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Serco’s NOMARS team is reshaping the future of unmanned maritime operations

Published: 20 Sep 2022

Serco Inc., a provider of professional, technology, engineering, and management services, has successfully completed the preliminary design phase of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Tactical Technology Office’s No Manning Required Ship (NOMARS) program.  Serco is pleased to announce it was selected to move to DARPA NOMARS Phase 2, which encompasses detailed design, construction, and testing of the vessel.  Serco will serve as the prime and design integrator, leading an industry alliance including Nichols Brothers Boat Builders, Submergence Group, Metron, Beier Integrated Systems, Thrustmaster of Texas, Leonardo DRS, Integer Technologies, and Caterpillar Marine.  This award is an 8-month detail design period leading to construction of the first NOMARS vessel and includes a 3-month at sea technology demonstration period.  Serco has been awarded under a flexible Other Transaction (OT) contract structure to provide flexibility of follow-on work post successful demonstration. 

Serco’s Marine Engineering Operation (MEO) draws on a deep Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering legacy dating back to John J. McMullen and Associates (JJMA).  It is one of the only firms to retain a direct, unbroken lineage, institutional knowledge, and industry-leading experts who are proudly mentoring the next generation of ship design professionals.  Serco MEO carries on the sixty-year JJMA tradition of cutting-edge excellence in naval design and engineering.

The NOMARS Defiant X-Ship design developed by Serco is a radical departure from traditional designs, representing the next step for the US Navy’s advancement toward a fleet of USVs.  The platform was designed from the keel up as a truly autonomous vessel with no provisions for onboard manning and stringent requirements for year-long, high reliability operations at sea without human intervention.  Serco’s design includes a reimagined maintenance philosophy that reduces time in port and keeps the vessel underway and operational for unprecedented periods of time.  This highly reliable vessel serves to demonstrate the art of the possible for cost-effective, long endurance naval drone ships.

The NOMARS Defiant platform is designed to drastically decrease the Navy’s cost per mission hour with a reduced platform size, lower maintenance costs, and stay on mission longer.  Medium USV platforms are envisioned by the Navy as long-range sensing platforms extending the reach of larger manned combatants into contested or high-threat areas without risking the lives of crew members.  These platforms enable virtually embarked warfighters to command the operational theater with an enhanced networked picture of the battlespace.  A fleet comprising these smaller autonomous platforms will increase total deployed capabilities while decreasing fleet cost and reducing risk to service members.

During the competitive preliminary design phase, Serco MEO assembled a multi-disciplinary team that has successfully contributed to the design of every major US Navy surface combatant program.  This team understands the Navy’s past lessons and future needs and utilizes new tools and technologies to explore the opportunities afforded by such a unique platform.  These tools and technologies included the development of an in-house Design Space Exploration (DSX) tool to enable procedural generation of vast numbers of possible designs for consideration.  These tools provided DARPA the confidence to know Serco had identified optimal design space to pursue during the conceptual and preliminary design stages.  Serco utilized a set-based design strategy that transitioned to traditional iterative design spirals as the vessel design matured. 

Figure 1: Set-based Design Transition to Iterative Design

Additionally, Serco leveraged a Model Based Systems Engineering (MBSE) approach for requirements development and verification within a fully digital environment.  This process significantly reduces technical risk by streamlining verification and validation of all hardware and software.  This approach will also help to create a full technical data package that can be used to aid development of follow-on vessels and future unmanned program requirements.  Serco was an early adopter of both MBSE and set-based design in naval applications and is at the leading edge of a paradigm shift in how engineering firms approach complex design challenges.

Serco strategically combined its ship design expertise with industry leaders in autonomy including Submergence Group and Metron to round out the team.  Submergence Group is pioneering USV control and autonomy through extensive development and testing of IBMs Mayflower Autonomous Ship.  Lessons learned on that platform will be incorporated and the software iterated upon to provide a truly next generation autonomy system for NOMARS, complete with multi-spectrum awareness and strategic and tactical decision-making ability.  Submergence Group’s autonomy will be paired with a newly developed smart health monitoring system by Metron.  This system acts as a “digital chief engineer” responsible for monitoring, maintaining, and optimizing vessel health over long duration voyages and is a key enabling technology unique to NOMARS.  Serco has partnered with shipyard Nichols Brothers Boat Builders located in Freeland, WA to construct the NOMARS Defiant and provide invaluable production experience to the design team throughout the detailed design phase.  Serco’s team builds US domestic industrial and technological expertise in this new and expanding area of USV design and production. 

Serco successfully completed a clean sheet ship design of this novel class to a preliminary design level in under 18 months while staying on schedule and on budget.  The team successfully completed both Conceptual and Preliminary Design Reviews (CoDR, PDR) along with a System Requirements Review (SRR).  With preliminary design of the vessel complete, the Serco team will finalize the detailed design of NOMARS Defiant during the next program phase, culminating in a Critical Design Review (CDR) by DARPA.  Upon successful completion of this milestone, the team will move into an extended prototyping and testing regime which includes the construction of a land-based prototyping facility for new technologies and system integration work.  These steps will ensure all enabling technologies, both hardware and software, are fully validated prior to installation and use on the vessel.  Construction of the vessel is planned to begin in 2023.