The New Saildrone Surveyor

A lighter, leaner design to optimize speed, power, and payload for long-range, long-endurance autonomous ocean mapping and maritime security.

Saildrone is excited to unveil the first of a new generation of Surveyor-class unmanned surface vehicles (USVs), purpose-built for autonomous deep-water ocean mapping missions and maritime defense and security missions. Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Lisa Franchetti was on-site at Austal USA in Mobile, AL, on Monday to inspect the vehicle, ahead of these new USVs being tested under contract to the US Navy. 

Saildrone Surveyor SD-3000 sails during initial sea trials.

At 20 meters long (65 feet) and 15 tons, the Surveyor is the world’s largest unmanned, autonomous vehicle class in operation. Built to the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) Light Warship code, the Surveyor will provide the US Navy and other government customers with a cutting-edge solution for open-ocean hydrographic surveys and maritime domain awareness (MDA) missions that require persistent wide area coverage. 

“It is tremendous to see the first vehicle launched of many that will be produced here in Alabama,” said Saildrone founder and CEO Richard Jenkins. “We are honored to have Admiral Franchetti here in person to witness the start of the creation of a new fleet of USVs alongside traditional manned ships. Everyone at Saildrone is very proud to be supporting the US Navy and contributing to our defense and national security.”

Saildrone founder and CEO Richard Jenkins, CNO Adm. Lisa Franchetti, ACMC Gen. Christopher J. Mahoney, and Austal USA Acting President Michelle Kruger stand in front of SD-3000, the first production Saildrone Surveyor USV to come off the Austal USA manufacturing line. Photo: Courtesy Austal USA.

The Surveyor fuses radar, cameras, automatic identification system (AIS), and advanced machine learning to deliver comprehensive situational awareness remotely from anywhere in the world. Saildrone offers solutions for challenges like IUU fishing, counter smuggling, and safety of life at sea (SOLAS) missions. The Surveyor detects vessels at sea, even those not transmitting their position via AIS, and can employ passive acoustics to further discriminate targets.

Surveyor USVs also carry the latest multibeam bathymetry echo sounders and metocean sensors for ocean mapping and ecosystem monitoring. Globally, only 25% of the ocean has been mapped, a result of the lack of survey ship capacity. The Surveyor class now provides an economical, climate-friendly solution to mapping the world’s oceans. 

Saildrone’s first Surveyor, launched in January 2021, has demonstrated mapping capabilities that meet or exceed traditional survey ships. The Saildrone Surveyor can perform mapping missions simultaneously during MDA missions. The Surveyor is a force multiplier, completing dangerous and monotonous tasks at scale, so that crewed assets can be optimized for higher-value missions.

From left, Austal USA Acting President Michelle Kruger, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, CNO Adm. Lisa Franchetti, ACMC Gen. Christopher J. Mahoney, Rear Adm. (RADM) Thomas Anderson, PEO Ships, Austal USA Vice President New Construction Programs Dave Growden. US Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Michael B. Zingaro.

“Using unmanned assets helps put more players on the field by freeing up manned assets for more specific and important tasks,” said Franchetti. “It’s good to see high tech industry partnering with the traditional shipbuilding industrial base to rapidly deliver cutting-edge products at scale.”

Like all Saildrone USVs, the Surveyor class is primarily propelled by wind using its 13-meter-tall wing sail, making it environmentally friendly with a low operational carbon footprint. The Surveyor is also equipped with a high-efficiency diesel generator for long-range, long-endurance missions in the open ocean. 

Saildrone Surveyor SD-3000 stands on its cradle ready to be lifted into the water at Austal USA in Mobile, AL, on Monday, March 4, 2024. Photo: Courtesy Austal USA.

The Surveyor was developed and designed by Saildrone. The Surveyor’s aluminum hull and keel were manufactured by Austal USA, an industry leader in aluminum shipbuilding, and the fiberglass composite wing and internal components were built at Saildrone’s headquarters in Alameda, CA.

Saildrone serves the eyes and ears of the maritime domain, enabling navies to more efficiently use low-density, high-demand manned assets, prioritize resources, and out-compete adversaries.

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