15 Oktober 2015
Ocius unmanned surface vessel (USV) for future anti-submarine warfare (photo : Shephard)
The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) is pondering an unmanned surface vessel (USV) for future anti-submarine warfare (ASW) duties as part of an as-yet-undisclosed requirement. The sustainably powered vehicle would tow a sonar array.
At the Pacific 2015 International Maritime Exposition in Sydney from 6-8 October, Ocius Technology exhibited its first-generation USV that is being developed as a capability and technology demonstrator (CTD) for the Defence Science and Technology Group.
On 21 September Australia’s Ministry of Defence announced the award of a AU$3 million (US$2.1 million) contract to Ocius for the CTD. This was cemented on 2 October when Ocius signed up Thales to help develop a thin-line towed sonar array for the craft.
Powered by solar, wind and wave energy that is harnessed by hull solar panels, a solar sail and wave oscillators, the 2.8m-long Bluebottle USV is based on a Steber hull. It has a speed of 2.5 knots, but the next-generation CDT will be double the length, and will be capable of speeds of 5.5 knots.
USVs are generally hampered by power and endurance limitations, but the low-cost Bluebottle is designed to operate autonomously for six months or more on end. Robert Dane, CEO of Ocius, envisioned that a single operator could control 200 such vessels, utilizing the vehicle’s low cost and persistent nature.
Scott Peak, business development manager of underwater systems, maritime and space at Thales Australia said his company would develop a low-drag, thin-line towed array sonar using existing Thales products, but that a retractable fibre-optic array was the future goal.
The Bluebottle is designed so three vehicles can fit inside a shipping container for ease of transport worldwide. They could be deployed from a ship or port for ASW duties, and they could even be air-dropped. All sonar processing is done aboard the USV, meaning data can be transmitted more easily to a control station via line of sight or satellite.
Such a USV offers continuous coverage and lower acquisition and operational costs than traditional ASW systems on ships and helicopters. The Bluebottle could also actively ping targets with little fear of danger to crews.
The aim of the project is to have a CTD completed by October 2017 ready for approval by Australia’s Capability, Acquisition and Sustainment Group.
Another use of the Bluebottle is underwater mapping using a multi-beam sensor, and immediately after the Pacific 2015 exposition, Ocius was working with an oil/gas company in the Bass Strait that separates Tasmania from the Australian mainland.