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The UK MoD’s Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA) has awarded an initial £1 million (€1.16 million) contract to Plymouth-based MSubs to build a test submarine that will be used to explore the potential capabilities of larger unmanned underwater vehicles (UUV) in the future.

The extra-large autonomous test submarine will be developed for the Royal Navy as the service seeks to increase its presence in the underwater battlespace and is exploring the use of extra-large UUV (XLUUV) for surveillance, reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) operations.

Some 30m in length, this XLUUV is significantly larger than autonomous submarines used for beach reconnaissance, allowing it to operate at a range of 3,000 nautical miles. Announcing the contract at the Underwater Defence & Security Symposium in Southampton, First Sea Lord Adm Tony Radakin emphasised “[…] the potential for remotely piloted and autonomous systems to increase our reach and lethality, improve our efficiency and reduce the number of people we have to put in harm’s way […] These XLUUVs are at the forefront of underwater systems technology; UK technological developments such as this will be key to the Royal Navy maintaining its battle-winning edge in the underwater environment.”

XLUUV submarines are especially adept at covert intelligence gathering. They can leave their dock autonomously and move secretly into an operational area for up to three months. They are also able to sense hostile targets and report their findings, making them an important barrier for ASW.

Submersible autonomous vessels have huge potential and this project could be a game-changer for the UK’s underwater capability, taking our submarine service to the next level,” commented Jeremy Quin, Minister for Defence Procurement.

DASA’s involvement is enabling this technology to advance at a much quicker pace and to deliver new capabilities to the Royal Navy years earlier than otherwise possible – making sure the UK stays ahead of our adversaries,” added DASA Delivery Manager, Adam Moore. “Not only will this enhance the UK’s strategic advantage but also boost UK prosperity by supporting small and medium-sized companies like MSubs in Plymouth.”

The first phase of DASA’s ‘Developing the Royal Navy’s Autonomous Underwater Capability’ programme - run jointly with the Royal Navy and the MoD’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) - will see an existing crewed submersible refitted with autonomous control systems. If initial testing is successful, up to a further £1.5 million is available to further test the new capability – making it the largest joint contract awarded as part of a DASA competition. Currently, smaller autonomous and remotely-piloted submarines are unable to undertake all the tasks of larger crewed submarines.

This funding will allow the Royal Navy to better understand their future roles and for us to remain at the forefront of XLUUV design and manufacture in Europe,” commented Paddy Dowsett for MSubs.


An existing manned submersible will initially be converted into a UUV for test and evaluation. (Photo: MSubs Ltd)

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