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Navy starts building hub for surface and subsurface drones

By Justin Katz on December 15, 2021 at 12:41 PM

Concept art for Boeing’s Orca Extra Large Unmanned Underwater Vehicle. (Photo courtesy of Boeing)

WASHINGTON: The Navy has announced new plans for a “purpose-built” facility at its warfare center in Port Hueneme, Calif., dedicated to testing its latest unmanned surface and subsurface vehicles.

“These facilities will be the focal point of Navy learning and experimentation on the capabilities, operations and sustainment of unmanned maritime vehicle prototypes to inform future programs,” Capt. Pete Small, the Navy officer leading the program office for unmanned maritime systems, said in a Dec. 14 statement.

Some of the systems in Small’s portfolio that are destined for Port Heuenme include the Extra Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicle (XLUUV), as well as prototypes for the Medium and Large Unmanned Surface Vehicles. Small’s office is also spearheading the Rapid Autonomy Integration Lab, a software factory that will be responsible for ensuring the various technologies and capabilities intertwined in the unmanned fleet will operate together seamlessly.

In addition to breaking ground on the unmanned systems testing facility on Dec. 8, the service acknowledged the completion of modifications to an existing building that will now house XLUUV prototypes as well as personnel who will test them once fabrication is completed by prime contractor Boeing.“The ground breaking recognized the start of construction of the modular administrative building for the newly established Unmanned Surface Vessel Division One and Unmanned Undersea Vehicles Squadron One personnel who will operate and maintain the unmanned vehicle prototypes,” according to the service statement.

The new facility will effectively be a hub for the service’s various prototypes and experimental vessels. The Navy throughout the past several years has worked with the Pentagon’s research and development agencies to seek out and develop several unique unmanned vehicles, such as the Office of Naval Research’s Sea Hunter and the Strategic Capabilities Office’s Overlord, but many of these systems still technically remain housed by those same research agencies.

Construction of the new facility in California establishes one central location for all these vehicles. It also places them nearby the service’s squadrons dedicated to experimenting with unmanned systems such as Surface Development Squadron, which is headquartered in San Diego.

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