The U.S. Navy is looking for a USV in the same size class as the new Protector, as a way of bolstering its mine warfare capability. The service has been criticized for downplaying the importance of mine warfare and is now playing catch-up. But the Navy wants a vessel that can quickly survey a large area to hunt and counter mines at all times, notes Stanley DeGues, senior business development director for Textron subsidiary AAI Advanced Systems, which is developing a common, unmanned surface vessel (Cus-V).
“Only mine ships can do it at night,” DeGues says. “Helicopters can't do that.”
AAI is offering the Cus-V for the Navy's proposed unmanned influence sweep system (UISS), meant to provide Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) with a stand-off, long-endurance, semi-autonomous minesweeping capability to counter acoustic or magnetic influence mine threats in the littorals. The Navy plans to test UISS platforms starting in fiscal 2014 and hopes to have them ready for initial operational capability in fiscal 2016.
For the cost of a single minehunting helicopter, DeGues says, the Navy could buy 8-12 Cus-Vs. A Cus-V is 39 ft. long, has a draft of slightly more than 2 ft. and reaches a top speed of 28 kt. It has a cruising range of about 1,200 nm, can tow up to 5,000 lb. while traveling at about 10 kt., and features a 14-ft. payload bay, as well as an autonomous launch, tow and recovery system to deploy a sweeper.
While being developed with the LCS fleet in mind, the Cus-V is land-transportable, air-transportable in a C-17 and C-5, and can be ferried by ship—even commercial vessels, DeGues says. The Cus-V also could be launched out of the well decks of large-deck Navy amphibian assault ships, he notes. There also are some global queries about the ship, too, for missions like harbor security, he adds. “Internationally, folks are very interested.”
In the AUV world, the Office of Naval Research (ONR) is pressing forward with work on the Large Displacement Unmanned Undersea Vehicle (LDUUV).
A variety of AUVs of various shapes and sizes are in service and in development around the Navy, ranging from the Naval Oceanographic Office's Littoral Battlespace Sensing gliders to the Knifefish mine countermeasures AUV planned for use on the LCS, but these are basically single-mission vehicles. LDUUV is planned to have long endurance and operationally useful speed, autonomy and payload capacity, enabling independent, clandestine operations in forward areas.
Though the Navy has not yet specified which missions the vehicle will perform—an analysis of alternatives (AoA) now being conducted by Naval Sea Systems Command is slated for completion next March—a few possibilities present themselves. The stealth and persistence of a long-endurance AUV will be especially useful for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) or preparation of operational environment (IPOE) missions, such as bottom mapping. But it is not hard to envision the LDUUV carrying mines, bomblets or miniature torpedoes, and performing missions previously in the domain of manned submarines like the tracking of enemy submarines.
LDUUV could also be uniquely suited to address emerging missions like defense of the pipelines and telecommunications cables that are increasingly vital to the global economy, or attack on an adversary's undersea sensor networks. Simply put, LDUUV will fulfill a persistent ISR and battlespace preparation role, but will also expand the reach of the U.S. submarine force and perform missions that are impossible for anything in the current arsenal. Moreover, it will enter just in time to mitigate the slump in force structure that will hit in the 2020s, as the large Cold War fleet of Los Angeles- class subs retires.
The new craft is different in important ways from failed predecessors like the Mission Reconfigurable UUV (MR-UUV). Released from “the tyranny of the 21-inch tube,” it has more room for energy storage and payloads. It is designed for launch and recovery from a variety of platforms: SSGNs and Virginias via their large-diameter tubes, the Littoral Combat Ship, piers, or contracted merchant ships. Energy technology has advanced since the MR-UUV as well, allowing for greater energy density and longer endurance—though much work remains to be done in this area to produce an operationally useful vehicle. And perhaps most importantly, it has support at the highest levels of the Navy. In February, the chief of naval operations, Adm. Jonathan Greenert, told reporters “I'm very much desirous of that end-state, cross-ocean, as feasible . . . 30-day, 45-day.”