India’s Ministry of Defense (MoD) recently unveiled that it has launched the earlier stage of development for its unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) program as part of its ongoing military modernization efforts.

In recent years, New Delhi has been cranking up its efforts to maximize the capacity of its armed forces, including procuring advanced equipment and armaments for its Navy. According to Naval News, the Indian Navy is looking to acquire at least 12 Extra Large UUVs (XLUUVs) as soon as prototypes are approved and clear all necessary trials by 2025, citing a document released by the MoD.

The MoD document also discussed some of the expected details of the future Indian XLUUVs, including the prototype platforms measurements: 50 meters (164 feet) long, five m (16 ft) wide, and 10 m (33 ft) high, with an estimated gross weight of no more than 300 tons (300,000 kilograms). However, these specifications are still subject to change as the development progresses.

The Indian XLUUV, though still in the early stage of the project, is anticipated to join the Modifiable Underwater Mothership of Germany, the Orca XLUUV of the US Navy, and the Sarma-D of Russia as one of the most enormous submarine drones ever created. Additionally, China is actively working on multiple XLUUV projects and will likely join the rest of the superpowers in fielding the future UUV platform.

Once the Indian Navy receives the underwater drone, it would boost the country’s maritime defense and deterrence, including enhanced naval surveillance capable of reaching the depths human divers usually cannot; improved mine countermeasures, including detecting and neutralizing underwater mines; cost-effective operations, as they do not require life-support systems or additional resources for human survival; and reduced risk to human life, as the platform can operate autonomously in a hazardous environment and perform tasks without placing human divers at risk.

Furthermore, in addition to conducting intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions and countering mine warfare, the Indian XLUUV is also expected to serve as an anti-submarine and anti-surface platform autonomously capable of returning to harbor on its own or controlled remotely.

Indian Navy’s Requirements

Besides meeting the standard requirements for an XLUUV, the Indian Navy requires the platform to deploy from the pier, operate in restricted and shallow waters, and return to the harbor autonomously. Additionally, the submarine drone should be versatile, mobile, and transportable by motherships and trailers on land.

The MoD document further noted that the future Navy vessel should incorporate an external payload capacity of up to 10 tons (10,000 kg), probing to arm the submarine with at least two 533 mm torpedo tubes and mine-laying capability.

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The specifications for the XLUUV, though, are subject to change, including a submerged cruising and maximum speed of around 4 knots (7.4 kilometers/5 miles per hour) and at least 8 knots (15 kilometers/9 miles per hour), respectively. The submarine drone may employ electric motors to power integrated thrusters or propellers. The XLUUV is required to have a maximum endurance of more than 45 days, and its power source may either be “Li-Po/Li-ion batteries or a fuel cell-based Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) system.” Additionally, the XLUUV may recharge any batteries using a diesel generator.

Furthermore, the sensors installed on the Indian XLUUV would comprise “a flank array sonar, towed array sonar, bow sonar, multi-beam echo sounder sub-bottom profiler, collision avoidance sonar, I band radar, ESM system, and a periscope mast equipped with EO/IR cameras,” Naval News reported. The submarine drone should also be capable of communicating via satellite and underwater communication technologies to other platforms and command centers.

Seeks to Bridge Its Underwater Capability Gap

The Indian XLUUV project received approval earlier this year, and as mentioned, its prototype development is expected by 2025. Its arrival will then aid the “glaring gap” of the Indian Navy in its underwater capabilities caused by its other submarine projects that suffered significant delays, including the highly-anticipated Project-75I (India)-class six diesel-electric submarines.

Project-75I is a naval project seeking to provide six new conventional submarines for the Indian Navy as a continuation of Project-75, which involved a collaboration between the service and the French defense company Naval Group to build six Scorpene-class submarines.

The Project-75I submarines will be built indigenously in the country with the help of foreign technology partners.

However, the project has been in the pipeline for over a decade and has faced several delays for various reasons, such as changes in the procurement process, differences over technology transfer and intellectual property rights, and budgetary constraints, among many others. Its most recent pushback announcement occurred in December last year when the vendor for Project-75I yet again deferred the deadline into late 2023.

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