Austal partners with Saildrone to make uncrewed ships for Navy, others

Aluminum-hulled craft can be used for mapping, surveillance

Rendering of Austal-Saildrone craft at work.

Austal USA in Mobile has partnered with California-based Saildrone Inc. to build autonomous, uncrewed surface vehicles — with work on the first vessel beginning in October.

The 65-foot Saildrone Surveyor is an aluminum-hulled craft, designed for hydrologic survey, underwater mapping, surveillance and related tasks — capabilities that are in high demand by the U.S. Navy, Austal said in announcing the partnership.

“The partnership ensures that production of the Saildrone Surveyor will accelerate to meet the rapidly growing demand for the ground-breaking technology,” Austal said in its announcement. Designed by Saildrone, it will be manufactured exclusively by Austal USA in Mobile.

“We are extremely pleased to enter into this agreement with Saildrone. It is a great fit as both of us are leaders in our respective markets and we both strive to provide leading edge solutions to the U.S. Navy,” said Austal USA President Rusty Murdaugh. “With our lean manufacturing techniques and serial production capabilities, Austal USA will provide large scale fabrication of these vehicles and with our partner Saildrone rapidly get the capability to the Fleet.”

Saildrone founder and CEO Richard Jenkins also praised the partnership. “Saildrone is the clear world leader in small uncrewed systems, with a track record of almost one million ocean miles under our belt on our 100-strong fleet. Austal is leading the way in the large uncrewed sector, pioneering autonomy and reliability of much larger systems capable of carrying much heavier payloads. We see these two technologies as extremely complementary. Building these two extremes of size in the same facility, and leveraging Austal’s advanced manufacturing capabilities, will dramatically accelerate our ability to get Saildrones into the hands of our customers.”

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Austal notes that the U.S. Navy has indicated that it regards autonomous vessel capability as “an area of strategic importance.”

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