The Royal Navy has awarded a £15.4 million contract to Plymouth firm MSubs to build a cutting-edge crewless submarine. It will be the largest and most complex crewless submersible operated by a European navy.
Called Cetus, the vessel is scheduled to be delivered to the Navy in two years and will further advance the UK’s ability to protect its critical national infrastructure and monitor sub-sea activity.
Named after a mythological sea monster, the project Cetus enhances the Royal Navy’s experimentation with autonomous underwater systems. According to the Ministry of Defence, Cetus is intended to ultimately lead to operational autonomous submarines that will work side-by-side with crewed submarines – including the Astute-class hunter-killers and their successors – or independently.
When complete, Cetus will be 12 meters long – the length of a double-decker bus – 2.2 meters in diameter and weigh 17 tonnes. It will be powered by batteries, giving it a range of up to 1,000 miles in a single mission. In addition, its maximum operational depth will exceed that of the current submarine fleet, meaning Cetus will equip the Royal Navy with even greater reach into the oceans in support of UK defense.
The vessel’s dimensions were chosen to allow it to fit inside a shipping container and therefore be transported around the world to wherever it is needed. Moreover, it will be designed to operate with all of the ships from the Royal Navy fleet as well as those of its allies. It has also been designed to be modular, with an optional section that can be added to double the capacity of the vessel.
“This is a hugely exciting moment for Project Cetus as the Royal Navy surges ahead with the development of autonomous technology,” First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Ben Key said. “This Extra Large Autonomous Underwater Vehicle is a capability step-change in our mission to dominate the underwater battlespace. And I am delighted that the project is able to support a small, innovative UK company that is at the cutting edge of this sector.”
The contract is funded by the Anti-Submarine Warfare Spearhead program, run by the Royal Navy’s Develop Directorate, headquartered in Portsmouth. The vessel will be delivered through the Submarine Delivery Agency in Bristol and is the latest in a series of novel underwater technologies being brought to life to deal with the threats of the next decade.