This research article dwells upon the advancements made in the area of development of Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) by the USA and Russia followed by India and its role in ensuring maritime security.
The quest for the development and advancement of unmanned systems gained momentum among both developed and developing countries of the world. These unmanned systems have strategic advantages in land, sea and aerial domains because of their operational capabilities. Among these unmanned systems, the ones operated in the maritime domain are gaining more stature. Even though these maritime unmanned systems were in their infancy stages of development, emerging technological advancements assisted them in performing superior to their counterparts helping these systems to change the landscape of future naval warfare.
Maritime Unmanned Vehicles (MUVs) were broadly classified as Unmanned Surface Vessels (USVs) and Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUVs). Further, the Unmanned Underwater Vehicles was divided into two types this includes Remotely Operated Underwater Vehicles (ROUVs) and Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs). Of these two the AUVs probably tend to be a game changer in terms of future maritime conflict. This was due to the wide range of operational capabilities it possesses which ranges from oceanographic data collection, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR), mine countermeasures, Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), payload deployment, etc.
Many nations across the world have deeply indulged in research on the practical deployment and use of UUVs. They include the US, Russia, China, India, Israel, the UK, Australia and several others. Their UUV category ranges from a small AUV to that of Extra Large Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (XLUUV) which differs in operational depth and endurance. The main reason for this race for underwater vehicle development was its functional autonomy. It helps the naval forces to deploy those vehicles in hostile environments and to carry out specific tasks and operations. It is because of this reason AUVs gained a strategic advantage over its predecessor the ROUVs and drove advanced nations to do further research and testing in order to develop more reliable and potent undersea vehicles.
This article starts with a brief introduction to the history of Maritime Unmanned Vehicles (with a special focus on AUVs) and later discusses the recent advancements made in the USA and Russia pertaining to the developments and advancements that were made in India in the field of AUV. Finally, we will conclude by taking note of how AUVs will possibly help India in ensuring its maritime security (with special emphasis on coastal security). Data for this article has been collected from books, relevant journal articles and reports.
Brief History of Autonomous Underwater Vehicles
The exact year of the commencement of the development of AUVs is not known. The first report came in the year 1957 in the US named as Self-Propelled Underwater Research Vehicle (SPURV). As the name symbolises, it was primarily used to carry out research purposes in the Arctic to collect oceanographic data. Later several technological advancements led to the creation of SPURV II with some improved performance than its predecessor. In 1983, when an Autonomous Remote-Controlled Submarine was introduced, it made several advancements in battery life, navigation and communication systems. Most of the AUV developmental projects were assisted by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the US Navy. (Sharma, 2022). In 1995, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute designed and developed an AUV called Autonomous Benthic Explore or the ABE AUV. It was utilized by scientists to survey large underwater areas for longer periods of time. One notable quality of this AUV is that it can go to sleep in order to conserve its energy. This eventually helped it to operate at a depth of about 5000m (Mondal, Banerjee, & Panja, 2019). Specifically in the 1990s a remote mine-hunting prototype was used in an operation in the Persian Gulf. Thereupon the US Navy shifted its focus to developing such technologies that are used for littoral warfare and anti-terrorism missions. (Sharma, 2022).
AUV Advancements in The US
From the above introduction, it is known that UUVs were developed in the USA for research purposes and also for military purposes especially for the US Navy. The US advancements in the domain of AUV development ranges from small AUV to that of Extra Large (XLUVs).
|General Dynamics Mission Systems
|Mk 18 Mod 1
|Mk 18 Mod 2
|General Dynamics Mission Systems
|General Dynamics Mission Systems
|ONR Innovative Naval Prototype
|General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems
|ONR Innovative Naval Prototype
|XLUUV Future Capabilities
|Naval Undersea Warfare Centre Division Newport
Table 1. Source: (Agarwala, 2022)
The above table describes the AUV capabilities of the US. Most of the AUV developments are assisted by DARPA. It is classified into four broad categories which has its operational depth ranging from 100m to 1000m.
The Remote Environmental Monitoring Unit 600 or REMUS 600 was one such AUV developed in 2003 by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute with the help of funding provided by the Office of Naval Research (ONR). Its characteristics include a speed of 5 knots, an operational depth of 600m and an endurance of about 70 hours. The REMUS 600 belonged to a series of its AUV family which ranges from REMUS 100 to REMUS 6000. The main reason for the development of the REMUS 600 was to support the US Navy’s demand for an AUV capable of high endurance, higher operational depth and payload capacity compared with its predecessor the REMUS 100. (Button, Kamp, Curtin, & Dryden, 2009)
On the other hand, the weight of those large and extra-large AUVs mentioned above describes their ability to carry large payloads. The US Navy’s UUV Masterplan for the year 2004 has depicted the use of UUV for various range of missions which includes, (Nichols, et al., 2020)
- Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance
- Anti-Submarine Warfare
- Inspection/ Identification
- Communications/ Navigation Network Node (CN3)
- Payload Delivery
- Information Operations and
- Time Critical Strike (TCS).
AUV Advancements in Russia
Countering the US, Russia on the other side is working towards modernising its armed forces with unmanned systems. The commencement of the development of unmanned systems in Russia can be traced back to the Soviet era. Russia developing their own unmanned underwater vehicles intends to safeguard its resource-rich Arctic region and also to bolster its naval forces. Their UUV capabilities range from small glider vehicles to large deep-water UUVs.
The following table describes the capabilities of Russia in the domain of Unmanned Underwater Vehicles:
|ARF & Lazurit
|Long-range ISR UUV
|Klavesin – 2R -PM
|Rubin Design Bureau
|Institute of Marine Technology Problems (RAS)
|ARF & Rubin Design Bureau
|Rubin Design Bureau
|Rubin Design Bureau
|Rubin and Malahit Design Bureau
|Long–range combat underwater vehicle
Table 2. Source: (Bendett, et al., 2021)
The above table describes the various autonomous underwater vehicles that are being operated and in development stages in Russia. For the Russian military, the AUVs ensure greater ISR actions. Apart from that they help them to acquire data regarding the underwater ecosystem. In addition to this, the Russian Navy has a plan to support its vessels with surface and subsurface autonomous vehicles. (Bendett, et al., 2021). This will eventually improve the overall capabilities of its naval force.
One such unmanned underwater vehicle called the Galtel is described as an underwater reconnaissance robot. It was first mentioned in public in 2012 at the (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) APEC summit. This particular UUV was used by the Russian Navy in its operations conducted in Syria. It patrolled the Russian logistics facility in Tartus (Syria) and has performed underwater surveys of the ocean floor. It consists of two autonomous submarines as a single complex with about 24 hours of endurance and 100km of range. (Edmonds, et al., 2021)
Of these UUVs in the above table the Poseidon was supposed to be a game changer in upcoming years for the Russian Navy. This was because of the capability it possesses. The Poseidon was initially known as “Oceanic Multipurpose System Status” or “Status – 6”. It was described as a large autonomous nuclear-tipped UUV. According to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Poseidon is a multi-purpose UUV that has the ability to carry conventional and nuclear warheads. This helps it to pose a potential threat to Aircraft carrier groups, coastal fortifications and infrastructure. (Bendett, et al., 2021, pp. 25,26) In addition to this, it ensures Russia for an assured second-strike capability.
The above two countries’ efforts in developing their autonomous underwater vehicle are in line with the future challenges. Though their efforts improve the capacity of forces, they have to remain in the framework of present laws regarding their usage in real-time operations especially while engaging nuclear-capable UUVs in naval operations without damaging the marine ecosystem.
AUV Development in India
India as a developing nation is focussing on modernizing its naval fleet by induction of its Indigenous Aircraft Carrier INS Vikrant and several other nuclear-capable submarines such as INS Arihant. In addition to this, it is also working on underwater vehicles by considering the advancements made in this sector by China. The state-owned Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) is involved in the process of developing its own autonomous underwater vehicle.
Way back in 2016, DRDO scientists developed an autonomous underwater vehicle prototype for multiple maritime missions. Manohar Parrikar, former Defence Minister said in the Parliament that a feasibility study has been conducted for the development of different AUV platforms by DRDO. (Singh, 2016)
In addition to DRDO, Larsen and Toubro (L&T) is working on the development of three UUVs including MAYA, AMOGH and ADAMYA. These were showcased at the DefExpo 2020 in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. Among this ADAMYA has an endurance of 8 hours and an operational depth of 1500 feet under the sea. (Sharma, 2022, p. 39).
India’s present capabilities in the development of undersea vehicles need to be improved. The technology for the development is evolving day by day. If considerable thrust by the government is made in the development and deployment of UUVs, our startup ecosystem can produce state of art AUVs in India to safeguard the nation’s maritime security.
How Can AUV’s Help India?
India being a peninsular nation has a vast expanse of contiguous coastline. The Indian Ocean provides enormous opportunities as a commercial trade bridge between East and West. This makes India a highly responsible actor in the Indian Ocean Region and the Indo-Pacific. Besides India needs to ensure that her own security along the coastal line and around her islands.
India’s Coastal Assets
As mentioned earlier majority of India’s trade is carried out through maritime routes. It reiterates the importance of major ports and harbours residing along the coast. In addition, India’s coastline has some notable strategic assets given below,
- Nuclear Powerplants
- Nearby coastal islands
- Naval Commands and bases
- Major cities like Chennai, Mumbai, Vishakhapatnam, Mangalore, Cochin, etc.
- Special Economic Zones like (Kandla SEZ, Cochin SEZ, etc.)
- Naval Shipbuilding facilities.
- Missile testing facilities.
All these assets are vulnerable to attacks by the adversary in the near future and can be carried out by either state or non-state actors subsea, posing a serious threat. Hence to mitigate such threats, surveillance of the underwater domain is very important. Here the autonomous underwater vehicle plays a credible role in ensuring coastal security. This system can be linked to the port and harbour surveillance, intelligence gathering and conducting search and rescue operations. On the other hand, large and extra-large UUVs will help the manned submarines in some notable operations including intelligence gathering, anti-submarine warfare, oceanographic mapping and data collection as a buddy. Developing underwater ISR has become a challenge for India and the nation has to work in a proactive manner in the development and deployment to catch up with other leading nations.
AUVs are gaining more attention due to the underlying autonomy and hostile subsea conditions. This has made several nations work on its development to enhance their existing capabilities. The evolution is evident from the SPURV by the US in 1957 to the latest Russian Poseidon (Nuclear multi-purpose UUV). Nations are to be responsible for the development, deployment and usage and these systems within the legal framework in both peace and war times and we have to devise specific laws binding the safe operations of autonomous underwater vehicles in the maritime domain.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views of the Government of India and Defence Research and Studies
Title image courtesy: Military Aerospace
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