Royal Navy invests in first extra-large autonomous test submarine

The British Royal Navy signed an initial £1-million ($1.3 million) contract to build a test submarine that will be used to explore the potential capabilities of larger uncrewed underwater vehicles in the future. The contract for the extra-large uncrewed underwater vehicles (XLUUV) – which will measure approximately 30 meters (about 100 ft) in length and will be capable of carrying weapons onboard – was awarded to the Plymouth based company MSubs Ltd, which specializes in the construction of military submersibles.

The Royal Navy unmanned submarine will be nearly thrice as long as the US Navy Boeing Orca XLUUV, which is 10.4 meters. The new vehicle will have a range of around 3000 nautical miles (more than 5,500 kilometers), indicating that it is unlikely to be powered by batteries alone.

Concept image of XLUUV developed by MSubs.
Concept image of XLUUV developed by MSubs. Credit: MSubs

I am enormously excited about the potential for remotely piloted and autonomous systems to increase our reach and lethality, improve our efficiency and reduce the number of people we have to put in harm’s way,” Admiral Tony Radakin, First Sea Lord said in a release. “These XLUUVs are at the forefront of underwater systems technology; UK technological developments such as this will be key to the Royal Navy, maintaining its battle-winning edge in the underwater environment.

It is possible that the design of the XLUUV is based on an MSubs drone already in use by the British Navy. The large space available on the vessel as it does not require facilities for the crew will be used to transport a substantial amount of weapons – such as Mine and Torpedo – or even smaller drones.

As part of the first phase of DASA’s Developing the Royal Navy’s Autonomous Underwater Capability program, an existing manned submarine will be equipped with stand-alone controls. If the initial tests are successful, another £1.5 million ($2 million) will be allocated for further testing.

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