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The US Defense Department is set to trial a full-scale autonomous ocean-going replenishment system. The technology-driven kits transform existing barges into self-moving platforms that can land and refuel military aircraft. They’ll make up a network of smart, floating military gas or resupply stations. 

Autonomous marine navigation company Sea Machines has been advancing its agreement with the US Defense Innovation Unit, or DIU, which focuses on rapid prototyping of autonomy projects for the department. 

The multi-phase contract will result in full-scale ocean-going VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) replenishment platforms to enable autonomy in supply logistics.

Originally, the company produced a packaged solution for autonomous command and control of surface vessels meant for the commercial market. DOD took note of the product’s potential to meet its own, forward-looking needs since then, tapping the company to serve the U.S. Coast Guard, Army Corps of Engineers, and other portions of the Navy.

“The ‘kit’ converts conventional deck barges into self-propelled, expeditionary platforms that can replenish rotary-wing aircraft, surface vessels, and shore stations,” Philip Bourque, Sea Machines’ head of business development, told Nextgov. “The ‘kit’ itself is essentially an engineered assembly of certain expeditionary components that meet the DOD criteria for refueling, but also landing those aircraft.” 

The work is transitioning to the proof-of-concept stage, according to defenseone.com.