The US Navy debuts "Snakehead", an advanced unmanned submarine

It can launch from the dry deck shelters of nuclear submarines.
Ameya Paleja
The Snakehead UUV entered being lowered into waterUS Navy

Under development for many years, the U.S. Navy showcased its Snakehead Large Displacement Unmanned Undersea Vehicle (LDUUV) for the first time during a christening event at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) in Newport recently.

Even as aerial drones have made long developmental strides in terms of their range, endurance and firepower, undersea drones have comparatively lagged. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has made some progress on its Manta-Ray UUVs. However, these drones are built for independent operations and are not under the direct command of submarine crews that take up covert operations with high risks.

Snakehead UUVs

The Snakehead UUVs are designed to address this shortcoming as they can be deployed from nuclear-powered submarines that are equipped with dry deck shelters. These are some of the largest undersea vehicles being built that can be deployed by a U.S. submarine. 

According to NUWC's press release, Snakehead is modular and can be reconfigured to support multiple missions. Equipped with a host of sensors, the UUV is primarily designed to perform Intelligence Preparation of the Operational Environment mission, a naval term for learning what lies ahead. 

Since submarines operate in highly hostile environments, a UUV that can be launched at will can help the crew survey the area for threats from a safe distance. During not so hostile conditions, it could also be deployed to search for sunken objects such as missing planes in adversarial territories. 

Proprietary Government Architecture

While it is common to see new technologies being developed by privately owned dedicated defense companies, the Snakehead UUV is built using government-owned architecture and vehicle software, NUWC said in its press release.

The UUV design also includes technological innovations with regards to hull materials, launch and recovery methods from the submarine as well as the lithium-ion batteries that will power the drone.  According to The Drive, Snakehead is powered by Lithium-ion Fault Tolerant (LiFT) batteries that prevent cascading cell failure enabling mission completion as well as safety of personnel and equipment. 

The development of the LDUUV has faced many trials and tribulations over its 14-year development history and the christening ceremony paves the way to test the drone's capabilities in the water, the press release added. 

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