Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Minisub that can operate as a drone is draws crowd at Navy expo

Christopher P. Cavas/Defense News
14 April 2015

WASHINGTON – While the floor at the annual Navy League Sea-Air-Space exposition is always packed with displays, it's unusual to see lines forming to view any one attraction. But a coal-black, sinister-looking undersea vessel on display here for the first time has clearly become a star, drawing lines and crowds milling around the always-busy Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII) booth.
The new celebrity is the Proteus, a submersible undersea vehicle created by what is now HII's Undersea Solution Group (USG), Battelle and Bluefin Robotics. The craft came under HII's purview in late January with the purchase of the Columbia Group's Engineering Solutions Group, an outfit with long experience building swimmer delivery vehicles for the U.S. Navy.
The Proteus is unique, designed to be manually crewed or to function as an autonomous, unmanned underwater vehicle.
The craft was built in 2012 at the Group's facility in Panama City, Florida, said Ross Lindman, senior vice president for operations with the USG. Since becoming operational, he said, the Proteus has been evaluated by a number of Navy entities, including the Naval Research Laboratory, the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Panama City, the Naval Special Warfare Command in Coronado, California, and the Space and Warfare Systems Command.
Now, HII is offering the Proteus as an operational craft.
"We're here to bring it out as an asset for the Navy, under lease as a test platform," Lindman said. "It has a very large payload, lots of range, and provides near-term capability to answer urgent needs."
The Proteus is proof of HII's dedication to undersea technologies, Lindman said.
"The Navy asked companies to show commitment to by putting skin in the game, and that's what this is," he declared.
The Proteus is not a submarine, in the sense that it does not provide a dry environment. As a "wet sub," the interior remains flooded at all times, although divers can hook into onboard air flasks. An air module can support a team of six divers up to eight hours, Lindman said.
Two divers can fit in the forward end of the vehicle, while directly behind them is a payload bay that opens at the bottom to raise and lower equipment. The craft's lifting mechanism can hoist and lower loads up to 3,600 pounds, Lindman said. Such operations can be carried out in manned modes or as an unmanned vehicle.
Battelle handled development of the craft's navigational and software systems, said Fred Byus, the company's vice president for maritime technologies, while software was developed by Battelle subsidiary Bluefin Robotics.
The software was developed originally for the Knifefish, an autonomous underwater vehicle developed as a mine hunter for the U.S. Navy. The Proteus also uses the same lithium polymer batteries that power the Knifefish.
The result, Byus said, is a craft that is "unique in size and payload capacity. It dwarfs any other vehicle like this."
Since entering service, the Proteus has run more than 100 test missions and logged more than 400 hours underwater, Lindman said. "It's ready to go now."
The Proteus is just under 26 feet long, with a diameter of about 5 feet 4 inches, and can be transported in a standard, 40-foot container. Two 20-foot containers are used to carry support gear, Lindman said. The vessel has been transported by air and by road.
The craft has a top speed of nine and a half knots submerged and cruises at eight knots, Lindman said. In unmanned mode, the Proteus can maintain four knots for increased range.
The estimated price for the craft is between $10 million and $12 million, Lindman said, "depending on the sensors."
HII is also marketing the vessel to international customers. "A number of NATO nations have similar requirements," Lindman observed. "We hope to sell some."

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