Wednesday, March 22, 2023

U.S. Navy showcases its new Snakehead unmanned submarine

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Underwater robots help the military solve various tasks: clear mines, check underwater structures, map the bottom, deliver cargo, and provide communication between submarines and ships. The military is also interested in large underwater robots.

Now, the U.S. Navy has showcased its new Snakehead Large Displacement Unmanned Undersea Vehicle (LDUUV) for the first time during the christening event at the Narragansett Bay Test Facility. The event was hosted by the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division Newport and the Program Executive Office Unmanned and Small Combatants (PEO USC).

The Snakehead is a modular, reconfigurable, multi-mission LDUUV deployed from submarine large ocean interfaces, with a government-owned architecture, mission autonomy, and vehicle software. Outwardly, the vehicle resembles a small submarine. They can be deployed from nuclear-powered submarines that are equipped with dry deck shelters.

Cheryl Mierzwa, Division Newport’s technical program manager for Snakehead, christens the underwater vehicle at the Narragansett Bay Test Facility in Newport.
Cheryl Mierzwa, Division Newport’s technical program manager for Snakehead, christens the underwater vehicle at the Narragansett Bay Test Facility in Newport. Credit: U.S. Navy

These underwater drones provide guidance and control, navigation, situational awareness, propulsion, maneuvering, and sensors in support of the Intelligence Preparation of the Operational Environment mission. Most likely, submarines with a docking chamber for the exit of combat swimmers (Dry Deck Shelter or DDS) and payload storage and delivery system will be able to launch the device. These are, for example, Ohio-class nuclear submarines and six Virginia-class ships.

Very little is known about the large underwater robot Snakehead. The U.S. Navy has issued a request for proposals for its design, development, and construction in 2020. According to the description, it is “the largest uninhabited underwater vehicle designed to be launched from submarines.” The device is designed for long missions and is powered by Lithium-ion Fault Tolerant (LiFT) batteries that prevent cascading cell failure enabling mission completion as well as safety of personnel and equipment.

The Snakehead UUV design also includes technological innovations with regards to hull materials, launch and recovery methods from the submarine, as well as the lithium-ion batteries that will power the drone.

“During the winter of 2004, a UUV team from NUWC was at this very pier demonstrating the utility of large vehicles to inform the Navy’s future unmanned vision,” said Christopher DelMastro, head of Division Newport’s Undersea Warfare Platforms. “Today, we have a new team – the Snakehead team – comprised of talented individuals representing the warfare centers, university laboratories, and industry. It was very challenging at times, and it was a long and difficult path to get here, but today you succeeded in delivering many firsts for the Navy.”

The LDUUV has faced many trials and tribulations over its 14-year development history, and the christening ceremony paves the way to test the drone capability in water.

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