Austal delivers autonomous EPF, turns attention to flight II production

By Nick Wilson / February 28, 2023 at 12:57 PM

The Navy recently accepted delivery of its latest Spearhead-class expeditionary vessel, Apalachicola (EPF-13), the 13th fast transport ship to join the fleet and the first designed to operate without a crew for up to 30 days.

The vessel, now the largest Navy surface ship with autonomous capabilities, was delivered to Military Sealift Command on Feb. 16 following five at-sea tests that included assessments of its autonomous function and system integration into the existing hull design, according to a service announcement.

Apalachicola is also the first EPF with new capabilities to better support V-22 Osprey operations from its flight deck and launch and recovery of 11-meter rigid-hulled inflatable boats, a separate announcement from prime contractor Austal USA states.

Subcontractors L3Harris and General Dynamics Mission Systems contributed to the vessel's design and construction, helping to modify EPF-13 for unmanned operations.

“Fundamental to the autonomy effort was Austal USA’s highly automated in-house designed machinery control system (MCS), which allows the ship to be minimally manned by centralising machinery operations to the bridge,” Austal’s announcement states. “All Spearhead-class EPFs built to date incorporate the Austal USA MCS design, which is secure, scalable, distributive and reconfigurable for multiple propulsion configurations.”

Last week, Austal christened the first flight II Spearhead class vessel, the future Cody (EPF-14), which is designed to provide expanded medical capabilities, according to a company release. Delivery of EPF-14 is expected in August 2023.

Austal holds contracts for two more flight II vessels. A second flight II ship, EPF-15, is under construction with a delivery target late in fiscal year 2025.

The Marine Corps has indicated that these shallow-draft transport ships are an important piece of the amphibious fleet, helping to enable quick movement of personnel, vehicles and equipment throughout the Pacific and global littorals.