Boeing and Lockheed Martin to build prototype extra-large UUVs for long-endurance military missions

Oct. 2, 2017
WASHINGTON – Undersea warfare experts at two of the nation's largest defense contractors are designing prototype extra-large unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) with the potential to undertake long-endurance missions to deploy sensors or other UUVs.
WASHINGTON – Undersea warfare experts at two of the nation's largest defense contractors are designing prototype extra-large unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) with the potential to undertake long-endurance missions to deploy sensors or other UUVs.

Officials of the U.S. Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington awarded contracts last week to the Lockheed Martin Rotary and Mission Systems segment in Riviera Beach, Fla., and to the Boeing Defense, Space & Security segment in Huntington Beach, Calif., to design the Orca Extra Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicle (XLUUV) system.

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 Navy is not releasing the value of the XLUUV contracts to Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

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.

Related: Military research projects may be coming together to put large long-endurance UUVs in sight

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.

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 issued a solicitation last spring for 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: DARPA asks industry for large unmanned undersea vehicle advanced payload delivery system

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 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 that summer.

Boeing and Lockheed Martin both were involved in a DARPA project two years 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.

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.

Related: Boeing moves forward in unmanned submersible mothership project to deploy unmanned surveillance

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.

In addition, Lockheed Martin has been involved in a U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) Dry Combat Submersible (DCS) program to design an affordable mini-submarine able to transport Special Operations combat swimmers such as Navy SEALs covertly while minimizing swim time to keep the divers from becoming too exhausted to carry out their missions.

Lockheed Martin also has experience with the Navy's Remote Multi-Mission Vehicles (RMMV) UUVs for use in countermine warfare aboard the U.S. Navy's Littoral Combat Ship.

For Boeing's work on the Orca XLUUV program, the company will do the work in Huntington Beach, Calif.; Groton, Conn.; Centreville, Va.; Camden, N.J.; and Newport News, Va. Lockheed Martin will do its work in Riviera Beach, Fla.; Syracuse and Owego, N.Y.; Manassas, Va.; Marion, Mass.; and Morristown, Pa. Both companies should be finished by December 2018.

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About the Author

John Keller | Editor

John Keller is editor-in-chief of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine, which provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronic and optoelectronic technologies in military, space, and commercial aviation applications. A member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since the magazine's founding in 1989, Mr. Keller took over as chief editor in 1995.

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