Royal Navy awards contract for Europe's largest crewless submarine
The Royal Navy has awarded a £15.4-million (US$18.9-million) contract to MSubs to build a cutting-edge robotic submarine, called Cetus, that will be the largest in Europe and will be capable of diving deeper than conventional submarines.
As part of its modernization drive, the Royal Navy has placed an increasing emphasis on automation, robotics, and autonomous vehicles. This allows supercarriers like HMS Queen Elizabeth to require a crew of only 1,600 sailors and aircrew, speeds up maintenance, and opens up new capabilities that make the Navy more effective while putting fewer human lives at risk.
The new contract with Plymouth-based MSubs is to fund Project Cetus, which is named after the sea monster from Greek mythology. Scheduled to be delivered to the Navy in two years, its main purpose is to act as an underwater experimental platform similar to the surface tech ship XV Patrick Blackett for assessing and testing new equipment with the goal of integrating the technology into the fleet.
According to the Ministry of Defence, Cetus is intended to ultimately lead to operational autonomous submarines that can work independently or as part of a team with crewed submarines like the Astute-class hunter killer and its successors. In addition, it will be able to dive deeper than conventional subs, increasing the Fleet's capabilities.
When complete, Cetus will be 40 ft (12 m) long, 7.2 ft (2.2 m) in diameter, and displace 17 tonnes, which makes it second in size to the US Navy LSV-2 Cutthroat autonomous submarine and the largest in any European navy. It will be powered by batteries, giving it a range of 1,000 miles (1,600 km), though this can be increased by adding more batteries to the modular architecture.
The dimensions were chosen to allow Cetus to fit inside a standard shipping container for easy transport and able to operate from any Royal Navy ship or those of its allies. In addition, there will be an optional middle section that can be added to provide double the regular payload capacity.
"This is a hugely exciting moment for Project Cetus as the Royal Navy surges ahead with the development of autonomous technology," said First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Ben Key. "This Extra Large Autonomous Underwater Vehicle is a capability step-change in our mission to dominate the underwater battle-space. And I am delighted that the project is able to support a small, innovative UK company which is at the cutting edge of this sector.
"The contract is funded by the Anti-Submarine Warfare Spearhead program, run by the Royal Navy’s Develop Directorate, headquartered in Portsmouth. The vessel will be delivered through the Submarine Delivery Agency in Bristol and is the latest in a series of novel underwater technologies being brought to life to deal with the threats of the next decade."
Source: UK Ministry of Defence