NRL tests robotic fueling of unmanned surface vessels

March 20, 2012
Positioned alongside a stationary platform, under simulated sea conditions, the USV Sea Fox receives fuel from a robotic fluids transfer arm via magnetic refueling fitting (shown here mounted in the forward bow section of the vessel). Credit: US Naval Research Laboratory

Engineers from the NRL Spacecraft Engineering Department (SED) successfully demonstrate the robotic fluids transfer from a stationary platform to an Unmanned Surface Vehicle (USV) in wave heights greater than three feet. The Rapid Autonomous Fuel Transfer (RAFT) project exhibits the ability to track the motion of a Sea Fox naval vessel, safely emplace a magnetic refueling fitting to an on-board refueling receptacle and successfully complete fluids transfer.

Under current circumstance, USV refueling demands that a grappled connection, usually by hand, be made between the USV and the refueling vessel.

"Refueling a USV at sea, particularly in adverse weather or in high sea states, can prove difficult and often dangerous," said Dr. Glen Henshaw, Section, SED Control Systems Branch. "Transferring our extensive knowledge and proven success of servicing can prove equally successful in reducing risks at sea."

Providing the host ship the capability to refuel USVs without the need to bring them aboard ship enhances mission efficiency and reduces host ship exposure. This works to improve the effectiveness of naval USV missions and decrease risks to personnel and potential damage to vessels and equipment.

Experimenting with both fully autonomous and human-controlled operations at the U.S. Army Aberdeen Test Center wave simulator facility, NRL engineers completed approximately 60 trial refueling attempts at sea states ranging from zero, or calm seas, to 3.25, or maximum in excess of three feet, with a demonstrated high rate of success.

Funded by the (DARPA), the Rapid Autonomous Fuel Transfer (RAFT) project teamed NRL with Clemson University, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) and Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR). NRL was the lead robotics integrator and designed the .

Further robotic transfer tests will possibly include land-based autonomous HMMV (High-Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle) applications without the need to stop driving and on-air Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) refueling.

The USV Sea Fox was developed for Navy missions to provide force protection with more flexibility in Enhanced Maritime Interdiction Operations and safer Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) gathering to aid in threat assessment, decision-making, and situational awareness, prior to escalation to lethal actions.

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Jeddy_Mctedder
1 / 5 (3) Mar 20, 2012
Holy fuck what took so long ive been talkibg about autonomous naval refueling for years.
There is NO reason the unmanned systems cannot be developed to, full circle operations' where they patrol, loiter and refuel by way of a guided off board central computer system that only draws attention to a human operator when it determines the surveillance vessel has spotted an anomoly.

Human beinvs should NOT be used for rote surveillance but only to betterans improve the unmanndd surveillance process. .. And refueling isso routine that it is perhaps the most wasteful of human attention. Glad to hear someone did this finally. Its sad the navy couldnt figure this out without darpa though.

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