New Counter-Sub to Surface Warfare: Unmanned Watercraft to Haunt Oceans
Andrew Wheeler posted on February 27, 2019 |

Weapons engineering is a crucial task for any nation-state, and the US military has the largest budget of any nation in the world. Although the US spends more than four times as much as China and ten times as much as Russia, the U.S Military is more vulnerable now more than ever, and would struggle to defeat either country in an all-out war. Barring the likelihood of such events, this notion comes directly from a National Defense Strategy Commission report released in November of 2018. 

Asymmetric warfare is the name of the game for America's enemies like Iran and North Korea, and certainly the modus operandi for Islamic terrorist groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda. The congressional report asserts that as America sits openly in a state of political dysfunction with infantile and reactionary decisions made by both major parties against one another, its defense is weakening. The report also suggests that the probability of a national security emergency is rising sharply, and Washington is not reacting quickly enough. Although the military budget was raised to USD 716 billion by US President Donald Trump, the report suggests that new and creative threats are not adequately being taken into consideration.

in the South China Sea, where China is pitted against smaller neighbors in multiple disputes over islands, coral reefs and lagoons in waters crucial for global commerce and rich in fish and potential oil and gas reserves: U.S. TO MAINTAIN FREEDOM OF NAVIGATION OPERATIONS PACE The top American military commander in the Indo-Pacific region says the U.S. will maintain the recent pace of freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea aimed at challenging China’s territorial claims. Adm. Phil Davidson told the Senate Armed Services Committee last Tuesday that China’s effort to extend its territorial and economic influence was a bigger long-term threat to the free movement of trade and people in the region than North Korea.
In the South China Sea, China continues to build an artificial island around the Subi reef. China is strategically invested against smaller neighboring countries over islands, lagoons and reefs in high-value waters rich in fish, oil and global commerce. The top American military commander in the Indo-Pacific region recently said that the U.S. will continue what's known as freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea. These freedom of navigation operations are aimed directly at challenging China’s hasty territory grabbing. Adm. Phil Davidson told the Senate Armed Services Committee recently that China’s quest to expand territorial and economic power was more of a threat to trade and people in the region than rogue state North Korea. (Image courtesy of the US Navy.)

The United States Navy has constructed two large uncrewed ships for use in its smaller multi-mission surface vessel fleet.

According to Capt. Pete Small, the Naval Sea Systems Command program manager for unmanned maritime systems, large and mediums USVs are being developed and included in the imminent surface combatant force. He said a lone integrated combat system would be accessible through the whole combat portfolio.

Small said the Navy is looking at the possibility of including weapons on maritime drones, but the key focus will be on larger drones, which will have command and control, precision navigation, endurance and autonomy. 

Boeing is building four extra-large unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs)

Boeing gained an additional USD 43 million in a recently announced contract modification with U.S Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington to build four new extra-large unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs). The strategic value of these watercraft gives the US Navy the ability to perform long missions without risking any human casualties. These long term mission include deploying sensors in various oceans around the world or deploying other smaller UUVs for reconnaissance and intelligence gathering.  

At the Boeing Defense, Space & Security facilities in Huntington Beach, Calif., employees will build four, Extra-Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicles (XLUUVs), which they call Orcas.

Generally, an extra-large UUV has a few core characteristics: they are autonomous, small mini-submarines (with a diameter of approximately 7 feet) and can be launched either from shore, from the moon pool of a large civilian ship or from the well deck of a large military watercraft.

The Boeing Orca XLUUV has a modular design and an open architecture that can be reconfigured. The components of the core vehicle take care of navigation, guidance, communications, power and energy distribution as well as propulsion, mission sensors and maneuvering.

XLUUVs are large for mini-submarines, and Boeing is designing interfaces to be cost-effective and compatible for upgrades to extend the Orca's lifecycle. With a modular payload bay. weapons engineers are keeping the Orca XLUUV capable of delivering all kinds of different payloads, including sensors and presumably, weapons. However, the Orca XLUUV will also do something rather ingenious: it could act as an underwater cargo vessel, bringing various payloads to other US Navy watercraft. They could be used as host ships that deploy smaller UUVs, collect sensors and other equipment on special warfare missions for surveillance and intelligence reconnaissance. Since they are small, they could potentially go undetected in hostile harbors or along coastlines.

 

In this video, you get a sense of the scope and magnitude of the US Navy's UUV programs. Featured here is Boeing's 51-foot long UUV, known as Echo Voyager. It can reach depths of 11,000 feet and stays in operation underwater and unmanned for months at a time. Sea trials began in early 2017 after Boeing announced its operation and existence in 2016. (Video courtesy of Boeing.)

Unmanned payloads are so important to the US Navy's UUV ambitions that DARPA created Hunter, a project that focuses solely on payload delivery systems for XLUUVs. These payloads include weapons, other UUVs, aerial drones (UAVs) and persistent-surveillance sensors, perhaps even some robotics. It is DARPA, so detailed information is always obscured. The Hunter program seeks to develop an innovative concept for the delivery of advanced undersea payloads from extra-large unmanned underwater vehicles (XLUUVs). There are three phases to the Hunter program: Phase 1 is to design and build the payload delivery device to spec, so it fits in a payload module. Phases 2 and 3 are integrating the payload delivery system into the XLUUV and then extensively testing it.

The US Navy and DARPA have so many projects that they sometimes bleed into one another. For example, the XLUUV project is advancing technologies developed in DARPA's Hydra program, which was created to develop unmanned submersibles capable of delivering UAVs and UUVs furtively and undetected in enemy territory.

What is the Blue Wolf Program?

Another defense giant came along with Boeing to satisfy the requirements of a 2015 DARPA project called Blue Wolf. The goal of Blue Wolf was to accelerate underwater propulsion technology to improve drag-reduction and help both manned and unmanned watercraft move more quickly through the oceans of the world.

 The Blue Wolf program yielded fully integrated underwater vehicle prototypes that pushed fixed-size platforms to new speeds and ranges previously unattainable, while keeping specs like volume and weight fractions for electronics and payloads within traditional parameters. Improvements to the system's energy consumption included more dynamic lift from winglets, coatings, body shaping among other drag reduction technologies. Pictured here is the REMUS AUV, which was the first unmanned submersible that was used in the Iraqi port Umm Qasr in 2003, the first ever combat use of an unmanned submersible. (Image courtesy of  AUVAC.)
The Blue Wolf program yielded fully integrated underwater vehicle prototypes that pushed fixed-size platforms to new speeds and ranges previously unattainable, while keeping specs like volume and weight fractions for electronics and payloads within traditional parameters. Improvements to the system's energy consumption included more dynamic lift from winglets, coatings, body shaping among other drag reduction technologies. Pictured here is the REMUS AUV, which was the first unmanned submersible deployed to clear the Iraqi port Umm Qasr in 2003. It marked the first ever use of an unmanned submersible in combat. (Image courtesy of AUVAC.)

The Blue Wolf Program only adds to a U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) Dry Combat Submersible program, where Lockheed Martin was tasked with designing a low-cost mini-submarine that transports Special Ops warfighters such as Navy Seals in total stealth, helping them minimize swimming distance which prevents fatigue and improves the likelihood of mission success. Lockheed Martin is also helping with the Navy's Remote Multi-Mission Vehicles (RMMV) UUVs, which are deployed in countermine warfare operations performed by the US Navy's Littoral Combat Ship.

Bottom Line

As the tectonic plates of global power continue to shift and quake, all nation-states and terrorist groups that are looking to sink the United States from global hegemony will continue to probe for weaknesses. The 2020 election cycle seems like a great opportunity to attack American interests around the world and destabilize the world's only remaining superpower. With its massive military budget and massive naval fleet, a devastating blow seems unlikely. But they always do.


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