Submarines can now deploy unmanned underwater vehicles as offboard sensor platforms. UUVs are ideal for covert reconnaissance and intelligence gathering missions and for maintaining situation awareness while the host submarine remains at a safe standoff distance.
DCNS has done pioneering work in this area for over ten years, and has developed innovative, standardised solutions meeting the technical and operational challenges of UUV deployment without compromising the host submarine’s discretion. In 2016, the group successfully tested a UUV storage, launch and recovery system based on a docking station designed to be installed aft of the submarine’s sail. The station’s watertight shelter has minimal impact on the submarine’s hydrodynamics and can be accessed by the crew to change the UUV payload or carry out maintenance while at sea.
(© : DCNS)
The UUV is expelled from the shelter by a piston. After completing its mission, the UUV proceeds to a meeting point and redocks with the aid of a precision optical and acoustic positioning and guidance system that can be used while the submarine continues on its way. UUV battery recharging, data recovery and reprogramming can all be performed without human intervention and at great depths. For battery recharging, DCNS uses a patented magnetic induction system that can transfer over 2000W through several centimetres of seawater. An underwater wifi-type data transfer system has also been developed and tested. A robust security protocol ensures fast, secure data transfers to the submarine’s CMS (a video can be transmitted in a few seconds) which then adds UUV sensor data to update and enrich the tactical situation.
Meanwhile, DCNS has also tested another type of UUV with the external form of a heavyweight torpedo. This modular UUV can carry a range of payloads, including sonars and underwater optical systems. Other payloads for semi-submerged missions include electro-optical systems, passive EW systems (ESM), and even a radar; all on a telescopic mast.
Other aspects of this R&D programme have focused on UUV endurance and on developing the onboard decision-making intelligence needed to operate autonomously over long periods. As a result, the latest versions can adapt their behaviour to any new situations they encounter and save energy by adopting different modes of operation, including sitting on the seafloor, gliding and prowling very slowly. Thanks to this onboard intelligence and DCNS’s new-generation torpedo batteries, tube-launched UUVs can cruise at up to 15kts and undertake missions lasting up to two weeks.
(© : DCNS)