Boeing moves forward on Navy long-endurance unmanned underwater vehicle project for special warfare missions

Nov. 9, 2022
The Orca XLUUV will have well-defined interfaces for affordable future upgrades to capitalize on advances in technology and respond to threat changes.

WASHINGTON – Undersea warfare experts at the Boeing Co. will continue supporting extra-large unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs), which will be expected to undertake long-endurance missions to deploy sensors or other UUVs.

Officials of the U.S. Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington has announced an $11.6 million order to the Boeing Defense, Space & Security segment in Huntington Beach, Calif., for engineering support services in support of the Extra Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicle (XLUUV) program.

Extra-large UUVs typically are autonomous mini-submarines that measure about seven feet in diameter -- sometimes larger. They are designed for launch from shore or from large military ships with well decks, or from large civil vessels with moon pools.

The modular-construction Boeing Orca XLUUV will be an open-architecture reconfigurable unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) with the core vehicle providing guidance and control, navigation, autonomy, situational awareness, core communications, power distribution, energy and power, propulsion and maneuvering, and mission sensors, Navy officials say.

Related: Unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) for long-endurance persistent surveillance use introduced by Kongsberg

The Orca XLUUV will have well-defined interfaces for cost-effective future upgrades to capitalize on advances in technology and respond to threat changes. The Orca XLUUV will have a modular payload bay, with defined interfaces to support current and future UUV payloads.

XLUUVs, which are among the largest unmanned submersibles ever conceived, will be for long-endurance surveillance missions or undersea cargo vessels to deliver other sensor payloads and other UUVs.

These large unmanned undersea vehicles eventually could be used as motherships to deploy and recover smaller surveillance UUVs on far-flung reconnaissance, surveillance, or special warfare missions in the open ocean or along coastlines and inside harbors.

The Navy and the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Arlington, Va., have involved Lockheed Martin and Boeing on a variety of large UUV projects such as the Large-Displacement Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (LDUUV) project.

Related: Northrop Grumman to develop enabling technologies for future long-endurance unmanned underwater vehicles

An LDUUV typically is described as an autonomous submarine no larger than 80 inches in diameter. Future XLUUVs likely will be larger. Experience with the LDUUV will help inform concepts for using XLUUV.

DARPA also is sponsoring the Hunter program to develop a payload-delivery system from an extra-large UUV. The Hunter program, however, involves only the payload delivery system and not the extra-large UUV itself.

Hunter payloads could involve persistent-surveillance sensors, weapons, or other unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). They could involve persistent-surveillance sensors, weapons, or other UUVs and perhaps even unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

Related: Navy asks Boeing to find new missions, payloads, and capabilities for long-endurance extra-large UUV

The Navy's XLUUV project is moving enabling technologies forward that were developed originally in other projects such as the DARPA Hydra program to develop an unmanned submersible large enough to transport and deploy UAVs and UUVs stealthily in enemy territory to respond quickly to situations around the world.

Boeing also has developed the Echo Voyager, a 51-foot large UUV that can reach depths of 11,000 feet and can operate independently for months underwater. Boeing unveiled the Echo Voyager in early 2016 and began sea trials of the unmanned undersea craft in summer 2017.

Boeing and Lockheed Martin both were involved in a DARPA project in 2015 ago called Blue Wolf, which focused on revolutionary underwater propulsion and drag-reduction technologies to enable manned and unmanned military undersea vehicles to move through the water faster and more energy-efficiently than ever before.

Related: Navy asks Boeing to build four long-endurance extra-large UUVs for long-range surveillance missions

The Blue Wolf program demonstrated integrated underwater vehicle prototypes able to operate at speed and range combinations previously unachievable in fixed-size platforms, while retaining traditional volume and weight fractions for payloads and electronics.

Blue Wolf involved dynamic lift from winglets, body shaping, coatings, and novel drag reduction technologies applicable over various range and speed combinations to improve system energy efficiency.

On this order Boeing will do the work in Huntington Beach, Calif.; East Greenwich, R.I.; Herndon, Va.; Cockeysville, Md.; and Joplin, Mo., and should be finished by September 2023. For more information contact Boeing Defense, Space & Security online at, or Naval Sea Systems Command at

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