The U.S. Navy is expanding its autonomous subsurface fleet with the introduction of a platform designed for persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) as well as offensive capabilities. Dubbed the Large Displacement Unmanned Undersea Vehicle (LDUUV), the program of record should result in a system that offloads missions from other assets.
Navy officials envision transporting it to and deploying it from worldwide port facilities or deploying it from vessels such as the Littoral Combat Ship, the Ohio Guided Missile Submarine and the Virginia Fast Class Attack Submarine, according to an announcement on FedBizOpps.gov. The LDUUV is in the materiel solution analysis phase, pre-Milestone A. Current plans call for 10 vehicles in the initial squadron. According to an official with the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), the “LDUUV is the most cost-effective option to perform the dull, dirty and dangerous missions that augment the capacity of manned platforms. It is a force-multiplying capability, enabling the manned platforms to focus on higher priority, high-complexity tasking. Like all unmanned systems, LDUUV will provide 100 percent combat support with negligible human limitations for sustained operation.”
Experts also believe the vehicle will increase Navy responsiveness to world situations. Missions predicted for the robots include intelligence preparation of the operational environment, ISR and antisubmarine warfare. “The LDUUV is a key component of the U.S. Navy’s strategic vision for undersea dominance,” the official explains.
NAVSEA is working with several organizations to develop and deploy the vehicle. The Chief of Naval Operations Staff defines the requirements while the Program Executive Office Littoral Combat Ships is responsible for executing the LDUUV program. That office will issue requests for proposals to competitively award contracts for the design, development and production of the unmanned system. Additionally, the Office of Naval Research is involved in advancing the technology for endurance, reliability and autonomy with its LDUUV Innovative Naval Prototype program.
Industry also has a key role to play in bringing this program to full fruition. Navy leaders held an LDUUV Industry Information Day on October 16 to share the sea service’s vision for unmanned systems and potential missions for the platform with private-sector partners. Navy personnel presented analysis of alternative results, technology development and transfer information, employment concepts and testing requirements. “The goal of the day was to help industry understand the technical, schedule and cost constraints of the LDUUV program and to solicit feedback from industry partners to ensure that LDUUV can be successfully delivered to the fleet,” the NAVSEA official explains. The Navy is defining the vision, mission and required system attributes for open architecture, modularity, interoperability and affordability. Leaders believe the approach to system specifications should allow maximum industry innovation while optimizing the use of time and pre-existing capabilities and processes. One purpose of the industry day was to solicit feedback on certain aspects of the vehicle. The Navy recognizes the development done by industry on critical capabilities such as automation, energy storage and reliability that likely will become parts of the LDUUV.
Sailors should begin employing prototypes as user operational evaluation systems in 2016. The work will allow the Navy to gain fleet experience with this type of unmanned underwater vehicle and to develop operational procedures. The first squadron is scheduled to be operational in 2022.