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USNS Apalachicola, Navy’s Largest Autonomous-Capable Ship, Completes Trials

The U.S. Navy is not all about aircraft carriers and submarines. The American fleet needs countless support vessels, and few of them are as important as the ones called expeditionary fast transport (EPF).
USNS Apalachicola (EPF-13) 13 photos
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EPFs are described by the Navy as “high-speed, shallow-draft ships capable of intra-theater personnel and cargo lift for the armed services.” Twelve of them are already in service, but this support fleet will grow even bigger with the autonomous-capable ships of the Spearhead-class currently under construction.

The most recent of the breed, the USNS Apalachicola (EPF-13), has been in the works for some time now, but this week it completed acceptance trials with the military branch, opening the doors for a handover by the end of the year.

The Apalachicola was constructed to operate as a V-22 Osprey base of operations, but also to offer medical support to troops in need. Most importantly, though, it is the Navy’s “largest ship with the capability to operate as an unmanned surface vessel (USV).” The vessel is packed with technology (stuff like a perception and situation awareness suite, an autonomy controller, an autonomous machinery control system) that should allow it to be operated uncrewed for up to a month.

Over 100 meters (338 feet) long, the Apalachicola is built as an aluminum twin-hull catamaran that can carry 300 embarked troops, vehicles, and said Ospreys. In all, 600 short tons of cargo can be moved for up to 1,200 nautical miles (1,381 miles/2,222 km), at an average speed of 35 knots (40 mph/64 kph).

The acceptance trials targeted the ship’s major systems and equipment, and all were a success by the Navy’s Board of Inspection and Survey members who were on board for the test.

The ship’s maker, Austal, will get the vessel ready for delivery, while also working on two more EPFs, the USNS Cody and USNS Point Loma. Another one, still unnamed, is on order, but has not entered construction yet.

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