Automated Anchor Handling System

Navy SBIR 21.1 - Topic N211-072
NAVSEA - Naval Sea Systems Command - Mr. Dean Putnam -
Opens: January 14, 2021 - Closes: February 18, 2021 (12:00pm EDT)

N211-072 TITLE: Automated Anchor Handling System

RT&L FOCUS AREA(S): Autonomy

TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Ground / Sea Vehicles

The technology within this topic is restricted under the International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR), 22 CFR Parts 120-130, which controls the export and import of defense-related material and services, including export of sensitive technical data, or the Export Administration Regulation (EAR), 15 CFR Parts 730-774, which controls dual use items. Offerors must disclose any proposed use of foreign nationals (FNs), their country(ies) of origin, the type of visa or work permit possessed, and the statement of work (SOW) tasks intended for accomplishment by the FN(s) in accordance with section 3.5 of the Announcement. Offerors are advised foreign nationals proposed to perform on this topic may be restricted due to the technical data under US Export Control Laws.

OBJECTIVE: Develop a capability that will enable the planning and execution of autonomous anchoring evolutions scalable in operation for both Medium Unmanned Surface Vehicle (MUSV) and Large Unmanned Surface Vessel (LUSV) applications.

DESCRIPTION: The current state-of-the-art in anchor evolutions is manpower intensive requiring a user in the loop to both choose the location as well as execute and monitor the sequence of actions such as, but not limited to, the lowering and securing of the anchor. Innovations in process and method by which the Navy conducts anchor handling evolutions are required to ensure both safety and reliability while eliminating the required manpower necessary to enable truly autonomous operations for future unmanned surface vehicles.

The Navy seeks to develop an autonomous anchor handling system able to conduct a routine anchoring event with no human intervention. This includes planning for and selecting the anchoring location and then securely placing the anchor while continuously monitoring and adjusting as needed based upon the needs of the vehicle. Proposers will likely need to address not only the automation of the anchor handling machinery onboard the USVs, but the decision making autonomy that would provide the oversight and control of the event itself.

Multiple factors are considered when planning an anchorage location. These factors include: location, anchor to be used, depth of water, type of bottom, scope of chain to be used, drag and swing circles, and planned route, heading, and velocity profile in order to arrive at an anchoring location at 1 knot or less to pay out chain. Proposed anchor planning system concepts should be able to command the anchor handling equipment to place the anchor in a safe [Ref 5] manner upon arriving at desired anchorage point. After dropping anchor, the anchor planning system should identify if the anchor is dragging, the chain is tending across the stem (lead around the ship’s bow), or if other ships are entering the drag and swing circles and take appropriate action. If the anchor planning or handling system determines the anchor is dragging, the planning system should take appropriate action, such as steaming to the anchor, directing the handling system to let out additional chain, or to weigh anchor and getting underway. The system shall autonomously manage and execute a plan on weighing anchor, including bearing and speed to ride the anchor chain, command the anchor machinery to lift the anchor, and provide confirmation to the vessel that it is safe to begin steaming. The system will need to include a troubleshooting function that indicates failure modes and system status as well as providing data to allow for the capability of remote operation.

An automated anchor handling system should be able to accept commands from a higher level system (autonomously as well as human in or on the loop) and be able to automatically handle, drop, and weigh the anchor. Equipment shall be no smaller than Equipment Numeral U7 and no larger than Equipment Numeral U15 in Table 1, 2019 American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) Steel Vessel Rules (SVR) 3-5-1 (available at – see p.346.) The largest anticipated anchor will weigh 1,590 kg, and will be a Stockless Bower type. Anchor chain is traditionally made up of 90 foot sections (or "shots") of solid links. Each shot is joined to its neighbor by a single detachable link. The largest anticipated anchor chain diameter is 40 mm, using Chain Cable Stud Link Bower Chain. The anchor chain will be 900 feet long. The maximum force on the anchor and chain can be calculated from the preceding information together with Section 4-5-1 (pp. 414-418) of the ABS SVR. When the vessel has paid out the desired scope of chain, it is positioned so that a detachable link is on deck. This practice facilitates leaving the anchor behind in an emergency ("slipping anchor") if the anchor windlass is inoperative and the vessel must get underway. Modifications to the traditional anchor, chain, and handling equipment in order to facilitate a fully automated process are to be considered within the design tradespace. Proposers should keep in mind the desire to have a scalable system that is Mobile Open Systems Approach (MOSA) compliant to allow for compatibility with future USVs. To ensure interoperability with planned and future USVs, solutions must also comply with the PMS 406’s Unmanned Maritime Autonomy Architecture (UMAA). UMAA establishes a standard for common interfaces and software reuse among the mission autonomy and the various vehicle controllers, payloads, and Command and Control (C2) services in the PMS 406 portfolio of unmanned systems (UxS) vehicles. The UMAA common standard for Interface Control Documents (ICDs) mitigates the risk of unique autonomy solutions applicable to just a few vehicles allowing flexibility to incorporate vendor improvements as they are identified; effects cross-domain interoperability of UxS vehicles; and allows for open architecture (OA) modularity of autonomy solutions, control systems, C2, and payloads. The Navy will provide the open standards for UMAA upon award of Phase I.

PHASE I: Develop a concept design for an anchor planning and handling system. The Government will provide the UMAA documentation in support of future Phase II proposal development. Deliver a concept design for reliable, safe, and repeatable operations, including any modeling and simulation, studies, or prototypes in support of concept risk reduction.

The Phase I Option, if exercised, will deliver a preliminary design of the concept, identifying the baseline design (hardware, software, support systems) and underlying architectures to ensure that the concept has a reasonable expectation of satisfying the requirements. See paragraph 4-5-1/7 on p. 417 of ABS SVR part 4 for Shop Inspection and Testing, and see paragraph 3-7-2/1 on p. 371 of SVR part 3 for Anchor Windlass Trials.

PHASE II: Develop and deliver a critical design prior to fabrication of the system or major system components for company testing. The system developed under the Phase II shall comply with MOSA and UMAA. The detailed design must meet the performance, cost, and schedule requirements. It will also identify the necessary interfaces, dependencies, and risks. After a successful Critical Design Review (CDR), develop a prototype(s). Testing and certification of the planning portion of the system will consist of simulation with the vessel of opportunity’s autonomy. Testing and certification of the handling portion of the system will consist of hardware-in-the-loop testing.

PHASE III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS: Successful anchor planning and handling systems will transition to either the MUSV program or the LUSV program. UMAA compliant anchoring planning software and anchoring systems for Navy USVs would have applicability to the commercial unmanned surface vehicles already widely in use further expanding their ability to adapt to their operational environment and conduct autonomous operations.


  1. Baker, Clifford C.; Malone, Thomas and Krull, Russell D. "Survey of Maritime Experiences in Reduced Workload and Staffing." Carlow International Inc,, Falls Church, VA, No. CGR/DC-292/99, 1999.
  2. Schank, John F.; Yardley, Roland J.; Riposo, Jessie; Thie, Harry J.; Keating, Edward G.; Arena, Mark V.; Pung, Hans; Birkler, John and Chiesa, James. "Options for reducing costs in the United Kingdom’s future aircraft carrier (CVF) programme." Rand, 2005.
  3. Pardo, Miguel Lamas; Carral Couce, Luis; Castro-Santos, Laura and Carral Couce, Juan Carlos. "A review of the drive options for offshore anchor handling winches." Brodogradnja: Teorija i praksa brodogradnje i pomorske tehnike 68, no. 3, 2017, pp. 119-134.
  4. Jiang, Huilue and Luo, Fei. "A Direct Torque Controlled Anchor System Design." 2015 International Conference on Intelligent Systems Research and Mechatronics Engineering, Atlantis Press, 2015.
  5. Noel, John V. (editor) "Knight’s Modern Seamanship 18th Edition." Wiley, 1988.

KEYWORDS: Automated Anchoring; Anchor Planning System; Anchor Handling System; Medium Unmanned Surface Vehicle; MUSV; Large Unmanned Surface Vehicle; LUSV; Energy Conservation


The Navy Topic above is an "unofficial" copy from the overall DoD 21.1 SBIR BAA. Please see the official DoD Topic website at for any updates.

The DoD issued its 21.1 SBIR BAA pre-release on December 8, 2020, which opens to receive proposals on January 14, 2021, and closes February 18, 2021 at 12:00 p.m. ET.

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