Russian 'Cephalopod' Armed Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) program
Russia’s research into armed underwater drones has been overshadowed by the gigantic Poseidon nuclear autonomous torpedo. The two projects are from the same design bureau, Rubin, and have been mentioned together several times. Notably in 2015 when Russia caught the world’s attention by leaking the existence of the Status-6 Intercontinental nuclear-armed nuclear powered autonomous torpedo (now named Poseidon), Cephalopod (Цефалопод) was also revealed.
Cephalopod is closer to the popular imagination of a killer underwater drone than Poseidon is. It is a small unmanned submarine (albeit large by current standards) with a large sonar and torpedoes to make the kill. This implies an anti-submarine warfare role.
While images of Poseidon have slowly emerged, Cephalopod has remained obscure with only a few dry comments in Russian media.
In July 2017 images appeared on Russian internet sources showing a graphic of the Cephalopod. While authenticity and context have not been confirmed, it provides some insight into Russian thinking on Cephalopod. The AUV shown has a large sonar dome in the bow, retractable torpedo launchers and a submarine-like screw. The upper rudder is set relatively far forward and doubles as the communications sail, in a similar way to the Surrogat (Суррогат) AUV also designed by Rubin. This design consistency lends the image credibility.
Based on the size of the torpedoes, which appear similar to standard Russian 324mm ‘MTT’ lightweight torpedoes, together with other details, the overall length is around 10 meters. This makes is large for a AUV but smaller than most midget submarines. A close overall size comparison can be made with six to ten-person Swimmer Delivery Vehicles (SDVs) but those have to carry people so the Cephalopod will likely be heavier and displace more.
The MTT torpedo has a range of up to 20 km at 30 knots, and a top speed of 50 knots. Maximum depth is 600 meters and warhead is 60 kg.
Provided Russia can source appropriate modern Lithium-Ion batteries, endurance could be measured in days. The wet carriage of the torpedoes and compact overall dimensions limiting battery space, together with the implied high hotel load (e.g. the relatively large sonar in the bow) will eat into endurance however. Overall this is likely to have an endurance long enough to be a local threat close to its host platform or port, but will not be roaming the world’s oceans like a nuclear-powered AUV could.
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Program contracts awarded by Russian Government under Rubin design bureau:
Cefalopod-PZM (Цефалопод-ПЗМ), Mashinostroitel awarded 149,000,000 rubles in 2015
Cephalopod-ISU (Цефалопод-ИСУ), Morins Agat awarded 158,000,000 rubles in 2015
Cefalopod-MT (Цефалопод-МТ), Research Institute of Mortar Plototechnics awarded 5,600,000 rubles in 2015
Cephalopod-MTM (Цефалопод-МТM), MPO-Gidropribor awarded 3,500,000 rubles in 2015
Cephalopod-MR (Цефалопод-МР), OKB Novator awarded 15,000,000 rubles in 2015, increased to 15,330,509.95 rubles fixed-price in November 2016
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