Updated: Oroginally posted March 18, 2020. Based on unclassified sources
Pioneering Extra-Large UUV: The Royal Navy's Manta
As a first step the Royal Navy recently announced the contract for the Manta XLUUV (Extra-large Uncrewed Underwater Vehicle). British based MSubs, who have built a number of small crewed submersibles, won the deal with a proposal to convert the existing S201 vehicle. Ultimately the Royal Navy envisions very large UUVs taking on armed combat roles.
This 8.9m (29 ft) S201 is large by UUV standards but is significantly smaller than the 30 meter (100 ft) XLUUV envisaged. This suggests that it is not a direct prototype for the end-state XLUUV but rather a demonstrator. In particular the Royal Navy needs to explore the practicalities of operating XLUUVs. And also the legal implications, both in terns of Rules of the road and automated decision making in weaponized robots.
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The Royal Navy does not have plans to increase the number of Astute Class nuclear powered attack submarines or next generation SSN(R). So XLUUVs could be an affordable force multiplier. Having an XLUUV is significant as it will allow the Royal Navy to learn how to use them. Building them is one challenge, developing the tactics and doctrine is another. The future may favor the early movers such as the Royal Navy and U.S. Navy who learn how to use them effectively.
Length 9 m (30 ft)
Beam 2 m (6.5 ft)
Weight 9 tonnes
Operating depth 305 m (1148 ft)
Submerged Duration 48 hrs
Submerged Speed 12 kts
Standard sized UUVs need to be carried near to their target area by another vessel. This is because they lack the range or speed to get where they are needed on time without help. Extra-large UUVs however can overcome this by having submarine levels of autonomy. All the same the Manta can be launched from a large amphibious warfare ship as shown above (beside an uncrewed surface vessel). But importantly it can be launched pier side for a true low-dependency shore-to-war capability.
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