A multimillion-dollar contract has been awarded to a British firm, tasked with developing next-generation underwater capability.
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The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has awarded a £15.4 million (AU$27.7 million) contract to Plymouth-based firm MSubs for the development of a crewless extra-large autonomous underwater vessel (XL-AUV).
The company has been tasked with delivering the vessel to the Royal Navy in two years’ time as part of what has been dubbed “Project Cetus”.
The vessel would be designed to protect critical national infrastructure and monitor sub-sea activity, operating independently or alongside crewed submarines, including Astute Class SSNs.
The platform’s maximum operational depth is tipped to exceed the current submarine fleet and would reportedly be capable of covering approximately 1,000 miles in a single mission.
The Cetus XL-AUV is expected to be 12 metres long, 2.2 metres in diameter and weigh 17 tonnes — the largest crewless submarine operated by a European navy.
“In order to meet the growing threats to our underwater infrastructure, the Royal Navy needs to be ahead of the competition with cutting-edge capabilities,” Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said.
“Project Cetus, alongside bringing forward the MROS ships, will help ensure we have the right equipment to protect the security of the UK and our allies.
“Having the skills base and specialist knowledge to develop and build this vessel in the UK is testament to the UK’s leading reputation in building surface and sub-surface ships.”
First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Ben Key said the contract award represents a significant milestone for the Royal Navy.
“This is a hugely exciting moment for Project Cetus as the Royal Navy surges ahead with the development of autonomous technology,” he said.
“This extra-large autonomous underwater vehicle is a capability step-change in our mission to dominate the underwater battlespace. And I am delighted that the project is able to support a small, innovative UK company which is at the cutting edge of this sector.”
The project is funded by the Anti-Submarine Warfare Spearhead program, run by the Royal Navy’s Develop Directorate, headquartered in Portsmouth.
The vessel is set to be delivered through the Submarine Delivery Agency in Bristol.
“The faith the Royal Navy has shown in our small business is humbling and we look forward to working closely together in the future, as we have in the recent past, to develop and deploy Cetus in the national interest,” Brett Phaneuf, chief executive officer of MSubs, said.