Meet the Orca, a 50 ton undersea drone armed with high-tech sensors capable of several attack options, including torpedoes, able to wage a stealth-like war under the ocean surface without a single human being in tow.
According to a special report from Kris Osborn at National Interest, earlier this year, Boeing was awarded a US$43 million deal to build four Orcas for the US Navy.
The XL-UUV (Extra Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicle) Orca is based upon Echo Voyager and Echo Ranger undersea drones, said Capt. Pete Small, Program Manager for Unmanned Systems, Naval Sea Systems Command.
The latter is an 84-foot long, massive underwater drone able to reach depths of 11,000 feet and hit ranges up to 6,500 nautical miles, the report said.
The drone has obstacle avoidance, substantial carrying capacity of up to 34-feet, autonomous buoyancy and Synthetic Aperture Sonar, the report said.
Extra Large UUVs, such as Boeing’s Orca, are certainly large enough to accommodate weapons payloads, and it seems such an option is entirely feasible, depending upon the pace of undersea connectivity and fire control, the report said.
It goes without saying that use of any kind of lethal force would, according to Pentagon doctrine, require a human functioning in a role of command and control.
An interesting essay from the National Academy of Sciences, called “Military Robotics: Latest Trends and Spatial Grasp Solutions,” cites the unprecedented advantage of being able to send large undersea drones through the open ocean for as long as 70-days.
An undersea sensing UUV introduces a new realm of combat strategies and tactics. First and foremost would simply be an opportunity for greater undersea security and stealth, the report said.
Given the high-risk nature of its mission scope, an attack submarine could greatly benefit from an increased ability to conduct reconnaissance missions close to enemy shorelines and in the open ocean — while remaining undetected.
The Orca, and other UUVs are also now the subject of a fast-evolving Navy Unmanned Maritime Autonomy Architecture (UMAS) program, which involves engineering and testing “different layers of autonomy.”
At the moment, undersea drones predominantly gather data and then return to a host ship before downloading data. The service is now working to evolve and refine a handful of new ways to communicate undersea in real time, in some cases using video-guided autonomous undersea attack drones, the report said.
Other emerging technologies enable submarines to make use of undersea “GPS-like” connectivity.