Navy Plans Fleet of Unmanned Underwater Gliders

February 1, 2012 - via MOAA

The U.S. Navy has moved into full rate production of its underwater Littoral Battlespace Sensing-Glider (LBS-G) program, calling for the manufacture of 35 gliders from a Huntsville, Ala., company.

Teledyne Brown Engineering Inc. will make the gliders, with the option of producing an additional 100, under a contract with the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command worth up to $53.1 million for 150 units. Teledyne already has delivered 15 gliders to the Navy’s Program Executive Office.

The LBS-G, 8 inches in diameter and 6 feet long, is driven in a saw-tooth vertical profile by variable buoyancy using the ocean’s own temperature and pressure differences and has the ability to move both vertically and horizontally.

The LBS-G can dive to 3,280 feet and has a range of 24,000 miles and a projected endurance for its thermal engine of three to five years. It can navigate using GPS, a magnetic compass, an altimeter, or subsurface dead reckoning. Its sensor package includes conductivity, temperature, and depth modules, and it can communicate via RF modem, Iridium satellite and Argos, a worldwide tracking and environmental monitoring system.

Clayton Jones, senior director for Teledyne Webb Research in East Falmouth, Mass., says the core technology of the glider is “all about the displacement of water around it. When the displacement is collapsing, the glider becomes more dense and sinks; if it expands, the glider becomes less dense and rises.”

A piston pump assembly in the nose cone of the LBS-G functions to change the volume of seawater in the vehicle. The LBS-G has wings that can be deflected to translate some of the glider’s vertical motion to the horizontal plane, so it is effectively flying up or down at an angle in the water. Steering is accomplished through a tailfin rudder.

“The glider might be programmed to sink to 2,000 feet, stay there for 10 days, then rise up through the water column taking measurements of conductivity, temperature and depth,” Jones says. “At the surface, it would transmit its information, then return back down to its assigned depth.”

The glider typically is programmed to submerge, perform a mission, and come to the surface to communicate, Jones notes. It then can be returned to its current mission or sent on a new mission that might be programmed with a series of way points of when to surface and communicate again.

Information from the gliders is useful not only for weather predictions but also for submarine commanders, who want to know where thermal boundaries are located to enable them to better hide their subs from detection.

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Author:Alan M. Petrillo