BAE Systems funds own development of unmanned undersea vehicles

Dec. 1, 2007
Engineers at BAE Systems in Waterlooville, England, are diving into the hot autonomous vehicle market with an undersea unmanned vehicle (UUV) they developed without an existing defense contract.

By John McHale

LONDON—Engineers at BAE Systems in Waterlooville, England, are diving into the hot autonomous vehicle market with an undersea unmanned vehicle (UUV) they developed without an existing defense contract.

BAE Systems developed the Talisman UUV and the Talisman M configuration for mine countermeasures through company venture funding. The Talisman System is a modular multi-role UUV, capable of a wide range of operations in shallow coastal waters and inside harbors and coves.

“Talisman M can perform the type of dangerous roles currently performed by service men and women throughout the world—locate, identify, and neutralize mines in one single mission without the need for human intervention,” says Andy Tonge, Talisman project manager at BAE Systems Underwater Systems in Waterlooville, England. Using technology from the non-defense industry has enabled us to develop this UUV more swiftly and cost effectively and to introduce innovative solutions.

“This is part of an overall strategy across BAE Systems to build up an integrated approach to unmanned vehicles and autonomous systems, leading to the development of Intelligent Autonomy, which can be applied across land, sea, and air,” Tonge continues.

Earlier this year, Adam Ingram, United Kingdom minister of state for the country’s armed forces, said “the primary requirement that the Royal Navy currently has for unmanned underwater vehicles is for mine countermeasures. The navy’s future mine countermeasures strategy sets out our aspiration for a range of fully autonomous UUVs, capable of conducting mine detection, classification, and neutralization while the parent platform remains at a safe distance.”

Talisman can operate at depths in excess of 500 feet, and can be reconfigured rapidly to carry a variety of payloads. In the M configuration, Talisman carries BAE Systems’s remotely operated Archerfish Single Shot Mine Neutralizer. Several mines can be neutralized on one mission.

The UUV—the size of a small family car—comprises the vehicle and a remote control console. The vehicle is based on a carbon fiber composite hull, equipped with internal carbon fiber composite pressure vessels containing the electronics systems and payload. The hull is fitted with commercial off-the-shelf vectorable thruster pods, which allow it to maneuver very accurately, hover, and turn 360 degrees within its own length. Stealth aircraft technology experts at the BAE Systems military aircraft sites at Warton and Samlesbury, United Kingdom, designed and manufactured the hull.

Developed together with Lola cars, the motor racing manufacturer, the UUV’s new design will reduce hydrodynamic drag, improving overall mission endurance.

The basic collision-avoidance system is being extended to implement sophisticated technology from the BAE Systems Advanced Technology Centre with algorithms developed for unmanned ground vehicles, company officials say. This will enable incorporation of decentralized data fusion and shared situational awareness techniques from the community of United Kingdom research organizations.

The UUV has an open architecture, which enables rapid re-configuration of the mission system software. It pulls proven technology from previous projects and couples it with advanced mission planning utilities, company officials say. All mission parameters are pre-settable before launch, for autonomous operation, with the possibility of operator intervention throughout the mission. Communications to and from the vehicle are via RF or Iridium SatCom while the vehicle is surfaced and via acoustic communications systems when vehicle is underwater.

While existing unmanned systems operated from onboard surface vessels need their own dedicated console installed on the ship, Talisman’s control architecture is designed to be integrated into a ship’s own control systems, saving space and allowing a more efficient operational process, BAE Systems officials say.

BAE Systems officials also say that the Talisman is consistent with the U.S. Navy’s UUV master plan.

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