First of Saildrone's Surveyor USVs launched from Austal USA production line

By Nick Wilson / March 6, 2024 at 4:34 PM

Drone company Saildrone today announced it has launched the first aluminum Surveyor unmanned surface vehicle from shipbuilder Austal USA's production line, marking a step forward for a strategic partnership between the two contractors that aims to meet growing demand for uncrewed systems.

The companies formed this partnership in 2022 to scale up production of autonomous USVs like Surveyor -- a 65-foot medium USV designed for ocean mapping and maritime domain awareness. Now, Austal is producing one Surveyor every six weeks and has “the ability to scale up production as demand requires,” the Saildrone announcement states.

“These first Surveyors are contracted to the U.S. Navy for the initial testing and evaluation of Surveyor-class vehicles in multiple environments,” the notice adds, indicating Navy applications include surface and undersea intelligence for mission sets including anti-submarine warfare.

Earlier this week, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Lisa Franchetti and Assistant Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Christopher Mahoney visited the shipyard to view Surveyor production in addition to Austal’s newly constructed steel line and the future Independence-class Littoral Combat Ship Kingsville (LCS-36), according to a separate Navy release.

“Using unmanned assets helps put more players on the field by freeing up manned assets for more specific and important tasks,” Franchetti said in a statement included in the Navy release. “It’s good to see high-tech industry partnering with the traditional shipbuilding industrial base to rapidly deliver cutting-edge products at scale.”

Last month, the CNO said the Navy is making progress in experimentation and prototyping efforts for unmanned systems and is on pace to begin the widespread integration and operationalizing of unmanned platforms as early as fiscal year 2029.