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Austal USA, Saildrone partner on unmanned vessels

Mobile-based Austal USA and California-based Saildrone, Inc. are teaming up to build autonomous, uncrewed surface vehicles, the companies announced this week.

In a written statement, they said the partnership combines Saildrone’s uncrewed surface vehicle technology and Austal’s advanced manufacturing capabilities.

The 650-foot Saildrone Surveyor, designed for deep-ocean mapping and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions will be manufactured in Mobile.

The duo will make available to the U.S. Navy and other customers “a cutting-edge solution for maritime domain awareness, hydrographic survey and other missions requiring persistent wide area coverage.”

“We are extremely pleased to enter into this agreement with Saildrone,” Austal USA President Rusty Murdaugh said in a written statement. “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. 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.”

Manufacturing begins for the Navy in October.

Austal USA’s expertise in aluminum shipbuilding is uniquely equipped to fabricate the Surveyor’s aluminum hulls and ensure rapid delivery to the fleet, the joint statement said.

“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,” Saildrone founder and CEO Richard Jenkins said in the written statement. “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.”

Austal USA has contracts to build the Independence-variant Littoral Combat Ship, the Expeditionary Fast Transport, the Navajo-class Towing, Salvage and Rescue ships, the Auxiliary Floating Drydock Medium and the U.S. Coast Guard’s Heritage-class Offshore Patrol Cutter.

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