El barco no tripulado de la Armada conocido como ‘Flota Fantasma’ será subastado.

The U.S. government is currently auctioning off a 175-foot-long aluminum-hulled offshore support vessel called Nomad. How the ship, which was originally part of the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO) and played a role in the Ghost Fleet Overlord program, ended up on the auction block without much fanfare is not currently clear. The ship has been listed on the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) website for auction with a bid closing date of January 12th. Currently, the highest bid stands at $500,100.

The vessel has been in use since the late 2010s as a testbed for future large unmanned surface vessels. Previously part of the Pentagon’s Ghost Fleet program, Nomad was transferred to the U.S. Navy. The vessel was the subject of experimental tests, exploring and perfecting concepts for future large unmanned surface vehicles.

Despite this history, the vessel currently seems to lack any indication of retaining unmanned functionality. The GSA listing makes no mention of Nomad’s past as an experimental large unmanned surface vessel and there are no signs that the vessel retains any related capabilities.

The vessel has extensive living and operational space, housing up to six individuals in its unmanned configuration. The GSA listing includes images that show the mission deck, complete with a vast open space and spacious internal areas including the kitchen, bathroom, and crew living quarters.

Although the exact reasons for why the vessel is being auctioned are unclear, it’s worth noting that the ship played a significant role in the Navy’s exploration of large unmanned surface vessels. The vessel’s presence at the auction block raises parallels with the fate of other experimental USVs that have been transitioned from the experimental phase to regular service or entirely out of service in recent years.

The GSA pictures included in the listing for the auction show that the vessel has been largely stripped of any notable electronics and sensor equipment. It’s not clear if this equipment has been completely removed or if it’s been effectively deactivated or otherwise inhibited. The listing indicates that any military or law enforcement equipment present in pictures will be removed by the government before the sale. This includes weapon mounts, blue lights, sirens, and specialized radio systems and mounts.

The vessel, including its hull, mechanical, and electrical systems, must be tested and repaired before any operating actions. The GSA listing also notes that Nomad’s propulsion system, which includes four Cummins QSK-50 marine diesel engines, is functional, and the vessel comes with a “large quantity of spares included in the auction.” The ship is currently docked at the Port Hueneme Naval Base in California.

The fact that the vessel is being auctioned now seems curious given the ongoing focus on the development of large unmanned surface vessels. There are a number of specific USVs in the inventory, and four “Overlord” USVs, including Nomad, were part of the Navy’s goals for deployment by the end of fiscal year 2024. There are currently no known plans to acquire another similar testbed vessel.

The Ghost Fleet experimental USV Nomad is substantively different from the other vessels in the Navy’s existing Ghost Fleet USV program and has unique history and features. The vessel was first acquired along with another experimental USV, the USS Ranger in the late 2010s as part of the Ghost Fleet Overlord program.

The Navy ordered two more USVs, one of which is still pending delivery, from the same shipbuilder using a similar basic design. The other two large USVs currently part of the Navy’s Ghost Fleet, are understood to be similar or identical in design from the shipbuilder that built Nomad.

The SEC gained control of Nomad and another experimental USV ‘Ranger’ only to be delivered to the Navy. Both vessels have visual similarities in their doing see that the Navy has the ability to acquire these in this series as they were purchased and tested together under similar conditions.

Aside from this, there is a larger political context to consider in regards to the development and procurement of new large USVs under current plans. The Navy’s budget for large USVs will need to find its direction through Congress and the Pentagon to help navigate spending priorities and the operational use that will inform the incorporation of uncrewed military units.

Ultimately, whether Nomad will find a new chapter of its life after the auction is up to those who see the value in this experimental USV. For anyone in the position to do so, there is still one more week to place a bid. Until then, the future of this experimental vessel remains uncertain.