Release Date
August 23rd, 2023
Open Date
September 20th, 2023
Due Date(s)
October 18th, 2023
Close Date
October 18th, 2023
Topic No.


Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Autonomy for Improved Operations and Modernization of Navy Shipyards


Department of DefenseN/A


Type: SBIRPhase: BOTHYear: 2023


The Department of Defense (DoD) is seeking proposals for the topic of "Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Autonomy for Improved Operations and Modernization of Navy Shipyards". The objective is to modernize Navy Shipyard facilities through three lines of effort: Drydocks, Infrastructure, and Industrial Plant Equipment. The goal is to bring these century-old shipyards up to modern practices by incorporating digital technology such as digital twins, AI, and autonomy. The aim is to upgrade and modernize shipyard operations and processes to expedite the redeployment of Navy assets back in the field quickly and safely. The DoD is specifically looking for technologies that can improve materials handling workflow, enable autonomous 3D precision scanning, and perform autonomous non-destructive inspection. The project will be conducted in phases, with Phase I focusing on developing and demonstrating an initial functional prototype, Phase II on further development and demonstration of a functional prototype, and Phase III on dual-use applications and transitioning the technology to Navy use. The Navy sees potential dual-use applications in commercial logistics, inspection of facilities, and commercial ships. The project duration and funding specifics are not provided in the document. For more information, interested parties can visit the DoD SBIR 23.3 BAA solicitation page on


OUSD (R&E) CRITICAL TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Human-Machine Interfaces;Sustainment;Trusted AI and Autonomy

OBJECTIVE: Modernize Navy Shipyard facilities through three lines of effort: Drydocks, Infrastructure, and Industrial Plant Equipment. Digital technology to include digital twins, AI, and autonomy will bring these century old shipyards up to modern practices. Upgrading and modernizing shipyard operations and processes will expedite, reliably and safely, redeployment of DON assets back in the field as quickly as possible. Technologies for maintaining and sustaining ships, aircraft, and ground vehicles have advanced significantly in the past 50 years. Yet, the DON sustainment community has struggled to pilot, and integrate those same technological advances into public shipyards, fleet readiness centers, and ground vehicle depots. Executing this plan will improve the Navy Shipyards’ productivity and increase their maintenance throughput to support the combat readiness of the Navy.

DESCRIPTION: The DON seeks to modernize its four public shipyards by fielding unmanned systems capabilities to improve efficiency and reduce cost without sacrificing safety or reliability. Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs), Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUVs), and materials handling equipment are actively being investigated to reduce exposure to hazardous conditions; reduce or avoid costs related to inspections, repairs, and surveying; and in general improve shipyard work processes. These added capabilities will fundamentally change the shipyard work environment, allowing for faster and more reliable forms of inspection, material delivery, work standardization, security, and condition reporting.

Technologies in the following focus areas are sought. Proposals can address one or multiple areas:

  1. Improvement of Materials Handling Workflow Automating cranes and folk lifts; and improving logistics tracking in near real-time. Analytics, AI, and machine learning tools can be deployed to plan scheduling, enable continuous 24/7 operations, improve safety, and track and monitor all logistics to track inventory and identify workflow bottlenecks. These digital solutions serve as a force-multiplier, and not a replacement for the workforce, by maximizing operator talent and empowering faster, smarter decisions to increase safety and operator efficiency.

  2. Autonomous 3D Precision Scanning (Command, Control, and Communications): Progress in 3D scanning continues to revolutionize multiple industries. The Navy desires the ability to autonomously 3D scan large platforms (e.g., aircraft carriers, airframes, vehicles) with the greatest precision possible. These scans will further improve digital twins as well as locate various structural issues that may otherwise by difficult to discern. This focus area is intended to advance (1) the digitization rate (including capture of environmental conditions as metadata), (2) precision from stand-off distances, and (3) rate of image rendering/stitching to create an interactive model.

  3. Autonomous Non-Destructive Inspection (Autonomy and Microelectronics): Inspections of various structures (e.g., struts or stiffeners), pier facilities, and components (e.g., hatches or assemblies) of DON platforms are very labor intensive. The Navy desires to perform non-destructive inspections (NDI) of various geometries, sizes, and submerged assets through autonomous means. Existing NDI techniques including but not limited to penetrant testing, ultrasonic testing, and magnetic testing are sought to be placed in an autonomous solution.

PHASE I: Develop and demonstrate an initial functional prototype meeting one primary Focus Area of the three Focus Areas listed under the Description. Phase I submissions should provide sufficient information on how the prototype to be developed and demonstrated during the Phase I will function in a relevant environment in a manner meeting the specified Focus Area. This information may include, but is not limited to, detailed designs, preliminary component or system laboratory testing, or a minimum viable product (MVP). At the end of Phase I, an initial functional prototype will be ready for demonstration and a detailed test plan for prototype testing will be provided to the Government.

PHASE II: Develop and demonstrate a functional prototype. Perform a Prototype Demonstration of Viability that focuses on moving beyond proving basic achievement of meeting DON needs to meeting usability features required for integration and deployment. Work with actual end users and systems integration personnel to ensure that requirements beyond technological performance of the prototype are identified (e.g., Human System Interface, logistics, training, maintenance, installation). Use feedback from DON users, systems integrators, and other potential defense and commercial beneficiaries and stakeholders to modify and adapt the prototype(s) to meet defense operational conditions and technical needs, Ensure that the prototype demonstrates operational and/or commercial viability. Recommend test procedures to demonstrate viability and an appropriate facility for the test.

Perform Pilot Testing in an Operational Environment that includes meeting with DON command stakeholders and operational end users to conduct pilot tests of fully functional prototype(s) in an operational environment or military exercise. Coordinate testing with DON command and operational stakeholders. Provide the results of this testing to inform stakeholders on the capabilities of the developed technology and the probability for its deployment in an operational environment. Use feedback from DON users, systems integrators, and other potential defense and commercial beneficiaries and stakeholders to adapt the prototype(s) to optimize defense operational and technical benefits and to provide optimal dual-use commercial market fit. If required, support the contractor-conducted tests, but the operation of the prototypes in the test must be capable of being performed by the government.

PHASE III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS: Support the transition to Navy use. Given the need for these capabilities at numerous sites, the Navy will coordinate funding to maximize return on investment at needed sites. Depending on financial estimates, a phased procurement may be required to reach full implementation at the necessary sites. Coordination between the Navy and the provider will be required during Phase III to ensure support and proper proficiency of the solution is in place. New guidance or standards may need to be generated to adopt these new technologies into operational processes. Standards and guidance may be adopted from commercial dual use cases. The Navy sees commercial development in autonomous systems in commercial logistics, inspection of facilities and commercial ships that can be leveraged to reduce development and transition costs.

Finally, the Federal Government sees the development of these capabilities as benefiting industrial maintenance activities in partnership with the Navy at commercial shipyards. The ability to keep critical assets in operation is a common need for which the Navy is seeking willing commercial partners . Service and or maintenance contracts may be procurement alternatives to direct acquisition of equipment.


  1. Congressional Budget Office. “An Analysis of the Navy’s Fiscal Year 2023 Shipbuilding Plan.”
  2. Moriyasu, Ken and Fang, Alex. “US races to upgrade naval shipyards, wary of Chinese dominance”. NikkeiAsia, May 19, 2021.
  3. DON Science and Technology (S&T) Strategy for Intelligent Autonomous Systems.

KEYWORDS: Autonomy; Artificial Intelligence; AI: Inspection; shipyard; robotics; data analytics; construction; digital twin; digitization; 3D scanning