Boston-based autonomous marine navigation company Sea Machines says it has been awarded a U.S. Department of Defense contract to develop a prototype autonomous barge that will essentially serve as floating gas station for military aircraft.
The “Other Transaction” agreement was awarded by the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD)’s Defense Innovation Unit. The goal is to produce 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).
Sea Machines will serve as the prime contractor in the multi-year contract and will work alongside maritime industry leaders including FOSS Maritime and Huntington Ingalls. Bell Flight, a producer of commercial and military, will also be part of the team.
Under the agreement, Sea Machines will engineer, build and demonstrate ready-to-deploy system kits to enable autonomous, self-propelled operation of available barges to land and replenish military aircraft. The remotely-commanded deck barge will be designed to land helicopters and host a scaled fueling station for aircraft, surface vessels and shore replenishment.
The 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. Each modular kit will meet U.S. Navy criteria and will be in compliance with classifications and regulations from the DOD’s aviation bodies.
The deal is the latest government contract for Sea Machines, building on a 2019 deal with U.S. Maritime Administration to test an autonomous oil skimming vessel and, more recently, a deal to develop an autonomous response boat for the U.S. Coast Guard.
“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. “With Sea Machines systems already working off the waters of four continents, this project is well suited for us and one that we look forward to delivering on for the U.S. Government.”
For Foss’s role, it will provide naval architecture, support engineering and operations management for the project.
“Foss is excited about this new opportunity with Sea Machines. This contract has led to discussions with Sea Machines in a number of other areas where their expertise can help Foss, including bringing more technology to our tug fleet. What they are doing in automation is very interesting and that technology could help our mariners and our vessels safety,” said Foss’ Will Roberts, chief operating officer.