The US Navy plans to experiment resupplying ships using autonomous cargo-hauling unmanned air vehicles at its Advanced Naval Technology Exercise in March 2019.

The service is inviting companies to demonstrate their UAV’s capabilities during the Advanced Naval Technology Exercise, which takes place the week of 25 March 2019, in the Patuxent River, Maryland area, it announced in an online notice posted 27 November.

The USN wants a vertical-take-off-and-landing UAV capable of carrying a 9.1kg (20lb) payload. As part of the experiment, the vehicle must autonomously launch from a fixed shore base, navigate through two waypoints to a vessel that is at least 25nm away and moving at 3kt to 5kt, loiter for 10min, and then autonomously land aboard the vessel. The UAV will then be required to autonomously launch from the vessel with the same 9.1kg payload and return to the initial shore-based launch site.

The air vehicle must make the round trip without refueling or recharging. Participants then must provide a refueling or recharging demonstration at the shore site after landing.

The UAV must fly at airspeed of no less than 40kt and an altitude no greater than 2,000ft above ground level, says the USN. The UAV must be capable of launching and recovering without a catapult, arresting net or cable, or other mechanical launching or recovery equipment.

Bell autonomous pod transport - Bell

Bell APT prototype


Successful participation in the experiment may result in the award of an other transaction agreement (OTA) or award of a procurement contract for experimental purposes, or a combination of the two types of contracts, the USN says. The service appears to be ready to move quickly as it says in the case of an OTA agreement award a successful prototype project may result in a follow-on production agreement or contract without additional competition.

Participation in the experiment is done at the demonstrating company’s expense.

Though the minimum payload that must be carried during the experiment is 9.1kg, ultimately, the USN wants a payload capacity of 22.7kg (50lb). The UAV must also be capable of carrying the payload without the use of a cable or traditional external sling, so that it can land with the payload tucked underneath, either stored internally or enclosed within a water-tight external container that is rigidly connected to the vehicle.

In an apparent response to the increased use of GPS jamming and spoofing methods by US adversaries, the USN says it prefers for the UAVs to not rely on GPS for navigation. The service says it wants navigation systems used that have a low probability of intercept.

In January 2018, Boeing unveiled an electric-powered, cargo UAV capable of carrying 227kg (500lb). Bell also has an electric-powered, cargo UAV – the APT70 – that has a payload capability of 31.8kg (70lb).