The OUSV concept is a response to the U.S. Navy’s future plan to field Large Unmanned Surface Vessels (LUSV) to perform “shooter” missions, firing strike missiles from Mark 41 Vertical Launch System (VLS) cells hidden in 40-foot ISO shipping containers. Naval News reached out to Lockheed Martin for comment.
Jennifer Stringfellow of Lockheed Martin’s Communications Department replied via email:
“The Optionally Unmanned Surface Vessel (OUSV) model at SNA  represents the configuration that the [U.S] Navy tested in November of 2020 as part of their Ghost Fleet program. In that demonstration, the OUSV used the ExWS [Expeditionary Warfare System] to successfully fire an SM-6. The model also shows a containerized SEWIP BLK II [Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program Block II] system that can be used as an existing Program of Record sensing system for the OUSV, Medium Unmanned Surface Vessel, or other non-traditional asset / location. Lockheed Martin is also developing containerized active sensors to further expand the mission sets ExWS can accomplish. ExWS components are designed to meet commercial ISO handling requirements, enabling rapid embarkation of the system to any platform or location that can support 20ft or 40ft ISO containers.
Lockheed Martin and the Department of Defense have developed scalable Aegis capability that enables platforms that were previously too small for Aegis to be equipped with the world’s most advanced combat management, launching, and sensor systems. This Expeditionary Weapon System family of products has been successfully tested at multiple live fire events and is in the process of fielding to a variety of customers, the first of which is the U.S. Army’s Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office who is using this technology for their Mid-Range Capability program.”
Jennifer Stringfellow, Lockheed Martin’s Communications
As Ms. Stringfellow stated, Lockheed Martin’s OUSV draws from the Aegis radar system to network and link with the Mark 41 VLS cells transported in 40-foot ISO shipping containers on its (optionally unmanned) ship platform deck for greater Distributed Maritime Operations and Distributed Lethality. Doing this aids the U.S. Navy fleet in spreading the weapons and ship formation further apart for increased missile strike surprise and ship and fleet survivability.
The open deck of the OUSV platform allows for easier logistical reloading and rearming of strike missiles by just removing and swapping out the 40-foot ISO shipping containers by crane since warship VLS cells, once fired, cannot be currently replenished at sea. Therefore, the Fleet Commander can mix-and-match VLS missiles to suit a variety of mission needs and requirements by just replacing ISO containers on deck.
The OUSV can transport and fire all the missiles in the Mark 41 VLS missile inventory portfolio and these include Tomahawk land-attack and Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW) missiles; Standard Anti-Air Warfare (AAW), Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW), and Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) missiles; Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM) for AAW, ASuW, and Anti-missile defense; and Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) rockets (ASROC). Thus, the OUSV can strike and defend from as close to a few miles out with ASROC to over 1,000+ miles with Tomahawk cruise missiles, and sail independently, in groups, and close or far away from the main surface fleet.
Two shorter ISO shipping containers behind the pilothouse, each estimated to be 20-feet long, house Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program (SEWIP) Block II electronic jamming emitter arrays for ship self-protection against incoming missiles. These are the same Lockheed Martin Anti-missile jamming emitter systems fitted aboard U.S. Navy capital warships such as the Littoral Combat Ships, destroyers, and aircraft carriers.
Naval News and Author’s Comments
The Lockheed Martin OUSV model fits within the U.S. Navy’s optionally unmanned surface vessel program of Medium Unmanned Surface Vessels (MUSV) as the “sensors” and Large Unmanned Surface Vessels (LUSVs as the “shooters”) to form the U.S. Navy’s “Kill Web” network to link “sensors-to-shooters” for an optionally unmanned fleet.
Additional custom shipping containers or trailers to fire larger Conventional Prompt Strike (CPS) hypersonic missiles can hypothetically also be accommodated on the OUSV to give the U.S. Navy more ship platforms and options for firing CPS hypersonic missiles than just the modified Zumwalt-class stealth destroyers (DDG 1000s), the next-generation destroyers (DDG(X), and the Navy’s nuclear-powered guided missile submarines (SSGNs).
The OUSV with Mark 41 VLS shipping containers can finally fulfill the U.S. Marine Corps’ desire to have long-range strike and AAW, ASW, ASuW, and Anti-missile self-defense VLS cells for their amphibious ship fleet such as the LPD-17. VLS cells for the Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) are often provided by escorting warships such as the DDG 51 Arleigh Burke destroyers, and many ARGs often don’t possess as many destroyers compared to a U.S. Navy Carrier Strike Group (CSG) if sailing alone. If assigned and employed, the OUSV with Mark 41 VLS containers can be controlled by and from an amphibious ship, leaving the escorting VLS warships to sail off to perform other duties independent of the three L-class ship ARG that all intrinsically lack Mark 41 VLS cells in their hulls.
No matter which manufacturer is selected to build the LUSVs, having optionally unmanned ships such as Lockheed Martin’s OUSV would also be a great benefit to the U.S. Navy’s upcoming Light Amphibious Warships (LAWs) of which 20 to 30 are planned to be built to transport 75 Marines and their vehicles around the INDO-PACOM region on a typical 30-day mission.
These poorly-armed LAWs (current armament fit is undecided but plans call for just one 25mm or 30mm autocannon and several .50 caliber heavy machine guns for self-defense) lack any form of guided missiles for offensive and defensive purposes and will be especially vulnerable to any form of enemy ranged attack. LUSVs with VLS shipping containers can provide the ASW, AAW, ASuW, Anti-missile, and land attack missiles via 8 to 16 Mark 41 VLS cells that the LAWs will need for self-protection and to implement a deterrence greater than the weapons’ ranges carried by the LAW’s Marines and their assigned helicopter and vehicles. In addition, the two SEWIP Block 2 jamming emitter array modules will protect the OUSV from incoming enemy missile fire.
Any LUSV has integral berthing to accommodate passengers, and Lockheed’s OUSV static model design can have U.S. Marines aboard to provide shipboard defense via small arms, rocket launchers, Anti-tank guided missiles, and Stinger Short-range Air Defense (SHORAD) missiles for a closer protective envelope that the OUSV’s Mark 41 VLS cells cannot offer.
Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of the OUSV design is that the LUSV design is considered fast, able to sail at speeds above 30+ knots depending on the winning hull design selected. Based on an open-deck commercial logistics cargo transport ship, LUSVs can sail faster than the big ARG L-class amphibious ships that typically sail around 20 knots, and thus LUSVs can keep up with U.S. Navy capital warships to provide additional VLS cell firepower whenever and wherever required. This high hull speed is important to deploy LUSVs with their Mission Module shipping containers to locations around the globe upon theater Combat Commander request, or to disperse VLS naval fire support to U.S. Marines and Army soldiers ashore when called for.