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US Navy Developing Torpedo-Tube Underwater Drone Recovery System

The US Navy is developing a torpedo-tube launch and recovery system for nuclear attack submarine-launched underwater drones.

Submarines currently require a dry deck shelter and divers to recover a medium-sized unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV), limiting the vehicle’s capacity.

“The Medium UUV can go on any one of our submarines. That is a priority for us. We have no problem launching UUVs. That’s easy. The recovery part has been the critical aspect,” USNI News quoted Submarine Force commander Vice Adm. Bill Houston as saying.

Deployment ‘Very Near’

The navy tested the system earlier this year and will deploy it in the “very near future,” Office of Chief of Naval Operations Rear. Adm. Doug Perry said.

“While the submarine is moving, the UUV has to find that torpedo tube and drive in,” Perry said explaining the recovery process.

“We have the system working. We haven’t fielded that at the fleet level yet. We expect in the very near future we will have that system operational.”

Underwater Drone Mothership

A submarine-launched UUV enhances the platform’s awareness, acting as an additional, long-range sensor. However, the need to recharge its battery restricts the vehicle’s operation.

Once deployed, the launch and recovery system will turn a nuclear attack submarine into a “UUV mothership,” allowing the 600-pound underwater robot — based on the Remus 600 series of medium-sized unmanned underwater vehicles built by HII — to return to the submarine for recharge, extending its range.

underwater drone
Mk 18 Mod 2 Kingfish mine countermeasures underwater unmanned vehicle. Image: US Navy

Underwater Mine Countermeasures

The same underwater drone, with different payloads and sensors, will also be used for explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) operations.

“The new capabilities will allow the EOD force to conduct longer duration missions, cover more ocean area, and do so faster,” program executive officer for unmanned and small combatants, Rear Adm. Casey Moton, said.

It will enable “the vehicles to get into deeper waters and improve the overall effectiveness of mine countermeasure operations in austere environments.”  

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