Austal Sees Autonomous Ships in its Future


MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — Mobile’s largest industrial employer may appear to be on the cutting edge of shipbuilding technology with the futuristic design of the Littoral Combat Ship.  But what you may not know is that the company is even farther ahead–think of an LCS operating without a crew.  The President of Austal’s U.S. operations in Mobile says he definitely sees autonomous ships in the company’s future.

Certainly, it’s not a far-fetched idea especially with all the development of driverless cars and semis.  Airbus and Boeing are even talking about pilotless airplanes.  The idea that ships could soon operate without a crew is exactly where Austal, the Navy, and many others are putting research and development dollars.

“Whether it be an autonomous EPF or a ship itself or a ship that handles autonomous vessels within it or on it,” says Craig Perciavalle.

The Navy already has unmanned vessels from small boats to flying drones.  They even have an unmanned anti-submarine ship currently being tested.  The maritime industry is seriously flirting with unmanned cargo vessels that can all be controlled from a central location and continuously sail the seas from port to port.  The ideas are very young but very real.

“What happens is you start out with smaller things, drones and things of that nature and then you start expanding to the larger type vessels and as you get larger things get more complicated,” says Perciavalle. He says the company has not yet received a request for information from the Navy about autonomous ships that could be built by Austal, but he expects it.

“So there is definitely a program that the Navy is focused on kicking off here very, very soon and our expectation is we’re going to right in the middle of it,” Perciavalle says.

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