The U.S. Navy has announced plans to build out its undersea vehicle arsenal with the development of a new larger unmanned undersea vehicle in its snakehead program.
Unmanned drones are viewed as part of the future of the navy and these new undersea vehicles will be capable of being covertly deployed and recovered by nuclear submarines. The drones themselves will serve a variety of purposes, largely standing as a versatile platform to carry multiple mission packages.
The Naval Sea Systems Command, NAVSEA, has officially submitted a request for proposals or RFP for phase 2 of their Snakehead unmanned vehicle program. A request for proposal essentially stands as an invitation for contractors to submit pricing and designs to the command for selection.
Once all of the proposals are received, the Navy is planning on making its final pick near the end of 2021, likely by September.
The new vehicle stands in a class of large-displacement unmanned undersea vehicles, or LDUUV. These larger unmanned drones have incredibly long autonomous runtimes, allowing for intelligence collection, mine neutralization, and other mission packages.
One of the mission packages for the new LDUUV will equip it will sonars and bathymetric sensors that will allow it to develop detailed seabed maps and depth diagrams. This sort of data is critical to submarine operations as well as remote naval navigation.
In theory, submarines would be able to deploy the unmanned vehicle to scout out their path ahead, closely mapping their optimal path of travel in order to avoid potential hazards in the sea.
While the navy has publically put out their request for proposal for the new vehicle, there's very little other details about what the vehicle will contain or what companies are putting their hat in the ring for constructing it.
In today's age of advanced naval warfare, the U.S. Navy not only has squadrons for manned surface ships but also for unmanned ones as well. For example, the Unmanned Undersea Vehicles Squadron One, or UUVRON-1, was the first dedicated squadron for these unmanned vehicles. They currently utilize two LDUUVs that were previously developed, one being the Sea Horse, a 28-foot 5-ton vehicle and another called the Sea Stalker, which is a modified Sea Horse with various other mission packages.
For now, the new vehicle will continue being developed with updates expected to come in 2021.