New Torpedo Tube-launched Drones Will Turn U.S. Attack Sub Fleet into ‘UUV Motherships,’ Says Navy

ARLINGTON, Va. – In the near future, the U.S. nuclear attack submarine fleet will be able to launch and recover an underwater robot from a torpedo tube designed to quietly extend the awareness of a submarine, Navy officials said this week. The torpedo-sized Razorback unmanned underwater vehicle has been in testing on the Navy’s attack […]

USS Vermont (SSN-792) transits the Thames River while conducting routine operations on Oct. 15, 2020. US Navy Photo

ARLINGTON, Va. – In the near future, the U.S. nuclear attack submarine fleet will be able to launch and recover an underwater robot from a torpedo tube designed to quietly extend the awareness of a submarine, Navy officials said this week.

The torpedo-sized Razorback unmanned underwater vehicle has been in testing on the Navy’s attack boats for more than a year but requires a dry deck shelter and divers to recover the 600-pound UUV that has blunted the utility of the system, Submarine Force commander Vice Adm. Bill Houston said on Tuesday at the Naval Submarine League’s annual symposium

“The Medium UUV can go on any one of our submarines. That is a priority for us. We have no problem launching UUVs. That’s easy. The recovery part has been the critical aspect,” Houston said at the Naval Submarine League’s annual symposium.

The Navy tested a system earlier this year to recover the Medium UUV via torpedo tube and is close to deploying the system in the “very near future,” said Rear. Adm. Doug Perry, the director of submarine warfare for the Office of Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV N97).

“While the submarine is moving, the UUV has to find that torpedo tube and drive in,” Perry told reporters when describing the recovery process.
“We have the system working. We haven’t fielded that at the fleet level yet. We expect in the very near future we will have that system operational.”

The existing Razorback UUVs are based on the Remus 600 series of underwater robots built by HII, Rear Adm. Casey Moton, the program executive officer for unmanned and small combatants said on Wednesday.

The Navy is combining the needs of the explosive ordnance disposal community and the attack boat fleet under a contract with Leidos and L3 Harris, Moton said.

“They are developing and building systems based on a single UUV designed to meet the unique requirements for both the Navy’s attack submarine force and the EOD community,” he said.

Leidos and L3 Harris are working on a $358 million contract to develop systems for the MUUV for both communities based around the REMUS 600 design.

Operations Specialist First Class Sean McNamara launches the Mk 18 Mod 2 Kingfish for an initial underwater survey of Sweeper Cove on Adak Island in Alaska’s Aleutian chain. EODMU 1 is providing expeditionary mine countermeasures support in support of Arctic Expeditionary Capabilities Exercise 2019. US Navy photo

While the outer lines of the UUVs will be the same, the payloads and sensors on the EOD and attack boat UUVs will be very different and tailored to the individual missions, USNI News understands.

The planned Viperfish variant will replace the MK-18 Mod 2 Kingfish mine countermeasures UUV to search for underwater mines, Moton said.

“The new UUV capabilities will allow the EOD force to conduct longer duration missions, cover more ocean area and do so faster, which enables the vehicles to get into deeper waters and improves the overall effectiveness of MCM operations in austere environments,” Moton said.

For attack boats, “the team will leverage the work done for the existing Razorbacks UUVs, which were designed to operate from a dry deck shelter or from a craft of opportunity. The new Razorback vehicle will be fully integrated and to accomplish this feat, torpedo tube launch and recovery capability will be integrated into the Razorback UUV,” Moton said.
“When this … capability is deployed, every SSN will have the ability to serve as a UUV mothership.”

The promise of MUUVs is to act as sensors for attack submarines to expand what they can detect underwater. While battery life has improved, the MUUVs are still limited in how long they can operate without recharging and the ability to take the UUV aboard a submarine for charging and maintenance is key to the practical operation of the system.

The Navy began testing the Razorbacks with submarines last year, with nine Razorbacks assigned to the Unmanned Underwater Vehicle Squadron-1 (UUVRON-1).

In July, UUVRON-1 was elevated to a major command, which now reports to the commander of Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet Rear Adm. Jeffery Jablon.

Navy to Expand Land-Based Testing for Unmanned Vessels, Conduct Offensive Firepower Analysis for USVs

A longstanding slogan for the best use of unmanned systems is to perform “dull, dirty and dangerous” missions instead of humans. Early unmanned systems development embraced this idea, with the Navy developing and fielding systems to “mow the lawn” in minefields and to conduct round-the-clock maritime surveillance. Now, with the Navy on the cusp of […]

Medium displacement unmanned surface vehicle (MDUSV) prototype Sea Hunter is moored onboard Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii. US Navy Photo

A longstanding slogan for the best use of unmanned systems is to perform “dull, dirty and dangerous” missions instead of humans.

Early unmanned systems development embraced this idea, with the Navy developing and fielding systems to “mow the lawn” in minefields and to conduct round-the-clock maritime surveillance.

Now, with the Navy on the cusp of taking delivery of a small fleet of larger unmanned surface vessel prototypes and developing the battle network that will connect them to the fleet, the unmanned maritime system program office is overseeing several “initiatives will help focus on what unmanned systems can bring to the dangerous missions and not just the dull and dirty ones,” program manager Capt. Pete Small said earlier this month.

The Navy today has 15 unmanned underwater vehicles and seven unmanned surface vessels of all shapes and sizes in fabrication today, Small said during a briefing at the annual Surface Navy Association symposium. About two years from now, the Surface Development Squadron-1 (SURFDEVRON) organization that oversees medium and large USVs will have seven prototypes at its disposal for a range of activities for experimentation, fleet integration, concept of operations development and reliability testing.

Early unmanned systems focused on finding mines and other underwater obstacles or conducting maritime surveillance: missions where sensors will be finding mostly nothing, until an object of interest suddenly appears, and the system can pick out the object and alert a human, rather than the human watching all the nothingness in real time.

But new operating concepts, as well as the recent tri-service maritime strategy and the chief of naval operations’ Navigation Plan, call for unmanned systems to take on a much more active role in warfighting, Small said.

Among the ideas the Navy was most interested in was arming Large USVs with missiles, an idea that was quickly shot down by lawmakers.

190724-N-AK002-1124
ATLANTIC OCEAN (July 24, 2019) A Knifefish unmanned undersea vehicle (UUV) training model undergoes crane operations aboard the Military Sealift Command expeditionary fast transport vessel USNS Spearhead (T-EPF 1) as part of a training exercise enabling mine countermeasure missions (MCM) from an EPF as a Vessel of Opportunity (VOO). Knifefish is a medium-class mine countermeasure UUV designed for deployment off the littoral combat ship. (U.S. Navy photo by Master-at-Arms 1st Class Alexander Knapp/Released)

Small said in his briefing that the Navy was making progress towards that vision, with plans to conduct an analysis of alternatives for offensive surface fires, including the vertical launch system-enabled LUSV concept, and plans to expand land-based prototyping efforts for hull, mechanical and electrical (HM&E) system automation and reliability to address congressional concerns.

“We understand what their concerns are,” Small said of lawmakers on the House and Senate armed services committees.
“They did, I’ll say, slow down our plans to develop a LUSV with VLS very specifically and very carefully. In the same regard, they very specifically did support our efforts to continue the experimentation that I described, especially with our Overlord USVs and Sea Hunters and our pursuit of hull, mechanical and electrical automation and reliability. So they did very much slow us down on LUSV with VLS, and we’ll assess and continue that dialogue, but they very much supported our continuing efforts to demonstrate the technologies that they’re asking us to respond to.”

Lawmakers worried the Navy was moving so quickly on unmanned vessels despite no proof that their HM&E systems could operate autonomously for weeks or months without human intervention or maintenance. On the VLS-enabled LUSV idea, lawmakers worried that the vessel could be hacked or physically overtaken by an adversary, among other concerns related to an unmanned vessel launching deadly missiles.

The Navy is getting after the latter concerns through its development of the Navy Operational Architecture (NOA) and Project Overmatch, which would net manned and unmanned ships and aircraft together to allow the best sensor to direct the best shooter to engage an adversary – regardless of whether the sensor and shooter was manned or unmanned.

On the reliability side, Small said ongoing at-sea testing was proving out the HM&E reliability and the maturity of the autonomy systems, and that upcoming land-based testing would rigorously test the HM&E systems further. As a result of the delays and changed strategy on LUSV procurement, the Navy awarded six contracts to industry for LUSV studies, and Small said his team was in regular talks with the industry teams and had a particular focus on reliability.

A Ghost Fleet Overlord test vessel takes part in a capstone demonstration during the conclusion of Phase I of the program in September. Two existing commercial fast supply vessels were converted into unmanned surface vessels (USVs) for Overlord testing, which will play a vital role in informing the Navy’s new classes of USVs. US Navy photo.

At sea, already the sailors at SURFDEVRON have had several opportunities to take a prototype of the common controller being developed by Small’s program office and use it to control an Overlord large USV during at-sea operations. In one case, as USNI News first reported, one of the two Pentagon-bought Overlord USVs transited from the Gulf Coast to Southern California autonomously. Small said SURFDEVRON sailors from an operations center in San Diego managed the transit.

“This long transit was over 4,700 nautical miles total traveled, and over 97 percent of those miles were accomplished in autonomy mode. The only time that vessel was not in autonomy mode during the transit was during the brief period of time where it actually transited the Panama Canal,” he said.

That same vessel had in May transited from the Gulf Coast to the East coast, traveling more than 3,000 nautical miles in seven days in autonomous mode.

Since arriving in California, the Overlord USV participated in exercise Dawn Blitz, marking the first time manned and unmanned systems had been integrated during this exercise. Small said the vessel spent more than five days at sea, with 98 percent of that time in autonomous mode while being controlled by SURFDEVRON sailors ashore.

“Not only are we demonstrating increasingly capable unmanned surface vehicle technology, but we are rapidly advancing the Navy’s ability to conduct extended unmanned surface vehicle operations via a remote control interface,” he said.

The Sea Hunter medium USV has operated at sea alongside warships for several advanced tactical training events, again with SURFDEVRON sailors controlling the vessel.

By Fiscal Year 2023, Small said SURFDEVRON would operate four Overlord USVs – two bought by the Pentagon, two bought by the Navy – as well as Sea Hunter and sister ship Sea Hawk, and an MUSV prototype the Navy awarded to L3Harris last year.

Navy Releases Final RFP for Large Displacement Unmanned Underwater Vehicle Program

The Navy released the final request for proposals (RFP) for its Snakehead Large Displacement Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (LDUUV) Phase 2 program, the largest of its submarine-launched unmanned systems. The service is already in fabrication on its Phase 1 LDUUV, which will deliver next year to begin test and evaluation activities. The vehicles delivered under this […]

 

A surrogate Large Displacement Unmanned Undersea Vehicle (LDUUV) is submerged in the water in preparation for a test to demonstrate the capability of the Navy’s Common Control System (CCS) at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center Keyport in Puget Sound, Wash. in December 2015. US Navy Photo.

The Navy released the final request for proposals (RFP) for its Snakehead Large Displacement Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (LDUUV) Phase 2 program, the largest of its submarine-launched unmanned systems.

The service is already in fabrication on its Phase 1 LDUUV, which will deliver next year to begin test and evaluation activities. The vehicles delivered under this Phase 2 LDUUV contract will be the first ones used operationally.

The RFP covers the design, development, and fabrication of two prototype vehicles, which will be competitively awarded to a single vendor, according to a news release from Naval Sea Systems Command. Proposals are expected early in 2021, and an award would be made by the fall.

“Snakehead is a long-endurance, multi-mission UUV, deployed from submarine large ocean interfaces, with the capability to deploy reconfigurable payloads. The LDUUV will provide guidance and control, navigation, autonomy, situational awareness, core communications, power distribution, energy and power, propulsion and maneuvering, other hotel functionality, and sensors in support of the Intelligence Preparation of the Operational Environment (IPOE) mission,” reads a description of the program that accompanies the RFP. Other missions and payloads could be added later, but IPOE will be the initial focus of the LDUUV vehicles.

The LDUUV Phase 2 vehicle will integrate with submarines outfitted with the Modernized Dry Dock Shelter (DDS) and the Payload Handling System (PHS). The Navy has previously discussed the idea of also launching them from select surface ships.

The Navy had previously outlined a timeline for the Snakehead LDUUV that would have put the Phase 1 prototype in the water for testing in 2019, rather than 2021. Though the Navy is running behind that previous schedule, it is taking steps now to smooth its path to fielding and beginning to operate the LDUUVs. USNI News previously reported that UUV Squadron One (UUVRON-1) has been working with two prototypes from the Penn State Applied Research Lab that are a representative size of the LDUUVs, allowing the UUVRON to work out the launch and recovery procedures even while Phase 1 is still in fabrication. By the time the Phase 2 prototypes deliver following this competition, UUVRON will be ready to accept and begin using the vehicles.

NAVSEA hosted a virtual industry day on LDUUV on June 16 and 17, according to the news release. Representatives from more than 50 companies took part via teleconference, and feedback from the industry day was incorporated in a draft RFP that was issued on Oct. 29. Additional industry feedback was considered to inform the final RFP.