The Navy Just Ordered the "Orca," an Extra-Large Unmanned Submarine by Boeing

Flyaway

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The U.S. Navy has awarded a contract to Boeing for four Extra-Large Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (XLUUVs). In other words: giant drone subs.

The unmanned submarines, called Orcas, will be able to undertake missions from scouting to sinking ships at very long ranges. Drone ships like the Orca will revolutionize war at sea, providing inexpensive, semi-disposable weapon systems that can fill the gaps in the front line—or simply go where it’s too dangerous for manned ships to go.

The contract, announced today, stipulates Boeing will get $43 million for “fabrication, test, and delivery of four Orca Extra Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicles (XLUUVs) and associated support elements.” That’s just over ten million bucks per boat.

https://www.popularmechanics.com/military/navy-ships/a26344025/navy-extra-large-unmanned-submarines-boeing/
 

TomS

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Yes, it says so in the article.
 

Grey Havoc

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The XLUUV program, also known as Orca, was established to address a Joint Emergent Operational Need (JEON). The Navy wants to procure nine XLUUVs in FY2020-FY2024. The Navy announced on February 13, 2019, that it had selected Boeing to fabricate, test, and deliver the first four Orca XLUUVs and associated support elements. On March 27, 2019, the Navy announced that the award to Boeing had been expanded to include the fifth Orca.
 

Grey Havoc

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1586803052194-png.630925

 

Grey Havoc

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Boeing graphic

ORIGINAL CAPTION: Boeing’s concept for their ORCA Extra-Large
Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (XLUUV)



Robot Ships & Submarines

Congress and the Pentagon are deeply at odds over the future of the fleet. The Navy, backed by Defense Secretary Mark Esper, sees robotic vessels as crucial adjuncts to larger manned warships, with unmanned surface and underwater vehicles (USVs and UUVs) serving as relatively expendable scouts, decoys, and missile launchers. Congress, however, remains deeply committed to traditional shipyards and President Trump’s campaign promise of 355 (manned) ships. There’s fear on Capitol Hill. that the Navy may be moving too fast towards full-up prototypes before working out technical basics, like how to keep ships running with no maintenance crew aboard and how to retain human control of lethal weapons from a long way away.

Both the House and Senate Armed Services Committees have passed language limiting the robo-boat programs. SASC forbids the Navy from spending 2021 appropriations on the Medium USV, Large USV, Large Displacement UUV, or Extra-Large UUV until it can show their “‘critical mission, hull, mechanical, and electrical sub-systems’’ will work well. The HASC language specifically says the LUSV must function 30 days without human maintainers; SASC sets a 45-day (1,080-hour) threshold for both LUSV and MUSV.

We haven’t seen HASC’s funding tables yet, so we don’t know if the House committee wants to cut these programs. But the Senate funding tables cut them by over $548 million (and authorizers do have the power to limit spending):

  • Prototyping for Medium and Large USVs is cut entirely, with SASC rejecting the entire $464 million request as “excess procurement ahead of satisfactory testing.”
  • Prototyping for Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicles is cut nearly in half, losing $36 million out of a $78 million request, again as “excess procurement ahead of…. testing.”
  • Prototyping specifically for the XLUUV (aka the Boeing Orca) and the LDUUV (aka Snakehead) are each cut $10 million (out of an unspecified total) for having an “uncertified test strategy.”
  • Even the relatively small and modest Barracuda mine-hunting UUV prototype is cut $28 million for an unspecified “program delay.”
On the upside, SASC would add $115 million for “advanced surface machinery” to help unmanned surface vessels operate without human maintainers: $45 million for “USV autonomy” and $70 million for “engine and generator qualification testing.” That partially offsets the cuts above – but in a way that makes it very clear the Senate wants the Navy to get the basics right before putting prototypes to sea.
 

Grey Havoc

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In January, HII completed the first phase of its Unmanned Systems Center of Excellence with the construction of a 22,000-square-foot facility in Hampton, Virginia. The center will host the assembly of hull structures for Boeing’s Orca for the Navy’s Extra Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicle program. A second building for unmanned systems prototyping, production and testing is scheduled to be built by year’s end.

The company disclosed Thursday that about 75 percent of all the Orca’s structural components have been fabricated and that final delivery to Boeing is set for later this year.
 

Jimmo952

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It's been said the Orca program is attempting to produce an UUV capable of ASW and anti-surface warfare roles.

I've never seen it explicitly stated it will carry weapons but given the roles It's being looked at for, it's a good guess it will eventually carry weapons.
 

Josh_TN

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It's been said the Orca program is attempting to produce an UUV capable of ASW and anti-surface warfare roles.

I've never seen it explicitly stated it will carry weapons but given the roles It's being looked at for, it's a good guess it will eventually carry weapons.
I suspect one of its first roles will be to emplace mines and offboard sensors. That doesn't take a very clever AI; that is mostly just having a list of depth/locations and being able to self navigate. The Clandestinely Deployed Mine is supposed to have about reached IOC right now; that would be a good initial candidate. There probably are various classified Seaweb related sensors as well. In the future there will be the CAPTOR replacement mines. Actually directly engaging another ship or sub is I think a long way off, but being able to lay sensors and mine fields in very shallow water takes that high risk mission off of manned boats which are too large and valuable to be doing that kind of work. It looks like an Orca is going to cost about ~1% of a Virginia; it's practically a disposable wartime asset at that price.
 
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TomS

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