The Navy will acquire underwater gliders to boost its oceanographic research efforts and to help improve the positioning of fleets during naval maneuvers.
The Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command awarded Teledyne Brown Engineering Inc., of Huntsville, Ala., a $6.2 million contract to design by July 2010 a “littoral battlespace sensing-glider,” or LBS-G. The contract would be worth up to $52.6 million if the Navy exercises an option to buy up to 150 gliders by 2014.
The system will be based on the Teledyne Webb Research Slocum Glider. Gliders were first conceived by Douglas Webb, the founder of Webb Research and a former researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. The Slocum Glider is a torpedo-shaped autonomous underwater winged vehicle that measures 1.5 meters and uses changes in buoyancy along with its wings and tail-fin steering to move through the water, said a Teledyne news release.
The gliders will collect data on water temperature and salinity, and the Navy will use that information to better understand the properties that affect underwater sounds that are picked up by sensors, said Randall Case, assistant program manager for the Navy’s littoral battlespace sensing, fusion and integration project. The Navy will operate the vehicles from T-AGS 60 oceanographic survey ships, he said.
The glider will weigh around 118 pounds and measure nearly five feet long. Alkaline and lithium ion batteries will power the vehicles, which will use the Global Positioning System to navigate. The vehicles will use optical and acoustic sensors and communicate via radio and “ARGOS” — a satellite-based system unique for its ability to locate the source of data anywhere in the world.
If all options are executed, the Navy will receive 15 gliders in 2011. Thirty-five will arrive in 2012; 35 in 2013; 35 in 2014; and the final 30 in 2015, Case said.
Apart from this project, the Navy also is interested in hybrid systems that combine a glider with an autonomous unmanned vehicle, Case said. These “glider-AUV hybrids” have a buoyancy engine and a standard electric motor, said Case. The concept is similar to that of a hybrid car, which switches between gas and electric power.
Other research efforts focus on using solar energy to power unmanned underwater vehicles. A UUV would have solar panels on the wings so the craft can periodically surface to recharge its batteries.
The Navy also is eyeing fuel cells — devices that generate electricity by the chemical combination of fuel and oxygen, Case said. Expendable gliders — which will spare the Navy the cost and hassle of recovering them after missions — are another possibility.