Navy asks industry to develop large unmanned submarine able to operate independently for more than two months

BY John Keller

ARLINGTON, Va.—The U.S. Navy is asking industry to develop a large, pier-launched unmanned submarine able to operate in the open ocean and in coastal waters and harbors on missions lasting more than two months to gather intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) information as covertly as possible.

The U.S. Office of Naval Research (ONR) has released a broad agency announcement (ONRBAA11-025) for the Large Displacement Unmanned Underwater Vehicle Innovative Naval Prototype technology (LDUUV INP) program to develop autonomy and long-endurance propulsion systems for large unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs).

The LDUUV is intended to be a pier-launched and -recovered large unmanned submersible able to operate in the open ocean and conduct over-the-horizon sensor missions in coastal waters and harbors. This is a fundamental departure from many other unmanned oceangoing vehicle programs, as most UUVs are designed to be launched and recovered from deployed surface ships.

The Manta unmanned underwater vehicle shown above was an experimental prototype large UUV developed at the U.S. Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport, R.I.

Deploying UUVs from ships eases design challenges for these unmanned underwater craft because ship-launched UUVs typically are designed to operate for hours or days, and can be protected from long-term exposure to the rigors of the open ocean. Not so with the LDUUV INP, which will be expected to operate in blue-water and coastal areas for as long as 70 days.

The two primary technology areas that Navy researchers want to develop and demonstrate involve machine autonomy and endurance. Autonomy involves autonomy software, computer hardware, and sensors. Endurance, meanwhile, pertains to UUV propulsion technology that can operate independently for tens of hours to months. Each effort to develop autonomy technologies and endurance technologies will have two phases.

The autonomy effort’s first phase will last for 18 months with a six-month option. For this phase, Navy researchers want contractors involved to develop autonomy hardware and software for missions that last as long as 30 days at depths from 100 to 400 feet. Operators may intervene over satellite links if the mission becomes too complicated, and the Navy may provide a full-scale UUV prototype for this phase.

In the autonomy effort’s second phase, which will last from one to three years, the Navy wants to develop autonomy hardware and software for missions lasting more than 70 days in the open ocean, as well as in coastal waters and harbors, without any human interaction while in operating areas.

The UUV in this phase must be able to avoid all vessels in the area, including fishing boats. Demonstration challenges will include detecting and avoiding undersea stationary and moving obstacles, as well as path planning algorithms to minimize energy consumption while avoiding obstacles; detecting, locating, and identifying surface vessels; determining the intent of detected surface vessels; and detecting and avoiding all kinds of fishing nets and fishing gear, including mono-filament and twine nets which are difficult to detect. Once outside the specified areas, human operators may intervene over satellite links.

The endurance effort’s first phase, which will be for two years with a six-month option, will bring about the development of UUV propulsion for missions as long as 30 days. The second phase, which will last from one to three years, will develop UUV propulsion for missions lasting at least 70 days, including open-ocean transits. The Navy will provide time government-operated, large UUV prototype for at-sea testing.

For technical questions or concerns, contact the Navy’s Daniel Deitz, the LDUUV INP program officer, by e-mail at, or by post at Ocean Battlespace Sensing, Code 321, Office of Naval Research, One Liberty Center, 875 North Randolph St., Arlington, Va. 22203-1995. For business questions, contact Contract Specialist Michael Boyle by e-mail at, or by post at the address above.


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