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AUSS You Like It

Unmanned underwater vehicles gain popularity in naval warfare

Dilip Kumar Mekala

A few days before the international naval defence exhibition, Euronaval 2016, a select group of journalists including this correspondent were given a presentation by Thales in Toulon naval base, south of France. The presentation was on an underwater drone named Autonomous Underwater and Surface System (AUSS). Unlike any other unmanned underwater system, the AUSS has been tested for a wide range of applications. Showing videos from sea trials which were kept hidden from public attention so far, the company managed to convince the journalists about the advanced capabilities of the AUSS. For example, the drone can navigate in deep and shallow seas in near vertical condition - an impressive capability for such a system. The system also possesses great maneuverability - it can take a U-turn on the spot, or make an emergency stop within 10 metres even when it is at its high speed of 17 knots.

Claiming to be the world’s first hybrid unmanned system capable of operating above and below surface, AUSS can carry out a broad range of civil and military roles that were previously impossible to perform with existing autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs). “With AUSS, Thales is bringing a completely new concept to the unmanned maritime systems market. We are sure that its unique set of operational capabilities will open up new horizons for civil as well as military organisations involved in maritime surveillance and protection,” said Pierre-Eric Pommellet, SVP defence mission systems at Thales. “AUSS marks the coming of age of the unmanned maritime systems industry in France,” he added.

Given the interest in the unmanned maritime systems by the global defence companies, it is safe to assume that these autonomous underwater systems could become a significant part of future naval operations. The use of AUV is gaining popularity in the navies specifically for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions in the open seas. The underwater ISR missions for the navy are extremely important as they become a precursor to any anti-submarine warfare (ASW) operations, or Mine Countermeasures (MCM). The AUVs are well suited for ISR because they can be integrated into a wide range of sensors. Then, they can also go to places where many platforms cannot; and finally, the AUVs can be deployed from surface, air and subsurface assets giving the navies a much-needed flexibility.

DCNS has designed and built the tripartite mine hunters type Eridan, which are now well-known in this warfare domain. DCNS now offers more robotic solutions: mother ships (NGMD3 design), capable of operating unmanned underwater vehicles (UUV), USV and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), with mine countermeasures payloads. In addition, DCNS designed and built a ‘heavy’ mine countermeasures USV that can be operated either from ashore or a ship (Sterenn Du, as part of the French Navy ESPADON project). An unmanned semi-submersible vehicle (USSV) is also proposed by DCNS, as a remarkably seaworthy surveillance system (Seakeeper).

AUSS You Like It

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