Boeing is preparing to conduct sonar payload testing in March using its Echo Ranger UUV test bed, the company has revealed.
Having completed the previous tests in November, Jameson Garrett, Boeing programme development manager for advanced technology programmes and information, explained to Shephard at the AFCEA West conference in San Diego, on 24 November that 'we are essentially for hire for payload testing; we're batch testing if you will'.
Set to take place in Catalina, US, the tests are being conducted alongside the University of South California, and is a niche offering in that a host platform is not needed to test the payloads. Testing of this sort happens roughly every quarter.
'The beauty of our platform is that it is completely stable and payloads can be easily mounted. It is a very stable surface platform for ISR collection,' Garrett explained. The system is a large diameter vehicle, is completely autonomous, and 'always comes back; all of our launches equate to all of our recoveries', he said.
Following a four-year deployment of the system for gas and oil monitoring off the Gulf of Mexico, Boeing is now looking to push the system towards the military market. ‘All the unknowns that can happen are what the navy is really interested in,’ Garrett said. 'The near-term demand from the navy will involve testing the payloads. We're trying to set the bar very high. It [the Echo Ranger] has been totally refurbished since the deployment in the Gulf of Mexico.' A development contract was signed with the US Navy in 2011 for ASW-related testing, Garrett confirmed.
The system is also set to return to this oil and gas application as there is 'a substantial build up in that market as they turn to C4 for the infrastructure'.
Other areas of interest for the platform include wind and petrol monitoring, and Garrett cited the Middle East as a potential customer base (although there are no international customers for the platform at present) because of the risk to this area from underwater IEDs, referring to it as an 'underwater guard dog'.