9 November 2016
ARLINGTON, Va. — A builder of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) is looking at the sea floor a future battlefield of naval warfare.
Hydroid Inc., a division of Kongsberg Maritime that builds the REMUS 100 and 600 AUVs used by the U.S. Navy and other agencies, envisions the concept of “seabed warfare.”
“Think of the sea floor as terrain,” said Tom Reynolds, director of government business for Hydroid, told Seapower, Nov. 8, forecasting the increasing use of the sea floor for sensors, AUV energy charging stations and possibly more sophisticated weaponization.
The concept of seabed warfare is not really new. The United States and other nations placed underwater sound arrays on the ocean floor during the Cold War. Bottom and moored sea mines are an example of weaponization. The U.S. Navy formerly was equipped with CAPTOR mines, which housed and encapsulated Mk46 torpedo, awaiting the passing of a hostile submarine or ship.
Reynolds discussed the possibility of planting sensors on sea floor as well as charging stations for AUVs that conduct surveillance or reconnaissance, independent of a mother submarine. He noted that earlier in the decade the Strategic Studies Group chartered by the chief of naval operations envisioned an “undersea constellation” to augment the U.S. Navy’s submarines as a cheaper and long-dwell solution for undersea surveillance given the limited number of submarines available.
The constellation could be used for surveillance, recharging, protecting undersea cables or venturing AUVs where even submarines fear to tread. Reynolds said a sea floor infrastructure could be a grid for operation of submarines and AUVs. A vehicle such as an Extra-Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicle could be used to plant sensors and charging stations on a grid in the sea floor.
The Office of Naval Research has a Forward Deployed Energy and Communications Outpost Innovative Naval Prototype project to develop such charging stations.
Hydroid already has succeeded in development of a charging station for AUVs, Reynolds said. In a project for the National Science Foundation, a REMUS 600 measures the levels of nitrates in the ocean. The AUV acoustically homes in on a recharging station on the sea floor. The AUV is recharged by docking at the charging station and transmits its data to the surface through a buoy antenna on the surface.
“It’s a good prototype and we’re learning from it,” Reynolds said.