AUVSI Update: Power Issues Hamper Deployment of Robotic Underwater Vehicles

By Grace Jean
DENVER — The Navy wants to deploy robotic underwater vehicles to conduct anti-submarine warfare and counter-mine missions, but its plans are being held up by power problems that limit their endurance.
“While I want to transition the rather mature [unmanned underwater vehicle] technologies to the fleet, we continue to wrestle with UUV power and energy” issues, said Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead at the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International conference.
Navy officials would like the UUVs to swim for three to four weeks at a time. To sprint through the water for shorter durations and to contend with adverse undersea environments, such as fast-moving currents, the vehicles must have adequate onboard energy storage capabilities.
Hybrid energy systems and even nuclear power are possible options, though the latter technology would have to conform to shipboard safety and environmental standards in order to be a viable solution. The Navy during the next five years is focusing approximately 50 percent of its research and development funds to tackle fundamental energy problems, Roughead said.
Once scientists have solved the power problem and improved the endurance of undersea vehicles, the Navy’s next hurdle is to develop better information networks that “can sense, move and adjust with those vessels,” said Roughead. “I’m quite pleased with where we are in our sensor development for those UUVs and I do believe we have a handle on how we network those sensors to contribute to our information dominance,” he said.
Because the underwater vehicles will cover large areas of the ocean, they will need to operate in a networked fashion.
The Navy last year stopped funding the development of its mission reconfigurable UUV. “We were putting a lot of money into it and it wasn’t going anywhere,” Roughead said. “In this fiscal environment, we cannot tolerate under-performing programs if we’re serious about delivering capabilities to the force.”
During an overseas trip last week to visit some international counterparts, Roughead learned about an “intriguing” underwater robotic system. He is exchanging information about the technology and will explore acquisition options should it come to that. “I’m very open to cooperative solutions,” he said.
In addition to expanding the use of unmanned systems, the Navy’s 2012 budget will enhance and restore the service’s electronic warfare dominance and develop a “first-class information work force” comprising 44,000 experts that will provide expertise in intelligence, cryptology, meteorology, oceanography and information warfare, Roughead said.

Topics: Robotics, Unmanned Underwater Vehicles, Undersea Warfare

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