Project CETUS will see the design and build of an ‘Extra Large Autonomous Underwater Vehicle’ which may one day work alongside Astute-class attack submarines.

Titled “AUV DEMONSTRATOR DESIGN, BUILD AND TECHNICAL SUPPORT CONTRACT”, the contract tender notice has a value of £21.5m. There are currently no other available details aside from some technical details. The following is the notice.

“1. Title: AUV DEMONSTRATOR DESIGN, BUILD AND TECHNICAL SUPPORT CONTRACT
2. Awarding Authority: Ministry of Defence, GB Email: [email protected] (Andrea Stockton)
3. Contract type: Service contract
Competitive procedure with negotiation
4. Description: Project CETUS: Design, Build and Technical Support of an XL-AUV Demonstrator Vehicle
5. CPV Code(s): 71356000, 73400000, 73420000
6. NUTS code(s): UKK, UKK1, UKK11
7. Main site or location of works, main place of delivery or main place of performance: South West (England), Gloucestershire, Wiltshire And Bristol/Bath Area, Bristol, City Of.
8. Reference attributed by awarding authority: Project Code 702282450
9. Estimated value of requirement: Estimated Value of Contract
£21.5m
10. Listing Deadline: 10.2.2022 (23:59).”

The specifics of the intended design come from a job listing for a Design Engineer for the project posted 28 days ago, which states:

“Primary role is to lead project CETUS; the design and build of a 27 tonne, 12m Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) Demonstrator, with specific responsibility for leading on the establishing technical specification and deliverables, running the competition, evaluating tenders and contract placement during FY21/22. Subsequently responsible to ensure requirements and delivery pace are being met and are accepted.

Secondary role is to lead on technical studies exploring AUV concepts and provision of advice to the application of AUV to the future underwater battlespace including those AUV that could complement the replacement Astute Class SSN.”

The somewhat related Project MANTA is already underway, although that’s a 9 metre submarine. You can read more about this from the excellent NavyLookout here.

Manta – the Royal Navy gets its first extra-large autonomous submarine

What exists today?

One platform tthat comes to mind is Orca. Orca is an autonomous underwater vehicle that is under development by Boeing and Huntington Ingalls Industries for the United States Navy. The Orca is around 15m in length, so just a bit bigger, and the U.S. Navy want five of them. Work has already started, a concept image is shown to illustrate this article.

Orca XLUUV: Boeing’s whale of an unmanned sub

You can read more about Orca at Naval Technology by clicking here.

George has a degree in Cyber Security from Glasgow Caledonian University and has a keen interest in naval and cyber security matters and has appeared on national radio and television to discuss current events. He also works for the NHS. George is on Twitter at @geoallison
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Watcherzero
Watcherzero
7 months ago

This is another evolutionary step in developing the technology, the Royal Navy is ultimately looking at fielding a 30m long, torpedo armed XLUUV.

https___specials-images.forbesimg.com_imageserve_5e62a1d57d6f2600068edf6d_Royal-Navy-Manta-XLUUV-compared-to-the-US-Navy-Orca-XLUUV_960x0[1].jpg
Bloke down the pub
Bloke down the pub
7 months ago
Reply to  Watcherzero

ED. How come Watchzero can post a comment with an attachment but when I tried posting a link to the same product it got blocked? Are there any rules we can abide by so we know how not to fall foul of them?

WillDbeest
WillDbeest
7 months ago

I think he posted an image not a link

DEF image.JPG
Watcherzero
Watcherzero
7 months ago

It is a bit finicky on this comment engine, it wont show you a preview of the image and sometimes the link wont work at all.

Jonathan
Jonathan
7 months ago

So these would fill in that gap that would have been taken up by a electric boat, so home waters tasking, choke point control etc.

if they are going to support the nuclear boats they would need to have the same strategic mobility as you would not want to shackle your nuclear fleet to a less mobile electric Autonomous platform ( unless the nuclear boat is able to bring the Autonomous platform with it).

William
William
7 months ago
Reply to  Jonathan

A (future?) nuclear submarine could maybe recharge electric drones it is operating with while remaining submerged?

Jay
Jay
7 months ago

Could replace troublesome towed arrays! ‘loyal seaman’

Bloke down the pub
Bloke down the pub
7 months ago
Reply to  Jay

Just as likely to be rammed by an errant Russian submarine as the towed array on HMS Northumberland apparently was.

Sean
Sean
7 months ago

Well random collisions occur all the time at sea, I seriously doubt the Russians have the capability to ram the towed array even if they wanted to.
But while towing it, a frigate’s manoeuvrability is constrained by it. A submersible version of a loyal wingman would be able to hunt submarines and signal targeting information to a frigate that was both free to manoeuvre and well out of torpedo range of where the submarine is.

Deep32
Deep32
7 months ago
Reply to  Sean

Always assuming it could detect a dived SM in the first place, then calculate a tgt Co, Sp and position relative to the AUV before transmitt said info to a frigate. Can’t think why we weren’t doing it years ago!
Perhaps because it’s not that straightforward or simple to do – just a thought.

Sean
Sean
7 months ago
Reply to  Deep32

Yes extremely difficult, but until a few years ago most rocket scientists dismissed the idea of a reusable space-launch rocket being able to land itself vertically using onboard AI, let alone on a small barge in the middle of the ocean. But now Space X do that several times a month…

It’s called scientific and engineering progress, and and it accelerated every single year, even during pandemics.

Deep32
Deep32
7 months ago
Reply to  Sean

Agree it is progress, undoubtedly had billions thrown at it to make it work. Unless there is some mathematical break through WRT signal processing, then smaller and less numerous arrays of hydrophones are not going to be able to detect already weak signals coming from a dived SM at any significant ranges when compared to a SSN with its significant sensor suite. Laws of physics I believe. SMs have won the battle of stealth and noise in the passive domain, detection ranges are greatly reduced when compared with those of a decade or more ago. AUVs will need considerable luck… Read more »

Sean
Sean
7 months ago
Reply to  Deep32

Actually less money than NASA has wasted on SLS or ESA or Ariane.

Yes SSNs have a significant sensor suite, the Astute’s are the primary sub killer in the RN… So it would be obvious to fit the same sensor suite to any UAV tasked with hunting subs.
Which blows your argument out of the water, as it were 🤷🏻‍♂️

Deep32
Deep32
7 months ago
Reply to  Sean

No not really Obvious at all, the bow array alone weighs in between 20-25 tonnes, with the flank array coming in between 15-20 tonnes, that’s without adding a TA or all the inboard processing systems, , so you propose to fit some 35 tonnes of sensors onto a 20-30 ton AUV? Totally clueless fella, go back to the playground and do some research before you spout drivel.

Sean
Sean
7 months ago
Reply to  Deep32

Well clearly not obvious to a short-sighted dimwit such as yourself who believes that UAVs are limited by size. At no point did I state the size or tonnage of the UAV.
You probably think airborne drones are limited to those quadcopter things used for photography. 🤷🏻‍♂️

Deep32
Deep32
7 months ago
Reply to  Sean

Wow, dimwit, really deep, cheers!
You might still want to research your subject before offering such knowledgeable insights!

Andy P
Andy P
7 months ago
Reply to  Deep32

Who needs real life experience about a pretty niche role (like being a submariner) when you can come on here and learn all about it all in a day. 😂

Deep32
Deep32
7 months ago
Reply to  Andy P

Absolutely mate, can’t think why I wasted all those years! Should have been an astronaut instead!

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
7 months ago
Reply to  Deep32

Mate, I was thinking the same…..respect.

Deep32
Deep32
7 months ago

Hello Daniele, yes I know….
I was reading one of Ur posts on a different thread today, mate you are far to polite and nice! Me I just want to spit feathers at some of the posts, it’s enough to drive you mad sometimes.
Enjoy mate.

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
7 months ago
Reply to  Deep32

I know, I am. Being nice is free, so why not. It gets to a stage where you just want a nice, good old F off! But then you’re as bad as them. Destroy with facts, common sense, and decency. I have one on my case right now….

Some people really need to study on this site more to see who’s a SMEs on what before telling them their business!

Ian M
Ian M
7 months ago

👍

william james crawford
william james crawford
7 months ago
Reply to  Deep32

That is still no justification, Deep32, for being rude.

william james crawford
william james crawford
7 months ago
Reply to  Deep32

hang on, Deep32, there is no need to be rude.

Deep32
Deep32
6 months ago

Absolutely right fella, there isn’t.

Andy P
Andy P
7 months ago
Reply to  Sean

“Which blows your argument out of the water, as it were “ Not really Sean. While things no doubt will advance there is a lot of reasons why submarine drones are going to be limited in capability for a while yet. Whatever the size (and lets stick with what we’re talking about NOW), they are going to be limited in range/speed/payload. If you decide to go for speed and use HAP/otto fuel then you’re going to be limited with range (and compromise stealth), there’s going to be a trade off. That’s before you throw in the problems (as mentioned elsewhere) with… Read more »

David Steeper
David Steeper
7 months ago

The future. Interesting they could be used perfectly well with minimal need for communication with human or other systems. For anti ship/sub warfare the noise made by classes or even individual ships/subs in transit could be stored in the drones software and in the event of conflict an activation code sent and you’d be good to go.

Steven Alfred Rake
Steven Alfred Rake
7 months ago

They could be piggy backed on an Astute then deployed when needed and used in a “loyal Wingman” concept with all the relevant data uploaded from the mother vessel before deployment.

Bloke down the pub
Bloke down the pub
7 months ago

The Chalfont system for carrying swimmer delivery vehicles on RN SSNs could presumably just as easily carry an xluuv of the same size.

Steven Alfred Rake
Steven Alfred Rake
7 months ago

That was behind my thinking yes

Jonathan
Jonathan
7 months ago

Yes I think they would need to have some way to transport the drone on the nuclear boat otherwise it would not work well from a strategic mobility point of view. But that would not negate other uses such as part of the equipment of an ASW fitted general purpose frigate ( suddenly all those mission bays turn a type 31 from a low end asset to something else) or for safeguarding the transit of the deterrent and home waters work.

Steven Alfred Rake
Steven Alfred Rake
7 months ago
Reply to  Jonathan

Hello Jonathan, What we desperately need is smaller subs to police the chock points around the UK like the major ports which you eluded to in your comments so we could have 2 variants one for loyal wingman work and one for inshore and sensitive area protection.

Jonathan
Jonathan
7 months ago

Yes the local and choke point management is probably the most interesting capability these systems could offer, that would free our nuclear boats to do what they do best with is global power projection.

Steven Alfred Rake
Steven Alfred Rake
7 months ago
Reply to  Jonathan

I could not agree more, we are in a desperate state at the moment with only a handful of Astute’ s. So any thing that can lighten the work load will help increase the effectiveness of these magnificent boats.

Bloke down the pub
Bloke down the pub
7 months ago

Something that the Australians might find of use too while they sort out their ssn procurement.

Steven Alfred Rake
Steven Alfred Rake
7 months ago

Yes, so if they played their cards right they might get a little extra funding from down under to push things along.

Crabfat
Crabfat
7 months ago

I can imagine having UAVs sitting passively on the sea bed at choke points, identifying enemy subs (or surface vessels) then sending up a comms buoy. Quick burst, sending off the info, then quickly reel in the buoy and wait for the next contact. So there you have stealth AND high speed comms.

Steven Alfred Rake
Steven Alfred Rake
7 months ago
Reply to  Crabfat

I would like to see a similar type of thing but with an offensive capability so that it would give us a more rapid response in defending our choke points.

ChariotRider
ChariotRider
7 months ago

There is a lot of suggestions that these things should be tooled up with ASW and ASuW weapons and sent off into the blue ready to create mayhem. Most unlikely at least for the moment. What I have read so far with regards to AI and autonomous vehicles is that a man in the loop is still very much the safest route especially in peacetime and in an environment with multiple military and civilian ‘targets’ passing through singularly and in clusters (i.e. non co-operative groups of vessels in shipping lanes). The safety case is still a long way from being… Read more »

Andy P
Andy P
7 months ago
Reply to  ChariotRider

I think you have the right of it CR, there are going to be a lot of issues to sort out both with technology and ethics before we see and ‘Starwars’ underwater drones.

Ron Stateside
Ron Stateside
7 months ago
Reply to  ChariotRider

Yes the dynamic range of autonomous weapons possible outcomes is a wide band like anything new and untested (e.g. social media). All your suggestions seem well and good. Outside of domestic interests, I can imagine NATO-owned ISR XLUUVs based in Iceland picketing the GIUK gap.

James William Fennell
James William Fennell
7 months ago

Good news and like the loyal wingman concept can act as a force multiplier for the SSNs. Also carry out boring patrols along undersea cables etc.

Mr Mark Franks
Mr Mark Franks
7 months ago

You don’t need satellites. It’s blue water light a new technology to send information to and from, all very hush hush. Its also intelligent AI something I’m more concerned about. “I’ll be back.”

donald_of_tokyo
donald_of_tokyo
7 months ago

For ASW, ARCIMS USV’s ASW option “SEASense” is also a good option. I think XLUUV will be good for “forward deployed” and sneaking around Russian/China naval bases. For choke point ASW and supporting SSBN, I guess ARCIMS SEASense shall better be used.

Ref; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DvWkCBEOAUA

Farouk
Farouk
7 months ago

Interesting story from Nov, which states that the UK has been most instrumental in helping Taiwan build its first sub:
https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/taiwan-china-submarines/

Lee Cook
Lee Cook
7 months ago

I wonder why the Navy doesn’t look for its next generation SSN at using the Dreadnought design as mother-ship. The tubes for the Trident must be at least 14 meters in length, and are just over 2m wide. They come with 12 tubes, so they could pack a whole family of capabilities into them. Of course, the SSBNs are extremely expensive (over 7billion….gulp), but maybe a less stealthy, and less some of the other most high-end systems required for a boomer, could help achieve a less costly per unit price? And if the Australians are also looking for SSNs, then… Read more »

Hermes
Hermes
7 months ago

Your neighbor is here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=64TVDx7huHI

Under water drone are going to be the “hypersonic breaker” of the sea.

James William Fennell
James William Fennell
7 months ago
Reply to  Hermes

Yes it’s very nice, although at 10 tons a lot smaller than the 27 ton CETUS, let’s hope it is developed further. Some room for collaboration maybe?

Andrew pike
Andrew pike
7 months ago

At this moment the enemy are crossing the dover straits ,and nothing is done,what is the point .
Disgusted