China Reveals Another New Armed XLUUV: UUV-300

China Reveals Another New Armed XLUUV: UUV-300

Flag China Chinese defence exports company Poly Technology has revealed the UUV-300 family of extra-large uncrewwed underwater vehicles (XLUUVs). The XLUUV was displayed at the Defence Service Asia Exhibition and Conference (DSA) 2024 exhibition in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. These are significant because they are intended to be armed (most UUVs in the past are not) and exported.

Chinese Armed XLUUV, UUV-300

Why It Matters: Weaponizing The 4th Industrial Revolution

We are witnessing a technological revolution which is reshaping naval warfare. Uncrewed underwater vehicles (UUVs, aka AUVs) are developing at an incredible rate, and it is increasingly likely that they will be armed. The Russo-Ukraine war has fueled this sudden development, but the most significant developments thus far are in Asia. China and South Korea are both promoting armed types.

Like submarines and missile boats before, armed UUVs are the next major asymmetrical must-have for smaller navies. Along with their surface drone cousins, they promise a way to stand up to much larger and more powerful conventional navies. And unlike crewed submarines, they are comparatively low cost, low infrastructure, quick to build, quick to get operational, and have a minimal training overhead. Above all, they are attritable. All these factors I think are more consequential than the actual platform capabilities.

Based on drones in the water, and efforts at defence shows, China is leading the world in this emerging technology. If not in quality (and we should be careful not to fall into the trap of biased assumptions), certainly in attempts to proliferate the technology. China's aggressive arms export strategy means that the first armed UUV your navy may face might be a Chinese design. That killer underwater drone might be a UUV-300.

Chinese Armed XLUUV, UUV-300
Model of UUV-300CB displayed at DSE 2024. Photo via Naval News.

UUV-300 Description

The design is just under 12 meters long and 2 meters wide, which is a sweet spot in XLUUV design. It means that it can be transported in a standard ISO shipping container and launched into the water 'off the back of a truck'. This inherent deplorability means that it is much harder to counter than larger warships and submarines which require proper port facilities for sustained operations.

The quoted range, 450 nautical miles (834 km / 517 miles) at 5 knots is modest but realistic. And no doubt the large amount of internal volume dedicated to weapons carriage is a factor. It appears able to carry up to 4 lightweight torpedoes, plus bottom mines. The torpedoes are carried in sealed tubes which swing out to launch. Graphics for the vehicle suggest that two of the torpedo tubes can be swapped out for flank array sonar, which may be the preferred configuration.

The company's graphics also showed the vehicle launching a missile vertically. This seems more ambitious than the torpedoes and may just be in the marketing.

Two versions are on offer, the UUV-300CB and UUV-300CD. I am unclear as to the exact differences, and it may be a relatively modest customer configuration choice.

Specifications: UUV-300CB
Length: 11.5 meters
Width: 2 meters overall, 1.6 meters hull diameter
Height: 2.7 meters (likely without masts extended)
Weight (in air): 50 tonnes
Operating depth: 300 meters
Speed: 12 knots
Range: 450 nautical miles @ 5 knots
Acoustic emissions: < 140 dB
Communications: UHF / satellite communications / acoustic communications
Payloads: Lightweight torpedoes (possibly x4), EM-12 bottom mines, smaller AUVs, possibly land attack missiles

Testing - China Is Ahead

The UUV-300 may be related to one of the types observed being tested on Hainan in the South China Sea. China has at least 5 distinct models of XLUUV being trialed at Yulin/Sanya, several much larger than this. It is possible that the UUV-300 is derived from one of the designs which the Chinese Navy (PLAN) did not select for service. This approach of competitive trials with prototypes means that China has more companies and more designs than Western navies do. It also means that it has an export advantage, and that the designs like UUV-300 are already tested to some degree.

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