UK: GBP 2.5M investment in XL autonomous submarine development

An initial GBP 1 million (USD 1.3 million) contract has been awarded to Plymouth-based company MSubs Ltd to build a test submarine that will be used to explore the potential capabilities of larger uncrewed underwater vehicles in the future, the UK Ministry of Defence (UK MOD) said.

Measuring about 30 feet in length, this extra-large autonomous submarine is significantly larger than autonomous submarines used for beach reconnaissance, allowing it to operate at a range of 3,000 nautical miles.

Admiral Tony Radakin, First Sea Lord announced the contract at the Underwater Defence & Security Symposium in Southampton. He noted how the ministry wants to increase its presence in the underwater battlespace and is exploring the use of extra-large uncrewed underwater vehicles (XLUUV) for surveillance, reconnaissance, and anti-submarine warfare operations.

“I am enormously excited about the potential for remotely piloted and autonomous systems to increase our reach and lethality, improve our efficiency and reduce the number of people we have to put in harm’s way,” Radakin said.

“These XLUUVs are at the forefront of underwater systems technology; UK technological developments such as this will be key to the Royal Navy maintaining its battle-winning edge in the underwater environment.”

XLUUV submarines are especially adept at covert intelligence gathering. They can leave their dock autonomously and secretly move to the operational area without any embarked crew for up to three months. They are also able to sense hostile targets and report their findings back to the station, making them an important barrier for anti-submarine warfare.

“Submersible autonomous vessels have huge potential and this project could be a game-changer for the UK’s underwater capability, taking our submarine service to the next level,” Defence Minister Jeremy Quin said.

The first phase of Defence and Security Accelerator’s (DASA) Developing the Royal Navy’s Autonomous Underwater Capability programme, run jointly with the Royal Navy and Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), will see an existing crewed submersible refitted with autonomous control systems.

If initial testing is successful, up to a further GBP 1.5 million is available to further test the new capability making it the largest joint contract awarded as part of a DASA competition, according to the UK MOD.

Currently, smaller autonomous and remotely piloted submarines are unable to undertake all the tasks of larger crewed submarines.

“DASA’s involvement is enabling this technology to advance at a much quicker pace and to deliver new capabilities to the Royal Navy years earlier than otherwise possible,” Adam Moore, DASA delivery manager, explained.

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