Photo rendering of a futuristic underwater robotic eel. Photo Credit: DefenseOne.com
While the vast majority of the attention with regards to unmanned vehicles is generally seized by unmanned aerial vehicles (or UAVs, which have almost become a household acronym in this day and age), the aerial environment is by no means the only one within which militaries benefit through the use of unmanned vehicles. In fact the same reasons that UAVs prove so valuable in the aerial environment (information gathering, reconnaissance, surveillance, unmanned combat, logistics support, etc.) also exist for UGVs (Unmanned Ground Vehicles) and UUVs (Unmanned Underwater/Undersea Vehicles…by the way do you realize that if you shorten UUV to UV, you get half of Team UV’s name? Rest assured this is no coincidence, our senior project aims to provide a stealthy, highly maneuverable ISR UUV, but we shorten it to UV – underwater vehicle – because with our compact size it would be impossible to man the vehicle, although UV is also an acronym for Unmanned Vehicle…plus “Team UV” is catchier than “Team UUV”…).
Click image for larger picture.
In the design of our UV, we are essentially optimizing the vehicle for ISR (Information/Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) type missions; we do this by providing for higher speeds, smoother maneuvering, increased stealth (on the fronts of thermal, magnetic, and flow signature, cavitation, noise, and overall inconspicuousness), and requiring little to no human interaction. All of these mission objectives that we have for our UV increase the vehicle’s performance and stealth, making it a much more efficient solution to be used by our troops to conduct naval ISR from a distance and thus, help to save lives. While our primary application is ISR, which directly serves the military, it is important to note that UUVs are not only used by the military, but are also used by harbor security, underwater inspection contractors, marine biologists, and even recreational users in some cases. The range of applications for UUVs has no end in sight, as can be seen by the small sampling of applications for UUVs listed below.
- ISR: UUVs can be used (for example) to conduct reconnaissance (R) in order to obtain the necessary intelligence (I) (strategic, operational, or tactical) for effective military action and/or to provide maritime surveillance (S) of key areas along our coastline or to protect homeland ports.
- Mine detection: In areas such as the Persian Gulf, UUVs have been used to detect and (in some cases) clear sea mines.
- Underwater inspection: UUVs may be used to conduct underwater inspections of outfalls, pipelines, or other underwater structures that may be too deep, dangerous, or inconvenient for humans to inspect.
- Exploration: UUVs have also been used extensively by scientists, filmmakers, and even recreational users to explore the underwater habitat.
- Underwater mapping: UUVs are used by the military and some other governmental agencies to map the sea floor.
- Collection of weather data: The military also uses UUVs in order to collect data with regards to weather, subsea currents, faultline activity, and other related subjects. (While a little off topic, it is interesting to note that the military actually has a huge presence in the field of weather sciences and the USAF actually has a squadron – the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron – that flies directly into hurricanes and tropical storms, armed with loads of sensors for data collection!)
- Object recovery: UUVs are used in recovery of sunken items from depths traditionally seen as unreachable by humans (in recent news, the US Navy’s Bluefin-21 drone has been used extensively in the search for the downed Malaysian MH370 plane; UUVs have also famously been used to recover items from historic shipwrecks).
- Force/area protection: UUVs could also be used to thwart undersea attacks and help to safeguard our troops as well as key areas (i.e. harbors).
- Attack missions: Lastly, UUVs could also be used in the opposite capacity by going on the offensive.
U.S. Navy Bluefin-21 drone (left) and TPL-25 (Towed Pinger Locator).
Photo Credit: wsj.net; telegraph.co.uk
As more conflicts arise and scientists and engineers continue to push the boundaries of technology, the role of UUVs in undersea warfare is only set to increase; this is especially true when budgetary considerations are taken into account in that the cost of a small UUV is almost negligible in comparison to a full-scale submarine. This is not to say that a UUV can replace a full-scale submarine, nor that they even share the same roles; however, as submarine fleets diminish due to the astronomical costs associated with initial acquisition and subsequent maintenance, the number of UUVs used by the military will only continue to rise. When you pair this with the fact that, as the current UUV technology becomes older and less expensive, more and more groups (whether for better or worse) will have access to UUVs, the reason that further developing UUV technology is of such great interest to the defense industry becomes more and more apparent.
Hopefully this post served as a helpful primer on unmanned drone technology and the role(s) that UUVs play in the defense (and other) industry(industries). This upcoming Tuesday (12-16), I will be continuing off this post with a Well Read post discussing one way in which UUV technology is being optimized for the purpose of undersea warfare through the utilization of advanced biomimetics (that is, by mimicking the various ways by which fish swim!). Be sure to check back Sunday for an Open Mind post form Andrew and please continue to help us to share our fundraising efforts at GoFundMe.com/TeamUV