DARPA to begin 'No Manning Required, Ship' effort in earnest in April

By Justin Katz / March 31, 2020 at 10:14 AM

A new unmanned surface vessel effort stemming from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency will begin in earnest next month as the Pentagon begins collecting industry proposals.

The vessel, called "No Manning Required, Ship" or NOMARS, will be designed to operate for up to a year without human intervention. The deadline to submit a "declaration letter" -- a document outlining the prime contractor, team members and other basic information -- is April 2, according to a broad agency announcement published in February. Technical volumes are due later in April.

The project will "design, build, and field test an unmanned surface ship that can operate autonomously for long durations at sea with no human interventions or underway maintenance," the BAA said.

"NOMARS will challenge the traditional naval architecture paradigm by starting with a clean-sheet ship design process that eliminates design considerations associated with crew," according to the BAA.

The two-phased effort will consider the design space from conceptual design review through preliminary design review and system definition. DARPA expects to award up to $41 million in contracts to multiple teams.

While the Navy has pursued unmanned technology in recent years, its vessels have often contained minimal requirements to allow for occasional crewing. DARPA's announcement cites the Navy's efforts for distributed maritime operations, one of the service's main operating concepts, as part of the need for NOMARS.

"Prior efforts at naval distributed lethality (e.g. Pegasus class) were not operationally successful primarily due to their limited endurance and lack of survivability. Both issues were largely driven by the presence of a human crew," according to the BAA.

The project's objectives are to build a 100-ton class unmanned vessel that both takes full advantage of removing habitation requirements and has maintenance and logistics systems that can operate for a yearlong deployment without human intervention.

DARPA wrote that because traditional naval architectures have not explored the NOMARS concept, it cannot offer detailed performance specifications. Instead, the BAA offers a "notional distributed lethality Design Reference Mission."

The DRM envisions multiple vessels transiting for at least 2,000 miles from a deployment station and maintaining positions for days or weeks. The ships must also be capable of rapidly repositioning to avoid an enemy force.

"NOMARS vessels are envisioned to conduct these operations continuously for months at sea, being refueled at-sea as necessary. When the mission is completed, NOMARS vessels would conduct a return trip (2000+ nmi) back to their depot location," according to the BAA.