The US Navy has awarded Lockheed Martin a $43m contract to develop a giant unmanned subsea vehicle called Orca.
Officially referred to as the Extra Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicle (XLUUV), Orca will have long-range autonomous capabilities. Whereas the current crop of unmanned subs are generally deployed from a mothership at the surface, Orca will be able to travel independently to its theatre of operation and return to base once its mission is complete. How exactly the XLUUV will be powered remains to be seen however, as details of propulsion have yet to be released at this stage.
According to Lockheed, a reconfigurable payload bay will give Orca capability across a variety of missions, including intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; mine countermeasures; indication and warning notification. The subsea drone will also serve as an anti-submarine warfare (ASW) training platform.
Though it will not be supported by a mothership, Orca will still have the ability to periodically establish communications and give mission updates. Critically, unlike other unmanned subs, Orca will not require military personnel on the front line to facilitate its operation.
“With each new undersea vehicle that Lockheed Martin designs, we bring to bear the state-of-the-art in technology, and innovative system integration of those technologies, to increase the range, reach, and effectiveness of undersea forces and their missions,” said Frank Drennan, director of Lockheed Martin’s submersibles and autonomous systems division.
The current design stage is the first in a two-phase competition, and will be followed by a competitive production phase for up to nine vehicles. Development of Orca will take place primarily at Lockheed Martin’s Palm Beach, Florida facility, with additional support from employees in Virginia and New York.
Last year, Lockheed successfully launched an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) from an unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV). At September’s DSEI event in London, the UK arm of the defence giant unveiled Outrider, a canister-launched drone capable of reaching speeds up to 50 knots.