main story image for facebook sharing

Around The Fleet

The New Shark in the Water

UUVs are the future of the fleet

Click, clack, snap - the cases are unlocked, revealing one of the Navy's newest technologies. With the sun peaking over the pines, this place seems innocuous, but it is the future of underwater warfighting.

Sailors assigned to Submarine Development Squadron (SUBDEVRON) 5, have been at Salisbury Point Park in Poulsbo, Washington since daybreak in two large trucks loaded with gear to start their mission.

A couple of hours ago, these Sailors arrived at the boat launch area, and began to unload the gear from the vehicles. One is loaded with several large black cases and the other tows an empty boat trailer. They quickly unload the mysterious cases and place them at the rear of the trailer.

The cases reveal long yellow tubes with wires poking out, curved brackets, and other electronic components. These are all parts of an Unmanned Undersea Vehicle (UUV).

"We use these commercial [underwater] vehicles," said Petty Officer 2nd Class Makara Chhim. "And run them through a bunch of endurance and operation testing so that the fleet can use them in the future."

Today these Sailors are testing the "lightweight" class UUV, weighing in at 500 pounds. This is one of four classes of UUVs the Navy is testing, with the largest weighing in at more than ten tons. These UUVs are able to engage underwater, surface, air, and land targets. They are also able to gather and transmit information, and then act upon that information.
Three photo collage of Sailors putting a UUV in the water, UUV underwater, and Sailors working on a UUV.

Sailors take the large tubes out of the cases and place them on the boat trailer. The first piece is a foot-wide bullet-shaped nose then another long tube with a shark fin shaped antenna. At the tail end sits a small propeller, the UUV's screw. Tight seals are key to the success of the UUV underwater, but it won't go anywhere without power. Panels of the UUV are removed to reveal an empty section for batteries. Once installed, the crew reassembles the vehicle, checks it from stem to stern and prepares to launch.

Two Sailors wade into the water as the trailer slowly submerges near them. They remove the straps, take hold of the UUV, and turn it away from shore, launching it into the open water of the Squamish Harbor. A Sailor on a nearby boat closely monitors the UUV's signal and sends the mission coordinates for it to follow.

"UUV is a small community ... it's a fairly new technology and I hope in the future we see more UUVs out there in the fleet," said Chhim. "It's an awesome concept for Sailors to use, it's the future of technology and eventually we're going to be going toward using more UUVs."

The lightweight UUV's mission is to survey the ocean floor and locate potentially dangerous objects. This is a job usually performed by divers, which can consume several man hours-and could be dangerous. The UUV is equipped with sonar technology and GPS so that it can navigate and find objects in dark murky water, saving valuable time. The UUV then returns with the gathered information to determine what protocols would be needed to complete the mission.

"The UUV can conduct some of the same missions as divers, but without having to put the divers at risk," said Chhim. "The UUV can run out to conduct a survey, look for the same things divers are looking for and provide them specific locations of objects or debris. It's better to lose a UUV than a diver."

With the growing use of unmanned systems - air, surface, ground, and underwater, UVs are continually demonstrating new possibilities that can assist our naval forces maintain maritime superiority around the world.

"It saves the Navy a lot of money and it's the future of technology," said Chhim. "We're going to advance with these vehicles and ultimately replace the amount of Sailors out there doing dangerous jobs, and with the environmental data that's collected it can help further the Navy's advancement to the future."

For more information on the newest Navy innovations click here.