Currently, helicopters and tiltrotor of naval aviation take off only from carrier ships or ground bases, while they are limited by their combat radius. It is assumed that sea barges will significantly increase the flight range of helicopter technology.
For this reason, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has granted a contract to Sea Machines Robotics to develop a prototype that will enable commercial ocean-service barges as autonomous Forward Arming and Refueling Point (FARP) units for an Amphibious Maritime Projection Platform (AMPP).
The ready-to-deploy system kits will include Sea Machines’ SM300 autonomous-command and control systems, barge propulsion, sensing, positioning, communications, and refueling equipment, as well as items required for global deployment. According to the plans, the kits will enable autonomous, self-propelled operation of opportunistically available barges to land and replenish military aircraft.
To reduce costs and speed up the project, it is planned to use commercial ocean-going barges to create autonomous support vessels. No other details of the project have been revealed yet.
The concept of autonomous offshore barges is expected to be publicly unveiled in the fourth quarter of 2020, in Washington state. For this project, Sea Machines has teamed with FOSS Maritime, which will provide naval architecture, support engineering, and operations management to outfit a remotely commanded deck barge to land helicopters and host a scaled fueling station for aircraft, surface vessels, and shore replenishment.
“The AMPP autonomous replenishment systems will solve critical logistics challenges of expeditionary missions. We are pleased to enable this innovative capability, which will increase the effectiveness and flexibility for the U.S. military,” said Sea Machines’ Phil Bourque, director, sales.