The US Navy (USN) will soon deploy its newest, largest underwater drone for deterrence against adversaries, which would also feature impressive offensive and intelligence-gathering capabilities at a much lower cost than conventional submarines.

US Navy’s Ongoing UUVs Program

In late September, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin visited the Naval Information Warfare Center (NIWC) Pacific to check on the status of the Navy’s extra large unmanned undersea vehicles (XLUUV), which comprise both submarines and surface ships. The development of the sophisticated UUV is the latest wartech innovation and a priority the service branch deems amid the growing tension in the Asia-Pacific.

SECDEF visit highlights autonomous vehicle innovations at NIWC Pacific
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III discusses autonomous innovations at the Naval Information Warfare Center (NIWC) Pacific on September 28, 2022, during a visit to the San Diego-based command. (Image source: DVIDS)

During his tour, Austin received briefings on the project’s current status and remarked on the importance of collaboration to make this cutting-edge technology successful.

Taking notice of the increasing high-tech war machines from its adversaries, the US Navy has been proactively investing in UUVs to maintain naval superiority. Accordingly, the service aims to build a family of the latest tech, including the Snakehead large displacement uncrewed undersea vehicle (LDUUV), Orca XLUUV, and the Lionfish Small UUV, to name a few.

The Navy tested the Snakehead LDUUV—a modular, reconfigurable, multi-mission vehicle—prototype in July for end-to-end intelligence preparation of the operational environment (IPOE) mission, which entailed “creating detailed maps of the sea floor and identifying threats or other objects of interest” that requires for a submarine to enter or exit a specific area undetected, Eurasian Times reported. It is slated to become the USN’s largest submarine-launched UUV with a payload capacity beyond small and medium UUVs.

“The success of Snakehead testing is a direct result of the time and energy spent designing the vehicle. In-lab hardware and software simulations are major contributors to the success in water,” said Allison Philips, Division Newport’s test and evaluation lead for Snakehead.

Furthermore, the Snakehead LDUUV will also be tasked with minesweeping and electronic warfare (EW) through an electronic support measure (ESM) system that will empower the vehicle to collect data from radars and communication nodes of the enemy. So far, only one Snakehead vehicle has been built, which was christened in February and has been used for numerous trials and errors.

Echo Voyager is a fully autonomous XLUUV developed by Boeing. (Image source: Boeing)

On the other hand, the USN introduced the Orca XLUUV in April with its christening and first in-water tests in Huntington Beach, California. Renowned American military tech manufacturer Boeing won a $43 million contract for developing, testing, and delivering four Orcas in February 2019, which will initially focus on Concept of Operations (CONOPS) development, payload integration work, and mine warfare (MIW).