The British Royal Navy Wants Powerful Robot Submarines

The British Royal Navy Wants Powerful Robot Submarines

David Axe

Technology, Europe

Here’s the plan.

Key point: London wants to maintain its technological edge in warfare. In order to do this, the U.K. wants robots in its navy.

The U.K. Ministry of Defense in April 2019 launched a $3.3-million competition to begin developing a large, robotic submarine.

The contest could lead to the acquisition of an operational autonomous sub for the Royal Navy — and could help the British fleet partially to fill the undersea gap resulting from deep cuts to its sub force.

The ministry asked industry by June 2019 to submit proposals for an extra-large unmanned underwater vehicle, or XLUUV.

“The Royal Navy says that contract will have two stages, a one-year long research, design and refit stage and a testing and trialing stage,” U.K. Defense Journal explained. “In the latter stage it is expected that the system will be tested in representative environments for extended periods; the sea trials in stage two may be up to two years long.”

The government’s request for proposals sketched three different operational scenarios for the possible, future robo-sub.

In the covert intelligence-gathering role, the XLUUV “is tasked to gather covert intelligence of traffic transiting in a maritime operational area,” according to the RFP.

The XLUUV leaves its dock and autonomously, and covertly, transits underwater to the maritime operational area. It positions in the operational area either at or below periscope depth, and monitors traffic for up to three months; above water electronic, underwater acoustic and optical intelligence gathering using a range of sensors. It may position on the seafloor and release a tethered sensor to periscope depth that would then be recovered before returning to periscope depth. During this period a reportable incident occurs, in this case the passing of a vessel of interest, whereby the XLUUV reports the incident to control and continues monitoring.

In the anti-submarine role, the XLUUV “is tasked with enacting an anti-submarine barrier in a particular location,” the RFP explained.

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