A Ghost Fleet Overlord unmanned surface vessel, as part of a partnership between the Department of Defense’s Office of Strategic Capabilities and the Navy, recently sailed a distance of more than 4,700 nautical miles, almost entirely autonomously . Subsequently, it participated in Exercise Dawn Blitz where it again spent almost all of its en route time operating autonomously.

“This is a historic milestone for the program and the Navy. It represents what the SCO does best: integrating mature technologies to accelerate service priorities and create new capabilities for our warfighters,” said Jay. Dryer, director of the SCO.

The Ghost Fleet Overlord program is part of an effort to accelerate the Navy’s efforts to incorporate autonomous ships into its fleet to better extend the range of manned ships. Autonomy includes more than just straight-line passage through large areas of ocean; it also involves things like collision avoidance and respecting the rules of the sea.

Navy efforts to adopt the unmanned ship concept involve multiple ship classes and a range of missions, such as offensive operations and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance with reduced risk to crew and former ships . The Ghost Fleet Overlord program has demonstrated continued maturity in the autonomous USV concept since its inception in late 2018.

The most recent display of this maturity involved a USV traveling from the Gulf Coast to the California coast, moving autonomously about 97% of the time. While the USV had a crew on board, remote mission command and control for the trip was performed remotely by sailors from Surface Development Squadron One.

One of the few times the USV was guided by its onboard crew was when it passed through the Panama Canal.

Optional crewed ships provide a springboard for the Navy and its sailors to more easily learn about the concept of autonomous operations than would be possible with a fully autonomous ship.

After arriving on the US West Coast, the Ghost Fleet Overlord USV participated in December’s Exercise Dawn Blitz with the Navy and Marine Corps. There he successfully demonstrated compliance with international regulations for collision avoidance at sea, station keeping, vagrancy and transit missions. This was the first time a Ghost Fleet Overlord USV interacted with actual Navy fleet assets.

During her participation in Dawn Blitz, the Ghost Fleet Overlord USV operated autonomously for over 130 hours and traveled approximately 950 nautical miles, which is approximately 98% of her time on the road.

The Ghost Fleet Overlord program has accelerated the Navy’s adoption of unmanned surface ships, allowing it to integrate these ships into the fleet more quickly.

“Our close partnership with SCO on the Overlord program is accelerating technology demonstration, CONOP development, and operational command and control of unmanned surface vessels in direct alignment with Navy plans,” said CAPT Pete Small, chief of the Navy program for USVs.

To help the Navy achieve its goal of integrating autonomous ships into the fleet, the SCO’s Ghost Fleet Overlord program has taken commercial ocean-going vessels and integrated onboard commercially available and government-supplied equipment to create unmanned surface ships. Phase II of the Ghost Fleet Overlord program, which focuses on integrating government-provided command and control systems and payloads and experimenting with more complex and challenging naval operations, began in September. The SCO will transition its two Ghost Fleet Overlord prototypes to Surface Development Squadron One by the end of fiscal year 2021. The Navy is currently acquiring two more Ghost Fleet Overlord prototypes to accompany the two SCOs built to continue testing of unmanned systems and fleet experimentation.