The 'Snakehead' UUV drone program has been canceled after 10 years

Breaking Defense has discovered that the much-vaunted "Snakehead" UUV underwater drone program has now been officially canceled after 10 years of progress.
Christopher McFadden
Its the end of the road for "Snakehead."

US Navy 

According to Breaking Defense, the United States Navy has decided to cancel its planned competition to design and build large unmanned undersea vehicles (UUVs) drones. The program, officially called Large Displacement Unmanned Undersea Vehicle but also dubbed "Snakehead," had been under development for more than ten years before this revelation.

The "Snakehead" drone was designed and developed to create a versatile, long-endurance, large-displacement UUV that can perform a variety of missions. Until this point, "Snakehead" had led to the development of a single prototype vessel that measured about 4 feet (1.2 meters) wide by up to eight feet (2.4 meters) long. The "Snakehead" drone was designed and developed to create a versatile, long-endurance, large-displacement UUV that can perform a variety of missions.

It also intended to support Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions, mine countermeasures, and anti-submarine warfare operations. It was also designed to be part of the U.S. Navy's ongoing efforts to enhance its undersea warfare capabilities and maintain a technological edge in a rapidly evolving field.

“The original acquisition strategy for LDUUV planned a competitive contract for phase 2 industry prototyping, but this was canceled due to the decision to pause the program,” Alan Baribeau, a Navy spokesman, told Breaking Defense. “Future acquisition strategy plans will be reassessed as the Navy continues experimentation, study, and planning for this class of UUVs,” he added.

Also, according to Breaking News, the program was previously mothballed but was likely subject to a renewed research program planned for 2024 following a hiatus due to budgetary cuts in 2022. The plan for the program was to develop a relatively large drone that could be deployed from a planned next-generation attack submarine.

“We needed to align with the next generation SSN(X)… So, when the Virginia Payload Module that was going to be the primary launch [and] recovery method for LDUUV went away, then our way to get on and off submarines went away,” said Captain Scot Searles, the program manager, during the Sea Air Space exposition earlier this month.

Previously, the Naval Undersea Warfare Center was supposed to collaborate with businesses to create a conceptual design. Then businesses would compete to become the main contractor for making the UUV.

As Breaking Defense points out, this may mean that the U.S. Navy could now be left with a sizable gap in its family of UUVs at a time when the service leaders claim they are prepared to integrate the technology more deeply into the fleet. As for the current state of play, only around $7 million was requested in the new president's budget to continue experimenting with the current prototype.

It also means that the" Orca," an extra large UUV under development by Boeing, is the only big next-generation UUVs currently in development. It is scheduled for its maiden deployment in 2026. However, unlike "Snakehead," this large drone must be deployed from the pier side because it is too big to be transported by a submarine.

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