Submarines will soon be able to launch drones just like torpedoes.

Attack submarines will become more effective thanks to the Razorback UUVs (unmanned underwater vehicles), which will protect the larger submarines and their missile payloads better.

The US Navy is finally adding underwater drones to its fleet of nuclear attack submarines. Submarines in the fleet will now be able to utilize torpedo tubes to launch and recover the new version of the Navy’s Razorback UUV. In addition, razorbacks with sonar systems of their own will allow naval submarines to seek out enemy ships and submarines without inadvertently revealing themselves.

The US Naval Institute News reported that the Navy wanted to add UUVs to its submarines but was stymied by technical issues. Deploying the Razorback drone from a torpedo tube has been challenging. Recovering it after a mission has been difficult, as divers and a dry dock shelter (DDS), a hump-shaped module that allows divers to enter and exit submarines underwater, have been the only options. The Razorback has been restricted in its ability to deploy due to the limited number of submarines carrying a DDS.

The Navy has reportedly figured out how to recover a Razorback submarine in the same manner it came out, through a torpedo tube. Rear Admiral Casey Moton, executive program officer for unmanned and small combatants, told USNI News that the process is functional and will soon be operational.

Sailors are seen carrying a Mark 48 torpedo from the pier to the Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Olympia (SSN 717) in Souda Bay, Greece, July 2019. A Razorback drone would be transported in a similar way if it was onboard a submarine.

Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII), a submarine, aircraft carrier, and amphibious warship manufacturer, builds the Razorback. It is a medium unmanned undersea vehicle (MUUV) based on the HII REMUS 600 UUV. The 600 in the REMUS’s name refers to the REMUS 600’s diving depth in meters or 1,968 feet. This unmanned, autonomous drone can operate independently for up to 24 hours.

Here is a REMUS prototype shot.

The REMUS 600 submarine is outfitted with dual-frequency side-scan sonar arrays that allow the sub to scan to either side as it moves through the water. Because of this, the submarine’s underwater noise is more difficult to detect and track than that made by a crewed sub.

The Navy has 53 Los Angeles, Seawolf, and Virginia-class attack submarines, 14 nuclear-armed Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines, and four converted guided missile submarines. All subs come with standard 533-millimeter (21-inch) torpedo tubes, and the Razorback drone presumably would be able to as well.

Each type of submarine could employ a sonar-equipped Razorback differently. An attack submarine might release its Razorbacks in a low, quiet manner, relying on them to find enemy targets, like a fox hunter releases his hounds. Even if the enemy detected the drones, it might not detect their submarine mothership. The submarine could then position itself in an ambush position without being seen if the drones located an enemy vessel.

The Drone could also be used as a “stay behind” munition, deployed in the wake of the submarine to engage an enemy submarine following them at a distance.  It’s 24-hour endurance could also be employed to leave a line of drones along the expected course of an enemy convoy or fleet of warships to attack them without risk to the submarine.  Hovering quietly in the depths using its passive sonar array, the drone would be missed by almost every known means of anti-submarine detection gear except active, pinging sonar.

They would also be effective in the role of underwater sonar pickets protecting the flanks and even the rear of aircraft carrier battle groups.


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(Source: Hunini/Wikimedia)

A REMUS 600 from the University of Texas at Austin is offloaded following a mission during an Office of Naval Research-funded demonstration of unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, 2015.

Defensively, larger Ohio-class submarines would probably employ them, forming an outward-looking underwater picket line to warn the crewed submarine of approaching danger.

Attack submarines will become more effective thanks to the Razorback UUVs, which will protect the larger submarines and their missile payloads better.

Drones are expected to step in to do the too-dangerous jobs for humans on land, sea, and air.