The Navy Wants A New, Far-Reaching Robot Submarine

Preparing the oceans for the wars of tomorrow

Echo Seeker In Testing
Echo Seeker In Testing
Boeing, via Flickr

Like expectant parents eagerly picking out names for their firstborn children, no Pentagon project is really real until it gets a terrible acronym. Earlier this year, the Navy posted a solicitation for a "Large Displacement Unmanned Undersea Vehicle (LDUUV) System." Last week, they posted even more details about what they're looking for in their brand new robot submarine.

For the first version of the LDUUV (ideally pronounced "Lud-oov"), the Navy wants two things. The first is "intelligence, scouting, and reconnaissance" underwater, which means the combined jobs of watching an area for potential threats and then sending back useful information to people on shore. The second basic requirement for this robot submarine is "Intelligence Preparation of the Operational Environment." That's a Pentagonese bundling of a few larger concepts, from observing a battlefield and evaluating enemy options in war, to (in peacetime) exploring potential threats and courses of action. Think of this version of LDUUV as an underwater scout and spy, a submarine whose sensors will collect data to help build a better understanding of what future naval wars could look like.

Future versions of the submarine will do much more. The Navy wants to use them against underwater mines, to perhaps launch flying scout drones that scan above the surface of the sea, and to "deploy payloads"--as vague a mission as the military offers. The LDUUV can be launched from drydocks, Virginia-class submarines, and the Littoral Combat Ship.

One possible body for the LDUUV is already made. Boeing's Echo Ranger is a small underwater autonomous submarine, and Boeing recently announced a much larger sibling. The Echo Seeker can stay underwater for three days, and inside can carry up to 170 pounds of payload.