“EPF13 can operate for up to 30 days without human intervention, which opens up so many opportunities for unmanned missions in various operations, as an autonomous prototype,” the CEO added. 

Austal USA’s highly automated in-house designed machinery control system (MCS), which centralizes machinery operations to the bridge and enables the ship to be lightly staffed, was essential to the autonomy project.

All Spearhead-class EPFs built to date for the US Navy incorporate the Austal USA MCS design, which is secure, scalable, distributive, and reconfigurable for multiple propulsion configurations, according to the company.

In 2022-23, Austal USA had the opportunity to test and analyze not just the conventional ship systems on EPF 13, but also the systems arising from the autonomous design and construction contract amendments.

To support V-22 flight operations and launch and retrieve 11-meter RHIBs, EPF 13 is the first Expeditionary Fast Transport vessel to be supplied to the Navy.

These improvements, together with the EPF’s demonstrated fast speed, maneuverability, and shallow water access, are crucial for supporting upcoming US Navy Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations abroad.