The Office of Naval Research looks to award contracts in about six months for the nascent large-diameter unmanned underwater vehicle, according to a program officer. "In two years ONR would like to get a vehicle into the water, and to push the state of technology," Dan Deitz, program officer for ONR's ocean battle space and sensing department, said during a May 16 interview.
At ONR, the LDUUV is considered an innovative naval prototype, and the office is not looking at mission payloads. "It's really the technology behind getting a vehicle with that type of endurance," Deitz explained. ONR's goal is to have a vehicle that can stay underwater for about 30 to 60 days, he said.
There are three major challenges when it comes to the LDUUV. The first is energy density so that the vehicle can achieve that 30- or 60-day endurance. Autonomy is another hurdle -- the vehicle must operate and know what it may face in the ocean. The third challenge is reliability because there will not be a sailor to repair the vehicle, Deitz stated.
There are some components to the LDUUV that are commercially available. Energy and autonomy solutions are examples of commercial off-the-shelf products the Navy can use and modify. When it comes to the reliability piece, Deitz said ONR is starting from scratch.
In October, Rear Adm. Barry Bruner, director of submarine warfare, said he would like 10 LDUUVs for the Navy. The service could "send them out to go do things like mine clearance, to do things like ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance], to tell you where the enemy's at when you're coming out, to do things like bottom-mapping so you can insert whatever you need to put on the ocean floor," he said.
The program executive officer for submarines, Rear Adm. David Johnson, also announced in October that the Navy plans to demonstrate a universal-launch-and-recovery module in the summer of 2013. This is an alternative method to launch and recover a LDUUV without having a dry-dock shelter on the back of a ship. Potentially, this method could be used on guided-missile submarines and Virginia-class subs.
Unmanned undersea vehicles are also receiving support from Congress. In its fiscal year 2013 defense authorization bill, the House Armed Services Committee stated it "is in agreement with the views of the Chief of Naval Operations that unmanned vehicles, particularly UUVs, can complement and augment manned naval systems; increasing their capability while reducing risk to Navy personnel and cost." The bill offers an example of using unmanned vehicles to provide persistent presence that could enhance the effectiveness of surveillance missions in priority locations.
"The ability of one operator to control a number of unmanned vehicles could also expand the coverage potential of these systems without requiring an increase in personnel," the committee said.