Europe’s first cutting-edge submarine drone could ‘dominate the underwater battlespace’

Cetus’s maximum operational depth will be greater than that of the current submarine fleet. In a single mission, it will be able to travel up to 1,000 miles.
Baba Tamim
Representational image: A submarine underwater.
Representational image: A submarine underwater.

Snaprender/iStock 

The U.K. Royal Navy has given Plymouth company MSubs a contract for £15.4 million (approx $19 million) to build a cutting-edge crewless submarine.

Britain expects the submarine drone to protect crucial national infrastructure and surveil underwater activity when it is delivered to the Navy in two years, according to a statement from the U.K.'s Ministry of Defence on Thursday.

"In order to meet the growing threats to our underwater infrastructure, the Royal Navy needs to be ahead of the competition with cutting-edge capabilities," said U.K. Defence Secretary Ben Wallace.

"Project Cetus, alongside bringing forward the MROS ships, will help ensure we have the right equipment to protect the security of the U.K. and our Allies."

Europe’s first cutting-edge submarine drone could ‘dominate the underwater battlespace’
Cetus- crewless submarine.

Project Cetus, named after a mythical sea monster, is expected to expand the Royal Navy's research into autonomous underwater systems.

The initial phase in the creation of an operational autonomous submarine will operate either independently or alongside crewed submarines, such as the Astute-class hunter-killers and their replacements, read the statement.

"Having the skills base and specialist knowledge to develop and build this vessel in the U.K. is testament to the U.K.'s leading reputation in building surface and sub-surface ships," said Wallace.

Cetus unmanned submarine

Europe’s first cutting-edge submarine drone could ‘dominate the underwater battlespace’
Cetus- crewless submarine.

Cetus's maximum operational depth will be greater than that of the current submarine fleet. In a single mission, it will be able to travel up to 1,000 miles.

It will be as large as a double-decker bus at 12 meters long, 2.2 meters in diameter, and 17 tonnes in weight.

Most Popular

The crewless submersible will be the biggest and most sophisticated one ever run by any European Navy.

The vessel's size allows it to fit within a shipping container, enabling global movement to any region where it is needed. It is designed to function in sync with all Royal Navy ships, including those of the U.K.'s allies, as per the press release.

The modular architecture of the submarine allows for the addition of an alternative segment to double the vessel's capacity.

"This is a hugely exciting moment for Project Cetus as the Royal Navy surges ahead with the development of autonomous technology," said First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Ben Key.

"This Extra Large Autonomous Underwater Vehicle is a capability step-change in our mission to dominate the underwater battlespace."

Surveillance and reconnaissance support

Europe’s first cutting-edge submarine drone could ‘dominate the underwater battlespace’
Cetus- crewless submarine.

Ships employ a variety of airborne drones for surveillance and reconnaissance.

In Scotland, crewless minehunting devices are already in use, and driverless Pacific 24 sea vessels are being tested.

To evaluate and test new technology and see how it might be employed or incorporated into the fleet, the U.K. has invested in the XV Patrick Blackett, a ship specifically designed for such trials.

"The faith the Royal Navy has shown in our small business is humbling and we look forward to working closely together in the future, as we have in the recent past, to develop and deploy Cetus, in the national interest," said Brett Phaneuf, Chief Executive Officer at MSubs.

MSubs is a small underwater vehicle manufacturer based in Plymouth, England.

The Anti-Submarine Warfare Spearhead program, managed by the Portsmouth-based Develop Directorate of the Royal Navy, is responsible for funding the contract.

The vessel is the most recent in a line of cutting-edge undersea technology being developed to counter the dangers of the coming decade. It will be supplied through the Submarine Delivery Agency in Bristol, according to the statement.