Experts are convinced that unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) and autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) will play major roles in naval warfare. They concede, however, that full realization of this vision is in the future. Although robotic vehicles are redefining air and land operations, the revolution in unmanned vehicles for undersea and surface use is still in its early stages.
Numerous programs are underway to enhance the capabilities of UUVs and AUVs and produce versions that can be used for a range of missions. These include: reconnaissance and surveillance, undersea surveying and mapping, intelligence-gathering, mine countermeasures (MCM), rapid environmental assessments (REAs), amphibious warfare, port and force defense, and special operations. Antisubmarine warfare could also be at least partially handled by UUVs, as well as beach reconnaissance and breaching obstacles.
Operating underwater is difficult and complex, and complicates efforts to coordinate operations among robotic vehicles and surface vessels. Nevertheless, the promise of UUVs and AUVs is so great, especially as naval operations shift from blue water to the littorals, that navies and manufacturers are pursuing development, making them one of the most promising naval businesses.
UUV designers exploit systems that were developed for commercial and scientific use and for MCM. Underwater vehicles for MCM have evolved from crude, cable-controlled platforms that were useful for keeping vessels at a safe distance from areas where mines could be expected, to platforms that can operate autonomously. Since the introduction of the first-generation PAP-104 Mk.2 UUV by ECA of France, major steps have been taken to minimize risks of mine-clearing and to speed operations.
Europe has invested heavily in UUVs and AUVs. The U.S. embraced the technology late but has become a leader in research. In July the U.S. Navy established a program office to manage its unmanned maritime vehicle (UMV) efforts, merging traditional acquisition and advanced development into a single charter. “The goal is to coordinate [unmanned vehicle acquisition] and direct experimentation and technology maturation,” says Capt. Duane Ashton, program manager. The UMV office falls under the purview of the Program Executive Office for Littoral and Mine Warfare. The mixture of acquisition and development means the UMV office works with industry, academia and research laboratories to advance development and direct acquisition.
The Surface MCM System UUV, part of the mine countermeasures mission package, is managed by the UMV office. The goal is to build several development models, field them and incorporate feedback from sailors into the program, Ashton says. The Navy continues to experiment with programs like the large-diameter UUV, which will be used for persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR). Lessons learned will be applied to the goal of developing a long-endurance, multimission, reconfigurable UUV.
Boeing Maritime ISR Systems’ Echo Ranger UUV is being used for tests. The vehicle has been proven down to 3,000 meters (9,843 ft.) and demonstrated 28-hr. endurance. Boeing previously developed the AN/BLQ-11 mine survey UUV, which is in service with Los Angeles-class submarines.
ECA, for example, offers Olister as a successor to the PAP-104. It is 3.1 meters long, weighs 600 kg. (1,320 lb.), and cruises at more than 6 kt. on battery or cable power. The closely named Alister is the company’s AUV entry. Weighing up to 960 kg. depending on sensor suite and operable at depths of 300 meters, it has endurance of 12-20 hr. and top speed of 8 kt. The K-Ster UUV, a 50-kg. mine-killer, completes the company’s range.
The U.S. Navy deploys several types of robotic vehicles. These include BAE Systems’ Archerfish, a single-shot minekiller with a directed-energy warhead, scanning sonar and twin propulsors that let it hover beside a target for remote video identification. Archerfish can be launched from surface ships, UUVs or dropped from helicopters. Another vehicle is the semi-submersible WLD-1, a diesel-powered, radio-controlled minehunter from Lockheed Martin that is 7 meters (23 ft.) long, weighs 5.8 tons and has a top speed of 16 kt.
Manufacturers in Europe and Asia, meanwhile, continue to expand or develop undersea robotic technology.
Kongsberg of Norway, which acquired Hydroid Co. of the U.S., also claims a broad product portfolio. Its Hugin AUV family comprises models with diameters of 0.75 to 1 meter, which can be equipped with sensors and operate in semi-autonomous or autonomous modes. The Hugin 1000 has 24-hr. endurance and a 4-kt. cruising speed, while the 3000 runs for 60 hr. Completing the product lineup is the Remus (Remote Environmental Measuring Units) AUV line. This includes the model 100, with a 19-cm. (7.5-in.) diameter and weighing 37 kg. It operates at 100 meters with 22-hr. endurance and runs at 5 kt. for 8 hr. The 600, which weighs 240 kg., can be configured to operate at 600, 1,500 or 3,000 meters. It has 60-hr. endurance and top speed of 5 kt. The 600 is 3.25 meters long, 32.4 cm. in diameter and carries a range of sensors due to its modular design. The Remus 6000, at 862 kg., descends to 6,000 meters and has an endurance of 22 hr.
Atlas Elektronik, jointly owned by ThyssenKrupp and EADS, acquired Qinetiq’s underwater systems business in May 2009, and has a range of remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and AUVs. The ROV family starts with the SeaFox MCM system. This includes SeaFox I, for mine identification and inspection, and SeaFox IQ, for intelligence gathering and interception. Both are 1.3 meters long, weigh 40 kg., operate at 300 meters and cruise at 6 kt. with a range of 1.2 km.
Larger AUVs include the SeaOtter Mk. II and deep-diving Sea Otter Mk. II D. The former is for MCM, ISR (including on the surface) and REA missions. Its modular design permits different payloads. Sea Otter Mk II is 3.45 meters long, weighs 1,000 kg., has 24-hr. endurance and top speed of 8 kt.
BAE Systems is pursuing several UUV projects with a modular concept. First out of the box is the 1-ton Talisman M, with a mission system repackaged in the smaller Talisman L. The latter weighs 50 kg. and operates for 12 hr. at 100 meters. Talisman M, 4.5 X 2.5 meters, operates at 300 meters and cruises at 5 kt., powered by a hybrid-diesel propulsion system. Endurance is 24 hr., but BAE plans to extend this to several days.
GayMarine of Italy, a manufacturer of ROVs, plans to produce Gigas, which will weigh 600 kg., cruise above 7 kt., carry a 100-kg. payload and operate at 600 meters. The company has developed a mine-disposal vehicle called Plutino, which carries a 15-kg. payload, weighs 50-90 kg., operates at 300 meters and cruises at 6 kt.
Saab has a technological base in MCM operations and entered the AUV business with its modular AUV62-MR for mine reconnaissance. It is cylindrical, 4, 7 or 10 meters long, with a 53-cm. diameter, and weighs 600-1,500 kg. Top speed is more than 20 kt. The vehicle covers 20 sq. km. (7.7 sq. mi.) per hr. in REA missions. It operates autonomously at 500 meters.
Saab plans to convert the Double Eagle ROV into a hybrid ROV/AUV, which can perform MCM operations while moving well ahead of a MCM vessel. The vehicle weighs 540 kg., and cruises at 8 kt. at depths of 500 meters. Standard cable length is 1,000 meters. It has endurance of more than 10 hr. in AUV mode, and carries a 250-kg. payload.
Singapore, Australia and Japan are leading UUV development in Asia-Pacific, with South Korea soon to follow. Singapore has two programs—Meredith and Starfish. Meredith, unveiled by DSO National Laboratories in May and now being tested by the navy, is a 2.5-meter-long vehicle that detects and destroys mines. Operating depth is 100 meters, with 5-hr. endurance and cruising speed of 6 kt.
Starfish is in development by ST Electronics and the National University of Singapore. It is 2 meters long, autonomous and can be used in commercial and military applications. Although Starfish’s GPS lost its fix a few times in trials, the vehicle obtained sufficient position data to complete the test mission.
The Japanese defense ministry’s Technical Research and Development Institute has a program called “Multipurpose UUV System Research,” with a ¥2.8-billion ($33.2-million) budget. It began in 2008, and tests will run from 2010-12. Planned missions include antisubmarine warfare, minehunting, seabed surveying and underwater surveillance. A direct methanol fuel cell, which is claimed to have 3.4-times higher energy density than a polymer electrolyte fuel cell, is being studied as a power supply.