Mobile-based shipbuilder Austal USA delivered the U.S.S. Apalachicola to the U.S. Navy Thursday. The Expeditionary Fast Transport ship is the largest autonomous-capable ship in the Navy fleet.
Announcing the delivery, Austal said, “EPF 13 went to sea five times over a several-month duration, allowing Austal USA and their industry partners, L3Harris and General Dynamics Mission Systems, to test and analyze not only her typical ship systems but those resulting from autonomous design and construction contract modifications required by the Navy to establish EPF 13 as an autonomous prototype.”
Describing the ship as “innovative,” Austal USA President Rusty Murdaugh said the craft “is going to be a critical asset as unmanned capabilities continue to push boundaries and redefine how missions are achieved. Apalachicola will also be the first EPF with the ability to conduct V-22 flight operations and launch and recover 11-meter Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIBs). A lot of capability is being delivered to our warfighters with this ship and I’m incredibly proud of our team of shipbuilders.”
All Spearhead-class EPFs to date use Austal’s machinery control system, allowing for minimal manning. Added for EPF 13 are automated maintenance, health monitoring and mission readiness that allow the ship to operate up to 30 days without human intervention.
Austal noted that “autonomous vessel capability has been identified as an area of strategic importance by the Navy.”