Military researchers gather contractors for fast, energy-efficient undersea vehicles

KEYPORT, Wash., 21 Aug. 2015. U.S. government researchers are gathering contractors for a program to develop revolutionary underwater propulsion and drag-reduction technologies to enable manned and unmanned undersea vehicles to move through the water faster and more energy-efficiently than ever before.

Military researchers gather contractors for fast, energy-efficient undersea vehicles
Military researchers gather contractors for fast, energy-efficient undersea vehicles
KEYPORT, Wash., 21 Aug. 2015. U.S. government researchers are gathering contractors for a program to develop revolutionary underwater propulsion and drag-reduction technologies to enable manned and unmanned undersea vehicles to move through the water faster and more energy-efficiently than ever before.

Officials of the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) in Keyport, Wash., have awarded three contracts on behalf of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Arlington, Va., for the Blue Wolf program, which aims at sea testing of undersea energy, hydrodynamic lift, and drag-reduction technologies for manned and unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVS).

The Blue Wolf program will develop and demonstrate 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, DARPA officials say.

The most recent Blue Wolf contract, for $3.7 million, went out this week to the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory in Cambridge, Mass. Previously Applied Physical Sciences (APS) Corp. in Groton, Conn., won a $3.1 million Blue Wolf contract on 31 July, and The Boeing Co. Defense, Space & Security segment in Huntington Beach, Calif., won a $126,845 Blue Wolf contract last June.

Blue Wolf is looking for designs, dynamic lift and drag reduction systems, and innovative hybrid energy systems.

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Concept designs refers to innovative proposals for alternative point designs for a fast, low-drag, and energy-efficient undersea vehicle that will provide not only insights into the strengths, weaknesses, and risks in the prototype vehicle, but also provide alternative design strategies and concepts of operations.

Dynamic lift and drag reduction refers to revolutionary technologies for significant drag reduction, such as dynamic lift from winglets, body shaping, coatings, and novel drag reduction technologies applicable over various range and speed combinations to improve system energy efficiency.

Hybrid energy systems refers to approaches such as thermal, electrochemical, or energy-harvesting with two or more energy sources to improve energy efficiency measured in Watt hours per mile. DARPA researchers say they plan to explore thermal and electric sources like fuel cells and batteries that can fit within an undersea vehicle system module.

Undersea vehicle size, weight, and volume, traditionally are limited by handling, launch and recovery systems, DARPA officials explain. Mission performance typically sets the range, endurance, speed, and depth requirements, and the range of underwater vehicles is limited by the amount of energy available for propulsion and the power required for a given underwater speed.

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This means that for a given speed, range, and volume necessary for payloads and electronics, vehicle size is proportional to energy needed for the mission envelope.

While designers can modify this envelope by reducing hydrodynamic drag, improving lift-to-drag performance, or by improving the volumetric energy density of energy sources, the volume and weight needed for systems to reduce drag or improve lift-to-drag in a fixed-size vehicle also reduces the volume and weight available for energy.

The Blue Wolf program seeks to break free of these limitations by focusing on rapid testing and maturation of novel energy, hydrodynamic lift, and drag-reduction technologies.

Testing will be on existing undersea vehicles at the U.S. Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) in Newport, R.I., and at the Penn State Applied Research Laboratory in Reston, Va. NUWC will manage safety, certification, and vehicle development, while Penn State will provide technical expertise.

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The initial reference architecture consists of a 21-inch-diameter vehicle with volume and weight reserved for baseline guidance, control, electronic systems, and payload section. The vehicle will use a baseline electric drive and conventional fin control.

In the first one-year phase of the Blue Wolf program, Draper Lab, APS, and Boeing will design component and subsystem technologies for dynamic lift, drag reduction, and energy systems. An optional second phase will develop modules, and demonstrate safety, performance, and readiness for integration.

For more information contact Draper Lab online at www.draper.com, APS at www.aphysci.com, Boeing Defense, Space & Security at www.boeing.com/defense, NUWC Keyport at www.navsea.navy.mil/Home/WarfareCenters/NUWCKeyport, or DARPA at www.darpa.mil.

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