Austal's Autonomous EPF completes acceptance trials, delivery expected by year's end

By Nick Wilson / September 14, 2022 at 2:43 PM

An autonomous expeditionary fast transport ship successfully completed Navy acceptance trials, the final hurdle before delivery, according to a statement from shipbuilder Austal.

Apalachicola (EPF-13) passed a rigorous evaluation of its major systems and equipment to demonstrate mission readiness in accordance with Navy requirements, according to the Wednesday announcement.

Delivery of EPF-13 is expected by year’s end. It will become the 13th EPF to enter the fleet and will be the service’s largest operational autonomous ship.

“EPF-13 is the first Spearhead-class ship with capabilities for V-22 Osprey flight operations and enhanced medical support. It is also the Navy’s largest ship with the capability to be an unmanned surface vessel,” said Austal vice president of new construction programs Dave Growden, in the statement.

EPF-13 can function as a manned vessel, but is designed to operate without a crew for up to 30 days. The vessel has gone to sea five times over the past few months for testing of both traditional and autonomous systems.

Modifications to enable autonomous operation include “installation of a perception and situation awareness suite, an autonomy controller, an autonomous machinery control system, and automation enhancements to the machinery plant improving hull, mechanical and electrical reliability,” the announcement states.

In April, Inside Defense reported that Austal was upgrading the propulsion and mechanical systems of EPF-13 to allow autonomous operation.

The company has also worked to upgrade future EPF ships to possess Flight II capabilities: enhanced medical capability and an altered flight deck to support the MV-22 Osprey.

Austal holds contracts for three additional EPFs and has begun construction of the first two.